Resurgence of Interest in Wool by Military an Exciting Development
March 31, 2005
By Mitch Driggers
March/April 2005 -- What's green from head to toe, wears cowboy boots and wool underwear? No, it is not Kermit the Frog in the wintertime, but rather Mitch Driggers, the American Sheep Industry Association's (ASI) government procurement consultant, modeling the latest in fire-retardant flight clothing.
"For the first time in more than 30 years, the military is considering reintroduction of wool in utility uniform items," explained Driggers to attendees of the ASI Wool Council/Roundtable Meetings held in conjunction with the 2005 ASI Convention in Reno. "I'm wearing the first examples."
The sage green Flyer's Coveralls are made from wool and Nomex, a blend that improves comfort without sacrificing fire protection and is less expensive than 100-percent Nomex.
The fabric was designed by ASI's Product Development Consultant, Parvez Mehta, Ph. D., with industry cooperation from Pharr Yarns and Forstmann Woolen. The lower cost of wool/Nomex vs. 100-percent Nomex will allow the army and other military services to provide fire-retardant clothing to more soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines worldwide.
In an effort headed by Mehta, ASI has a first-ever development contract from the U.S. Army Soldier Center for the development of suitable dyes and dye techniques to allow the wool/Nomex to be dyed with a digital camouflage pattern -- a feat not possible with 100-percent Nomex fabrics.
"The camo print will make wool/Nomex viable for use in a wide range of applications," said Driggers.
"The project is on budget and ahead of schedule," he added. "We expect it to be a complete success."
But Driggers' coveralls were just part of the story. The other part involved the black, 100-percent wool underwear t-shirt he was wearing.
"The Army currently has a big problem with synthetic underwear garments worn by soldiers, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the underwear easily melts, causing severe burns to wearers," explained Driggers. "One hundred-percent wool solves that problem."
And what about the comfort factor of wearing wool next to skin? Not a problem, thanks to a revolutionary process called biopolishing, invented by Jeanette Cardamone, Ph. D., of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with input from ASI's Mehta.
During biopolishing, scales are removed from wool fibers, thereby softening and smoothing them in the process -- making next-to-the-skin wear possible. And just like the coveralls, assured Driggers, the underwear is both comfortable and easy to care for.
"The Army has a limited number of soldiers wearing this underwear in Iraq and Afghanistan today ? it is a huge success," he said. "The soldiers want more, as soon as they can get it."
The Army agrees and is currently exploring funding requirements to outfit an entire brigade.