The Military Has a Quiet Problem

My wife and I have had a difficult time training our dog not to bark at people across our fence. We have an e-collar that provides muscle tension (not electric shocks) to help correct our dog’s behavior, but we don’t normally keep it on our dog. We were taught to use it as a corrective aid, putting it on the dog in specific situations and using it to correct specific behaviors. The prongs push into the dog’s neck and if they get wet can cause sores on the dog’s skin, so its best not to keep it on her for long periods of time. It also isn’t helpful if it is always on her and activated in situations where it isn’t very clear what behavior we want to prevent. Since it is somewhat rare that our dog barks at people across the fence (she is fine with about 80-90% of people and dogs that walk by) it is hard to pinpoint the specific times when we want to use the collar to try to correct her behavior.
Our challenge with the e-collar and correcting our dog’s behavior is pretty similar to the problem the military has with promoting the use of hearing protection among soldiers. The military wants to protect its soldiers’ hearing and has spent money equipping soldiers with ear plugs, ear muffs, and other hearing protection, but it is hard to actually get soldiers to use the tools provided to them. A major problem is that the hearing protection limits hearing to a point where soldiers would be disqualified from service if their hearing had naturally diminished to such an extent. In modern war, where most of the time there isn’t actual fighting and explosives, this is a barrier to the use of hearing protection. Mary Roach writes about this in her book Grunt:
“There’s no linear battlefield any more. The front line is everywhere. IEDs go off and things go kinetic with no warning. To protect your hearing using earplugs, you’d have to leave them in for the entire thirteen-hour patrols where, 95 percent of the time, nothing loud is happening. No one does that. That’s why [audiologist Eric] Fallon says the Military doesn’t have a noise problem. It has a quiet problem.”
Most of the time soldiers are not being shot at and IEDs are not exploding around them. But occasionally, those things do happen. Soldiers have to talk to local citizens when the shooting isn’t happening. They need to hear if someone is walking up behind them. They need to communicate in a normal manner among themselves. Ear plugs mean they can’t communicate without shouting, and that they can’t hear if someone is sneaking up on them or trying to be stealthy around the next corner. Most of war is relatively quiet and boring, so ear protection is not used.
With the unpredictable chaos of actual conflict when a firefight breaks out, the use of ear plugs is further confounded. Soldiers may not be in a position to prepare and put on ear protection at the outset of a fight, and they likely can’t pause to get their ear plugs or ear muffs on once things go kinetic. They can’t predict when or where an IED will go off and need to hear what direction fighting or shouting is coming from to best protect themselves. All of this complicates the development of new forms of hearing protection and prevents the uptake and use of existing hearing protection. The quiet problem is what leads to the noise problem and the hearing loss of soldiers. If they knew when it would get loud, where it would get loud, and could put themselves in place with hearing protection at the start of a fight, then ear plugs would work well, but the reality is that things are not so linear, and most of the time things are quite, so ear plugs cannot be used.

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