The Soldier’s Load and the Immobility of a Nation

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Mon, Jun 23 - 9:00 am EDT | 3 years ago by
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    “Like a rich armour, worn in the heat of the day, that scalds with safety.”
    ~ Shakespeare, Henry IV

    Soldier's Load - Lines of Departure

    How do you win a counterinsurgency campaign, if you can’t catch the enemy?

    Imagine, friends, four combatants in march order, as they march to, through and from history. One is a Macedonian phalangite, a pikeman, accompanying Alexander and trudging toward Herat. Then next is a Roman legionary of the middle Empire, on his way to drub some band of barbarians or rebels. Third is a Pashtun fighter in Afghanistan, whether he is fighting us or was fighting the Soviets makes little difference. Last, in more ways than one, comes an American soldier, also in Afghanistan.

    What is the phalanglite lugging on his body? Sources for things like this are always a little iffy, with ancient military history, but modern scholarship, driven in good part by finds at Vergina, believes that the typical phalangite carried about 23.1 kilograms (about 51 pounds) of arms and armor, consisting of his Sarissa, shield, helmet, dagger, sword, torso armor and such. He may have also started his march, nine days prior, carrying some 30 pounds of food. Now he’s down to about three pounds and expecting the trains to keep him supplied from here on. Water, clothing, footwear, camp and cooking utensils, might have added 20 pounds or so to that (I’m swagging that, of course; we really don’t know). Call it a 73 pounds on our pikeman’s back, just before he settles into camp outside Herat.1 He goes into action with about 51 pounds, but nobody expects him to be all that mobile on the battlefield.

    Our Roman? He never made it to Afghanistan or, if he did, we don’t know about it. But his grandfathers and uncles met and generally defeated the phalangites of Epirus and Macedon, on more than a few battlefields. What is our Roman’s burden?2

    He might have carried 80 pounds on a road march. That’s apparently the outside limit though and then only if he’d pissed off his centurion. More likely, in accordance with Hans Delbrueck’s studies of the matter, and SLA Marshall’s The Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation, that the legionary ported under 60 pounds routinely and went into the battle line under 40, and possibly with as little as 33.

    Note, too, that like the phalangite approaching Herat, the Roman rarely went into battle from the wearying march. Instead he builds a camp or siege works or both, then rests before action, while his commander plans, and reconnoiters, and the light and mobile troops struggle for what amounts to information dominance. He goes into the fight as fresh as he can be made.

    And our Pashtun? He’s got a Kalashnikov, call it an AK-74 (7.3 pounds), maybe 120 rounds (2.7 pounds) in four loaded magazines (about 3.7 pounds, assuming fairly modern mags), a BDU jacket he bought at the bazaar, and some clothes under that (negligible but call it a couple of pounds, anyway, if only for the dirt), sandals (a pound? If that?). Let’s assume he’s a team leader and has an ICOM radio (about half a pound including the batteries and a spare set of batteries3). He’ll have a filled canteen or water bottle (maybe two to two and a half pounds), and one of those Chinese manufactured canvas vests that hold five or six magazines and strap or tie across the chest (maybe a pound and a half or so). For support he’s got a bag of almonds, maybe some naan (flatbread), possibly some dried meat and, depending on where he is, a couple of figs, a handful of dates, or a pomegranate.

    If our enemy Pashtun rifleman is carrying more than 25 pounds I’d be shocked. That’s good for him because, though he’s often tough as hickory and hard as nails, his health is probably rotten.

    *****

    Before I get to the American in Afghanistan, I need to digress a bit to interject a personal story. Once, way in the dim mists of antiquity (in this case, 1975), I was a young trooper, a mortar grunt at the time, in the 101st, on Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The 101st was (and as far as I know, still is) a division deeply in love with pain as a character-building tool.

    One carried some pretty impressive loads as a mortar maggot anyway. But one march in particular stands out. I had a pretty heavy ruck already, for the day, probably something on the order of 55 pounds. Might have been more. Rifle, web gear, two quarts of water, helmet, boots and uniform (all the cloth soaking wet); maybe 22 pounds. 81mm bipod; 42 pounds. And – no joke; we were understrength – 81mm barrel, 28 pounds.

    I weighed – again, no joke – 145 pounds.

    My load was on the order of 147, which I carried for about 18 miles, kind of fast, on a warm — but not hot — spring day.

    I think I had the heaviest load, that day, followed closely by the platoon leader who had a bipod and a PRC-77 radio. It was far and away the heaviest as a percentage of body weight. Thus, I retain still a certain pride at making it all the way.

    But here’s the punch line. I made it all the way, sure. But I was useless – I mean practically delirious levels of useless – weak, uncoordinated, sick… just worthless for any activity beyond going to the bathroom, for three days afterwards.

    Note the comments above about ancient soldiers resting before actions. One can take whatever fanciful figures for loads borne by those mythic men of iron of mythic ancient days and toss them. Even if true, it doesn’t matter; they rested before action.

    *****

    The American soldier in Afghanistan can’t count on resting before battle if he’s had a long foot march under a heavy load. The enemy attacks when he feels like it. He defends when he feels like it. We may be, and are, bigger, stronger, healthier, better trained, better educated, all too lavishly equipped.

    The initiative is still mostly his.

    And a good chunk of the reason for that – not the totality, no, but a good chunk – is the loads we inflict on our infantry. Here are some figures extracted from a 2003 report for the loads carried by our men in Afghanistan. The percent is the average percent of body weight.4

    Soldier's Average Load by Position

    Now compare some of those loads with what a Roman legionary carried. We have people going into a fight, presuming the enemy deigns to engage us, bearing two or two and a half times what the legionary did on an approach march. Then compare them with the more heavily burdened phalangite. Alexander’s veterans would have mutinied over that kind of load. All that’s bad enough, but when you compare them to the Taliban insurgent?

    In some sense, maybe to some, that could sound like something not as bad as that heavily burdened road march I mentioned above, in 1975. Not so. That road march was a one off. Nobody was shooting at us. Conversely, the men in Afghanistan were, and, to the extent we’re still trying to fight, still are, carrying that crap day in, day out. Are they able to spot the enemy reliably? One doubts. Are they able to spot his mines and booby-traps and IEDs? One doubts. Are they alert enough to react to the enemy’s actions properly and reliably? One doubts. Can they even shoot well, under and after that kind of fatigue? One doubts.

    Ah, but I hear the Pollyannaish cry, “Well that was 11 years ago. Surely things have improved…”

    Well… we’ve not done a thorough study as we did in 2003, but more recent data does suggest there’s been a change, probably across the board. Change? Oh, yes, the platoon leader’s load has gone up by seven pounds.5 Since the big difference appears to be the “improved” armored vest, the IOTV, one suspects that increase carries across the board. What an improvement.

    As one soldier said, “Sir, we are weighted down with all this equipment and we are fighting a 60-year-old Hajji in flip flops and an AK-47 who can run faster than me?”6

    And that’s another reason why we’ve been losing.

    Note that I haven’t even addressed the long term physical wear and tear. I will. Also, in some future columns, we’re going to talk about why we’re in the position we’re in. Probably nobody’s going to like what I have to say about that – maybe me least of all – but it has to be said.

    ____________

    1 One of the problems with ancient military history, logistics, admin, and the lot, is that, at the time, everyone that mattered pretty much knew the details of how it all worked, so almost nobody bothered writing them down. Of those who did, it’s not entirely clear that they fully understood what they were describing. Some modern historians seem to have no trouble inventing these details from whole cloth: I can’t think of a better example than one, who shall remain nameless, who imported the Zulu age group / Impi system into the recruiting system for the legions on no credible evidence that I could see. Still, for a little reasonably well documented insight into the army of Alexander, see: http://hetairoi.de/en/history/military/the-phalangite/

    2 This is actually an impossible question to answer precisely without reference to “when and where?” I’m generalizing, if that wasn’t obvious.

