Marines carry a simulated casualty through muddy, uneven terrain during a jungle skills course at Camp Gonsalves, Okinawa. The Marine Corps recently partnered with a Maine-based technology and manufacturing company to develop inserts that dry the insides of wet boots in hours, prevent odor and could help mitigate foot infections. (Lance Cpl. Tyler J. Hlavac / Marine Corps)
Stinky, wet feet. They’ve plagued ground pounders for centuries.
But that era may be coming to an end.
The Marine Corps recently partnered with a Maine-based technology and manufacturing company to develop inserts that dry the insides of wet boots in hours, prevent odor and could help mitigate foot infections.
Biovation II, based in Boothbay, won a $978,000 Marine Corps contract June 5 to develop and test super-absorbent boot inserts, with the goal of having a field-ready product within 20 months.
The new inserts, which Marines would place in their boots when they rested, would dry the footwear in six to eight hours, according to Kerem Durdag, the company’s chief executive officer. The inserts likely would be reused between five and 10 times.
The inserts are the latest in an array of new products under development to help Marines cope with the hot, humid climates they are increasingly likely to encounter as combat operations in Afghanistan draw to a close and the service shifts its focus to the Asia-Pacific region. The service’s hot-weather Rugged All Terrain boots were recently modified to make them dry faster, and cooler uniform materials are now being tested in the jungles of Okinawa.
In early 2010, Durdag’s company began talking with service officials about the difficulties of keeping Marines’ feet healthy in Afghanistan. Even in an arid country, Marines struggled to keep their boots dry as they hopped in and out of irrigation canals in Helmand province. Wet boots led to blisters, odor and fungal infections.
“The key goal is to keep Marines’ feet dry and eliminate odor which is caused by pathogens. We want to mitigate them or completely deny them the opportunity to propagate,” Durdag said.
The company has already put three years of preparatory research and development into the product, Durdag said, so field testing will be used to refine the design to suit Marines’ operational needs, based on user feedback.
They will be tested at the Marine Corps Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, according to Barb Hamby, a Marine Corps Systems Command spokeswoman aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
“We welcome that kind of theater,” Durdag said. “The product works even better the more humid and hot it gets.”
Biovation drew from its expertise in manufacturing products for the medical, food and agriculture industries to create its inserts. They use super-absorbent polymers and polylactic acid materials — thermoplastic derived from renewable resources such as corn starch and sugar canes — to soak up liquid and give the product anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. At the very least, those materials will help keep the inserts sanitary, but they could also help combat debilitating foot infections that are common in tropical regions.
“Can we ... provide efficacy against other pathogens? Can we cut down on the risk of fungal infections? That is where our knowledge of wound care comes in handy,” Durdag said.
When paired with anti-microbial socks and clothing already in use by Marines, the chances for infection will be reduced, he said. The inserts are effective in all climates, including the Arctic, although in cold regions’ dry times are extended. They are best suited for the tropics, Durdag said, where they can be reused in just hours.
The product is also biodegradable; if buried, it disintegrates in about 18 months.That is expected to ease the logistics burden of having to remove spent gear from the battlefield.
In the next 20 months, the company will work on making the inserts lighter, but more rugged. The goal is to trim the weight of a pair of inserts to eight ounces.
“We also need to make them easy to carry and easy to stuff, so that they don’t come apart no matter how much you yank on them,” Durdag said. “They need to be Marine Corps tough.”
When not in use, the inserts should be easily compressed so they don’t eat up valuable space in a Marine’s pack. If someone wants to dry out the inserts more quickly by strapping them to the outside of his pack, they must withstand the abrasions and bumps of combat.
The contract doesn’t guarantee the Corps will purchase the inserts for fielding, but Durdag says he is confident they will help Marines operate more effectively.