Skip main navigation

Military Health System

Clear Your Browser Cache

This website has recently undergone changes. Users finding unexpected concerns may care to clear their browser's cache to ensure a seamless experience.

A History of the Combat Helmet and the Quest to Prevent Injuries

Image of A History of the Combat Helmet and the Quest to Prevent Injuries. A History of the Combat Helmet and the Quest to Prevent Injuries

As a critical piece of a warfighter's protective gear, the combat helmet has vastly improved over the years as new technology and better designs have reduced the risk of fatal blows and traumatic brain injuries.

The earliest combat helmets were made from bronze and used to protect soldiers from swords and arrows. They were heavy, crudely designed and did not fit well.

During World War I and World War II, standard helmets were made from thin steel. They provided protection mainly against shrapnel rather than shock waves. They were lighter and provided better protection than helmets from previous eras.

But at that time, soldiers were often reluctant to use their chin strap because they believed that "it was better for [the helmet] to be knocked off rather than injure the soldier's neck," said Alan Hawk, a collections manager for the National Museum of Health and Medicine, a branch of the Research Support Division in the Research & Engineering Directorate of the Defense Health Agency.

Technology and safety protocols have evolved in recent years, resulting in helmets that provide more protection from both projectiles and shock waves.

Modern combat helmets, like the one worn by this Marine, offer protection from both projectiles and blast waves. They are also designed to incorporate the use of communications equipment and other devices that can improve warfighter performance and capability. (Photo: Lance Cpl. Manuel Alvarado, U.S. Marine Corps) Modern combat helmets, like the one worn by this Marine, offer protection from both projectiles and blast waves. They are also designed to incorporate the use of communications equipment and other devices that can improve warfighter performance and capability. (Photo: Lance Cpl. Manuel Alvarado, U.S. Marine Corps)

Modern Helmets

Modern helmets became lighter as steel was replaced with composite materials like Kevlar. They now have padding and fitted chinstraps, allowing the helmet to stay attached during a blast. Inside, they include an energy-absorbing liner. Modern helmets are designed and tested to meet consistent standards to protect soldiers from concussions and other injuries.

Visibility is also now a key factor to helmet design.

"The best helmet in the world is not effective if a soldier walks into an ambush due to hampered vision," Hawk said.

In recent years, U.S. Special Operations Command helped develop a new helmet designed to integrate modern communications devices. The Army adopted a version of that helmet in 2002 and named it the Advanced Combat Helmet.

Modern helmets are also customized for specific jobs beyond the traditional infantry. Aircrew helmets protect from impact and noise. Helicopter aircrew have helmets that help protect against ricochets from the ground. Both helmets typically have built-in communications headsets and visors as well.

Modern helmet designers optimize protection using test standards and methods measuring the probability of neck injuries, concussions, and other injuries for specific conditions like ejection, said Benjamin Steinhauer, an engineer for the Air Force Research Laboratory's 711th Human Performance Wing.

The Future of Helmets

New helmets focus on suspension technology, which uses shock absorbing webbing, and lightweight and crack resistant materials.

While experts agree there will never be a perfect helmet, the military continues to make significant gains in protecting service members from TBI and other injuries.

"We do find ways to make helmets lighter without sacrificing the mission," Steinhauer said.

You also may be interested in...

Video
Sep 21, 2023

TBI and Low-Level Blast Exposure: What Medical Providers Need to Know

TBI and Low-Level Blast Exposure: What Medical Providers Need to Know

This educational video, produced by the Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence, focuses on the effects of low-level blast and traumatic brain injury. Its purpose is to provide supplemental information on low-level blast to health care providers and beneficiaries.

Video
Sep 12, 2023

BACH Hosts TriStar Skyline CEO and CMO

BACH Hosts TriStar Skyline CEO and CMO

Blanchfield Army Community Hospital hosted Mark Miller, Chief Executive Officer, and Dr. Kevin Hamilton, Chief Medical Officer, both with TriStar Skyline Medical Center, and provided them with a tour of the facilities including the Intrepid Spirit Center in anticipation of the future partnership with them.

Article Around MHS
Sep 8, 2023

‘Harry Bluff’ and the Curious Origin of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

The Bureau of Medicine and Surgery was established on Aug. 31, 1842, by a Navy appropriations bill passed by Congress. (Photo Courtesy of U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery)

As Bureau of Medicine and Surgery celebrates its 181st anniversary on Aug. 31, learn about the curious origin of the forgotten Navy bureau system. On this date in 1842, Congress passed a Navy appropriations bill establishing five bureaus to oversee Navy Yards and Docks; Construction, Equipment, and Repair; Provisions and Clothing; Ordnance and ...