    3 http://www.overtons.com/assets/prodman/IC4088A_brochure.pdf

    4 By all means consult this: http://thedonovan.com/archives/modernwarriorload/ModernWarriorsCombatLoadReport.pdf.

    5 http://www.ebookaab.org/ebook/17938.php

    6 Ibid

    Read last week’s column: How to Get Out of Afghanistan The Right Way

    Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.

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      • Alexander Macris

        I have several friends from West Point who are, literally, disabled from years of toil in the light infantry. The amount of wear and tear on their knees and spine from carrying this load has left them hardly able to walk and dealing with substantial and chronic pain.

        Modern body armor has saved so many American lives that its benefits cannot be overlooked; but something has gone wrong when our soldiers are carrying more weight than warriors who fought in head-to-toe steel lorica.

        • Tom Kratman

          Saved in some sense, but how many were lost due to people we should have caught or killed getting away to fight again? No, I don’t know either, but I suspect the number is greater than 1.

      • KenWats

        It boils down to the “great squad leader in the sky” phenomenon. Higher dictates what protective gear must be worn and the mission must be accomplished with said protective gear – regardless of whether it makes sense or not. We used to allow leaders to lead, and make determinations based off of METT-T (Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Troops Available, Time). In a static position or maybe mounted, all that body armor makes sense. Other times, maybe not so much? Easy for me to say as I’m not the one making that decision.
        I have zero experience in Iraq or Afghanistan, but based on my knowledge of how the Army operates, this would be my opinion on what is going on. At some point, we have to realize that maybe accomplishing the mission with violence and purpose means we won’t take casualties in the longer-term (ie, we sacrifice a few men today to avoid having to bleed more men over a longer time period because we couldn’t fix or pursue the insurgents.).
        At least, that’s where I think you’re going. And I don’t disagree.

        • Tom Kratman

          Pretty much. I’m going to harp on this topic for several more columns.

      • Harry_the_Horrible

        Maybe we need to change to a patrol/pursuit/contact load?
        Put a quick release on everything except the weapon and ammo – ditch it it all when there is contact and let the soldier pursue in his ACUs and web gear?

        • Tom Kratman

          It might be a start, but he’s going to be too tired even after ditching the crap. try the other way; he goes light until contact is imminent and then the crap is flown in. Or it’s on mules (the four legged kind) with the company supply sergeant?

        • Harry_the_Horrible

          Bring back the Mounted Infantry?

        • Tom Kratman

          Got it’s plusses and minuses. Anytime anyone has to train on getting from point a to point b on anything other than leather personnel carrier – doesn’t matter if it’s helo, Bradley, USS Tarawa, C-130, or animal – that takes away from training actions at the objective and other useful tidbits. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. Means we need to think about it carefully and objectively, _first_.

        • Harry_the_Horrible

          Well, as long as nobody gets any ideas about cavalry charges…

        • akulkis

          I saw a reasonably good solution years ago, but I think it got killed for “looking funny” more than anything — large plastic bins with long handles (possibly with a cross-bar connecting the handles?) and large diameter tires — like 20-inch bicycle wheels & ires (larger tires roll better over rough terrain). This gets the load OFF of the soldier’s spinal column and reduces the work-load to overcoming friction and terrain. Absolute weight goes up by 10-20 pounds, but the trade-off is well worth-it. (Anybody who delivered newspapers as a child can tell you that pulling 100-lb of newspapers in a wagon is far easier, faster, and less fatiguing than attempting to carry them. The photos I saw showed the “bucket” part of these contraptions looking to be about 2-3 feet deep, and maybe 1.5x that for the front-rear distance at the top, with a rounded-V shape bottom countour when viewed from the side.

          Think of a deep wheelbarrow which is being dragged rather than pushed.

          Perhaps part of the issue is the same as the civil-war mounted infantry concept: for every 4 men on horseback, only 3 went to the line of battle because 1 would stay back as a horse-handler to keep his and his buddies’ horses from leaving. But I’m sure some sort of tether & lock system could be developed so that when contact is made, a couple guys in a platoon could have the task of connecting the wheelbarrows together, then go join the fight, leaving only 1 or 2 to stay behind for security of the wheelbarrows and whatever contents are in them.

        • Tom Kratman

          You can find pics of troops in WW II pushing baby carriages they’d scrounged and put their loads in. Breaks down, though, as soon as the terrain starts going seriously vertical. But, for that matter, very light wagons and mules work, too.

        • akulkis

          True. But the typical baby carriage wasn’t designed for combat-ops type of endurance. [On the other hand, a 1935-1940 baby carriage was probably a lot more durable than those built today.)

        • TimP

          Another option along the same basic lines is bicycle infantry. The Japanese did quite well with them during the early days of the Second World War. The British and Australian defenders where constantly having the enemy forces arrive earlier than expected, and this was in the Jungles and Mountains of SE Asia.

          And if you’re going to provide trucks and the like anyhow I doubt it would be hard to tie bikes to them. The Stryker can apparently carry 9 infantrymen; anyone believe they couldn’t tie 9 bikes to the outside?

          Bikes are obviously useless in a fight, but getting you to the fight they’ve got some potential. (Police are starting to use them in a lot of cities because they are one of the most flexible transport vehicles in urban environments)

          Of course you’ve got the problem of every hour spent learning to ride and maintain a pushbike is an hour spent not doing room clearing drills, and they’re possibly too “undignified” for many modern Western militaries.

        • Tom Kratman

          That, and they don’t really address the big problem for Stryker mounted infantry, which is very rough terrain. For most of the places the bikes could go, one suspect the Stryker can too.

        • akulkis

          I was thinking about bicycle infantry, too…but I don’t see it as a solution in today’s world…. its effectiveness in WW2 was shortlived. Yes, in the 1930′s China (an impoverished land of peasants) it was used somewhat effectively by the Japanese. But bicycles also created a greater load on the logistic system. By the late 1930′s, so many Japanese troops’ bicycles were without tires that when large formations were on the move, the sound of the metal rims on the pavement were reported to sound like approaching armor.

          In Europe, many of the smaller countries invaded by the Germans (Belgium, Netherlands, Czechloslovakia) had bicycle troops, bu were no match for even the primitive armor that Germany posessed in 1939-40. (The Pzkw IV, their most advanced armor at the time was, as the name Panzerkampwagen implies, not much more than an armored car (although it did have tracks instead of pneumatic tires)).

        • Neil

          We do something like this now, with SF long-range patrols and observation posts, plus heliborne Ranger strike groups. Historically, the Rhodesian “fireforce” operations worked more or less the same way.

          This type of operation is great at destroying targets, but lacks the staying power required to hold territory. As the Rhodesians found out (try finding Rhodesia on a map). If you want to control territory, you’ve got to put the poor bloody infantry in place and leave them there, fair weather or foul.

        • Tom Kratman

          More complex than that, too. Someplaces they have to stay there. Some places, they have to be rapid reaction to support the police (who are the real key branch in COIN). Someplaces they’re just keeping the enemy off balance by raid and ambush and the occasional search and destroy. And that list isn’t exhaustive.

        • Neil

          True, and on the relatively limited basis of SOF, it’s perhaps possible to provide the volume of air operations required to keep the packs light.

          Can’t afford to do that for everybody, though.

        • MrDraco

          >lacks the staying power required to hold territory

          Umm, when was the last time anybody had to hold territory, he couldn’t hold by getting a few armored vehicles there?

        • Neil

          I seem to recall hearing about a few infantry firebases in the mountains of Afghanistan. Including at least one that nearly got overrun because helicopter support had been diverted elsewhere.

        • Tom Kratman

          That doesn’t sound right. Infantry don’t actually have firebases, per se, and I don’t think anybody’s been completely overrun yet. Even at Wanat they only got partway in.

