KAJAKI, Afghanistan – It’s time to make a confession: I’ve been wearing a diaper in combat.
Not because I can’t handle being in Afghanistan, mind you. Bad things can happen here, but you have to make peace with that before you step on the plane.
No, I’m wearing an armored “diaper” because it has become a requirement for many Marines in theater. When I asked Lt. Col. Kevin Trimble, commander of 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., about the new gear fielded to protect Marines’ groins from blast injuries, he issued the armor to photographer James Lee and I, too.
As you can see in the photograph above –- and yes, I decided to have fun modeling –- the most significant piece of the armor is worn on top of the pants. That’s “Tier 2” protection for blast injuries. It includes a thick, flexible pad wrapped in fabric that folds in between the legs over vital areas. The new ones issued have Marine pattern camouflage, but many of the infantrymen with 1/8 are wearing British camouflage because the Brits fielded the gear first and the Corps wanted to get the item in the field as quickly as possible.
A Marine – or a journalist, for that matter – puts the armor on by using loops to hang it from his belt around his backside. The item is then pulled forward around the bottom and clipped with a buckle and straps around each hip. Two Velcro straps on the front side are then looped around the belt near the zipper.
The item is issued with a “Tier 1” blast-resistant undergarment. It’s mostly polyester and reinforced with silk, and feels almost like thick spandex. It comes down to the knee underneath the pants – “blast boxers,” essentially.
The battalion requires Marines to wear the item everywhere outside the wire, including in convoys and on foot patrols.
“I’m a fan,” said Maj. Kemper Jones, the battalion’s executive officer. “It’s a pain in the neck and it’s hot and sweaty, but it’s keeping us safe.”
I was initially concerned the gear would slow me down while out with foot patrols. However, after wearing it outside the wire twice, it’s not as bad as I expected. Considering I was already wearing a vest with armor plates and a helmet, it kind of all felt like one package.
There’s also a certain peace of mind that goes with wearing it –- I don’t have any children, but I’d like to someday.