"If possible, the US army would like to dress its men and women in uniforms that protect them from all that modern warfare has to throw at them: flames, explosives, bullets, lasers, bomb-blasted dirt, blister agents, anthrax, sand fleas. They would like these same uniforms to keep soldiers cool and dry in extreme heat, to stand up to the ruthless rigors of the Army field laundry, to feel good against the skin, to look smart, and to come in under budget. It might be easier to resolve the conflicts in the Middle East."
But the armed services are doing their best, as Mary Roach demonstrates in her most recent book, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. The author has visited facilities from Natick, Massachusetts, to Camp Lemonniere in Djibouti. She trains with Army Rangers to observe the sweat-testing scientists, who are interested in the fact that some people sweat more than others, which is a very good thing when you are toting 60 lbs and in the middle of a fire fight in the desert. They are also interested in smell and how to keep it down to a tolerable level.
She talks with a Navy Seal about diarrhea and how these men deal with its inevitability. Baby wipes, says the Navy guy. "Nah," says the Seal. "Just tear a piece off your T-shirt and use that."
Moving on. The army tests fabrics for resistance to fire. It doesn't have to resist long. Fire from a blast flashes by in seconds so if you have a fabric that, even when blown up against the skin of the soldier experiencing the bomb, resists fire for that second or two, that's enough.
She tells the reader about hearing loss and how the services try to avert it, the advances surgeons have made in treating genital wounds resulting from IEDs, how they train medics to face the extremely gory battlefields of modern war, and how air conditioning contributed to reducing sick bay calls.
And much more. Mary Roach writes about applied science and she has a winner here as science is applied to war and the problems of the soldiers who have to fight it.