        • Neil

          Perhaps “firebase” is the wrong term. I was, in fact, thinking of Wanat–note the term “nearly”. As I understand it, that was a close call.

        • Tom Kratman

          Combat Outpost, inanely abbreviated COP. Why inane? Well, Observation Post, two words, becomes OP, but outpost is a single word. But if we call it CO, what will the company commanders do to feel special? Ah, never mind; we can call ti a COP and the republic won’t fall over it.

          Pretty close, and we still don’t, and probably never will, know exactly what happened. The Navy’s inquiry damned the Army’s leadership, IIRC, while the Army’s damned the M4. I suspect there’s plenty of honest damnation to go around.

        • Neil

          Well, now I’m veering off into areas where I don’t have much information beyond rumor, but when I first heard of the battle, it sounded to me as though the root cause was a temporary inability to maneuver forces by helicopter. The COP (thank you very much) was not manned and supplied sufficiently to defend itself without that support. It’s fine and dandy to puzzle out the whys and wherefores of exactly why they had such problems without quick backup, but….

          To bring it back around to the topic at hand, infantry units might need less-frequent airborne logistical and fire support if they had an organic logicstical element, with a mule train’s worth of heavy weapons and ammunition. (Whether the mules are, ahem, organic or mechanical.)

        • Tom Kratman

          They’ve got an organic logistical element, the Support Platoon or S&T Platoon, at battalion level. It’s pretty austere and is no good whatsoever at climbing narrow mountain trails. What frequently happens in this kind of campaign is that support platoon ceases being about trucking and the men become PZ setter uppers, cargo net / sling load preparers, and helicopter guides / hook ‘em uppers.

        • Neil

          I’m sure it works great if your maneuver element is the battalion…

          Sadly, that hasn’t been the case since 1916.

        • Tom Kratman

          Well…support platoon generally delivers to the company or, frequently enough, platoon. But the means of delivery just don’t normally work for COIN, hence they get pulled into being gophers mas grande for other things.

          I had a support platoon in Panama between being a platoon leader and a rifle company XO. It was one of the more fun jobs I ever held in the army, in good part because it was, as we say, all tongue in cheek, “rather challenging.” I can recall an occasion when for some reason claymores failed of delivery to a rifle platoon about to board helicopters to do a (LFX) night ambush. Ultimately, got there just as they had lifted off and were maybe 6-7 feet above ground, and threw the claymores to the platoon sergeant, sitting on the troop seats on the side facing me and my jeep.

        • Neil

          Those are deliveries. I’m talking about going longer between deliveries, or carrying sufficient firepower (mortars, rockets, extra ammo) to not need reinforcement or fire support as often.

          Look at it this way–if the basic combat load includes enough 5.56 and grenades for multiple engagements, plus a mortar bomb or LAW, plus a couple of SAW belts, you’ve already a full load without adding rifle, armor, gadgets, food, etc. If you’ve only got to carry enough for a few hours because the squad quartermaster is always within 100 yards along with a couple of RoombaMules, things start to look very different.

        • Tom Kratman

          I’ll believe in the robotic mules as soon as them type categorize unicorn farts. But company could have a train of mules, plus a bell mare, maybe without the bell (mules want to follow female horses), sufficient to carry the body armor (call it 4400 lbs, 20 or so mules), two day’s rats (1300 or so pounds, 6 mules), a day’s water (maybe 2200 pounds, 10 mules), the mortars one mule, if that), and suffiicient ammunition for a good day’s fight, which I’m not going to bother to calc, but a ton or so, 10 mules, ought to do it. Pushing mule trains below that probably overtasks our ability to train muleskinners and has the additional defect of the smaller unit not being able to secure an area big enough to keep the mules safe. Pushing mortars down below company level overstretches our ability to produce FDCs, which are kind of hard to produce anyway.

        • Neil

          At this point, I think it’s a race between the ability to prove out robotic mules and the ability to train muleskinners. Didn’t used to have to do that–they were mostly civilian contractors, at least up to WW1. I figure that starting now, we could have a pretty solid mechanical mule ready for the next big peer-to-peer blow-up in 15 years or so.

          Don’t forget the food/fuel for live or robot mules.

          Not to mention the PR hassles involved in shooting wounded or lame animals. Although nuclear explosions do tend to re-focus society on the priorities.

          I agree, though, that tactical security for the mule train is an issue.

        • Tom Kratman

          Nice thing about mules, and still better about donkeys, is that they don’t need a helluva lot of external support. All the farrier’s equipment, and some coal, is one mule load. Mules need, IIRC, about 5 pounds a day of high quality feed. The rest they forage as they go or during breaks or lagers. Donkey’s are even better for log, because the water they needs comes from the plants they forage. Of course, neither is for crap in a place with no plants.

        • Neil

          Depends on the terrain, though. Next big fight is as likely to be in Sub-Saharan Africa as anywhere else. Or the second island chain in the Pacific…

          Nice thing about robots is that they don’t eat when you’re not using them.

        • Tom Kratman

          Think so? Go to any army motor pool some quiet night and listen to the equipment break.

        • Neil

          Heh. OK, I got nothin’.

        • Neil

          OK, I lied. I do have something.

          Imagine trying to get a mule onto a helicopter. Or, heaven forbid, onto an airdrop pallet.

        • Tom Kratman

          Sling load and heavy drop. If we can sling and drop elephants, we can sling and drop mules. Hmmm…in thinking about that, i think I’ve read where we _did_ both with mules, but dropping was a problem.

        • akulkis

          Maybe soft-landing them would be a better solution. Unhook the sling after the mules’ feet or pallet is on the ground.

        • Tom Kratman

          The Brits figured out a way to bad them so the artery didn’t break. It was opening shock, I understand, that was killing them.

        • Tom Kratman

          Shavetails and Bell Sharps says when we dropped them in every case opening shock cut the mesentary artery, and they died. The Brits later developed a way to do it and the aussies apprently succeeded, too.

          http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/17947475

        • Neil

          Interesting. I still think that the cultural impediments would be pretty fierce. Gotta play to your strengths.

        • akulkis

          Ain’t that the truth….

        • Jack Withrow

          Last MTOE I was familiar with, had six cargo hummers in the Spt Plt of a Light Inf Bn. That Plt is barely capable of keeping up with ammo demand. As I understand it now, the doctrine is to chop up the FSB, and permanently assign a FLEA to each Bn to make up for the loss of capabilities in the Bn Spt Plt.

        • Tom Kratman

          That actually ought to be enough, presuming one down at any given time, and some trailers. A lot of log constraints can be overcome with a) some planning and b) a little forceful leadership.

        • Jack Withrow

          I would agree if they were just bringing forward essentials: ammo, water, food, etc. But in most cases that does not happen. They get tasked to be a truck plt and move troops, or do a number of other things not part of their mission. A 1LT Spt Plt Ldr does not have the necessary horsepower to prevent the misuse of that plt when the S-3 has some wild assed idea. I saw one Bn in Afghanistan turn their Spt Plt trucks into gun trucks for escorting convoys of jingo trucks (no MRAP’s available). They tried to rely on Helo’s for resupply and as a result the companies paid for it.

        • Jack Withrow

          I would agree if they were just bringing forward essentials: ammo, water, food, etc. But in most cases that does not happen. They get tasked to be a truck plt and move troops, or do a number of other things not part of their mission. A 1LT Spt Plt Ldr does not have the necessary horsepower to prevent the misuse of that plt when the S-3 has some wild assed idea. I saw one Bn in Afghanistan turn their Spt Plt trucks into gun trucks for escorting convoys of jingo trucks (no MRAP’s available). They tried to rely on Helo’s for resupply and as a result the companies paid for it.

        • Tom Kratman

          God knows, I was. I was not only moving a division’s worth of ammo for the one battalion, but providing half the troop lift _and_ delivering food. But, then again, I had 8 deuces and a five tong longbed, plus the one jeep, and nine trailers.

