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Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

War Gets a Facelift

But don't worry: Dipping is still easy while sporting the latest face-shield tech.
Ben Richmond
Κείμενο Ben Richmond

Both the Army and the Marines are looking into better facial protection. As strong materials become lighter, practical factors apart from weight keep protective masks optional and rare.

Masks such as the MTek FAST G3A and Gentex Corp.’s Ballistic Protective Maxillofacial Shield aim to reduce both direct hits as well as brain trauma that doctors are finding in returning veterans. The Rand Corporation estimated that as many as 325,000 service members may have suffered brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan.


And as Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Bowser, an MTek Weapon Systems employee, noted to Marine Corps Times, not only is the face vulnerable to attack, “but a facial injury comes with more than just scars. There are psychological ramifications.”

The Army already has thousands of face shields, like the MTek, which the manufacturer claims, can stop 7.63 mm rifle rounds, the cartridge size of the Taliban’s weapon of choice, the AK-47.

A video on MTek’s website shows the mask being shot off the face of a “thin plastic head” by an AKM rifle clone. The head is dented, as Ken Walker, the marksman, admits, sheepishly allowing that, "at least you’ll be alive to tell your friends about it.”

In face-to-face combat, however, the wrong mask can prove worse than no mask at all. Soldiers not only need peripheral vision, but also need to be able to look straight down the sight of their rifles, with a “cheek weld” on the stock of the gun.

Many injuries in Afghanistan don’t come from bullets however, and the mask manufacturers aspire to protect soldiers from improvised explosive devises and other debris. Many troops are injured in explosions without a direct blow to the head, and MIT researchers are still trying to figure why this is and how it happens. One possible solution has been a helmet face shield.

But if the attacks depend on surprise, soldiers balk at the idea of wearing the shields for the entire day. Even a two-pound addition to the helmet over the course of the day has plenty of time to be felt in a tiring neck. Other practical concerns over how a solider can dip or smoke, or how hot one’s breath becomes in the sun are scattered in the comments below the article.

“The first thing we heard from Marines is they can still drink from their CamelBak and they can still dip,” Bowser told the Marine Corps Times.

And so safety concerns are weighed against practical considerations, and also against the goal of the mission. If the human face both conveys and inspires empathy, and the Pentagon’s goal is to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, soldiers may have other reasons to resist the impulse to cover completely.