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Better gear under evaluation for both winter, tropical climates

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Oct. 14, 2014) -- Up in Alaska, the Army is looking to evaluate some new winter weather gear for Soldiers, including newer face masks, better gloves, and more modern tentage.

Unlike much of what the Army buys, however, the new gear is non-developmental, commercial off-the-shelf equipment that has been suggested for adoption into the Army by the very Soldiers who will end up using it. Soldiers make such suggestions through the Soldier Enhancement Program, or SEP, which is part of Program Executive Office Soldier.

"We bought about ten different items, and we're going to take them to Alaska, and we're going to test them this winter," said Col. Gordon T. Wallace, program manager for Soldier Warrior, during the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.

The winter environment, Wallace said, has not got much attention over the last decade.

"So some of the equipment the Soldiers are issued up there is fairly outdated," Wallace said "And there are a lot of new things on the market today, that people perceive as a lot better."

One example, is the XGK Stove. Other items include skis, bindings, gloves, boots, tents, sleds and face masks.

"We'll take them to Alaska this winter, and do a series of testing and get a lot of information from that and move some of these items straight into a program of record," Wallace said.

He said that there's not just one item from one vendor, but multiple examples of gloves, boots, skis, etc. Additionally, the suggestions came from many Soldiers, Wallace said.

At the other end of the weather spectrum, SEP has in the last month started looking also at jungle equipment with 25th Infantry Division, and the Jungle Warfare School in Hawaii.

While there are no timelines yet, he said, the SEP is looking at such items as quick-drying fabrics, water purification items, and boots.

"I think that is the number-one requested items," Wallace explained. "So we are going to be getting some different ones, and some that Soldiers have seen before, I believe, and test those."

Soldiers who have ideas about how commercially available products -- things they might buy online or in stores -- could be used to improve the combat effectiveness of Soldiers, can visit http://www.peosoldier.army.mil/sep to submit their ideas.

Wallace said after that, the SEP does extensive evaluation to ensure the product is a good fit for the Army, that it is needed, that it has buy-in from the Army, and then that it is safe, that it does what it is supposed to do and that it fills a capability gap. He said the goal is to have everything done within a year, though that doesn't always pan out, especially with complex weapons systems.

Wallace said each year about 200 suggestions come into the SEP, though many are weeded out due to comparable items already in the Army inventory.