          Yeah…we often forget that hardening a truck comes at the price of weight and cube. And a Hummer doesn’t have that much weight or cube to spare.

        • http://batman-news.com Rick Randall

          IIRC, what happened at Wanat included a failure to have adequate perimeter MGs (not frigging SAWs – GPMGs on tripods with spare barrels handy).

        • Tom Kratman

          Personal opinion: The biggie was we forgot the enemy gets a vote. Everything else seemed to flow from that.

        • Jamie Robertson

          Armor still needs dismounted infantry escort when holding territory to protect against close range ambush. Remember, tanks can’t easily defend against contact-range human threats very well (satchel charges tossed under the tracks, and other ways of planting a bomb), especially when they’re holding urban territory with constricted sight lines. You need riflemen to keep those threats from and off the armor.

      • Ray

        http://www.45thdivision.org/Pictures/General_Knowlege/combatload.htm

        WW2 rifleman’s load is comparable, without a vest, less ammo and a heavier weapon. BAR gunner also comparable. Support weapon crew load may have been heavier. Different tactical situation, no insurgency/irregular forces being fought. Unit moves and coordinates action with flanking units instead of chasing hadji over hill and dale in penny packets.

        They say your tactics always reflect the last war you fought. But shouldn’t our tactics have changed after doing this for over 10 years?

        • Tom Kratman

          You mean we put a 140 pounds on a BAR man’s back? That’s news to me, if so.

        • Ray

          Well, mules were used in CBI, Sicily, Italy and Korea, so there’s a precedent. Why not Afghanistan or other theaters? Minor organisational burden in adding a veterinarian and mule skinners to the headquarters and skinners at platoon or squad level.

          Interesting link here; http://olive-drab.com/od_army-horses-mules_korea.php

          “One of the mules captured from Communist forces in Korea was found to have a standard U.S. Army brand (called a Preston Brand), number 08K0. When that brand was located in Army records with the mule’s history, it was found that he had been dispatched to the Chine-Burma-India theater during World War II, possibly with the Mars Task Force. At the conclusion of WW II, he was transferred to the Nationalist Chinese Army. The mule must have been later captured by the Communist Chinese, then moved to the fight in Korea, finally ending up back in the hands of the U.S. Army after more than six years. He had his picture taken, then dutifully went back to work on a pack train.”

        • Tom Kratman

          You think that’s funny, and it is, go check into the Korean POWs we captured at _Normandy_ sometime.

        • Jamie Robertson

          Not to mention that the 4 legged burro is ideal to humping loads across treacherous terrain better than anything mechanized that we’ve found workable.

          Until we come up with the equivalent of robotic mules that can hump similar loads and cubage for similar cost (or less), not GREATER (especially in terms of time and $$ on routine maintenance and reliability), it just makes sense to use this “ancient” technology.

          Remember, older technology also tends to be mostly de-bugged too ;).

        • akulkis

          Robotic mule… what are you going to use to power that thing? Does it suck in unicorn farts?

        • Tom Kratman

          Yeah, I’m super skeptical of the robotic mule. Frankly, I expect a functional and uxeful exoskeleton first. And I don’t expect that any time soon.

        • akulkis

          As an engineer, I see the time horizon for that being just about never.

          Volume/energy and weight/energy ratios rule out batteries.
          Volume/energy and weight/energy ratios needed to make such a thing work aren’t very good for even hydrocarbon fuels.

        • Ray
      • Brandon Bowers

        Weapon, sidearm (knife), ammo, armor, water, one meal, spade and night vision. What the hell is the rest of it and why are they not configured to drop everything and leave a guard behind?

        • Tom Kratman

          In a week or two I’m going to be covering what one man is carrying, the PL, and offer some suggestions for what needs to go.

        • KenWats

          Somewhere out on the interweb there was a series on the load of the infantry soldier (82nd) in AFG – broken down by duty position. SAW gunner, PL, mortarman, etc. Take a peek at smallwarsjournal.com, in particular (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=6646).

        • Tom Kratman

          Ummm..I think you’ll find that I already cited to it.

        • KenWats

          That’s what I get for not reading the footnotes. Fair ’nuff :)

        • James

          Don’t forget Batteries for all the electronics.

        • akulkis

          One meal? If you’re going to carry one, you might as well carry 3 or 4. If things are going well, you don’t even need the food in the ruck. If you DO need to eat out of the ruck, then things aren’t going well, and you’re probably going to need more than one meal before things ARE well for you again.

      • Drang

        As an MI geek, team leader of a Low-level Voice Intercept” team (humping the risibly named “*Man Portable* Radio Direction Finding” system) my one load was 130 pounds, +/-. PRC 77, KY58 consecutive device, food, water, clean socks, and all the batteries in the world. At the time NVGs were for officers only, and no one had heard of GPS.

        This was in the Seventh Infantry Division, so-called “Light”…

        • Tom Kratman

          So you were a double self-propelled oxymoron? Miitary Intelligence in a Light Infantry unit? Hehehe.

        • Drang

          There was a reason we referred to ourselves as “Low-speed, high-drag”…

      • Neil

        You know there’s a problem when there’s a piece of kit named “3-Day Assault Pack”.

        http://www.mysteryranch.com/military/assault-patrol-packs/3-day-assault-pack

        Nobody should be carrying three days worth of *anything* into an assault.

        I blame a lot of this on the demise of the army mule. Starting with WW2 mechanized units, the larger formations ditched the expensive and time-consuming mules, first for motorized transport and then for air resupply as well. The thing is, the mechanized elements aren’t always organic to the infantry squad, so the infantry soon figured out that if they didn’t pack their own necessaries, bad weather or interdiction might mean doing without. Not to mention that when you’re always fighting under-supplied adversaries, cached supplies become an asymmetric tactical liability.

        I say bring back the mule! DARPA seems to be thinking along the same lines, the last few years…

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legged_Squad_Support_System

        • Tom Kratman

          So say I. Francis has his place. (And people who get that reference are probably even older than i am.) I even wrote it into novels.

        • Jack Withrow

          Francis the talking mule and Donald O’Connor perhaps?

        • Tom Kratman

          That’s the one.

        • Jack Withrow

          That actually was a pretty good comedy. What did they make three or for pictures with Francis in it?

        • Tom Kratman

          Wiki says seven.

      • BlueHornet

        What seems oddest of all to me, as a never-combatant, is that the modern American soldier, in addition to having, one supposes, the best equipment for the task (which should mean, should it not, “lightest”, “most efficient”, etc.) also has far, far better logistics to depend upon than phalangites and legionnaires ever could have imagined. Resupply by air? It wasn’t even a very realistic dream until 100 years ago. (On the other hand, the indigenous fighters of Afghanistan, as non-garrisoned defenders, would seem to have the edge in lack of need for long and hard-to-defend supply lines, wouldn’t they?)

        • Tom Kratman

          Yeah, the Taliban need a small roll of bills and the occassionaly reupply from outside…that, or to take the money and go to the local bazaar to buy whatever the Afghan National Army sold.

      • Luis Cedeno

        I’m looking forward to the follow up. How do we have a soldier that can respond without carrying all that?

        • Tom Kratman

          You can’t. It has to be cut. A lot.

      • Jack Withrow

        Local security, foot patrols, out for a max of 6 hours, were routinely carrying 80+ lbs in Afghanistan in 2004. I was on more than a few of those. Spec Ops, from what I was told, were routinely carrying 200+ lbs on their missions. The sad part was that about 2/3 of the load the Soldiers/Marines were carrying was useless weight. The equipment was never used.
        But what I would be really interested in finding out, is how much of the current soldier’s load is batteries? We have become far too reliant on technology and keeping that technology working is destroying the health of our soldiers.

