Baby, Its Cold Outside…

Written by: Rod Wilson
The Danner steel toe prototype boots. U.S. Air Force Photo I Airman 1st Class Alexander Nottingham

My first conversation with Lt. Col. Stephen Kroft, Commander of the 5th Contracting Squadron, was at a recent Military Affairs Committee meeting, and the topic that day was the arrival of heated gloves.

The heated gloves were not specifically developed for the 54th Helicopter Squadron but were identified as a possible solution for their gunners who are exposed to extreme cold during their missions which require open doors on the helicopters. Heated gloves are being issued to 5 BW and 91 MW maintainers and Security Forces defenders along with others who regularly work in extreme cold temperatures. The 5th Contracting Squadron was able to purchase more than 1,400 pairs of gloves for the 5 BW and 91 MW. Capt. Matt “Savage” Matuszak, the director of Atomic Spark, the Team Minot AFWERX Innovation Cell, submitted a request for innovation funds for the gloves, and Minot AFB was the only AFGSC base selected by Gen Charles Q. Brown, Jr., to receive a portion of his Momentum Innovation Funds to procure the gloves and test them for future use.

With frigid winter temperatures that can reach 50 below zero, Airmen working outdoors are exposed to extreme weather. This makes gloves an essential item in the winter. The standard-issue gloves currently used by many Airmen may protect them from the elements, but don’t offer the dexterity needed to perform their duties easily. Heated gloves were identified as a potential solution by the 54th HS during a recent IGNITOR Working Group outreach project with their unit. This is because heated gloves have the potential to provide the right balance of both dexterity and warmth the squadron was looking for. Other units face the same problem with finding gloves that are warm enough for Minot winters but still having the dexterity needed.

The Danner steel toe prototype boots.
U.S. Air Force Photo I Airman 1st Class Alexander Nottingham

Lt. Col. Kroft also referred to the arrival of new prototype cold weather steel toe boots that Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Combat Ready Airman (CRA) Program Office provided to Minot AFB maintainers for field testing during the cold extremes of a North Dakota winter.

“We received about 80 pairs of the prototype boots,” says Kroft – “They have been fitted with steel toes and distributed to maintenance personnel, in particular, on the flight line for a 60-day testing cycle. CRA asked Altama, Rocky, Belleville, and Danner to add steel toes to existing boot models and needs feedback from maintainers to determine whether they meet performance requirements.”

According to Leticia Hopkins with 88 ABW/PA, “The CRA program, which is modeled after the U.S. Army’s PEO Soldier program, performs three overarching tasks to achieve its mission. It ensures funding is available, communicates with Air Force functional communities concerning their Airmen’s OCIE requirements and coordinates with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center to have those needs met prior to issuing the finished products to the functional communities.”
After the 60-day trial, those Airmen who have been testing the boots will be given a survey to grade the boots on their performance in the field and will keep the boots. Typically, the field testing has been done at bases in Alaska, but CRA has agreed to test new apparel at Minot Air Force Base as the temperatures are often lower than in Alaska.

“We ask that our maintenance personnel provide candid feedback to help CRA determine whether the steel toe boots meet their needs or not and why they do or do not. CRA has received anecdotal feedback regarding steel toe boots but needs to see what the data shows” continues Kroft.

The focus on cold weather gear is important to take care of our Airmen, and the Air Force and 5 BW and 91 MW leadership teams want to provide the very best in cold weather gear for those who are stationed at Team Minot. The 5th Contracting Squadron buys a significant amount of cold weather gear for the base annually.

According to Kroft, “All new arrivals need cold weather gear for initial outfitting, and units also have sustainment costs to replace non-serviceable items as well. Regarding gloves, I estimate that approximately 25-40% of the Airmen assigned to Minot AFB will need to be issued cold weather gloves annually. Whether we are supplying the passive (non-heated) gloves, or the new heated gloves, we want to make sure we are buying the best gloves and cold weather gear we can find to take care of our military family. Some troops view military grade products in a negative light; but the AF Acquisitions Community, to include the 5th Contracting Squadron and Combat Ready Airman Program Office, is working to change that perspective by buying quality, innovative solutions with feedback from Airmen rather than focusing only on purchasing the lowest price technically acceptable (LPTA) products. We encourage feedback from units to ensure we are buying gear they like and want to use.”

The cost to supply an incoming Airman with the appropriate cold weather gear can range from $1,000.00 to $3,500.00, depending on AFSC and the amount and type of gear supplied. “In most cases, larger units may have a warehouse or storage room of gear on hand ready to issue to Airmen. Smaller units may buy gear as troops arrive on a just in time basis,” says Lt. Col. Kroft.

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