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...

Publication
Oct 21, 2021

Improving Relationships after TBI

.PDF | 110.05 KB

Flier for the Interactive Relationship Building Workshop for Active-Duty Military and Veteran TBI Caregivers and Families: This flier provides information on TBICoE's educational session for caregivers of active-duty service members and veterans who have sustained a TBI. In addition to sharing caregiver resources and current research initiatives, ...

Publication
Oct 14, 2021

2000-Q2 2021 DOD Worldwide Numbers for TBI

.PDF | 532.53 KB

TBICoE is the Defense Department’s office of responsibility for tracking traumatic brain injury data in the U.S. military. Here you’ll find data on the number of active-duty service members—anywhere U.S. forces are located—with a first-time TBI diagnosis from calendar year 2000 through the second quarter of 2021. The data is also broken down by each ...

Publication
Oct 14, 2021

2021 Q2 DOD Worldwide Numbers for TBI

.PDF | 346.03 KB

TBICoE is the Defense Department’s office of responsibility for tracking traumatic brain injury data in the U.S. military. Here you’ll find data on the number of active-duty service members—anywhere U.S. forces are located—with a first-time TBI diagnosis in the second quarter of calendar year 2021. The data is also broken down by each branch of the ...

Publication
Aug 9, 2021

2000-Q1 2021 DOD Worldwide Numbers for TBI

.PDF | 362.26 KB

TBICoE is the Defense Department’s office of responsibility for tracking traumatic brain injury data in the U.S. military. Here you’ll find data on the number of active-duty service members—anywhere U.S. forces are located—with a first-time TBI diagnosis from calendar year 2000 through the first quarter of 2021. The data is also broken down by each ...

Publication
Aug 9, 2021

2021 Q1 DOD Worldwide Numbers for TBI

.PDF | 338.23 KB

TBICoE is the Defense Department’s office of responsibility for tracking traumatic brain injury data in the U.S. military. Here you’ll find data on the number of active-duty service members—anywhere U.S. forces are located—with a first-time TBI diagnosis in the first quarter of calendar year 2021. The data is also broken down by each branch of the ...

Publication
Jul 23, 2021

PRA Case Study Workbook

.PDF | 23.51 MB

This workbook, paired with corresponding PRA Training Video 8, is an interactive clinical case scenario to test your understanding in applying the Progressive Return to Activity. We hope this will help medical providers become more familiar with the PRA process when treating service members with concussion.

Publication
May 21, 2021

TBI Topic Page Review Form

.PDF | 83.33 KB

The Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence (TBICoE) manages the content on the Health.mil Traumatic Brain Injury Topic Page for the Defense Health Agency (DHA). To submit content for review and approval to this page, Military Health System agencies and other government partners can email this form, along with attached content in a Word document, ...

Publication
Feb 23, 2021

Progressive Return to Activity Following Acute Concussion/Mild TBI Provider Training

.PPTX | 7.22 MB

The TBICoE revised the Progressive Return to Activity Following Acute Concussion/Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Clinical Recommendation (PRA) and this updated provider training slide deck. The trainings objectives will help providers to identify the key changes to the updated 2021 PRA; explain the rationale for using a PRA protocol for service members ...

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