        • Tom Kratman

          If you look at the reference for footnote five, Jack, DARPA has big plans for battery reduction and commonality increase. One can hope…

        • Jack Withrow

          Been seeing that off and on for the last 6-7 years about cutting down battery requirements. Lots has been written about it, but from what I can read nothing has really been done. My cynical side says I will believe alternate/compact, light weight, power sources when I see it.

        • Tom Kratman

          There was something 112-15 years ago they were working on, to power batteries via the bootheel’s strike on the ground. I was skeptical and nothing seems to have come of it. I confess, I don’t know enough about the matter to figure out WHY we ever let ourselves get in position to require the – what? hundreds? – of different kinds of batteries we use. I can see them for radios. for example, because of the power requirements. But STANO? We should never have accepted the first device that used a non-standard battery.

        • Jack Withrow

          I agree with the point about non-standard batteries. But what really chaps my butt, is the military will only buy the cheapest batteries (lowest bidder don’t you know), so they don’t last as long and the soldier is required to carry more batteries as a result. We were getting NVG batteries in Afghanistan that according to the packaging were well past their shelf life. The batteries only lasted about 1/4 the time the TM said they would. This is far from the only instance of that happening, had the same problem with other types of batteries.

        • Tom Kratman

          I suspect the supply system is more to blame for that than the manufacturer. That said, though, the supply system is so complex in its own right, and so subject to budget constraints and best guesses for the future, that it’s _impossible_ to manage, even with computers.

        • Jack Withrow

          Yes it was the supply system’s fault without a doubt. But if the Army had insisted on standardized batteries for everything, then they could keep the supply somewhat current regarding shelf life. Just the equipment I was issued in 2004 required 9 different battery types and that was before a lot of new gee-whiz equipment was fielded, so I would assume the burden on supplying batteries is much worse now.

        • Tom Kratman

          I’ve never seen the burden lessen for long. Even when the half sized (Lithium, IIRC) PRC-77 batts came out, that only meant the RTOs put two of them in the battery compartment.

        • Jack Withrow

          And that’s the other side of the problem. You reduce the weight on one piece of kit and that just means you can either carry more of it or something else in addition to what you were carrying before. The only thing I ever believed you not could carry enough of, within reason, was ammo. That problem only got worse with the 5.56 and its very shitty performance.

        • Tom Kratman

          The problem is societal, Jack.

        • akulkis

          Re: 1/2 size batteries.. Yep.

          Good news — they were designed with the SINCGARS E and later models in mind (the battery compartment takes the 1/2-size battery)

        • akulkis

          The supply system is running the same logistics software it was running in Vietnam. Because the 1960′s era IBM System 360′s no longer exist, a System 360 simulator was written for MS-DOS. MS-DOS no longer exists, so the Logistics software runs on OS 360 running inside a System 360 simulator running inside an MS-DOS simulator inside Windows 7.

          [Because writing even a flawless, top-of-the-line hardware simulator is much, Much MUCH easier than rewriting a 50,000 line program. For example, as a 6-week project in a senior level computer engineering course, I wrote a hardware simulator to interpret microcode, which worked at the clock cycle level, and then wrote microcode to implement the mid-70's PDP-11. The hardware simulator/microcode interpreter was about 3000 lines. The microcode to implement the PDP-11 was a few hundred. With that done, any PDP-11 platform and application is ported, regardless of how long the code is.]

        • Tom Kratman

          TMACS…shudder…TMACS.

        • Neil

          That really seems inexplicable to me. Unless the procurement RFP and award prioritized COTS over logistical commonality.

        • Tom Kratman

          I think it just “growed.” Not a big deal when, circa 1963, you’re using D cells for flashlights, another kind for the one kind of backpacked radio, and one almost but not quite D cell for PVS-2s, say. So what’s another battery when you adopt PVS-5s? ANd, o’ come on, we can surely handle a fifth type…

        • http://batman-news.com Rick Randall

          Exactly. And we aren’t even using GOOD batteries in many cases. Hell, when you factor in shelf life and total useable power, top shelf CR123s are actually CHEAPER than cheap assed AA’s.

        • Neil

          There’s just not THAT much energy in heel strikes. It works OK for charging your iPod, but has trouble with even a smart phone. Think about it–Lance Armstrong going up a hill only puts out 500 watts. You need 12 watts or so to charge a tablet while it’s in use. The human body is designed to walk pretty efficiently, and you’d need to get 1/50th of the maximum output from just parasitic losses, just for starters.

          Not happening.

        • Tom Kratman

          I’m inclined to agree.

      • James

        I have a feeling the reason it’s gotten this bad is much like the MRAP its US.

        The Obsession with Keeping Soldiers Safe while in War….which makes no sense BUT…..

        80+ton APC, 15-20 ton Humvee replacement, etc.

        Here is something that can help now.

        http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/17/lockheed-unmanned-helicopter-idUSL1N0C603420130317

        Here is something else.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mule

        • Tom Kratman

          I’m not convinced the unmanned helo idea is necessarily sound, qua helo, but if it returns high quality personal to the line who would otherwise be flying…

        • James

          Yea but it shows there are some people thinking.

        • Tom Kratman

          Maybe, maybe not. There’s thinking; there’s good thinking; and there’s stuff that just makes you scratch your head. Example: about ten years ago I saw a neato new device to sniff explosives. I asked what it would sniff and it wasn’t much, “But we’re working on that.” “Okay, it can detect really faint traces, right?” “Yep,” they answer proudly. “How’s it going to distinguish between, say, TNT, and the little bit of TNT dissolved in a spray bottle that some kids has been using to spray every tire, every pair of shoes, and every dog and cat that have come down the road since a year ago? When that bottle has trace elements of every explosive known to man and all the precursers, too?” Crickets.

          So I am _really_ unimpressed with super-gee-whiz-high-tech-better-than-canned-beer-and-sliced-bread, in general. And not much impressed with most of the thought behind it, either.

        • James

          Good point.

          Much like everything else human beings are great at taking advantage and screwing things up. Especially the enemy…which is why they call them the enemy.

          So my question is do you think it’s realistically possible that the powers that be would think about using mules again and changing the way we equip troops, upgrade our rifles etc?

        • Tom Kratman

          Think about it, maybe, but they’ve got to face the inevitable question:”Why, Mr. President, are our brave fighting men and women making do with 9000 year old technology when they should be wearing politically correct, multiculturally sensitive powered armor powered by unicorn farts? Don’t you even _care_?”

        • James

          LOL

          NO one would like the answer. “It works”.

        • Tom Kratman

          They’d actually hover around it like vultures until one time when it didn’t work, that, or get the ASPCA involved and tie the notion up in court. I’m surprised, really, they haven’t done that yet for military dogs.

        • Jamie Robertson

          Probably because most of those dogs think it’s a gigantic game, they get scratched behind the ears, and generally lead an active life they enjoy. Hard to claim animal cruelty when PR photos show a dog wagging his tail as he does his job.

          Same with police dogs. They aren’t actually attacking. They were just taught to treat the guy they’re sic’d upon as a gigantic chew toy to pin down. It’s a game. That’s how they’re able to be called off of bad guys. Same with military dogs too, I suspect.

        • Tom Kratman

          You wouldn’t construct the case around the tail-wagging pooch, but around the circumstances, which are obviously suboptimal from the point of view of doggie survival, unscathed.

        • Jamie Robertson

          Until those all for it make the arguments that “these dogs serve a useful purpose, they’re good for morale, and they’re happy.” And then throw in the “anti war dog” folks face the fact that the circumstances are just as dangerous for the human troops too. It’s not like we’re sending these dogs out to be mobile IED catchers. Their handlers (from what I understand) treat their dogs like they’re battle buddies: they’re treated as one of the troops.

          I know I’m preaching to the choir, but it’s just pretty darn obvious that we’re not doing a disservice to canine-kind by utilizing certain kinds of them in war. Folks can argue circumstances all they want, but the counter arguments are going to nullify those pretty swiftly, and I think that’s why it hasn’t been tried (or been successful enough to garner media attention).

