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WISH-TV: Command Mistake

Jun 4, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Every day on the 5 p.m. news, WISH-TV features photos and e-mails from soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever they are stationed. “We were trying to get more in the mindset of what our Hoosier guys are doing,” said reporter/anchor Karen Hensel, who also had been conducting interviews with and reporting weekly updates on local soldiers and veterans.
Then she got an e-mail from a local soldier on the Iraqi frontlines. “He asked me if I could help him to find padding for his helmet,” she said.
Ms. Hensel already knew that soldiers were nothing if not ingenious. She saw the coverage of Marines armoring their own Humvees (a vehicle made in South Bend, Ind.). “If the military doesn’t supply it, they’ll create it,” she said.
She began researching helmets, asking questions about whether and why they needed extra padding. “But mostly, in the back of my mind, I was asking myself, Why is a soldier buying his own equipment?”
She soon found out. For another news report, Ms. Hensel watched the tape of a March 2006 press conference held by Indiana Congressman Steve Buyer, chairman of the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee. “I’m scanning the tape looking for something, and I see him hitting his chest and his head,” she said. “We back up the tape, and he starts talking about roadside bombs, blasts and brain injuries. And I said, now we’re getting somewhere.”
The soldier’s e-mail eventually launched a six-month investigation and sent Ms. Hensel to three continents, including a first trip to Iraq, where she uncovered some frightening facts. “I started to understand the fact that more troops are killed from a roadside bomb blast than bullets,” she said. “The military is very good at protecting the soldiers from bullets. But with blasts, the impact has nowhere to go but up into their brain.”
Ms. Hensel searched for a way to tell that story, without getting mired in the medical details of brain injury. She settled on a vivid comparison that would speak volumes to her viewers. “If you have two 18-year olds and one goes to college to play football and one goes off to war, which one will be safer?” she said. The answer was the football player, in large part because Indiana University is the only Big Ten school testing a helmet that electronically measures for concussion risks with the HITS (head injury telemetry system). Local helmet manufacturer Riddell has provided the military with helmets since WWII, and now produces the HITS helmet.
To give life to the statistics of brain trauma, Ms. Hensel next profiled Greg Brooks, an army specialist who was an IED hunter so badly injured by a blast that he barely walks. Although Iraq is the first war in which the military must face the consequences of IEDs, said Ms. Hensel, helmet manufacturers have already made helmets that protect against brain trauma. “The Army and the Marines had the same research sitting in front of them [about how an improved helmet] could lessen the impact of IEDs,” she said. “But whereas the Army issued helmet pads, the Marines declined to do so.”
In a trip to Iraq, where Ms. Hensel visited Baghdad, Balad and Fallujah, she questioned Marine commanders intensely about their rejection of the helmet padding. After her trip, she said, she later found out the e-mails flew back and forth between those commanders and the brass in Washington, D.C.
“I tried to make the point that it costs $1.2 million for the rehabilitation of a brain-injured soldier and the padding costs only $30,” she said.
The real shocker came when Ms. Hensel discovered that the Pentagon had already tested several different padding manufacturers, determined which one was best—and had a large number of helmet pads already in stock. “The whole time, it was sitting on their shelf,” she said.
After WISH-TV’s reporting and questioning on the ground, the Marine command was swayed. “We got Marine Brigadier General John Kelly to agree on camera that the Marines had made a mistake,” she said. “I really admire him for saying that. He’s a guy with recent fighting time and a son in Iraq.”
Although it is impossible to know how many soldiers this switch in policy has helped, Ms. Hensel said she is “satisfied that the Marines did the right thing. The sad part is that it’s guys over there who are trying to come up with the solutions. Why is that? I think that’s the bigger question.”

2 Comments

  1. HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Have a look at the Congressional testimony part of our website. Cher went with me to holler at Congress and the Marines about helmet pads; result, all 4 branches now provide them, although they recently switched to the cheapest junk on the market with predicatable results. Visit our website for more info and emails from troops.
    http://www.operation-helmet.org

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