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Cold-Weather Clothing System Increases Survivability, Comfort

Apr 10, 2008
BY Debi Dawson

FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Army News Service, April 10, 2008) - Weather is among many challenges Soldiers face in Afghanistan and depending upon the season, the temperature in the rugged mountain nation can range from -20 degrees Fahrenheit to well above 100 F.

Winter is a particular challenge for troops. Operating in the cold is slower; it takes more time to perform tasks, and strength and concentration ebbs quicker so it's essential Soldiers stay warm and dry.

With the advent of the Generation III Extended Cold Weather Clothing System, Soldiers are getting the help they need from their equipment. Based on clothing used by mountaineering professionals, the GEN III ECWCS was designed to provide Soldiers with a survivability advantage while operating in multiple cold weather climates and activities. The system represents a large leap forward in providing layered clothing systems based on principles of insulation, layering, and ventilation.

Sgt. Franklin Hayes, who was deployed to Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division, spent a week walking from one village to another where his unit was setting up a base. "It was a very good system because it gave us different layers to be able to change with the environment as opposed to just throwing on an overcoat regardless of how cold it was," Hayes said. He added the modularity of the system allowed Soldiers to dress up or down as needed to counter the ever-changing weather conditions and meet mission requirements.

Going from wet to cold to wet and cold really put the ECWCS system to the test. Its inner layers retain heat but draw perspiration away from the skin. The outer layer lets perspiration evaporate while repelling water. These features, according to Sgt. Hayes, proved especially useful when sweaty Soldiers on patrol needed to stay warm and sleep for a couple of hours. "We were sweaty and as it got cold, as our bodies started to cool down we would get really cold because we were wet, so we could put layers on as we needed them," Hayes said.

The GEN III ECWCS consists of a 12 components that allow Soldiers to adapt to varying mission requirements and provides a greater range of breathability, environmental protection, and compatibility with Interceptor Body Armor. The GEN III ECWCS system includes a lightweight undershirt and underwear, midweight shirt and underwear, fleece jacket, wind jacket, soft shell jacket and trousers, extreme cold/wet weather jacket and trousers, and extreme cold weather parka and trousers.

According to Maj. Larry Cousins, with the 6th Ordinance Battalion, Camp Carroll, Korea, "The ECWCS grid fleece, the soft fleece and the rain-resistant pieces together are absolutely fantastic."

Undergarments are constructed of silk-weight, moisture-wicking knitted polyester and polyester grid fleece. The fleece jacket uses synthetic fleece that mimics fur and provides thermal insulation. The wind jacket is made of a lightweight, windproof, and water-repellent material. The soft shell jacket and trousers are made of a highly water-resistant, wind-proof material with high moisture vapor permeability. The extreme cold/wet weather jacket and trousers are made of a waterproof, breathable material for use in prolonged wet and/or hard rain conditions. The extreme cold weather parka and trousers are constructed with loft insulation to provide superior warmth.

The clothing is more compressible, lighter, and more versatile than previous ECWCS systems, enabling Soldiers to adapt more readily to varying mission requirements and environmental conditions ranging between -40 to +60 F.

Of the wind jacket, Hayes said, "Whenever there was going to be a storm you always wanted to have it with you.... We had a sandstorm pop up-they come up out of nowhere. Along with it came torrential downpours, and we were stuck out in the middle of a mountain range. It kept us pretty dry considering basically having buckets of water dumped on us, but it also kept us warm, especially afterwards."

Each piece in the ECWCS fits and functions either alone or together as a system to provide the most options for the Soldier, enabling seamless integration with load carriage equipment and body armor. Hayes said the system "worked well with the IBA. We didn't have any issues with it, even with the loft suit. It doesn't really change your mobility at all."

With the goal of enhancing Soldier survivability through the development of technologically advanced environmental protective clothing, the Army's Project Manager Clothing and Individual Equipment, part of Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier, sought significant feedback from Soldiers and industry to develop this integrated cold weather system. The 10th Mountain Division field-tested 18,000 GEN III ECWCS systems in Afghanistan in the fall of 2006 and winter of 2007.

The advantage of the GEN III ECWCS clothing can't be underestimated. It offers a change in the way Soldiers can fight and enables them to take the fight to the enemy. According to Lt. Col. Christopher Cavoli, Commander 1-32 Infantry Battalion, 10th Mountain, "During Operation Mountain Lion, I found myself praying for bad weather, the first time in my military career I was actually begging for a cold front to come through. I knew my Soldiers could handle it and the enemy couldn't. ECWCS allowed my men to outlast the enemy on their own terrain. When the enemy was forced out of the mountains due to the bitter cold to take shelter, that's when we got them."

(Debi Dawson serves as PEO Soldier Strategic Communications Officer.)

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