        • Tom Kratman

          All it takes is the right idiot judge. Trust me on this.

        • akulkis

          Not only that, but ALL Army working dogs are given the rank of Sergeant (E-5). That keeps the privates from doing stupid things to them. I’m sure the other services have similar policies.

        • Ted N

          I thought the standard was one rank above the handler, no matter what the handler’s rank is.

        • http://batman-news.com Rick Randall

          “We don’t need bayonets, because we have nuclear submarines.”

          Old tech isn’t flashy and cool. That’s why we have Strykers, which are arguably noticeably inferior to M113s with OTS modernization packages (that would have cost less and been operational faster.)

        • Tom Kratman

          And there are people who believe that, too. They’re idiots, of course, but they are _legion_.

        • akulkis

          Yeah. My battalion had M113A3 for a while. We all hated doin maintenance on the things, but given a choice between relying on an M113A3 or a Stryker, I’ll go with the 113.

        • Tom Kratman

          As near as I can tell, Stryker is a relic of OOTWAR: Peacekeeping, Peace enforcement, Humanitarian assistance, and sucking up to ICOTESCAS (the International Community Of The Ever So Caring And Sensitive), and not a lot else. I’d take 113s any day. I might make room for the gunned Strykers for assault guns. “Might.”

        • Duffy

          Because, members of Congress,” you go to war with the Army You have, not the Army you wish you had”. And to complete that statement the way Rumsfeld should have “and the Army we have is the Army YOU gave us over the last 10 years.

        • akulkis

          If anything, it keeps the most expensive and difficult-to-replace part of the entire aircraft system — the pilot — from getting shot up.

      • http://www.theannoyeddroid.com Joey Calvey

        Light infantry used to be light, mobility is a trade off for defense. We used to use mules, too. I was an armor crewman, and even with my natural born, genetic hatred of grunts, I felt sorry for them for the loads they had to carry.

        • Tom Kratman

          Yeah…they hated you, too. At least until they wanted their MREs warmed up. Or someone to lead in case of landmines. ;)

        • akulkis

          That’s why we now have those nice little MRE heaaters which only take about 2 ounces of water.

        • Tom Kratman

          The M1′s easier and quicker.

      • Kevin Wood

        As a former ‘light infantryman’ and for a while, platoon leader of the ‘mortar maggots’, well written.

        • Tom Kratman

          Gentleman (and any ladies insufficiently discerning to have avoided our company), Kevin and I served together in 3/5 Infantry, in Panama, 1981-83. Glad you like it, Kev.

      • Duffy

        I do not think we will ever develop a lighter load until it is sorely rubbed in our faces that we need lighter infantry. But in so far as it goes, I suspect that the official load is used far less than TRADOC would care for. But that is part of the problem, when you have the low level soldiers picking what to leave behind, it takes a good Team or Squad leader to fix it, and it would help if the Army officially recognized that a lighter load is required, makes an official guideline as to what to take under what circumstances. As far as the new body armor, I am happy to say, I did not have to suffer through it.

        • Tom Kratman

          It’ll take a lot more than that. This crap comes down, directly or indirectly, from echelons above reality, which EAR cannot bear the thought of being held to account if someone ever has a shortage of anything and the papers of pols get wind of it.

        • akulkis

          The godawfully heavy body armor is mommy-driven hysteria that started when troops going to Iraq started buying there own kevlar vests. This soon lead to a demand that DOD provide everyone in-country with kevlar vests & the even heavier SAPI plates — even cooks who never went outside the wall.

          Nobody wants to answer for “why didn’t you provide body armor for my child!” It’s cowardice at the top.

        • Tom Kratman

          Though I mentioned wasted time, etc., as a company commander I actually didn’t waste a helluva lot that could have been better used.

          One of the things I did was give the quarterly training briefing three times; once to the brigade and battalion commanders, once to the troops, and once to the married troops’ wives. The difference was that none of the colonels, and none of the wives, had to do pushups if they didn’t keep notes.

          Well…one time one of the wives complained, “Why do you keep our husbands in the field 20 days and nights a month?” My answer went to the effect of: “Mrs. X, this is a mechanized infantry company. Moreover, it is a rifle company in a division that could be ordered to war about 2 minutes after the 82d Airborne. If that happens, whether your husband comes home in one piece and still breathing depends in good part on how well he and the rest of the company are trained. So I want you to ask yourself whether you would rather have him ne home a few more nights a month or come home alive and have him for the rest of your life. Not that I’m going to give you the choice, of course – this company is going to train no matter what – but at least you know why.”

          I’ve got my doubts that someone could get away with that anymore.

      • Col Kay

        That’s the hell of a lot, how much is used?
        At one stage in Borneo we were issued with chronometers and therodlites for cadastral navigation in primary jungle (300″ to the lowest branch.

        • Tom Kratman

          ANd when the people who issued those or ordered them issued turned in their urinalysis samples, and those samples were tested, how many turned out to be doped to the gills?

      • seans

        While the weight of the infantry is to high, there are two major problems currently facing the vast majority of Army infantry I have worked with. Being incredibly out of shape, and inability to fight at night. Having seen infantry who show up can’t bench 135 or much less there body weight, or do a single pull up, it shows me what the army’s priority is on fitness. As for fighting at night, the army infantry can not do it effectively, they spend far to little time on NODs in there training.

        • Tom Kratman

          Oddly enough, for most of my time in (74-78, 80-92, 97, 03-06) in practice the Army’s infantry didn’t do that much formal PT because- except for 7th Army – they pretty much lived in the field. (Much more so than, say, the Corps did, which was something that always surprised Marines of my acquaintance.) One exception was the 101st, 75 and 76, where, while we spent about 15-17 days and nights a month in the field, we’d do PT twice a day when we weren’t in the field. That, however, was an artifact of leadership that really didn’t know how to train or how to use time, because they’d spent all their military lives hunting VC. In any case, the troops tended to be wiry and fit for their jobs, which weren’t about bench pressing or pulling up. I weigh bench pressing in one hand and actions at the objective on a night ambush, or room clearing in MOUT, or movement to contact, or deliberate attack, or raid, or delay, or conduct recon, in the other. Bench pressing and pull ups lose. Every time. Provided, of course, that in doing those other things one is simulating closely the war time physical demands of those things.

          Night was not usually a problem for us, back then, even though NVGs were quite rare (generally 7 or so for a company) and PVS-4s, say, not all that common, 12-20 for a company. I _sense_ from my chats with people currently in, that with all the deployments, there isn’t a lot of heart anymore to keep the boys in the field – God forbid overnight – lest some frustrated wife complain to her congressman.

        • seans

          In the old day wiry might have been acceptable, but fitness standards have changed a lot. I am 5ft9 170, was the smallest guy in my unit. Can bench 325, squat 370, deadlift 410, do 9 pullups with a 100lbs and can still do my 3 mile in under 20 minutes. I am not on juice, and am not considered physically impressive, other than I am a excellent climber. I have yet to see any non SOF army infantry(not counting the Ranger Batts) that come any where near my numbers. The job has gotten physically harder over the years, but big army hasn’t adapted to it. If you told me you had to cut pt to train in room clearing or mout it would be one thing. But when it seems most units spend more time doing bullshit than training, that is a waste. As for the PT itself, that is a joke. PT is a slow ass jog and some push ups and sit ups. The big army cares more about PT belts and the PT uniform then actually training its guys to be in shape.

          As for the night piece. I know people talk all the time about fighting in night back in the day, but it holds nothing to today. I have been OPFOR trying to fight at night, and get slaughtered every time against people who actually are capable of night fighting. Big army can’t fight, patrol, maneuver, or do anything else well on nods, cause they just don’t spend enough time on them before deploying.

        • Tom Kratman

          That they may have changed doesn’t really address whether the changes are right, intelligent, sensible, or proper. Much change is really decay pretending to be progress, and much is mere fad. All that fitness takes time, which time is hard to come by if you’re doing the other things. I certainly wouldn’t rate that level of fitness higher than the things I mentioned.

