Army engineer humbled by bullet-stopping impact

April 26, 2016

By Joyce Martin, U.S. Army Research Laboratory

Shawn Walsh pushed through a crowded lobby that was filled with chattering voices, because he wanted to be standing right there when Staff. Sgt. Thalamus Lewis stepped out of the van for his tour of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory on April 20.

This was not just any VIP tour, no four-star generals in tow, no business executives and none of the ground-breaking scientists, all of whom Walsh has greeted time and time again over the last year.

Lewis was visiting the laboratory because his Advanced Combat Helmet was penetrated by machine gun fire that was hard enough to knock him to the ground in Afghanistan in 2012, yet he got up with a small scratch on the temple of his head, and continues to serve.

Program Executive Office Soldier, or PEO-Soldier, the organization that puts Army capabilities into the hands of troops, had returned the protective gear that stopped the bullet that threatened this Soldiers' life on the day before; and was introducing him and his family to the people at each stage of the helmet's development at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Jyuji D. Hewitt, who is the executive deputy to the commanding general, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, along with Col. Kevin L. Ellison, ARL's Military Deputy, were among the first to give Lewis a warm welcome to APG on behalf of both organizations.

"There is nothing more important in our mission than developing technology to protect this Soldier and the ones who come after him," Ellison said.

The Soldier Protection team had a line up ready to talk about everything from the nuances of the ceramic used in head gear to the latest in mitigating head to ground injuries and the more futuristic design of a newer Robotic Augmented Soldier Protection concept.

"Here's a Soldier who put himself in harm's way," Walsh said. "He's still in the Army. If he's going to keep going, then we have to keep going as a research lab to give him the best protection possible."

The Soldier protection team has been working on helmets that increase stopping power by 35 percent over the ACH that Lewis was wearing.

"Obviously I'm feeling a little emotional because here he is with his family, and his brother, and it is a little exciting," Walsh said. "We are not just protecting a Soldier, we are protecting a 'loved one.' "

The other thing Walsh said he felt was pride in his colleagues.

"We're the people behind the curtain," he said. "It's an honor that Col. [Dean] Hoffman has the foresight to think about making that connection. A lot of times we show the product, which is the helmet, but there are a lot of people, and not just ARL, but a range of people who they are visiting today that made this possible."

Hoffman is the Program Manager for Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment who planned three days of activities, which included a Town Hall at Fort Belvoir, Va. and on the third day, a congressional tour in Washington D.C. for Lewis, a Georgia native.

Walsh pointed out that the ARL-led ManTech helmet technology efforts, in conjunction with early helmet prototyping with Natick Soldier Research, Development & Center and PEO Soldier's drive to develop better ballistic fibers and matrix materials, have led to a helmet that is used across the Army and Marine Corps; the Future Assault Shell Technology Helmet fielded to U.S. Special Operations; and the Navy SEAL's "Maritime" helmet, which was issued to Navy SEALS during the raid and capture of Osama Bin Laden.

"You do the work you do," Walsh said. "This is going to be my 31st year here because the laboratory has empowered me to push the limits of Soldier protection," Walsh said.

Lewis said he had no idea of everything that went into his protective equipment. He got into the truck with medics following his ordeal with the 41st Engineer Company, 1st Engineer Battalion, FOB Airborne, and he just "figured everything would be alright," he said.

Later he saw a picture of the helmet he wore prior to the battle damage analysis, and it scared him a little bit to see how close the bullet came to his head, he said.

"I was in a little accident, but I'm alright," is what Lewis told his mother, Cynthia Boggan. She did not hear the full account for some time, because her son did not want to make her more concerned about his serving in Afghanistan.

Tarone Boggan, Lewis' younger brother, 14, who also accompanied him on the visit, said he was shocked.

He tried out weights used to test the force of impact in a room with a small device and a large, heavy dropping ball. He saw a demonstration of tests used to test his brother's protective gear.

Tarone and his older brother, left with a small token of gratitude before they went on to the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, a poster of the newest technology that they shared during the visit signed by the Soldier protection team.

"I am happy that Thalamus was fighting for our country and that he is still alive to be here with me and my family," Tarone, said.


Last Update / Reviewed: April 26, 2016