Life or death in wartime is horrifically random, subject to “fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,” but sometimes that randomness generates not tragedy, but miracles. Such is the story of Army Sergeant Roger Daniels.

On a patrol in Afghanistan last August, Daniels, then just 21 years old, took a bullet to the head and survived with just a concussion because his helmet stopped the high-powered 7.62 millimeter round – something the standard-issue Advanced Combat Helmet was never designed to do. Last Friday, after experts at the Army’s PEO-Soldier unit had spent a year studying the miracle helmet, Daniels got it back in a ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.

Daniels’ survival tells us a lot about luck – “I guess I just got lucky,” he told the Tacoma News-Tribune – but it also tells us a lot about technology. Over the past 12 years of war there has been a quiet revolution in military body armor, from helmets to breastplates to, yes, groin protectors that have saved countless soldiers from injury or death.

Comments

  • M&S

    For perspective, I offer the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy film: ‘Attack Of The Clones’.

    Wherein you have troops wearing shell-armor that cannot be more than a few millimeter’s thick around a squishy center walking shoulder to shoulder against waves of battledroids **structurally made from** high impact steel in such a way that the outer surface paneling, while perhaps an inch thick, is only the first level ‘slow it up’ defense for a much more comprehensive, internal, compartmentalization system. The robots are running. The humans are walking. The robots have much larger guns powered by much larger internal power sources, the humans have standard, 36″, long rifles. There’s a massive base surge impact dustbowl effect and the robots, of course, have IIR vs. human standard vision.

    And the humans are winning. The cognitive disconnect here would be funny if it weren’t so John Henry meets Paul Bunyon for a beer and a tactics review tragic.

    If you look at a proper defensive schema, you look at value for layering trades. We understand this particularly well in AFV design, where such a system places transmission, fuel and powerpack (as 70mm thick separated compartment bulkheads) underneath a 150mm thick angled glacis ahead of a 200mm thick turret ring that goes right through to the floor and ‘contains’ al the helically stacked gun ammo as potential explosive vehicle kill while feeding an unmanned breach.

    ONLY THEN with all this KEM stopper in front of you, do you have a commander/gunner/driver team in a rear fighting compartment driving with virtual sensors and flybywire steering inside individual armored and environmentally protected crew station capsules.

    Such graceful degradation as fail-operative approach allows you to trade down from mobility kill to mission kill to individual but not group life loss across the full frontal arc and even to the flanks and rear where added armor or another APS turret arc for just the crew areas can enhance survivability of the one thing you cannot buy another of.
    When fighting against EFPs, IEDS and LAWs from close range.

    Back to the robots. Anybody who looks at a planform X-ray view of a robot torso would likely see a similar, grid shaped, division with various blowout-vented ‘cells’ of unequal size for system-X volume loading of everything from fuel to power to power storage/conversion to hydraulic accumulator and feed lines. Because you must protect the system from the it’s own destructive fragging as much as any direct attack.

    If you take this out to the limbs, you probably see irreversible (loss of pressure shuts the spring loaded sleeve apertures whose natural condition is hard-closed) stacked cone valve sequences like gates in a castle wall with on-mount, backup, low pressure shunt lines for each stage in the lockable valve cluster as further redundancy and downstream, pneumatic bottles as a final level of emergency pressurizing ‘stay in the fight’ or ‘run away!’ back up.

    Unfortunately, humans are not built this way.

    The first major breach of any part of particularly our circulatory systems invalidates all other combat functionality, almost immediately.

    And where you cannot use cooling vests (another 20+lbs) to protect your legs, nor a helmet mounted oxygen source to huff and puff your way through 8,000ft air, armor only slows you up and makes it easier for the enemy to stay at the fringes of an engagement zone where they beat you up and drag you into never ending small ambushes.

    This being true for even the best conditioned, SOF, troops.

    And then someone steps on a mine and you turn off your ears as they roll around, screaming, because they can’t help the pain of the leg lying beside them.

    And a medic goes to help them and -he- steps on a mine.

    And now you are ontop of a hill that you are supposed to be guarding so that nobody mortars a voting booth in the town a couple clicks away and you are feeling _very small_, like you are on the reverse side of a magnifying lens and everything is staring in at your exposed position and you are just /waiting/ for whatever might come next in the combined arms sequence, be it snipers or indirects.