Article
Aug 16, 2023

Walter Reed’s NICoE Scientists to Present New TBI Battlefield Biomarkers Research During 2023 MHSRS

Dr. Ping-Hong Yeh all smiles at Walter Reed in preparation for presenting new biomarkers TBI research at 2023 MHSRS. Photo Credit: DOD Ricardo Reyesguevarra

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is pleased to announce that researchers from the National Intrepid Center of Excellence will present a groundbreaking study on diagnosing traumatic brain injuries during the 2023 Military Health System Research Symposium.

Article Around MHS
Aug 16, 2023

Battle of Guadalcanal: 81st Anniversary of Operation Watchtower

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Andrew Stofila, right, and Sgt. Brandford Asomaning Jr., both with Task Force Koa Moana 23, participate in the color guard during the 81st Anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal ceremony at the Guadalcanal American Memorial in Honiara, Solomon Islands, on Aug. 7, 2023. The Battle of Guadalcanal, also known as Operation Watchtower, was a seven-month campaign that marked the first allied land offensive in the Pacific theater in World War II. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Courtney G. White)

“We struck at Guadalcanal to halt the advance of the Japanese. We did not know how strong he was, nor did we know his plans. We knew only that he was moving down the island chain and that he had to be stopped,” said U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Alexander A. Vandergrift. Guadalcanal at 81.

Article Around MHS
Aug 14, 2023

Senior Warrant Officer Awarded Soldier's Medal for Saving Lives

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Nigel P. Huebscher, command chief warrant officer for the 1st Aviation Brigade, speaks after receiving the Soldier's Medal for risking his life to save others during a ceremony at Fort Novosel, Alabama, on Aug. 7, 2023. (U.S. Army photo by Kelly Morris)

When mere seconds mattered, U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Nigel P. Huebscher, command chief warrant officer for the 1st Aviation Brigade, was first on the scene of a house fire near Bonifay, Florida, on Oct. 9, 2022. He helped save the lives of two residents.

Article Around MHS
Aug 11, 2023

Army Medical Corps Provides Continuity of Care for 248 Years

Ensuring trained and ready medical forces, particularly combat trauma surgeons, is critical to support soldiers and other service personnel in combat. Army medicine is using individual critical task lists, centrally managing trauma surgery personnel and assets, and building military-civilian partnerships with civilian level I trauma centers to ensure surgeons are getting the experience needed for battlefield surgery. (Photo: Ronald Wolf/U.S. Army)

Only 43 days separate the creations of the continental army that was formed by the original 13 American colonies and the Army Medical Corps. That short period of time speaks to the importance the corps plays in the mission of the Army.

Article Around MHS
Jul 24, 2023

Flight Medic First to Receive New Nebraska National Guard Heroism Medal

Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen and U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, Nebraska adjutant general, present the Nebraska National Guard Heroism Medal to U.S. Army Sgt. Brandi Sullivan during the Nebraska Adjutant General Change of Command Ceremony, on July 8, 2023, at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.  (Photo: U.S. Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Jamie Titus)

“To any individual serving with or supporting the Nebraska Military Department who has distinguished himself/herself by heroism, in saving the life, limb, or eyesight of a fellow citizen.” Those were the words read describing the newly authorized Nebraska National Guard Heroism Medal presented during the Nebraska Adjutant General Change of Command ...

Technical Document
Jul 20, 2023

Infographic: What is the Acute Concussion Care Pathway?

.PDF | 714.95 KB

TBICoE developed this infographic as a quick reference tool that demonstrates application of the standardized acute concussion assessment and care process. By adhering to this established pathway of care for mild TBI, providers across the MHS can ensure a reduction in unwarranted variation and foster an integrated, standardized system of readiness and ...

Fact Sheet
Jul 18, 2023

Low-Level Blast: Fact Sheet for Service Members

.PDF | 867.41 KB

Low-level blast is defined as blast generated from firing heavy weapon systems or explosives in combat or training environments. Exposure to low-level blast does not typically result in a clinically diagnosable concussion, also known as mild traumatic brain injury. Both providers and service members should be aware of the potential effects of low ...

Skip subpage navigation
Refine your search
Last Updated: December 01, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on X Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery