Operational Use of Ear Protection

This topic raised itself in comments on the post: ‘Gear: My Operational Loadout: Chris.’

I did comment on the post itself:

This hearing protection thing perplexes me a little. The advent of decent electronic hearing protection that actually amplifies sound, and thus helps you hear, is a real help. If you are in vehicles, wearing headsets, it’s not such an issue either. But my experience of being on dismounted infantry patrol, recce patrol, that sort of thing, is that you have to be able to hear. Absent electronic hearing protection that has batteries that last the whole time (not in my day), you are not patrolling with ear pro – because you have to be able hear the enemy.

If you go on the range without ear pro, it will hurt, but I don’t recall actually wearing ear pro in any surprise contact, with the exception of an ear piece/single headset (radio headsets USED to be just single ear, so you could hear with the other one). The exception would be manning a support weapon in a support by fire position, or similar, where you have time to put it on – it’s not a surprise action. If you are on patrol, and get ambushed, you won’t be wearing ear pro. Soldiers have done it for years. Perhaps it’s auditory exclusion? Perhaps its the same as being punched in a fight and hit by accident/training – you don’t feel it in a fight.

What’s the deal with this? It’s loud, but not as loud as you would think. Get over it. Wear ear pro if you can, but not on a patrol.

This may need its own post.

So here is the post. I think it is worth a discussion.

There are a few assumptions that could be made, depending on what mission/task you are doing. I just think there is an assumption out there that we all wear ear pro on the ranges, and shooting is loud and damages ears, and thus we must wear ear pro in combat. Perhaps I am just old school, but I have often been perplexed at these kinds of questions from students, when I am thinking: I never wore ear pro while on patrol…..although that is not strictly true, I may have worn (IIRC) an ear bud style ear pro opposite my ear piece while doing vehicle mounted movement, simply to try and reduce shock from IED attacks.

The thing is, if you are mounted in a military vehicle, you will be wearing some kind of headset. Whether you are the driver, commander or gunner. But the point is that you are in a vehicle, so it’s noisy, and thus noise does not matter, you are not trying to be stealthy, or talk to people, or whatever. So protect your ears when that 240 or .50 cal is going off in the turret above you.

If you are conducting a dismounted patrol, trying to be stealthy, anything like that, then you can’t wear ear pro. What is a listening halt good for if you are wearing ear pro? The point here is that if you do get into contact, then it is  a surprise contact and you won’t worry about ear pro as you are trying to break contact out of there.

The advent of electronic ear pro, such as the Howard Leight Impact Sport, means you have options where you can hear and also have ear pro. But you have battery life to consider. Now, I know much of our equipment has battery life so what’s the problem with a couple more batteries? Because I simply would  not  wear that ear pro all the time. Electronic ear pro is wonderful because it allows you enhanced hearing (thus perhaps very useful for a listening halt) while protecting from gunshot noise. So perhaps have it with you to put on if you know you are going into a fight. Perhaps for a raid?

Before we had electronic ear pro, traditionally soldiers would not wear ear pro. You wear it on the ranges but not for real. Although gunfire is noisy, you still need to be able to hear all the other noises, such as commands and enemy. If I am on a 3 day patrol, I’m not doing it with ear pro on. If I get bumped, I will just fight out of there, without ear pro. May it damage my hearing in excess? Least of my worries.

Are you going to wear your ear pro in the patrol base in case you get bumped? On sentry duty? Sleeping?

So technology has given us options, but mostly you won’t be wearing ear pro. You have to be prepared to fight without it. You won’t notice. It will be loud, but not the same as if you went on the range without it.

If you have a planned fight, by all means wear it. Support by fire machine gunner comes to mind. But if you are in the assault group, then wear electronic, so you can hear what is going on.

I’m interested in people’s thoughts and experience on this one – I think there may well be a divide between non combat  shooters who just assume they have to wear ear pro, because that’s what happens on the range, and experience in combat. But for the combat veterans, there will have been different ways of approaching this, so let’s hear them. I am sure Vietnam era vets had a different approach to current GWOT vets….