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Camp Pendleton Marines in Afghanistan to get protective underwear

April 21, 2011 |  9:26 am


Marines serving in Afghanistan from Camp Pendleton and other bases will soon receive specially designed underwear to provide protection against the improvised explosive devices that are the Taliban's favorite weapon.

The new underwear, which look like the shorts worn by professional cyclists, will not stop bullets or shrapnel but are designed to prevent dirt and other debris from entering wounds to the genitals and causing infection. Made of sturdy silk, the so-called "ballistic boxers" are treated with antimicrobial agents to prevent such infections.

U.S. troops have suffered an increase in wounds to the genitals and urinary tract due to roadside bombs.

Though troops wear helmets, heavy boots, and protective vests with front-flaps over the genitals, there is little to stop the damage inflicted when a bomb explodes beneath a soldier or Marine on a walking patrol.

"It's almost as if they [the Taliban] have developed these bombs to inflict the maximum damage," said Navy Cmdr. James L'Esperance, a urologist who has treated wounded Marines and soldiers.

A study conducted by doctors at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the U.S. military hospital where serious casualties are brought from Iraq and Afghanistan, found a significant increase in injuries to the genitals and urinary tract.

In 2009, 52 personnel were brought to the hospital with battlefield injuries to their genitals or urinary tract. In 2010, that figure was 142, including 21 who lost a testicle and eight who lost both testicles.

The Marines from the Camp Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, suffered 24 dead and more than 175 wounded during a recently completed seven-month deployment to the Sangin district of Helmand province. The battalion was replaced by the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, also from Camp Pendleton.

Marine brass expect the Taliban to mount a counteroffensive in Sangin in an attempt to win back control of "key terrain." Part of that operation is expected to be increased use of roadside bombs.

In a recent six-week stretch, nearly half the attacks with improvised explosive device against U.S. troops in Afghanistan occured in Helmand province where the Marines are assigned.

While the concept of specially designed protective underwear is new to U.S. troops, the British military has worn similar gear for several years.


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Photo: Protective underwear worn by British troops. Credit: British Defense Ministry