Sgt. William Hartmann is one of thousands of U.S. soldiers and Marines who as a gunner has been responsible for providing security to supply convoys from Humvees or tanks. It's a dangerous job, but Hartmann says it's even more perilous because of his equipment -- specifically, the narrow nylon strap that gunners are supposed to sit on.
"Basically your legs start cramping up and you lose sensation overall," he said. "A lot of us gunners end up standing up to prevent that from happening, and unfortunately that's how you get killed as a gunner."
Gunners who stand are more vulnerable to gunfire, Hartmann said. During accidents, explosions, and when the Humvee rolls over, gunners are too often ejected because the gunner strap has no restraint.
It can be deadly. Gunners have complained about this to the Pentagon, military publications, and other media to little or no avail. It's not the first time Pentagon commanders have taken heat for not providing the best equipment for soldiers here.
There was the question of insufficient vehicle armor. Meeting with troops in Kuwait in December 2004, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked by Tennessee National Guard Spc. Thomas Wilson, "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?"
A Pentagon study leaked to the media in January concluded that as many as 80 percent of the Marines killed in Iraq from wounds to the upper body might have had a better chance of survival with extra body armor to protect their shoulders and sides. Such armor has been available since 2003.
And now … gunners' seats?
For what it says are privacy concerns, the U.S. military shares little information about how troops are killed or injured, but anecdotal evidence abounds. A March 2005 Pentagon fatality memo described how after a "preventable" accident, "the gunner of the second vehicle was ejected from the turret and sustained fatal injuries."
"I'm here to serve my country, and I'll do everything it takes to do just that," Hartmann said. "But I don't want to come home to my three children and my wife because of an accident and an event that could have been easily avoided if I had just had better gear."
So Hartmann turned to Kyle Greenwood, his friend in Texas.
Greenwood lives on a horse farm with his wife and two young boys, and is something of a handyman. Hartmann thought he might be able to come up with a comfortable saddle for the tank that would also strap gunners in to prevent them from being ejected and killed.
"There were accidents," Greenwood said, "that gunners were being thrown out, and he said, 'Find some way to tie me into this.'"
Said Hartmann: "In all the years that I've known Kyle Greenwood, what I know about Kyle is he's the type of guy that can get things done."
Greenwood sat down and began sketching a new gunner's seat for his friend. It had a wider leather seat, like a saddle, and a strap to secure Hartmann into his vehicle.
He called it the "Cooper Sling" to honor his late father-in-law, Pat Cooper, a military man like Hartmann, who says the Cooper Sling is a lifesaver.
"The only way you can sit that low in a profile and not be in sheer agony is being in a seat like the Cooper Sling," Hartmann said.
Hartmann's comrades in the desert saw his new gear and wanted Cooper Slings for themselves.