Mideast edition, Saturday, June 9, 2007

ARLINGTON, Va. — Special operators headed for the mountains of Afghanistan and other freezing climates are getting a new set of cold weather gear guaranteed to keep them warm even if they are soaking wet.

The system includes 12 different garments that operators can mix and match in dozens of combinations to meet quickly changing temperatures and mission requirements, according to Scott Williams, project officer for the Special Operations Forces Survival Systems program office at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center—Natick in Massachusetts.

The clothing, which has been dubbed the Generation III Extended Cold Weather Clothing System, or ECWCS, weighs just under 13 pounds when tucked into its custom-made duffle.

Williams, a retired Navy SEAL, said the cold-weather clothing includes some of the most advanced fabrics of any U.S. military-issue wear he has ever seen — including one coat that is “the most sophisticated garment (of its kind) made in America today.”

Each ECWCS system costs taxpayers $1,300; if it was available on the commercial market, it would sell for at least $3,000, he told Stripes on Wednesday.

In addition to the ECWCS, special operators also are getting a new, insulating overcoat called the “Linebacker.”

The long, oversized coat, which almost looks like a tailored sleeping bag, is made to fit easily over a troop’s body armor and web gear.

Instead of a zipper down the front, the coat fastens using large Velcro plates, “so if a guy needs to get mobile fast, like during a firefight, he can just blow right out of it,” Williams said.

Researchers came up with the Linebacker concept by adapting the garment that professional football players wear over their pads and uniforms while waiting on the sidelines during games, Williams said.

Both the ECWCS system and the Linebacker overcoat will be issued to the special operations community beginning this month, Williams said.

“Everybody going out the door will have this system available if they want it,” Williams said, “and the guys deploying for the cold weather months will definitely all get it.”

Williams retired in 2004 specifically to head the project to develop better cold weather gear for the special operations troops.

He led the testing the ECWCS system by taking the prototype clothes to Alaska, he said, and has spent about 800 days testing the gear, “in cold and wet and rain,” in temperatures as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit.

For one test, Williams said, testers put the ECWCS clothes in a trash bag filled with ice water.

Then Williams and his team of testers stripped to the skin, put all seven layers of soaking-wet clothes on, and set off on a hike up the mountains, “and then see how long it took everything to dry,” he said.

In another test, “I climbed in my sleeping bag soaking wet, and woke up completely dry in the morning,” Williams said.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now