The Military Case For Hemp, According To A Navy SEAL

Gear

Welcome to Gearhead Wednesday, a regular gear review column by Chief Kristin Beck (ret.), a decorated veteran of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group and all-around badass. Send pitches and suggestions to gear@taskandpurpose.com


The worst part of military clothing is that it’s made by the lowest bidder. About three months into my third tour of Afghanistan, while deployed to Chamkani Firebase, my cammie bottoms started to fall apart from constant wear. Made from cotton and other blends of God-knows-what, my standard issue camouflage just didn’t hold up to the daily abuse of my deployment; my gear, though essential, simply couldn’t tolerate the harsh environment.

Ironically, there’s a material that is virtually fire-resistant and a thousand times more abrasion-resistant than cotton. It grows like a weed, so farmers will love it; its ecologically-sound, so hippies love it too.

I’m talking, of course, about hemp.

The applications of hemp aren’t a mystery. In 1938, Popular Mechanics praised industrial hemp as “a new cash crop… [that] will provide thousands of jobs for American workers throughout the land.” Hemp, the magazine noted, “has great tensile strength and durability … used to produce more than 5,000 textile products, ranging from rope to fine laces.”

But the promise of this cash crop never materialized: The venerable old hemp plant and its cousin marijuana have been illegal since Prohibition. While the psychoactive elements of marijuana sparked concern in the broader population, hemp got a bad rap along with its cousin; today, it;'s currently defined as a Schedule I controlled substance like LSD or heroin by the federal government and banned from commercial use in the United States for no good reason.

That ban may come to an end sooner than you think. At the moment, marijuana is legal or decriminalized in some form or another in 31 states and Washington, D.C., and a whopping 62% percent of Americans support legalization. As of August, Congress was even considering a measure to formally legalize the crop for average Americans to cultivate. With these changing attitudes, why aren’t we using this far superior fiber to make our military uniforms?

A 2015 U.S. Air Force PSA on the legal status of hemp products for service members.U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Devin Boyer

It’s a no-brainer, really: You’d be hard pressed to find one plant that is as versatile and useful Hemp products offer superior strength and fire and abrasion resistance while remaining porous and breathable, the perfect balance for everything from socks and jocks to even shoes. I can get super technical and start talking about the Taber test for abrasion or refer to the ASTM-E119 or UL-263, but is that what you really want?

Stronger than wool and probably equal if not better in abrasion and fire resistance, hemp offers alluring alternatives in the way military applications. Fast ropes used in special operations insertion could be an easy one: The current fast ropes are mostly made of wool and very expensive, but only useful for about five years. Hemp could beat that easy, in my opinion. How about a weave of hemp fabric into the Kevlar armor? Would it keep shrapnel from spraying off the plates? I want to test some stuff like this out — there’s probably a hundred things we could do better when we have better materials to start off with.

It’s worth noting that hemp even has health benefits. The seeds are extremely high in protein and the oil is one of the most healthy oils on the market with a perfectly balanced 3-to-1  ratio of Omega 6 and Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Hemp also contains Vitamin A & E, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, potassium, phosphorus just to name a few. Sounds even better than Wheaties.

The stuff is environmentally appealing as well. Hemp requires zero pesticides and uses 50% less water than cotton, which would be a godsend in drought-ridden areas. Indeed, cotton is 3% of the world’s agricultural production, but uses 25% of the worlds petrochemical inputs; hemp uses none. Adopting the crop may actually reduce U,.S. carbon output due to its simpler agricultural and manufacturing processes. Talk about a “save the planet” plant that has thousands of commercial uses!

Yes, thousands of commercial uses. You can make rope, rugs and all sorts of products; Henry Ford’s first car was reportedly built to run on hemp oil, and it was said the panels made from hemp were ten times stronger than their steel counterparts. In fact, you can get four times as much pulp from hemp per acre per year than you can from pine trees. That’s a lot of paper.

Maybe I’m aiming a little high. But in the meantime, I want the military to check out hemp cloth as a material for our field uniforms. Hemp cloth is porous and breathable, fire resistant, abrasion resistant, and takes color dyes better than cotton. If I had hemp cammies in Afghanistan, maybe they would have held up.

Wikimedia Commons/Natrij

On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.

Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.

In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army/Pvt. Stephen Peters)

With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.

After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.

Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.

McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Andrew Ochoa)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.

The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.

They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.

It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.

Read More Show Less
(Reuters/Carlos Barria)

WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions onIran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.

Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."

"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.

Read More Show Less