Military bulks up to protect against groin injuries

The U.S. military is working to protect troops against an increasingly common type of injury in Afghanistan: groin wounds.

Four months ago, the Army put in a rush order for $2 million worth of ballistic underwear designed to better protect service members. Recently, the Army again put in a rush order – this time for $19 million for “ballistic groin protection and armored exterior shorts.”

There’s a good reason to take a hard look at pelvic protection. As a result of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, troops in Afghanistan are suffering more and more blunt trauma injuries to their pelvic areas and genitals. The injuries can lead to internal bleeding and in some cases be fatal.

From 2009 to 2010, the proportion of injured troops suffering wounds to their genital areas rose from 4.8 to 9.1 percent — a 90 percent increase — according to a report by a group of surgeons who studied casualties at the main U.S. military medical facility in Germany, where virtually every evacuated soldier stops en route to the United States.

Of the 142 soldiers with “genitourinary wounds” who arrived at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in 2010, 40 percent suffered an injury to the testicles.

The new pelvic protection equipment is being manufactured by Cooneen, Watts, and Stone, Ltd., a Northern Ireland firm that is among the biggest providers of clothing for the military and police in Britain.

Because of pressing need for the equipment, and given the increased use of IEDs, the Army has asked that deliveries to Afghanistan begin in less than eight weeks.

Cooneen has already supplied some 50,000 of their armored exterior shorts and 250,000 of their undergarments to British troops in Afghanistan.

In justifying the purchase without putting the contract out for bid, the Army stated: ”U.S. Forces in Afghanistan sustain significant losses of life and serious injuries to the genital, perinea (between anus and scrotum), and femoral artery areas resulting from combat operations and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).”

The Cooneen product was justified as being combat-tested in Afghanistan and as having demonstrated both “effectiveness in saving lives and limbs [and] also effectiveness in the harsh environment of Afghanistan,” the notice said.

Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washingon Post. He first came to the paper in 1966 and has covered numerous subjects, including nuclear weapons and arms control, politics and congressional investigations. He was among Post reporters awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

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