AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- Snapping awake, the Marine realized it was all a dream. The improvised explosive device his vehicle had just hit was only imagined. Shrugging it off, he went back to sleep.
Days later, while traveling the treacherous roads of the Al Anbar Province, Cpl. Charles J. Trask, a machine gunner with Transportation Company, recalled that dream just moments before it became a reality.
Trask said he would miraculously walk away with only minor injuries, thanks to the personal protective equipment (PPE) all Marines here are required to wear.
Three Marines with the Combat Logistic Company 117, Combat Logistics Battalion 7, 1st Marine Logistics Group (FWD), were awarded Purple Hearts for injuries sustained after their encounter with improvised explosive devices.
The Marines give credit to the PPE that they were wearing for the fact they are alive to talk about their experiences today.
“PPE has proven that it does, in fact, save Marines lives,” said Gunnery Sgt. Leo E. Lechuga, company gunnery sergeant of CLC-117.
PPE is usually the traditional Kevlar helmet and an outer tactical vest, referred to as a “flak jacket,” equipped with Small Arms Protective Inserts, known commonly as “SAPI” plates. Although this equipment offers great benefit, the smaller pieces of gear, such as hearing protection, help as well.
“If the ear protection hadn’t have been there, I wouldn’t have been able to hear today,” said Trask. The Kansas City, Mo., native had damage to his hearing caused by the noise produced from the blast. The 22-year-old, known as the “Gnome Warrior”, is currently listed in full-duty status. He said he is concluding his deployment as rear security element and misses his duty as a machine gunner tremendously.
“Since the event, I haven’t been able to be a gunner,” he said. “I had to wear ear plugs for 21 days and I couldn’t go anywhere without them, and all I wanted to do during that time was jump back on the gun.”
Flight suits play a legitimate role in personal protection and it worked for Cpl. Jimmy D. Miller, a 20-year-old machine gunner for a scout vehicle.
The flight suit is a newly added personal protection item mandatory for use by all 1st MLG Marines who regularly participate in off base operations in the Al Anbar province. The flight suit is designed to protect Marines from high heat.
“I am pretty grateful that I was wearing that flight suit, because my wound would have been a lot worse than it was,” Miller said. The Marine, known as “Home-Grown,” added that if the sleeves from the flight suit weren’t made with Meta-Aramid fibers, the shrapnel would have caused grave damage to his arm. Meta-Aramid fibers are a Nomex brand fiber that resists temperatures up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit but also serves as a thicker fabric for shrapnel resistance.
“I just looked over the turret to see what was around us and then we got hit,” said Miller. “I couldn’t hear anything and I felt this sharp pain in my arm, it was shrapnel that deflected off of the flight suit.”
The Huntsville, Ala., native is currently reassigned working his school-trained skill as a radio operator.
All Marines featured agreed lives were either saved or prevented from further injury, because of the effectiveness of their PPE.
“They would have suffered a lot worse injuries without that equipment,” said 25-year-old 1st Lt. Marykitt B. Haugen, company commander of CLC-117. “PPE, no matter how uncomfortable it is or how hot it is, it saves your life.”