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Ounces equal pounds
on the battlefield.

01.03.2019

After graduating from the US Naval Academy in 2005, Zach Steinbock spent seven years of active duty with the SEAL Teams in Iraq and Afghanistan. Once relieved of duty, he co-founded the Virginia-based MATBOCK together with fellow former SEAL Team member Sean Matson, to apply their experiences to the design and production of quality battlefield gear. Today, they use their acclaimed ‘Ghost Material’ made with Dyneema® Composite Fabric for a whole range of products, including body armor carriers, packs and stretcher systems – the latter being the smallest and lightest currently on the market.

What do you do and why do you do it?
Sean and I initially started designing gear while still on active duty. Once off active duty, we decided that some of our ideas – as well as those of the guys we served with – were really needed. We started MATBOCK in order to bring those ideas to the battlefield on a larger scale and increase the operator’s effectiveness. In the process of learning manufacturing, design, prototyping and running a business, we also found a way for guys to bring their ideas to fruition and help other veterans entering the business world through the American Corporate Partners, a mentoring program for vets entering business.

Can you tell us a little more about this program?
Since MATBOCK was the first time I was in product development, it was definitely a learning process. We would not be where we are without the help and mentorship of other veterans already in the business who really want to see other guys succeed. We are extremely grateful for this and hope our own efforts to assist other veterans coming into the industry also help out.

Why are lightweight properties so essential in combat?
As more and more capabilities are required of, and added to, special operations teams and soldiers in general, it is imperative to lighten their gear as much as possible without decreasing those capabilities for the operator to do their job. Another major hurdle is the heat and other environmental factors that are experienced during such operations. Keeping the guys light and agile can make the difference between success and failure of a mission. Iraq in the summertime, even at night, is 100 degrees, and anything we can do with fabrics to provide the guys some relief from heat and dehydration leads to a longer period of time in which an operator is effective.

"Keeping the guys light and agile can make the difference between success and failure of a mission."

What led you to seek out Dyneema® to use in your products?
We currently have Dyneema® products in our Ghost Lite, Ghost, and Ghost Heavy lines. They are used in all of our products, including body armor carriers, pouches, backpacks and stretchers. We initially found the product through a mentor of ours and after extensive research into its properties and comparing it to other available fabrics, we could find nothing else that met the specifications we needed. The weight savings, thermal transfer properties, abrasion resistance and strength were just unmatched by anything else available.

We also absolutely love working with the people at DSM. Few other companies were willing to innovate with us to produce the fabrics we needed to start to grow this market. It’s really a testament to the development team at Dyneema® and their willingness to work with us to create new fabrics.

Can you be more specific about how you incorporate Dyneema® into your products?
Dyneema® is the backbone of our cut and sew products. It definitely helps to set us apart in the industry. It gives the operators who use it a distinct advantage over those using other widely used standard fabrics. We always seek to shift paradigms with the gear we put on the market. Our fabrics really help to set us apart in this way, along with the designs we use.

Could you tell us a bit about the results, also in terms of what Dyneema® adds to safety?
The results are most significant when you look at the weight savings, water retention rates, CBRN absorption and thermal properties. Our kit is typically one-third of the weight of other systems and that ratio gets significantly higher once the gear is exposed to water. This can mean life or death when someone enters the water, since the Dyneema® completely sheds the water instead of absorbing two to three times its weight as happens with other materials – which can potentially cause the operator to sink and drown.

Furthermore, the ability to clean the gear after potential exposure to chemical or biological hazards can mean significant cost savings for the government as the gear no longer has to be destroyed and the operator can continue with more missions.

Lastly, the thermal conductivity of the material really gives the operator a capability not previously seen in the industry, keeping the operator cooler and preventing the onset of dehydration much more than anything else available.

You also make packs, some including Dyneema® as well. Composite fabric packs have already taken over the ultra-light hiking world. Why do you think this trend has not reached the military domain yet?
One of the main concerns with the military is, and will always be, how that gear stands up in the field. The military is slow to adopt some of those newer fabrics since they tend to fall apart during the course of a six to twelve month deployment. It’s not a situation where you can jump off the trail and get a new pack when your old one wears out. That gear carries life saving and mission essential equipment and must be built to withstand the worst situations you can imagine.

From our extensive testing and the materials we have been able to design and build with Dyneema®, we have been able to start to shift that thinking within the military community and know that the gear we place on the market meets those stringent requirements.

MATBOCK seems to be open for suggestions regarding R&D and product development. From your perspective, what are currently big demands from customers and/or those active in combat?
The biggest demand from the guys on the ground is two-fold: lighter and more capable gear. In most cases, the gear is designed by designers and not by operators. If you haven’t climbed a mountain at 12,000 feet with a 15-pound stretcher on your back, that you may or may not even need, it’s a lot harder to understand the desire and motivation to design a stretcher that weighs six pounds and is a multipurpose tool as well. Furthermore, the gear is always heavy.

We always say “ounces equal pounds” because every bit of weight you can cut from the operator can add big weight savings in the end, and give the operator that maneuverability and speed that could be essential in a firefight.

What other MATBOCK products can you envision with a material such as Dyneema®?
We are never really 100 percent sure where we will go next. The beauty of the material is that it has so many capabilities that it seldom is the limiting factor in what we can do with it. When inspiration strikes, you can almost always assume we will be solving the problems with a Dyneema®-based product.

And finally, would you share with us which innovations outside of your immediate professional field you're most excited about at the moment?
Self-driving cars! We spend a lot of time on the road. If I could have a big cargo van that was completely autonomous with a bed, a stationary bike and desk in the cargo hold, it would probably at least double my productivity. Such a scenario is actually not completely out of the realm of possibility in the next decade. But we have to see how that shakes out.

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