          You’re quite right, though, most units waste more time than they use. But that’s a different issue, which won’t be improved by spending what time they spend properly to do things of lesser importance than the ones I mentioned, and those other tasks that are similar.

          Night fighting is more than using STANO. There are a metric buttload of techniques that need to be trained, and which we don’t train enough on. See comment on Mama calling congresscirtter, above.

        • seans

          There is way more than enough time to do the appropriate level of working out and train. If the Ranger Batts and SOF can find it, then the regular infantry has more than enough time for it. And go look up the opinions of guys who do that work on physical fitness. Its pretty high.

          As for is it sensible and intelligent. Yes and no. Again look at SOF. They carry more gear than anybody else. I can personally attest to what comes from it. Walked 14 kilometers to set up a ambush with about 130 pounds, then walked 14 back after we did it. Works extremely well if you are smart about how you engage the enemy. Unfortunately big army isn’t. If you are going to patrol at day on the low ground, you are going to get fucked with, doesn’t matter if you got 130 pounds on your back or 13.

        • Tom Kratman

          No there isn’t, not as you’re defining appropriate. And what do you suppose regular units do that SF and Rangers do not do? What kinds of constraints do you suppose they have that SF and Rangers do not? Frankly, the SOF-regular line infantry comparison is just flat invalid in _every_ way, from _every_ perspective, time, money, quality of human material, other training resources, and degree of distraction. Regular units have never had enough time for that kind of gay biker club body building, and never will.

          And, of course, the enemy gets a vote.

          Just out of curiosity, what’s your background and from when to when? No, I’m not screwing with you, you know enough – even if I might consider much of it to be not quite on point for some of these diuscussions – but it’s both hard and annoying speaking into a void.

        • seans

          The fact that you called it gay biker club body building say’s a lot about your opinion of modern fitness. Which honestly doesn’t surprise me. I feel your view of physical fitness are based on 80s and early 90s fitness ideas. Stuff like you either are a cardio guy or a weightlifter.

          How is it not possible for some regular infantry division to not have the time to actually implement proper fitness levels, yet the Ranger Batts do. Are you suggesting that the regular infantry divisions train more than the Rangers do? And I am referring to actual training, not just making sure they view their powerpoint slides on sexual assaul and do their AKOs on Suicide prevention. Do you believe that the regular infantry divisions actually spend more time training than the SOF community does?

          What do you think the regular infantry does that SOF doesn’t at this point? I have patrolled with regular infantry, assisted them on ops, had them run support for us. Been integrated with a them for a entire deployment once. And its always the same, we always have to babysit. Or train them ourselves if we have time. Its stuff like bringing in the squad I was assigned and telling them that our threat is a certain building and to check their GRGs, and they go what is GRG? I respond its the maps we passed out. And they respond, we didn’t take those cause we thought they were for Sergeants and up. Or not knowing which way North is on a patrol on a clear day at 1700. I can count the exact amount of times I have been shot at directly by the Taliban, can’t tell you how many times it is with the infantry I have worked with. While I will agree the regular infantry has a horrible setup in the way they wear their kit. Its not the weight that is their biggest problem. Its the training they receive.

          My background is 8 years active current, with 6 years in the SOF community as a operator, and 2 years in a armory dealing with small arms.

        • Tom Kratman

          It’s what it reminds me of, frankly, some Hollywood presentation of a quintessential gay biker club. Complete with leather. And it does say a lot about my attitude towards modern fitness or anything that tries to find military nirvana in what is really only a small part of the whole need.

          Let me give you an historical example: the, I mean _the_ most physically fit troops in pre-WW II Europe were the Italians. Lidell-Hart expected them to be “Lions in Combat,” based in their physical fitness. How’d that one work out?

          “SOF” and “operator” don’t really help if I’m to tailor my comments to what I think you might need or understand. I.e. SEAL, SF, Ranger, the group formerly known as Delta, Marine (in theory) SOMC (if they still call it that), even USAF Paracommando. They’re all a little different. Some are more likely to understand life in a line unit than others.

          The fact that you don’t know what is different between, say, Rangers and line infantry doesn’t help me here. This isn’t really a criticism; my son in law, for example, is Third Group. He doesn’t understand line units either, because after OSUT he’s always been SWC or SF. If you’ve been in or supporting SOF all your military life it would be too much to expect you to understand line units. They are different.

          But, to help you, let’s try this: the leadership in line infantry is not as good on average and isn’t going to become so. The troops, the sheer human material, is not as good and isn’t going to become so. The ammunition allocation is not as great and isn’t going to become so. The amount of time SOF has to spend on things like post guard, direct support to range control, and that whole gamut of things we call “post support” is essentially nil. In line units it can eat up a third of your time. SOF gets so little turbulance from levys / the personnel management types that there’s no comparison, cohesion-wise. The amount of money to train isn’t as great in the line.

          Frankly, I don’t know how you can claim similarity when all the Rangers have to do is train, and thus can spend more time in garrison, doing formal PT, and still train enough in the field.

          Some of those work to help personal physical fitness, of course, but most do not.

          As near as I can tell, regular infantry has pretty much given up on anything but force protection. That would, so I understand, be different from what SF is doing.

          Yes, when I say training (understanding that everything is training, but that some of it is bad training) I generally mean, MTC/HATK, MTC/HDef, DATK, Raid, Recon, Ambush, Delay, Reduction of a complex obstacle or strongpoint, MOUT, Anti-Armor Ambush, for example and that sort of thing.

        • akulkis

          Reminds me of the time I walked into our maintenance shop when I was based at Rustamiya in Baghdad… one of the wall had a whole bunch of lifting-magazine photos. My immediate reacion was to yell, “What the hell!! You guys are collecting gay porn!!!!”

        • Tom Kratman

          Yeah, your reaction may have been spot on. The problem isn’t that they’re necessarily bad soldiers, but that some of them are damned good soldiers, who rise in rank, and remain just people, with all the penchant for both stupidity and evil people have.

        • akulkis

          And considering how many in Hollywood are gay (co-morbidity between sexual identity issues and borderling personality disorder is extremely high. BPD’s also have a high affinity for going into acting. They have personal identity issues, a lot of instability, crave not only attention but adulation, and Hollywood personnel are rife with “had a horrific childhood” stories… the type of horrific childhood which leads to BPD…and BPD tends to often express itself as both sexual identity issues… AND anti-social behavior issues (biker gangs)… and so yeah, if industry would have an idea about gay biker gangs… it would be Hollywood.

        • akulkis

          I think you’re missing the fact that the SF is a HIGHLY selected group of soldiers, and a good proportion of the rest of the army doesn’t even have the GT scores to get in. You’re used to teams composed entirely of E-5 and above, and you’re surprised that E-2′s aren’t acting like E-5′s. Train an E-2 to keep a map with him, and check that he has it during PCIs, then he’ll have it. But the problem is, yes, most E-5′s are jealous of their maps (they see it as a symbol of leadership and authority), and don’t even want the privates getting their hands on the sergeant’s map unless he has to be CASEVAC’d. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just describing what is.

        • akulkis

          “gay biker club body building” … more truth to that phrase than most people will ever realize…..

        • akulkis

          You’re definitely right about the over-concern about PT-belts and the idiotically designed PT uniform….

        • akulkis

          That all depends on the commander and NCO corps. I’ve reservist units that have been horribly out of shape, and I’ve been lucky enough to have spent a career’s worth of time in national guard units (combat arms) in which the leadership provided proper motivation to all soldiers to meet realistic physical fitness criteria. (in other words, even passing with a bit over 60 points in each of the three events, and you would still be participating in the first sergeants grueling remedial PT sessions).

