News | April 21, 2016

Soldier who survived gunshot is presented lifesaving helmet

By Beth Reece

Army Staff Sgt. Thalamus Lewis was searching for hidden explosives in Afghanistan on Oct. 4, 2012, when a bullet from enemy fire knocked him to the ground. Gunfire continued and Lewis bowed to instinct, lying still in the middle of the road until the unit’s lead vehicle approached and gave him cover to move to safety.

Lewis eventually escaped danger, never knowing he’d been shot in the head until he was in a medical facility back on base.

“Once they told me I took a round to the ACH [Army Combat Helmet], my first thing was, I want to see it. I looked and it and I was like OK. The inside of it where I took the round was all puffed out, so that is when I started saying, ‘It actually works.’”

The helmet that saved Lewis’ life was returned to him April 19 at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, by Program Executive Office Soldier, which routinely reunites soldiers with body armor and helmets that protected them from death. Such presentations often bring healing and closure to recipients, said Army Col. Dean Hoffman IV, who oversees soldier protection and individual equipment for PEO Soldier.

Equipping soldiers with personal protective gear, which ranges from boots and helmets to body armor, is a collaborative effort that involves organizations such as the Defense Logistics Agency, PEO Soldier, the U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command, Army Research Laboratory and Army Test and Evaluation Command.

“DLA’s role is to keep soldiers supplied. The Army doesn’t have a logistics system to continue to sustain the item after it’s fielded, so DLA buys and stocks the item for them. As a result, we can quickly get helmets to troops in Afghanistan or even here at Fort Belvoir,” said Keith Ford, deputy director of clothing and textiles for DLA Troop Support.

The lifecycle management of protective equipment begins at the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, where soldiers’ needs and requirements are determined. Those requirements are then documented and outlined at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. Next, PEO Soldier creates the equipment based on the requirements and new technology discovered by the Army Research Lab at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, as well as prototypes developed by the Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center at Natick, Massachusetts.

Once PEO Soldier creates and fields the initial equipment, it is transferred to DLA for sustainment. The transition is a critical phase because several things can go wrong, Ford said.

“The biggest challenge is that you have one contractor in the initial fielding stage. It’s a competitive business, so somebody else could get the contract for sustainment,” he said.
PEO Soldier now collaborates with DLA Troop Support on contracts, allowing the agency to use or maintain existing contracts during transition so there’s no interruption in support to soldiers, Ford added.

DLA also works closely with the Army Test and Evaluation Command, which continues testing clothing and protective gear after new contracts are signed to ensure the items meet Army requirements and standards. And when Army officials update an item with new technology or to make equipment more suitable for soldiers’ needs, DLA usually knows well in advance.

“We know when potential changes are coming, and we’re ready to modify our contracts with the manufacturing industry when needed,” Ford said.

Much of the clothing and personal equipment DLA buys goes to TACOM LCMC, which acquires equipment from DLA Distribution and issues it directly to soldiers who use it. Harry Veneri, director of clothing and heraldry for TACOM LCMC, said his staff reaches out to DLA by email or phone at least 30 times a day to make sure equipment is available where and when it’s needed.

“There’s constant communication, demand planning, backorder reviews and management meetings that allow us to partner and mitigate issues that come up,” he said.

Just before Operation Atlantic Resolve, a series of multinational training and security cooperation activities that took place early this year in Eastern Europe, Veneri’s staff discovered an urgent need for cold weather boots, which come in 117 sizes.

“DLA ramped up production for us and we collaborated on sizing, which wasn’t easy. But in the end, we made it possible for thousands of soldiers to participate in Operation Atlantic Resolve with the right protective equipment,” Verneri said.

The weight and comfort of the gear he was issued before deploying to Afghanistan evoked plenty of grumbling among the soldiers in his unit, Lewis said. Now, he knows that the planning and technology behind that gear is the result of work from lots of people and numerous organizations dedicated to ensuring soldiers have the best. He’s a walking testament.