ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army is adding another piece to the body armor soldiers wear in combat zones — a small neck pad, which is supposed to protect the back of the neck from shrapnel.

The Army plans to ship 430,000 of the nape pads, starting “immediately,” to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Debi Dawson, a spokeswoman for Army Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier in Alexandria, Va., the umbrella organization under which the pads were developed.

The 2.9-ounce pads, which Dawson said are made out of “nylon and cotton fabric and a ballistic-resilient material,” include hook-and-loop fasteners that attach to a rear strap on the helmet.

The Marine Corps plans to award a contract for 75,000 nape pads as soon as possible and then begin issuing the pads to the deployed Marines immediately thereafter, said Capt. Jeff Landis, a spokesman for Marine Corps System Command.

No further information was available Monday on when the pads would begin arriving in theater, Landis said.

The pads were first offered to the Army by Crye Precision LLC, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company, during an industry day sponsored by PEO Soldier in 2006, Dawson said in an e-mail.

The company touted the pads as providing additional protection from “ballistic fragmentation,” or shrapnel, that might find its way between the top of the body armor vest, and the bottom of a soldier’s Kevlar Advanced Combat Helmet, Dawson said.

Army officials decided to coordinate testing at an independent ballistics laboratory certified by the National Institute of Justice, Dawson said.

The pads passed the tests, and the Army decided to adopt the nape attachment as its “eighth improvement in body armor in the last three years,” Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, Commanding General at PEO Soldier’s Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., said in a Feb. 28 news release.

The back of the neck is home to the eight cervical vertebra — the top of the spine — and the place where the spine enters the brain.

The vertebra, in turn, surround the spinal cord, the major bundle of nerves that carry impulses between the brain and the rest of the body.

And at the back of the neck, just a few millimeters of skin and muscle tissue protect the integrity of the vertebra from harm.

When it comes to damage to the spine, in general, “the higher on the spinal column an injury occurs, the more dysfunction a person will experience,” according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Association.

In fact, cervical, or neck, injuries “usually result in quadriplegia,” or paralysis of all four limbs, according to the association.

The new nape pads “will further reduce injuries and help save even more soldiers’ lives” than the Army’s body armor does already, Brown said in the release.

Other improvements to the Army’s personal soldier protection in the recent past have included an advanced combat helmet with an improved harness to hold it on the head; better ballistic eyewear; improved ceramic small arms protection inserts, or SAPI, plates, for the body armor vests; and side arm, or deltoid protectors that snap onto the vests.

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