Feds at Work: Innovating to protect U.S. Marines

Designed lighter body armor that improves mobility and long-term health

For years, Marines have entered combat wearing cumbersome protective gear that tips the scales at 150 pounds, making it difficult for them to be quick on their feet, climb into armored vehicles or stand guard for long periods.

Flora Jordan (Photo by Aaron Clamage)

More comfortable gear is on the way, however, thanks to innovative equipment developed by Flora Jordan, an armor and load bearing team engineer with the Marines Corps Systems Command.

Jordan, known as Mackie, worked on re-engineering body armor, making it 45 percent lighter than existing gear, equally protective, and adjustable so it can fit better on men and women of all sizes. Because it is lighter weight and more ergonomic, it also could improve the long-term health of Marines by easing back and shoulder stress.

“This design will impact every Marine in the Marine Corps,” said Col. Mike Manning, program manager at Infantry Weapons Systems. “It will enable Marines to be out in the fight longer and be more comfortable.”

Coming to the armor and load bearing team right out of college in 2012, Jordan made an early decision to use her newly minted engineering skills to fix a problem — the heavy, awkward-fitting gear she kept hearing about from Marines in the field.

“What makes Mackie stand out is her approach to go out and get feedback upfront from Marines.” ~Nick Pierce

Usually, a reconfiguration of gear is done from the top down. “We predominately come up with what we think is good,” said Nick Pierce, the team leader. “We bid it out to various companies, and they submit something, which is why some of the gear has been inadequate in the past.”

Instead, Jordan went to the Marines who wear the gear, spending more than a year interviewing 600 of them in different specialty units. She went on training marches wearing the gear and collected data on possible improvements.

“I wanted to understand what wasn’t working,” she said.

After getting approval, Jordan worked with her team to develop gear Marines can tailor to meet specific needs, enabling them to use all or some of it at any given time. For instance, a Marine doesn’t need to wear all the components in an armored vehicle.

As prototypes were developed, Jordan went back to test new ideas.

“What makes Mackie stand out is her approach to go out and get feedback upfront from Marines,” Pierce said. “That’s very different than what we have done in the past.”

“We never lost connection with the Marines,” she said. “I was just the translator of what they were telling me.”

What started as a side project with little funding and a short deadline has grown into a program that is attracting other armed forced branches, including the Army and Navy, whose personnel Jordan consulted along the way.

To make the best use of funding, Jordan built a network of government partners to help with research and design, including the Defense Department’s University of Affiliated Research Centers. The redesign cost a relatively small sum compared to a typical redesign.

And it is “absolutely game-changing,” said Lt. Col. Robert Bailey, former program manager of the Infantry Combat Equipment Office.

The system is in the final testing phase. The intent is to buy the armor next year.

Jordan now is working on a pack system redesign to integrate it better with the body armor and improve weight distribution between the shoulders and hips.

Her work is fulfilling a dream, Jordan said.

“I wanted to serve my country and those who serve us and, in the end, that was what pushed me.”

Bailey sees Mackie’s ultimate contribution as bigger than the armor itself. Marines “don’t really know what goes on at the Marine Corps Systems Command, but now they are going to remember Mackie hiking with them in boots and jeans, and reflect on how far their command is willing to go to make improvements happen.”

Flora Jordan is a finalist for a 2017 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, or Sammies. Each year, the Partnership for Public Service honors federal employees whose remarkable accomplishments make our government and our nation stronger.

For the third year, we will also present the annual “People’s Choice” award. Please vote for the person or team you find most inspiring. (Voting closes at 11:59 p.m. EST on September 15, 2017.)

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