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U.S. company develops clothing with built-in tourniquets

RICHMOND, Virginia -- A U.S. company has developed clothing with built-in tourniquets, outfits many hope can play a pivotal role in saving lives in combat zones.

The clothing was developed by BlackHawk, a Norfolk, Virginia-provider of military and law enforcement gear. They were presented with the idea by a U.S. Army surgeon who was stationed in the Middle East and was forced to watch a colleague bleed to death from a fatal wound sustained in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on a convoy.

“It really kind of frustrated me,” said Rose, recalling the attack in which he could not reach his wounded comrade to apply a tourniquet. “You’re sitting there holding a tourniquet and we couldn’t get it to him.”

Rose, who spoke with BlackHawk once he returned to the U.S., said all he could do at the time was to talk to his colleague while the man took his last breath.

“No matter how good the tourniquet is if you can’t get it on the person at the right time, it doesn’t work,” Rose said, who now does tactical medicine consultation and medical work overseas. “It’s something that is so basic, so cost effective and so overwhelmingly life changing.”

BlackHawk’s Warrior Wear system is now being tested for use in military uniforms. It has eight tourniquets — two in each sleeve and each pant leg and is expected to retail for less than US$200 (euro140). A tourniquet fashioned from straps that look like those on backpacks are sewn into the clothing, and the straps are concealed beneath a fabric fastener.

Military officials agree having readily accessible tourniquets is important.

“Tourniquets have allowed many people with devastating injuries to come back that in another time and another place would have died,” said Col. Patricia R. Hastings, director of the Army’s Department of Combat Medic Training based at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

“If you can save a medic a few minutes of time so he can concentrate on saving your life ... it has great possibilities.”

And with the concept of battlefields changing, Rose said the system is more vital than ever.

“The way wars are fought now ... there’s no defined lines of engagement,” Rose said. “The average cook could be hit with a rocket attack while he’s carrying potatoes to the mess hall.”

Advances in body armor have made protecting the core of a body easier, but more than 60 percent of injuries in military and law enforcement conflicts today are to the extremities, said Terry Naughton, director of industrial security at BlackHawk.

Naughton said 10 percent of deaths are from injuries where blood loss was uncontrollable.

“We are confident that the day that this hits the field, that lives will be saved,” Naughton said. “And if we save one person, we’ve done our job.”

BlackHawk was founded in 1993 by Mike Noell, a former Navy SEAL who fought in the first Gulf War. The inspiration for the company came during one mission when Noell had to carry gear by foot in an enemy minefield when his pack failed, dumping the gear onto the ground.

Noell returned from combat and started making gear in his garage. The company, which has developed more than 2,500 products for military, law enforcement and the outdoor sporting community, has grown to about 250 employees nationwide and is expected to add 100 more employees within the next year.

“It’s the classic American story,” said Tom White, BlackHawk’s vice president of sales and marketing. “He literally started the business in his garage and has grown that into one of the largest tactical gear companies in the country."

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