MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Marines are trained to be warriors ready to take on any foe on land, at sea and in the air. But what about the invisible enemies which can kill them before they have the chance to strike back?
Marines turn to one piece of issued gear they hope to never use to combat potential chemical or biological attacks, the gas mask. For years, the Corps has relied on the M-40 field protective mask to help save lives. With time and experience the need to upgrade the equipment our troops use has come.
The U.S. Army Operational Test Command chose to test the XM-50 protective mask here starting with pilot testing, July 26. The purpose of these series of tests is to see if the mask is capable of replacing the current model and also provide a joint service general purpose mask.
“Our goal is to provide the best respirator for all warfighters of the future,” said Kevin Puckace, the joint program manager for individual protection. “The best way to do that was to design a new piece of gear.”
The purpose of the mask is to protect the user from chemical and biological attack. Its filters are designed provide clean air to breath, free of substances that might harm the user.
“Instead of one larger filter on either side of the face, this mask is designed to have one smaller filter on both sides of the face,” Puckace explained. “It reduces breathing resistance and even allows for a filter to be changed out in a contaminated environment.”
These changes in design aren’t the only ones troops notice when they use the mask. Some of the testers noted they were better able to fire weapons using the new mask instead of the M-40.
“I enjoyed a better field of view,” said Lance Cpl. Tim S. Pope, a fireteam leader with Company C, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. “I was able to breathe easier and noticed that my lens didn’t fog up.”
The new mask is lightweight, made of one skin instead of two like its predecessor, and has one lens to cover both eyes. On either side of the mask is a small, removable, modular filter that is designed to accommodate secondary filters.
“The filters lock into place on the mask very easily,” said the Orlando, Fla. native. “The secondary filters slide onto the primary filters, and snap on with little trouble.”
Marines were asked to quickly don and take off their masks as part of the testing. They also conducted patrols and simulated live fire exercise by visiting the regiment’s indoor simulated marksmanship trainer facility here.
“Each Marine got the chance to fire one of the simulated weapons,” said Bonnie Thomas, a civilian contractor and retired Army master sergeant. “They shot either the M-9 pistol, the M-240G heavy machine gun, the Mk-19 automatic grenade launcher, and the M-16 service rifle.”
The Marines fired their weapons using the old mask, new mask and finally without a mask. The goal was for Marines to be able to compare the two. Some Marines found firing with old mask easier than with the new mask.
“I had to tilt my head far to the side in order to sight in,” said Pfc. Christopher Torres, a machine gunner with the company. “I think with time I could get used to firing with the new mask. I would choose to deploy with it over the older mask.”
That’s an attitude found among many of those tested. The Marines found things they liked and didn’t like about the new mask, but were more than willing to choose the new over the old.
“I’d like to deploy with it,” said Pope, who deployed to Iraq from Nov. 2005 to May 2006. “I’d like to see what effect deployment would have on it. That’s the real test for any piece of gear.”