THE PENTAGON — The U.S. Army will begin issuing updated protective gear for soldiers in direct contact with toxic command climates, Army Chief of Staff General Mark A. Milley told reporters Tuesday.
The standard kit, a rubber suit and gas mask designed to resist nuclear, biological, and chemical contaminants, has been completely redesigned by DARPA scientists for units that emit debilitating and toxic fumes that affect morale. Engineers were tasked with creating a system to remove soldiers entirely from the reality of garrison life, which can be inundated with micromanagement, sexual harassment, pointless drudgery, and the petty personal politics of higher-ups who view underlings as little more than poker chips.
Milley donned the new technology, a virtual reality visor that soldiers will be issued in the coming weeks, as he spoke to reporters at the Pentagon.
“See now,” he said, pressing a button on the side of the device. “I’m at a stream. This is fish-mode. I can cast — I can, oh, you know what, damnit, I’m in a tree, son of a mother—”
The visor has been through five different versions since being conceived in 2010, according to Dr. Harriet Crenshaw, who led the team of designers.
“Having served in the Navy, I was very familiar with toxic command climates,” she said. “I had primary source information about living in confined quarters among gossipy peers and superiors, and lived under a general atmosphere of claustrophobic, paranoid, hell-on-earth that so many commanders cultivate.”
The key to the project, she said, was to offer a total psychological escape from the often-surreal experience of military life.
“A junior enlisted soldier, for instance, deployed to a combat zone who just got off of a Skype call in which his wife taunted him about her infidelity. Instead of having this kid return to an environment in which he can be forced into some petty, nonsense task at the whim of a leader who hates him because of the color of his skin, he should be equipped with protective equipment that will keep his sanity intact for at least a few moments," Crenshaw said.
The visor works by plugging directly into the user’s brain, stimulating the visual cortex, conjuring vivid dream-worlds in which anxious soldiers can find desperately-needed peace of mind. They also render the soldier deaf to external sound, a feature that was very important, officials added.
“Blocking out the sound of angry shouting was the first change we made after initial trials of the prototype in 2010,” she said.
DARPA, which is credited by some with creating the internet, has a history of technological breakthroughs that have had wider commercial application. According to The Wall Street Journal, several start-up companies have gotten seed funding for other applications of the technology, including blocking out cable news and holiday political discussions entirely.