Doctors: US-style helmets would have saved lives

IDF helmets needlessly caused serious wounds to troops in Lebanon.

idf helmet 298 (photo credit: courtesy)
idf helmet 298
(photo credit: courtesy)
Israeli soldiers needlessly suffered serious brain, face and eye wounds during the Second Lebanon War because IDF helmets do not cover the forehead and because soldiers lack visors or goggles to protect the eyes, an article by 18 Rambam Medical Center physicians summarizing their treatment of war wounded published in the May issue of Harefuah, the Hebrew-language journal of the Israel Medical Association, revealed. The authors, headed by Dr. Michael Krausz of Rambam's general surgery department, said that the IDF should adopt the helmet design of the US Army, which covers the forehead and offers much better protection for soldiers on the battlefield. "The head wounds [we treated] showed that the Israeli helmet does not adequately cover the forehead compared, for example, to the American helmet. This allowed shrapnel to penetrate the forehead and the eyes and cause severe damage to the brain," the Rambam doctors wrote. They also treated a "wide variety" of wounds - both blunt and penetrating - to soldiers' eyes, which in some cases couldn't be saved. If the soldiers had been equipped with protective goggles or with transparent visors attached to the helmets that could be pulled down when needed and pushed upwards when they interfered with visibility, the soldiers' eyes and vision could have been saved, the doctors wrote. Soldiers also should have been equipped with special protective gloves to protect their hands, the Rambam doctors wrote. While claiming not to have seen the article, the IDF stood by its helmets and said that it provided adequate protection for soldiers. The IDF further claimed that the US Army was in the process of replacing its helmets. The IDF said that its helmets currently in use provided effective protection, enabled a good line of vision, were of the right weight - allowing maneuverability - and integrated well with additional equipment such as anti-shrapnel and night-vision goggles, as well as gas masks. "The area on the forehead covered by the helmet is similar to the area covered by US helmets, but [the helmet] does not include a visor so it can be compatible with other equipment," the IDF said. The war brought Rambam 65 face wounds and 53 head wounds, in addition to wounds to the limbs, the chest, abdomen and pelvis and burns. A total of 751 operations were performed on the wounded, sometimes two simultaneous operations on the same patient. Rambam, a tertiary medical center in Haifa, treated 849 wounded during the war last July and August. Of these, 213 were soldiers (the rest were civilians hit by rockets and missiles that hit northern cities, towns and settlements.) 218 patients were hospitalized. An additional 25 patients were transferred from smaller hospitals. The authors noted that while even a tertiary hospital is not supposed to receive more than eight to 10 seriously wounded in a short period of time, a number of seriously wounded patients above that limit were admitted. Another reported shortcoming was that the evacuation of soldiers from the battlefield was often delayed, with some wounded waiting "several hours" before reaching the emergency room.