National Guard's gear to help save lives

Three thousand of the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team are heading to Afghanistan by the end of this month.

KHQA's Melissa Shriver had a chance to go to Fort Bragg, North Carolina where these citizen soldiers are in their final days of training.

As part of our special report, "Illinois Deploys," we found out how the equipment they'll take with them is evolving to keep up with the injuries these modern-day soldiers may face in the field.

This combat team's mission is to train the Afghan National Army and Police Force...but they must be ready to fight for their lives at any moment. They also have to be ready to help any casualty of battle, so they're practicing tactical combat care in live fire situations.

The United States' missions to Afghanistan began seven years ago after 9/11. Since then, almost 150 soldiers have lost their lives, including three from the 33rd who had been there only about a month.

One of the biggest equipment changes to protect these men and women in the field, everyone has to wear one of these 50-pound armored vests.

Colonel Scott Thoele, Brigade Commander 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team said, "In the army, we have sacrificed mobility for protection so we can't move as fast with body armor on. It takes a little time to get used to.

Sgt. Anya Alford said, "After the training you adjust to it. At first, it is hard. I admit it''s hard, but you get used to it. I've been wearing this since January of 2007 so now its like I'm not wearing it."

Due to the injuries they've seen in the field, soldiers wear heavy protective helmets in the field, as well as ballistic glasses to shield their eyes. Another recent development is the addition of burn-resistant gloves to address another common injury.

The hope is this gear and steady training will help these men and women return to their families safely.