Marines

New headset protects hearing, enhances voice communication in combat zones

11 Aug 2021 | Matt Gonzales, MCSC Office of Public Affairs and Communication Marine Corps Systems Command

In July, Marine Corps Systems Command began fielding new hearing enhancement devices to support infantry Marines in various training and combat environments.

The HED protects the warfighter’s hearing and enhances voice communication in loud environments. The capability increases Marines’ situational awareness by enabling them to communicate messages more safely and efficiently during combat.

“This hearing enhancement device protects Marines from noise levels that are above safe hearing levels,” said CWO4 David Tomlinson, MCSC’s infantry weapons officer. “It also allows for sound localization, which means you can tell where a voice or noise is coming from.”

The ruggedized headset is adaptable to challenging environments ranging from the cold weather of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the intense heat of Pacific jungles. Marines can wear the system with the Marine Corps Enhanced Combat Helmet.

MCSC is fielding both a communication-enabled and non-communication-enabled version. The non-communication version allows Marines to hear audible messages. The communication-enabled model includes a push-to-talk adapter and cables to connect to Marine Corps ground tactical radios, said Tomlinson. As a result, Marines can listen to radio transmissions even when the system is powered off.

“A major goal of this system is to increase communication in loud, noisy environments so Marines can continue to do their job,” said Tomlinson. “The hearing enhancement device supports this concept.”

The system also includes an adjustable volume option. CWO4 Mark Erhardt, infantry weapons officer with the Infantry Officers Course in Quantico, said Marines could decrease volume to better hear radio traffic or increase it for external voices nearby.

“It’s a common understanding that the battlefield is loud, and the fog of war includes many distractions,” said Erhardt. “The new hearing enhancement device will aid Marines in any situations involving sending or receiving messages, which increases overall awareness.”

Hearing protection is a pillar characteristic of the system. The HED complements the Combat Arms Earplug Generation IV—the Marine Corps’ current hearing protection system—by offering a secondary level of protection to further avoid hearing damage.

The HED comprises a setting for inner ear protection, which assists in maintaining device quality and capability. Marines can use this setting in situations where noise levels exceed a certain threshold, said Tomlinson.

Previously, Marines commonly used foam earplugs to block noise and protect their hearing on the battlefield. Tomlinson said the plugs sufficiently reduced noise decibels heard by Marines but did not allow them to vocalize messages to one another.

“Traditional earplugs block all noise, where this new system filters noise and still allows for situational awareness,” said Tomlinson. “Marines receiving the new HED have never had a capability like this before.”

Sgt. Randall Townsend, an anti-tank missileman with Combat Instructor Battalion at The Basic School, tested the new headset while employing the M3A1 Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel Weapons System during a training event in July.

Townsend spoke enthusiastically about his ability to speak with other Marines while donning the new hearing enhancement device.

“I could be using a machine gun and I’d still hear another Marine without having to hear the machine gun itself,” said Townsend. “That is really exciting.”

Hearing loss is an issue throughout the Department of Defense. According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 1 million veterans received compensation for hearing loss the previous year.

It’s a common understanding that the battlefield is loud, and the fog of war includes many distractions. The new hearing enhancement device will aid Marines in any situations involving sending or receiving messages, which increases overall awareness.CWO4 Mark Erhardt, infantry weapons officer with the Infantry Officers Course in Quantico, Virginia

Some Marines incur hearing damage upon removing their earplugs in a loud combat environment to heed an order from a superior. The HED’s filtered audio capability reduces the need for Marines to remove their hearing protection.

“With this new device, my hearing is not in danger,” said Noah Henderson, a combat engineer who serves as a warfighting instructor with Combat Instructor Battalion at TBS. “Being able to maintain that hearing protection while communicating is something we haven’t had in the past.”

As a junior Marine, Henderson participated in situations in which he needed direction from a team lead or squad leader. The added element of machine guns, rocket launchers and other firing systems could engender confusion among young Marines, he explained.

Henderson said the new HED should reduce these issues and make life much easier for Marines.

“Not only can you hear effectively, but you can communicate over longer distances,” said Henderson. “Communication is required for us to effectively do our jobs, which is why the fielding of the new hearing enhancement device is so important to us.”


Marine Corps Systems Command