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Marine Corps to field fast-drying boot inserts

March 7, 2015 (Photo Credit: Cpl. Alejandro Pena/Marine Corps)

While Marines are quick to joke about the medical advice they get from Navy corpsmen to change their socks, the effort can go a long way in preventing foot rot, which can drop a ground-pounder from the fight for weeks.

That's why the Marine Corps is working with a technology and manufacturing company to develop boot inserts that mitigate odor and foot infections by drying soaked boots in hours.

The inserts already underwent testing last summer and early fall at the Corps' Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, Japan, and could be delivered for use as early as this summer.

Biovation II, based in Maine, will begin producing the inserts on a commercial scale in June. It's the culmination of a research and development partnership with the Marine Corps, which is searching for lightweight, quick-drying uniform items suitable for tropical climes, like the Asia-Pacific region.

Called DryRight, Marines will place the new inserts into their boots when they're not in use for six to eight hours, according to Kerem Durdag, the company's chief executive officer. The inserts likely would be reused five to 10 times, he said. They are technically guaranteed up to five uses, but through improvements they now have the potential to be used 10-15 times before needing replacement.

"The key goal is to keep Marines' feet dry and eliminate odor, which is caused by pathogens," Durdag said. "We want to mitigate them or completely deny them the opportunity to propagate. Can we cut down on the risk of fungal infections? That is where our knowledge of wound care comes in handy."

The inserts received positive reviews during testing in Okinawa, Durdag said, although the company did change the product as a result of feedback.

"In a handful of cases, material at the seams started to lose a little mechanical strength," he said. "Not enough for product to fail, but we want to make it stronger."

During development, the company also made the product more flexible and pliable for easy storage, and tweaked instructions to ensure they were clear.

Most importantly, the company was able to make the inserts perform better in various types of water, whether fresh or brackish and in various temperatures, whether hot and sultry or cool.

When paired with anti-microbial socks and clothing already in use by Marines, the chances for infection will be reduced, he said.

When not in use, the inserts can be easily compressed so they don't eat up valuable space in a Marine's pack. Marines can dry the inserts quickly by strapping them to the outside of their packs. As a result, the inserts must be durable enough to withstand the abuse they will be exposed to in combat environments.

The product is also partially constructed from "sustainable biopolymers" meaning if buried about half of it will biodegrade within 18 months. That is expected to ease the logistics burden of having to remove spent gear from the battlefield.

The testing is part of a $978,000 contract the Marine Corps awarded to Biovation II in June 2013 to develop and test super-absorbent inserts, with the goal of having a field-ready product within 20 months. The project has moved along near its original timeline.

Exactly when the Marine Corps will place its first order remains to be seen, but company will be prepared in June, Durdag said. Within another year or two, they plan to expand into the civilian market for outdoor enthusiasts, hunters and even expedition adventure travelers.

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