While slashing through the streets of Baghdad and sending people to the hospitals at the rate of 100 an hour, American invasion forces wore the best lid money could buy, the Personal Armor System Ground Troops (PASGT) (pronounced “pass-get”) Kevlar helmet.
Its lineage is magnificent.
“The current American Army helmet . . . bears a striking resemblance to the Model 1935” steel helmet worn by “the Wehrmacht, the Waffen-SS, and auxiliary formations of the Third Reich,” according to A Brief History of the German Stahlhelm.
(Our military’s designers resent the comparison, insisting they came to the American stahlhelm merely by using the same methods as the Germans. If it looks like a duck . . . )
The stahlhelm was the master helmet, the most ruthless-looking kopf holder of WW II, a fact not lost on young boys fond of playing Army Man in the ’60s. Its light weight “gave the wearer maximum mobility and proved excellent . . . for the blitzkrieg tactics employed by the Wehrmacht,” according to the Brief History.
These considerations were also paramount with the PASGT, which weighs, depending on head size, from 50 to 57 ounces. Its DuPont Kevlar fiber stops 50 percent of shrapnel traveling at not more than 2,000 feet a second, when .22 caliber, 17- grain test fragments are used. That’s damn fine!
And so it is that, in pictures from the front, the Third Mechanized Division, and even the gyrenes, have stood like a 21st-century version of the Afrika Korps panzergrenadiers, an image perhaps startling to their British colleagues in Iraqi Freedom, the Desert Rats. A day before the fall of Baghdad, a marine commander stared emotionlessly into a cable news camera and stated his formation had to look hard to keep Iraqi civilians at bay. His PASGT stahlhelm put an exclamation point to it. That man was very hard, just rigid.
Iraqi Freedom embeds the artistry of the stahlhelm in the mainstream, irrevocably prying it away from the fringe as fashion accessory to outlaw bikers and ruffians in Any Which Way but Loose. Not just for Erich von Zipper anymore, it’ll be the hot gift for the kids’ home re-creations of the desert campaign. Expect to pay $250 from a surplus dealer, or about half that from a soldier needing cash.
Tyrant removal aside, the PASGT helmet’s a poor contemporary look. In the grand scheme of pre-emptive war, it’s better to resemble panzer troops less—at least on TV. In this matter, the Brits’ more trad round pot is better.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 15, 2003