To never go to war unarmed is a no-brainer. But not every defensive measure available to the U.S. Armed Forces is a weapon.  In making every effort to keep our men safe and protected from any chemical, biological, radiological, and even nuclear attack, the Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear is offered. This is a piece of personal protective equipment for the military, and not exactly popular with the troops who have to wear it in the field.

MOPP gear has five levels depending on the severity of the potential hazard in place. Over garments, gas masks and hoods, gloves, boot covers are the necessary pieces of gear to protect our soldiers.

Let’s look at these various levels. 

MOPP Level 0

MOPP level 0. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bill Gomez)

At this level, personnel must have all the above gear on-hand and ready to use. This is used during a chemical and biological threat and pre-attack, as outlined in Army Study Guide.

MOPP Level 1

MOPP level 1. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bill Gomez)

This level requires men to wear their overgarments and field gear with footwear covers and the mask and gloves are carried. This level is generally used when a chemical and/or biological attack in theater is possible. This means a chemical threat is present, so troops must remain alert, as the hazard could escalate at any time.

MOPP Level 2

MOPP level 2. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bill Gomez)

As you might’ve guessed by now, as the potential risk of attack increases, the MOPP level also increases. This level mandates that ground pounders quickly put on both over garments and boot covers. Mask and gloves still at the carry position. This level is generally used when a chemical and/or biological attack in theater is likely. This is the most commonly used MOPP Level, as it affords the wearer a higher protective posture and a shorter response time to MOPP 4 when directed, says an article from Royal Air Force Lakenheath.

MOPP Level 3

MOPP level 3. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bill Gomez)

At this level, the threat of coming in contact with hazardous vapors is high. Personnel will wear the over garment, over boots, protective mask, and hood.  You will notice that the gloves are still off.  This is because this change in MOPP status may be going on while troops are engaged in fighting or the case of Air Force or Navy personnel, they are working on aircraft and need use of their hands.

MOPP Level 4

MOPP level 4. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bill Gomez)

The scariest level is used for the highest degree of chemical and/or biological attack. Protection is required, or when chemical and/or biological agents are present, but the actual hazard has not been determined. This means all protective gear must be worn.

Because the mask reduces your audible range to hear commands, troops are trained to respond to hand signals and this requires a high level of alertness. Many chemical agents are absorbed through the skin so, there may not be much time to react when you are ordered to button up completely.

While the soldier is encased in MOPP like this he is wearing an impermeable layer of protection from most chemical and biological weapons in liquid or aerosol forms. The suit won’t stop radiation exposure, but contaminated fallout can be washed off the suit with water and a cleaning solution.  While most infantry units are trained in the use of this gear, it isn’t part of their normal issued gear in the field and is kept in storage.  The vacuum packs have a shelf life of five years, after which they are inspected and tested and then recertified for another five years. After that, they are inspected every year for deterioration.

To be perfectly honest, the troops hate wearing this gear, especially in hot climates.  They are wearing this gear over their uniforms and it gets very warm, very fast in there.  Additionally, MOPPs make it hard to move, you have to take care not to tear or puncture the material(You can repair it with duct tape if you have a roll on hand) and you can’t hear or see very well.  If you are at all claustrophobic, MOPPs gear will bring it out in you for sure.  That being said, it will save you from a horrible death from exposure to Sarin and VX nerve agents, Mustard gas, anthrax, hemorrhagic fever or God forbid, the Plague

If you bought a set of MOPPs gear in a surplus store, it probably isn’t any good anymore as it failed inspection and was discarded.  It would make pretty good rain gear but would not protect you against any chemical or biological agents.  Besides, you really need the full set of gear including mask, boots, and gloves for MOPPS to truly work for you in a pinch.

But I guess it is safe to say we couldn’t agree more to a statement cited from Airman 1st Class Eboni Knox’s article at Royal Air Force Lakenheath that, “it is far better to know how to wear it and not need it than to need it and not be able to properly wear it. The dynamics of world politics are changing, and we never know what our enemies may or may not resort to. For this reason, it is important to remember that “if we stay ready, we never have to get ready.”