Skip main navigation

Military Health System

Clear Your Browser Cache

This website has recently undergone changes. Users finding unexpected concerns may care to clear their browser's cache to ensure a seamless experience.

A History of the Combat Helmet and the Quest to Prevent Injuries

Image of A History of the Combat Helmet and the Quest to Prevent Injuries. A History of the Combat Helmet and the Quest to Prevent Injuries

As a critical piece of a warfighter's protective gear, the combat helmet has vastly improved over the years as new technology and better designs have reduced the risk of fatal blows and traumatic brain injuries.

The earliest combat helmets were made from bronze and used to protect soldiers from swords and arrows. They were heavy, crudely designed and did not fit well.

During World War I and World War II, standard helmets were made from thin steel. They provided protection mainly against shrapnel rather than shock waves. They were lighter and provided better protection than helmets from previous eras.

But at that time, soldiers were often reluctant to use their chin strap because they believed that "it was better for [the helmet] to be knocked off rather than injure the soldier's neck," said Alan Hawk, a collections manager for the National Museum of Health and Medicine, a branch of the Research Support Division in the Research & Engineering Directorate of the Defense Health Agency.

Technology and safety protocols have evolved in recent years, resulting in helmets that provide more protection from both projectiles and shock waves.

Modern combat helmets, like the one worn by this Marine, offer protection from both projectiles and blast waves. They are also designed to incorporate the use of communications equipment and other devices that can improve warfighter performance and capability. (Photo: Lance Cpl. Manuel Alvarado, U.S. Marine Corps) Modern combat helmets, like the one worn by this Marine, offer protection from both projectiles and blast waves. They are also designed to incorporate the use of communications equipment and other devices that can improve warfighter performance and capability. (Photo: Lance Cpl. Manuel Alvarado, U.S. Marine Corps)

Modern Helmets

Modern helmets became lighter as steel was replaced with composite materials like Kevlar. They now have padding and fitted chinstraps, allowing the helmet to stay attached during a blast. Inside, they include an energy-absorbing liner. Modern helmets are designed and tested to meet consistent standards to protect soldiers from concussions and other injuries.

Visibility is also now a key factor to helmet design.

"The best helmet in the world is not effective if a soldier walks into an ambush due to hampered vision," Hawk said.

In recent years, U.S. Special Operations Command helped develop a new helmet designed to integrate modern communications devices. The Army adopted a version of that helmet in 2002 and named it the Advanced Combat Helmet.

Modern helmets are also customized for specific jobs beyond the traditional infantry. Aircrew helmets protect from impact and noise. Helicopter aircrew have helmets that help protect against ricochets from the ground. Both helmets typically have built-in communications headsets and visors as well.

Modern helmet designers optimize protection using test standards and methods measuring the probability of neck injuries, concussions, and other injuries for specific conditions like ejection, said Benjamin Steinhauer, an engineer for the Air Force Research Laboratory's 711th Human Performance Wing.

The Future of Helmets

New helmets focus on suspension technology, which uses shock absorbing webbing, and lightweight and crack resistant materials.

While experts agree there will never be a perfect helmet, the military continues to make significant gains in protecting service members from TBI and other injuries.

"We do find ways to make helmets lighter without sacrificing the mission," Steinhauer said.

You also may be interested in...

Calendar Event
Jul 19, 2024

Acute Concussion Care Pathway: MACE 2 and PRA Training

The Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence hosts a combined Military Acute Concussion Evaluation 2 and Progressive Return to Activity clinical recommendation virtual training. Attendees may earn two CEUs through the Defense Health Agency Continuing Education Program Office.

Topic
Jul 18, 2024

Injury Prevention for Mission Fitness

Injury prevention directly supports mission readiness. When service members are injured in the workplace, training, recreating or other circumstances, it impacts their ability to complete their mission.

Publication
Jul 10, 2024

DVBIC-TBICoE 15-Year Studies Population and Demographics: Natural History Study Infographic

.PDF | 1.10 MB

TBICoE's natural history study seeks to advance our understanding of the body’s response to traumatic brain injury in military populations. This infographic describes the method that service members and veterans could participate in the study and provides an overview of demographic details.

Publication
Jul 10, 2024

DVBIC-TBICoE 15-Year Studies Population and Demographics: Caregiver and Family Member

.PDF | 979.96 KB

TBICoE's 15-year caregiver and family member study seeks to understand the health and service needs of caregivers of service members and veterans with TBI. This infographic provides an overview of study demographics.

Publication
Jul 10, 2024

Infographic: NDAA FY07 Section 721 Program Structure, Methodology, and Timeline

.PDF | 569.06 KB

This infographic describes the congressional mandate, the program structure, timeline, and TBICoE's role related to Section 721 of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2007: Longitudinal Study on Traumatic Brain Injury Incurred by Members of the Armed Forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Article Around MHS
Jul 8, 2024

Celebrating 75 Years of the Air Force Medical Service

Soldier stands next to a Curtiss JN-4 air ambulance.

On July 1, 2024, the Air Force Medical Service celebrated its 75th anniversary, marking a significant milestone in its long history of providing medical support to the U.S. Air Force. Established in 1949, the AFMS has played a crucial role in ensuring the health and readiness of airmen and Guardians, evolving through the decades to operate in dynamic ...

Publication
Jun 28, 2024

Sept. 20, 2024, TBICoE QES Event: TBI and Mental Health

.PDF | 104.10 KB

The topic of military traumatic brain injury and mental health has gained attention in the media over the last decade. Join us for a discussion as we explore the relationships between TBI, suicide, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Publication
Jun 28, 2024

Acute Concussion Care Pathway: MACE 2 and PRA Training Flyer

.PDF | 236.96 KB

The Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence hosts a combined Military Acute Concussion Evaluation and Progressive Return to Activity clinical recommendation virtual training. Attendees may earn two CEUs through the Defense Health Agency Continuing Education Program Office. Download the flier for the complete 2024 training schedule.

Publication
Jun 28, 2024

2024 TBICoE Quarterly Education Series Schedule

.PDF | 216.89 KB

Save the dates with a complete 2024 schedule of the Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence's Quarterly Education Series. The QES is an enterprise-wide learning opportunity for Military Health System stakeholders. Since inception, the QES provides trainings and education events that are relevant to the MHS, discussing specialty topics and current ...

Article Around MHS
Jun 27, 2024

Corpsmen, the Cutting Edge of Navy Medicine, Celebrate 126 Years

Military personnel cutting cake at  DHA Headquarters

The 126th birthday of the U.S. Navy Hospital Corps was celebrated with great pride and tradition at the Defense Health Headquarters on June 17. The ceremony, attended by distinguished guests and personnel, honored hospital corpsman's rich legacy and invaluable contributions to the United States Navy and beyond.

Skip subpage navigation
Refine your search
Last Updated: December 01, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on X Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery