Sailors Test Apparel In Navy’s Bid To Boost Comfort

For Sailors working on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea, the temperature reaches about 120 degrees each day. Add 10 to 15 degrees from steam rising out of the aircraft catapults and you’ve got some hot Sailors onboard.

This deployment, more than 900 Sailors are getting help staying a bit cooler.

The Navy is having Sailors on carriers deployed to the Mideast test new flame-resistant, moisture-wicking jerseys and trousers, and the early impression on the Eisenhower: big improvement.

“The older jersey is really heavy and held moisture,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Paul West, an aircraft handler. “These seem more breathable and the air goes through them.”

“It just seems like they are lighter and they almost pull the moisture away from your body because in that kind of heat, your entire body is sweating,” he said by telephone from the ship. “It makes a huge difference.”

The Eisenhower deployed from Norfolk on Feb. 21 and passed through the Suez Canal a few days ago, so the trial is in its early stages. Sailors on the West Coast-based carrier John C. Stennis have been testing the jerseys in the Gulf since December, and the Navy says it has been getting positive feedback.

The new clothing was developed by the Office of Naval Research and Naval Air Systems based on a request in April 2011 by the force master chief at Naval Air Force Atlantic. Sailors wanted something that was flame-resistant but wouldn’t hold in heat and moisture like the old ones.

The Office of Naval Research’s TechSolutions rapid-response program determined the request for better flight deck clothing was worthy, said TechSolutions’ director, Master Chief Charles Ziervogel.

“One of the primary purposes of why we started this project is to raise the Sailors’ level of comfort,” Ziervogel said. “This is all about the safety and ability of Sailors and Marines to actually do their jobs.”

In early 2012, Naval Air Systems took the reins and began researching available commercial options. It found 11 possible fabrics that were fire-resistant and quick-drying and asked the same laboratory in Natick, Mass., that designed and developed the Navy working uniform to test them, said Capt. Nora Burghardt, a program manager at Naval Air Systems.

The lab tested each fabric for resistance to flash fires, durability and moisture wicking, putting them on mannequins equipped with special sensors. Five fabrics qualified for the next phase, which was to see how Sailors responded, Burghardt said.

“Now we are down to ‘What is the likeability, what is the comfort factor?’“ she said.

Burghardt said that Eisenhower Sailors will be the first to test two trouser prototypes, which have not yet been delivered. The West Coast-based Nimitz, which will be deploying to the Mideast later this year, will likely also test the jerseys and trousers.

The winning products should be available to the fleet by 2014, she said.

The development of the flight deck jersey protoypes started before a controversy emerged this year over the flammability of the Navy’s working uniform. Officials have acknowledged that uniform will burn rapidly and melt on the skin. An appointed panel is reviewing the matter.

Eisenhower Sailors involved in the trial received one of each of the five jerseys and are expected to fill out surveys on them during the deployment. Many already said they have a favorite.

“The jerseys are great,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Jonathan Hawthorne, who works on the catapult and arresting gear.

“At first, they are so light and thin, you wouldn’t think they have the same (fire-resistant) capabilities,” he added. “It makes you more free on the flight deck.”

A typical Sailor on the flight deck will go through 20 jerseys during a deployment, said Force Master Chief Kenneth Daniels of Naval Air Force Atlantic, whose predecessor requested the new jerseys. With the new ones, five per Sailor will likely suffice.

This could save the Navy money in the long run, he said.

Master Chief Darrin Campbell, who heads the aviation team on board, said flight deck Sailors have been wearing the same basic ensemble for the past quarter century: a long-sleeved turtleneck jersey, cargo pants, a flotation vest, a helmet with sound attenuators and goggles.

The current jersey doesn’t last more than two months in these kinds of conditions, Campbell said.

“They fade out and the material starts to break down,” Campbell said. “Everything these Sailors do here really puts (the jerseys) through the proverbial wringer. It’s brutal, absolutely brutal over here.”

Now, Sailors are excited to be trying new gear for the first time in generations, he said.

“In an organization such as the Navy, to have an input on what (Sailors) will be wearing for the next 20 years – they can feel good taking part in something like that.”

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