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February 2, 2012
By Bob Reinert, USAG-Natick Public Affairs

NATICK, Mass. (Feb. 2, 2012) -- Maybe it looks like a camouflage money belt on steroids, but it could save Soldiers' lives.

The new Individual First Aid Kit, or IFAK, being developed at the Natick Soldier Systems Center eventually will be carried by every Soldier in a combat environment.

"We designed it literally about three or four months ago," said Rich Landry, individual equipment designer with the Load Carriage Prototype Lab, Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment, at NSSC. "The medical community said, 'Awesome idea. Let's move out with it.' Overwhelmingly, they thought this was a huge improvement over the current IFAK."

As Landry pointed out, the current IFAK, developed rapidly in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom to fulfill a critical need, has proved rather unwieldy.

"This thing is just kind of a brick on your side that gets in the way of everything," said Landry of the current bulky IFAK, which was built into an existing Squad Automatic Weapon ammo pouch. "It was very, very quick, because they needed them right away."

More thought has gone into the new IFAK, a streamlined, two-piece system that features a pouch with an insert that slides out to allow easy access to medical equipment from either side.

"It supports all the critical items to the individual Soldier's medical needs," Landry said. "The beauty of this system, compared to the old one, is that it allows the Soldier to place it on (his or her) body in a spot where it can be easily accessible, which is the critical piece, but also not get in the way of other important tactical pieces of equipment."

Landry said 30 new IFAKs recently underwent evaluation at Fort Polk, La., where a platoon of Soldiers carried them through a training rotation. The early feedback has been positive, he added.

"We're very sure this is the direction the Individual First Aid Kit is going to go, hopefully, for all services, but you never know," Landry said. "That would be icing on the cake."

The new IFAK carries even more medical gear than the first version, including two Combat Application Tourniquets. Still, its lower profile allows a Soldier to wear it comfortably in the small of his or her back under the Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment, or MOLLE, Large or Medium backpack.

"And that's critical for us, because the big picture in load carriage is the backpack piece," Landry said. "That's where a large percentage of the load and bulk comes from. And it's critical that we still have to be able to carry that.

"All you do is reach back and pull (the IFAK) out, and it doesn't matter what side you pull it out from," Landry said. "So if this hand is injured, you can reach behind with this (hand) and pull it out, or your buddy can get to it."

Such innovation is Landry's calling card at Natick. A former Pathfinder with the 82nd Airborne Division, he began tinkering with outdoor equipment at a young age.

"My sister taught me how to sew," Landry recalled. "Every backpack I got, every piece of equipment I got, was modified in some way, shape or form. That's just how my brain works. Nothing can be left alone. Nothing's perfect in my mind, as far as outdoor equipment, and that's a curse."

It's also been a blessing for Soldiers, who have worn equipment all around the world that Landry developed in his lab.

"The ability to know what they need, as opposed to what they want, is a little bit different," Landry said. "That's just what I do. It's what I love. I'm in a perfect place to do that."