Morale: Urban Legends That Make You Sweat


June 23, 2008:  For the last two years, the U.S. Army has been testing t-shirts that will keep troops cool, but will not melt if exposed to the flash of an explosion. These high-tech T-shirts employ fibers that wick sweat away from the body, cooling the wearer, or keeping them warmer in cold weather. Trouble is, the polyester used to do this melts if exposed to flame, which often happens when a roadside bomb goes off, and you are in the way.  Two years ago, U.S. Marines were banned from using these polyester undergarments when in combat situations. While marines understand the physics of it all, they also note that the army has no such ban.


The marine ban is widely attributed to some craven generals who had been frightened by some weasel PAO (Public Affairs Officer) who pointed out how harmful it would be to a commanders career if the media got hold of a story about a marine getting killed because his polyester T-shirt melted. The reality was that the marines knew that the t-shirt was protected by the uniform blouse and body armor. If the flame got through all that, you were probably dead already. It was also noted that the army could not find any examples of such a melting incident. Marine officials spoke of "data suggested" and "estimated" incidents of synthetic t-shirts causing burn injuries.


The marines, who have to fight in the cold and heat, wanted the brass to get out of their underwear. The army was apparently aware of all this, and decided not to ban polyester. As a result of all this, many marines risk a fine or demotion by wearing the polyester undergarments anyway.


Meanwhile, researchers have made progress in creating a cloth that would wick, but not melt. The only problem remaining is to reduce the weight and thickness of the current materials to the point where it would be acceptable to troops. The last one was too heavy for the troops testing it, but next month a new version, 25 percent lighter than the last one, will be passed out to troops in Iraq.


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