New helmet design credited with saving soldier's life
ASADABAD, Afghanistan — The nurse looked at Spc. Adrian Danczyk in disbelief when he finally made it to the aid station after a firefight.
“The medics were working on the guys who were hurt the worst, and I was just sort of sitting back out of the way,” said Danczyk, Company D, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.
A nurse finally noticed his face was covered with blood.
“She said, ‘What happened to you,’” Danczyk said.
“I got shot in the head,” he said.
“She looked at me like a ghost.”
The date of that firefight just south of Fallujah — November 8, 2003 — should probably be on Adrian Danczyk’s headstone. But instead of the 7.62 mm RPK light machine gun bullet penetrating Danczyk’s skull, his Kevlar helmet absorbed the energy, leaving a wound where the helmet slammed into his forehead.
The bullet’s impact broke the helmet’s chinstraps and destroyed the mount for his night-optical device, Danczyk said. The only damage to him was a cut that took two stitches to close.
Fully recovered, Danczyk recently was in Afghanistan with the Fort Bragg-based 82nd, helping provide security for the country’s first presidential elections.
As he told his story to Stars and Stripes one night at Firebase Asadabad, a fellow paratrooper slapped Danczyk on the shoulder. “Oh, that story’s so last year!” the soldier said, laughing.
Danczyk is one of the first regular Army soldiers to combat test the new Advanced Combat Helmet, or ACH, which is replacing the Personnel Armored System, Ground Tactical, or PASGT helmet.
The switch to the new helmet has not been without controversy. In August, Lt. Col. Jeff Poffenbarger, an Army neurosurgeon in Iraq, told the Wall Street Journal the ACH offers less protection because it’s about 8 percent smaller than the PASGT helmet.
In Iraq, the main threat is from roadside bombs, and Poffenbarger said many soldiers are getting hurt because the new helmet exposes more of the sides and backs of the soldiers’ heads.
“I’ve become convinced that for this type of guerrilla fight, we are giving away coverage that we need to save lives,” Poffenbarger, a former Green Beret, stated in the Wall Street Journal story.
Army officials, however, say the ACH has shorter side skirts because when soldiers dropped to the ground to shoot, their shoulders pushed the PASGT helmet over their eyes. Danczyk was firing from the prone position when hit.
The smaller ACH is three pounds lighter than the old helmet, and it includes a new suspension system that Danczyk calls “infinitely more comfortable.”
One of the ACH’s best features is that soldiers are less tempted to take them off, said Lt. Col. Brian Drinkwater, Danczyk’s battalion commander with 1-505.
What no one disputes — least of all Danczyk — is that the ACH absorbs a lot of energy due to an improved type of Kevlar. Kevlar is a 30-year-old fabric invented by E.I. DuPont de Namours & Co. It uses multiple layers of polymer strands to produce a light material far stronger than steel, and with far higher tensile strength, the amount of stretching it can withstand before breaking.
The latest generation of Kevlar has “greater ‘tenacity’ — the strength of individual fibers to absorb a load before breaking,” said Greg Parker, North American business manager for military and law enforcement products at DuPont’s Wilmington, Del., headquarters.
Though not necessarily designed to stop an assault rifle round, such Kevlar meets current Army specifications for stopping a zero-degree shot — straight on — from a 9 mm round, Parker said.
While DuPont makes Kevlar, other manufacturers make the helmets, he said. The ACH is a version of a helmet called the Modular Integrated
Communications Helmet, or MICH, designed for U.S. special forces units, according to Parker and Drinkwine.
U.S. officials “looked at what they had with the MICH, and said, ‘This is a pretty damn good helmet,’” said Drinkwine, who worked with the Department of the Army’s Soldier System Team to get helmets for all of his 800-some soldiers before the 82nd deployed to Iraq in 2003.
The effort was worth it, Drinkwine said. The ACH saved several of his men: “Not just Danczyk, but I had soldiers in Iraq hit by shrapnel or pieces of RPGs who walked away with nothing other than a bad headache.
“The best part of this is knowing there are young paratroopers out there who believe in it,” he said.
“No question, [getting shot] changed the way I think about Kevlar,” Danczyk said.
The night started when a Company D patrol came up on nine Iraqi men “clearly up to no good,” Danczyk said. Paratroops closed up to about 200 meters when the Iraqis began firing. He can still remember the rounds coming at his head, dropping down as he tried to dig into the sand, Danczyk said.
Then the impact. “I knew what had happen as soon as I was hit.”
Danczyk plans to make the Army his career, and as a future non-commissioned officer, “I’d never, ever let my soldiers go without Kevlar,” he said.
The only time you’ll see Danczyk without his Kevlar is between missions. Before a mission, he’s the first guy with it on.
Some soldiers joke about him being “a Kevlar Nazi,” he said.
But the punch line is, he’s still alive.