    Because even the Afghans learn.

    And later, you hear the guy who went down first is going to live but lost both his legs from mid shin down and the medic died on the way back to Bagram before he could even be trauma’d.

    And you sit through a very dark night, and you think.

    And you realize that it was always a trap, and you were always the intended victim, not the town. Because if enough of you die, politics means the mission will fold, and everything you’ve sweated and suffered for in this hole will mean nothing because these people aren’t ready to stand on their own and when you go, they will return to the victim:tormentor relationship they knew best.

    Their oppressors will leave them no choice.

    And you wonder: “Can’t we do this better?”

    The nicest things about APMRs (that’s Anthropomorphic Robots) are that they are force multipliers without families and so even a small force component insert can answer that question, positively.

    You need to take a hill? They stomp up it first, in mine proof boots. And now you don’t face lifelong maiming to hold a highground which an enemy never challenges you for.

    You have a battalion deployment that is 20 people under TOE? The robot can switch to logistics mode when you drop it off on the way back to the FOB after the patrol it will haul boxes all night, without sleep.

    Need to kick in a door? The robot is your first man in volunteer. It does so because it can climb stairs and turn door knobs and walk into multilevel rooms where you _know_ there is a force waiting above your head.

    Headed home next week in the rotation? The APMR can stay and help the next unit out, without complaint.

    It doesn’t have to carry a gun, but if it does, it only has to move to a position where the enemy _must_ respond before it is right ontop of them and anything they do to you means they don’t have a chance to escape it. Because you can’t kill a robot.

    But you can certainly die trying.
    Which means that the enemy is no longer able to use ambush tactics in a counted-coup exercise against biologics. They are risking life and limb fighting a silicon chip. For nothing.

    And perhaps most importantly. That robot’s entire structure as facings can be made of boron silicide SAPI over high strength aluminum.
    Every. Damn. Inch.

    Want to take it out? Better bring along a big bore AMR.

    And if you do, we’ll just order up a new leg/torso/head from spares and have it running point man again tomorrow. And lifting more crates tonight.

    And after thinking about all of this, you roll over and try -not- to think about a man you knew as a friend for half a year here as you drift off to sleep. And some part of you wonders how many 100,000 dollar head bounties as ‘life insurance’ policies it takes to buy a mass produced robot.

    After all, you’re just a stabilization force and aid to nation builders. Major combat operations are over. Aren’t they?
    CONCLUSION:
    For every success story like this, there are thousands (57,617 and counting) of dead, crippled and ‘missing’. You are going to lose people to traumatic amputation injury, CNS paralysis, or mortal wounds _every time_ you expose them to direct fire or predictable mine placement/sniper overwatch conditions.
    Even with the best armor.
    Thus, if you want to decrease combat losses, you are better off not being shot at than not being ventilated. And where you have to sieze and hold ground because that is what Armies do.
    A robot can help save lives.

    • Chernenko

      I can appreciate your views on using robots. It’s doubtful any of the current DRPA projects will survive these austerity measures.
      If these ideas were implemented it wouldn’t be long before fringe groups started demanding the equal treatment of robots in society, people for the ethical treatment of robots (PETR) or the American Robot civil liberties Union. Then the term robot would be termed degrading. And finally sky net would go active and all these robot veterans would have the necessary combat experience to destroy the human race.

    • Michele

      Awesome, sad, but awesome…

  • American
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Susan-Mcmahon/100001516306893 Susan Mcmahon

    another theory s god was there protectng you and it wasn’t your tme i thnk you owe god more prase than a bg helmet

  • Ed Forney

    Even with the new helmets, if a soldier gets hit in the head with a 7.62 mm rifle round. it’s probably going to break his neck.

    • Chernenko

      I believe there is one in the museum at paris island from Grenada aswell. I also remember seeing something on Discovery about the makers testing the Kevlar(that’s the generic term we called them) against a 556 round!which would be useful if we commonly encounerted a foe armed with 556.

  • abntroopie

    I stand to be corrected, but I “believe” there is a PASGT 1st Generation helmet in the 82nd Airborne Museum from Grenada. It has THREE 7.62 x 39 rounds in it. The wearer of that helmet was at the Airfield when shot, and wound up with the mother of all head aches, but that was it.