MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
The primary mission of Marine Corps Systems Command is to equip Marines.
However, this work is not complete upon fielding. MCSC is also responsible for sustainment throughout the lifecycle of the equipment. Sustainment requires communication with fleet Marines to continuously improve the gear. If an issue arises, the command strives to identify solutions.
“I strongly believe in leadership through listening,” said Brig. Gen. A.J. Pasagian, MCSC’s commander. “We need to listen to our Marines to better understand their needs and provide them with the best possible gear to support their mission.”
MCSC’s Program Manager for Infantry Combat Equipment supplies Marines with combat equipment to enhance their performance, capability, survivability and mobility. The program office has received feedback—both positive and negative—on its personal protective equipment over time. Some Marines have said the gear, while effective, does not fit properly and isn’t comfortable.
The Marine Corps began implementing solutions to these issues with the fielding of the Plate Carrier Generation III. In addition to the PC Gen. III, some future improvements to the Marine Corps’ PPE include upgrading a combat helmet and a man-pack system.
On Oct. 22, PM ICE held a Uniform and Equipment Engagement to inform Marine Corps senior leaders about gear improvements, and the role training and education plays in properly employing the latest advancements in individual gear. Leaders also discussed opportunities that may positively impact the availability and fit of uniforms, PPE and load-bearing devices.
Among those in attendance were 19th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Troy E. Black, Deputy Commandant for Information Lt. Gen. Lori Reynolds, Marine Corps Plans, Policies and Operations Assistant Deputy Commandant Maj. Gen. David Furness and Combat Development and Integration Assistant Deputy Commandant Maj. Gen. Kevin Iiams.
Also in attendance were senior leaders from Marine Corps Training and Education Command, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Marine Corps Installations and Logistics, and Office of Legislative Affairs as well as representatives from the Marine Corps Exchange.
“We hear the issues impacting Marines based on fit and availability of equipment,” Lt. Col. Andrew Konicki, the program manager for ICE, said during the event. “We are currently making improvements to our gear to make our Marines more combat-effective.”
Soliciting feedback, upgrading systems
During the Uniform and Equipment Engagement, Konicki noted how certain demographics of Marines have had more issues with their gear than others.
For example, some Marines—particularly those smaller in stature—have noted how their assigned legacy Plate Carrier did not fit properly, which led to discomfort when worn for long periods of time. Sgt. Ryan Durden, non-commissioned officer in charge of MCSC’s G1 department, is one of those individuals.
“The Plate Carrier was a little bit painful sometimes—especially during long hikes—particularly because of how small the shoulder strap was,” said Durden, who stands 5 feet, 6 inches tall. “When we’re walking around with that, as well as the main pack and assault pack, the weight tends to force it down into our shoulders.”
In November 2019, MCSC fielded the PC Gen. III—an updated version of the Plate Carrier. Konicki said the PC Gen. III comprises an increased variation of sizes, enabling nearly 15,000 more Marines to fit into the system when compared with the original technology.
The newer system fits closer to the body, increasing protection and decreasing the risk of injury due to improper fit.
“The feedback [on the PC Gen. III] we’re getting from Marines is that it’s a significant improvement over the current Plate Carrier,” said Mark Richter, team lead for the Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad Team at MCSC. “They have noted its ease of use and ease of adjustability.”
The command is also updating the Enhanced Combat Helmet to improve fit, as some female Marines have said the helmet does not comfortably fit their hair buns. The upgraded version is a high-cut helmet that includes a retention system that tightens the circumference of the head and is more easily adjustable.
Both the PC Gen. III and High-Cut ECH were tested during a 10-mile hike with a group of Marines aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in August 2020. Afterward, participants overwhelmingly felt the updated equipment was an improvement in fit, form and function over the gear they have used in the past.
“The [original Plate Carrier] didn’t fit my body well,” said Cpl. Hanane Jaffal, an infantry fire team leader with 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, who stands 5 feet, 4 inches tall. “I felt [the PC Gen. III] fit me a lot better. It was more comfortable, and I was more mobile with it on the hikes.”
Jaffal was also impressed with the updated combat helmet. She said helmets she’s worn in the past have compressed her hair bun, which caused pressure on her head.
“For me, [the High-Cut ECH] worked a lot better with my bun,” said Jaffal. “It was a lot more comfortable, I didn’t get headaches, and it’s a lot lighter. I could have it on for long periods of time without having to take it off.”
Updating policy to improve fitting
The Marine Corps has leveraged data-driven design parameters to improve the fit of gear, especially relative to female Marines. Since 2016, all PPE has been designed and fielded to meet the requirements of fit attributes collected from various measuring techniques, including the use of a body scanning system designed to measure Marines down to the millimeter.
“The body scanner captures the surface of anyone in the system and creates a 3D mesh similar to what you might see in computer graphics,” said Dr. Brian Corner, research anthropologist for the Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad Team. “It provides detailed information to better develop and improve equipment.”
Additionally, the Marine Corps Capabilities Development Directorate used results from a 2010 Marine Corps’ anthropometric study to develop a Fit Attribute Policy for individual equipment, such as uniforms, helmets, personal protective equipment and load bearing equipment.
The policy helped to broaden the scope from the 5th to 95th percentile Marine to the 2nd percentile female to the 98th percentile male Marine.
“In 2015, when the decision was made to expand combat [Military Occupational Specialties] to females, the Marine Corps took a look at the fit of clothing and equipment,” said Chris Woodburn, CDD at Combat Development and Integration. “Looking at the data, we felt that an expanded fit attribute encompassing the 2nd percentile female to 98th percentile male Marine would significantly improve our ability to properly size our clothing and equipment to fit our Marines.”
MCSC used these measurement methods and test trials to create a variety of sizes and adjustability for torso length and width in the PC Gen III. As the next-generation USMC pack is developed, PM ICE will use a similar approach to improve adjustments.
“The Marine Corps is working on getting gear to fit us more comfortably,” said Durden. “As you know, we have to take a lot more steps to keep up with those much taller than us. However, lighter and smaller equipment that fits us properly will be helpful.”
How Marines can handle fitting issues
Education and training were a major theme of the Oct. 22 PM ICE PPE event. As Konicki mentioned, training and education also encompass proper fitting of personal protective equipment, which saves lives and prevents long-term injuries.
“Proper fitting can mean the difference between being shot in the plate or shot in the heart,” Konicki said.
The Marine Corps is working to place a greater emphasis on training Marines to properly assemble and adjust their gear. John Hernandez, a new equipment trainer with MCSC’s Ground Combat Element Systems, said many instances of fitting issues involve improper assembly.
Hernandez outlined several ways Marines can deal with fitting issues. He said the first thing they should do is seek help from their small unit leaders or by viewing online instructional videos. Marine Corps Systems Command has provided instructional videos for various PPE, including the PC. Gen. III and ECH.
These videos—located on MCSC’s YouTube channel—give Marines a step-by-step tutorial on how to properly assemble vests, the PC Gen. III and other PPE.
“I always say that we should never allow the equipment to fail the Marine,” said Hernandez. “If we’re going to field the equipment, we should always back it up with training. Training is one of the key aspects that allow the Marine to use the gear successfully, cut down on injuries, save on damage to the equipment and save lives.”