Army Should Not Ignore Ear Protection Needs

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Hearing loss is a common problem among US soldiers in training because they don't wear protection against the noises in war. The Army said precise figures aren't available. The magnitude of the problem is being analyzed this year. One hearing specialist of the Army points out that around half of 500,000 men in combat training experience severe hearing loss, disqualifying them from actual combat.

The chief audiologist at the army hospital's hearing center, said he based his estimate on a study made at Fort Jackson, where investigators found many men suffered hearing losses that forced removal from the job for which they trained. A 113 rating in hearing loss is required for this kind of action. Around 50 percent of those permanently assigned to Fort Jackson had this rating. An indication of a lesser hearing loss is indicated with a 112 ranking, which about 23.5 percent had.

The surgeon general's office advised the use of ear plugs for each Army recruit back in 1963. Implementation of this recommendation did not take place. Fitting wasn't done despite the fact that the earplugs were supplied. Army hearing specialists made this discovery that standard issue ear plugs weren't even worn in the rifle ranges at Fort Dix, NJ.

The use of ear plugs in some exercises was not recommended by range officials in certain cases. The experts' reports motivated fort officials to require the use of ear plugs. Those at Fort Knox do not see partial deafness as something unusual in their line of work. A soldier who wears ear plugs experiences pain in his eardrum when a cannon is fired.

Many of the 104 trainees and nearly all the 40 instructors on the Fort Knox range were exposed to the pounding noise of 832 rounds fired during a training session. 16 hours after a two hour exposure to the noise, an observer claimed that his ears were still ringing. Ear muffs, according to experts, should be worn by tankers to reduce the chances of ear damage.

Helicopter flight and ground crews also face hearing loss problems said the commander of the army aero medical research unit at Fort Rucker, Alaska. The helicopter helmet used by the Army is ineffective in screening noise. It is recommended that the Navy helmet be used in place of the Army helmet.

According to the Army, the helmet doesn't provide the same kind of protection necessary in case of a crash, despite the Navy's claims that it does. So does the Canadian air force which supplies its jet pilots with the same helmet. The repainted football helmets used by tank crew should be disposed of and replaced with these same heavy helmets.

Wearing the ear plugs issued by the Army is not a comfortable experience for soldiers. They would rather use cigarette filters in their ears. These substitutes, though comfortable, are not effective protective gear.

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