      • Crusty Rusty

        I thought they got rid of 7.62 and adopted 5.56 to reduce the weight of the weapon and ammunition… now they carry so much crap to make up for the toy rifles and varmint rounds… meh.

        • Tom Kratman

          Noticed that, did you?

          Yeah, the one thing reducing the weight of the soldier’s load does is allow him to carry more lighter weight crap. What is required…well…future columns.

        • http://batman-news.com Rick Randall

          And they keep making the load bearing gear capable of more weight and cubage. The only deliberate attempt to fight that that I’m aware of was the Brits with the Pattern 37 gear, which wsd DELIBERATELY made so you couldn’t carry much more than a realistic approach or fighting load. And even their leg mobile infantry had a platoon truck assigned to carry the “sustainment” load. (Admittedly, the airborne might have to wait a couple of days for the B Echelon to show up. ;-) )

        • Tom Kratman

          Work always expands to fill and then exceed the ability to accomplish it.

          Bureaucracies always grow to fill and then exceed the ability to put them in offices.

          Rucksacks…

          The answer, of course, is to limit all of that, _ruthlessly_. But how to make that happen, in the real world….

      • Jamie Robertson

        Tom, I have to wonder: what as the load out (fighting, approaching march, and emergency approaching march) load-out for US Airborne Infantry in WWII after they were on the ground? They were effectively light infantry that worked very well even when they routinely lost equipment to prop blasts and so forth. That’d be a good measuring stick against today, as those men had to use equipment which was heavier (empty Thompson M1A1 was 10.5 lbs empty, a BAR was nearly 20lbs empty, and M1 Garands were no picnic either… I’ve heard soldiers much preferred the M1 Carbine if they could get their hands on one), was from not that long ago, and they got the job done well.

        • Tom Kratman

          I answered this once and it disappeared. SLA Marshall talks about the Airborne example – as light as humanly possible – in The Soldiers Load and the Mobility of a Nation.

        • Jamie Robertson

          Thanks. Yeah, figures it’d disappear. I figure that if someone in higher with enough pull to begin to effect change gets a clue, he’d be able to sell it better on referencing our own military from the last time it was victorious in an actual declared war.

      • http://batman-news.com Rick Randall

        Unfortunately, this is common sense, but the Zero Fault mentality of the senior chain of command means our troops will continue to go into battle equipped like the White Knight. Every possible contingency that cab be solved by gear will be handled by bringing all that gear on all operations.

        I once had an M60 gunner who weighed 148 lbs… And his load out (NOT counting boots and BDUs) for a JRTC deployment was 147 lbs. We did not find he “guerillas” then, either. Especially since we weren’t even permitted to cache rucks and go light. (This is when JRTC was always “the entire Vietnam War” in one FTX, for those of you who went through a few years later.)

        I once had a 2LT go apoplectic when I led a night recon out with no web gear, only one magazine per pocket, and soft caps. So we did it his way, with full battle rattle. For about 100m, at which point we cached the webgear, helmets, etc.

        I don’t know a single light infantry vet with good knees.

        • Tom Kratman

          Mine aren’t wroth a damn, sure as crap.

          Think, though, about where zero defects comes from. Ultimately, a people gets the army it deserves.

      • Jason75

        I recall from Westerns I’ve read that it was a similar situation when the cavalry were fighting American Indians. The Indian would have his repeating rifle, a pouch of ammunition, a knife, and a few strips of jerky, riding a pony born to run all day on a few bites of grass over terrain he knew like the back of his hand, while the cavalryman would be loaded down with every item of equipment the military decided he should carry, with a single shot rifle (because repeaters just encourage you to waste ammunition) on a horse that was probably used to a steady diet of grain. At least in that scenario there was a horse to do some of the carrying.

        Expecting men, no matter how courageous, to go into battle hefting their own bodyweight in equipment is ridiculous. If I recall your Carrera books correctly, a Balboan legionnaire goes into battle with his body armour, grenades, an automatic weapon with enough firepower to double as a squad support weapon, and ammunition for that weapon. What he needs to kill the enemy, and to reduce his own chances of becoming a casualty, but not a heck of a lot more.

        I was shocked to read comments about having multiple electronic devices with different sizes of battery. That is absurd. If a soldier has to carry multiple electronic devices, at the very least they should all share the same battery size, and it should be a common size so if they run flat they can go into any store and buy/steal replacements. Better still if their equipment includes an ability to recharge vital power supplies like wind up radios and flashlights.

        The other one would be chambering their weapons to use the enemy’s ammunition. Kill the enemy, take his ammunition, keep shooting. I suppose just taking his gun would have the same effect though.

        • Tom Kratman

          The legionary in my books travels comparatively lightly, but he’s still carrying too much. His armor’s lighter because it’s based on a Thai-made silk vest, but reinforced with liquid metal strips. His rifle is comparatively heavy, though the ammunition is light. He doesn’t have as much night vision or communications gear, though he has a fair amount. His rations are a little heavier, but if he has to spend a day hungry from time to time, oh, well. He doesn’t have to carry much water, given the 270 inches of rain a year, but he does have to purify what he finds, and that will have some price to be paid in terms of arteroschlerosis, some decades down the road.

          The big difference is that, while he might have to carry something like his bodyweight on a major road movement with no contact likely, he strips down once he gets to the area for action.

      • softwater

        Didn’t Alexander take the afgan wives and kids hostage to force the afghan men into pitched battle. He adapted. He changed the situation to favour his men and equipment. Rather then changing his equipment to favour the afghans. And… Changing anything on a soldiers load to deal with fighting in Afghanistan is the same as training or equipping yourself for the last war. N’est pa?

        • Tom Kratman

          Well, getting ready to fight the next war the same way you fought the last war is actually perfectly okay provided, a) you won the last war and b) the next one really does resemble the last one. Absent either of those things…

          There are some constants though. One is that we’re not going to be allowed to take women and kids hostage. We’re not going to be permitted to reprise in any way that’s likely to deter him (think here: Lidice or Ourador sur Glane) for enemy violations of the law of war.

          More importantly, though, the reason the troops are loaded to the point of combat ineffectiveness has to do with moral cowardice on the part of our senior leadership. That is going to be exactly the same unless we use that leadership’s failure in this war to change leadership before the next one.

      • guest

        Okay. So… what’s the alternative, then? I’m not being sarcastic or facetious. I’m not trying to put words in your mouth.

        Is the alternative going back to BDUs and ALICE gear, with a patrol cap or a boonie hat or a shemagh substituted for the steel pot, plus a pair of decent boots, an M16, four mags, two frags, a sharp e-tool, and a couple of canteens, for patrolling? Maybe with a couple of MREs and clean skivvies and socks for a long patrol? That’s certainly lighter, and would allow infantrymen to move faster.

        Even without massive, cumbersome body armor, I am going to guess that the tremendous rate at which the Big Army expends ammunition in contact is going to be a factor in some officers’ decision-making processes: “okay, you’re carrying sixty pounds less each. Great, now each squad is gonna get a 90mm recoilless and these 60mm mortars we have obtained are now gonna be platoon-level assets. And everybody’s gonna carry two LAAWS rockets, and eight hundred rounds for the SAW, and…” And we’re back where we started, except nobody’s wearing body armor any more, and casualty rates rise as a result.

        I claim no expertise here. I’m just an Internet gadfly with some knowledge of human nature.

        • Tom Kratman

          Future columns, if that helps any. But I wiull say that, no the 60s won’t be going to platoons. For one thing, training FDCs is actually iffy and we never really have enough of them, two, they don’t need to be there because they can support from a considerable ditstance away, and 3, related to 2, our miliary doesn’t really have any principles of organization and task organization, but there is a tacit understanding that a weapons system belongs at the organizational level the area of interest of which most closely matches the range of the weapon, modified for lunging ability, without exceeding the range of the weapon. Hence, GPMGs at platoon level, light mortars at company, medium or heavy mortars at battalion, B-52s at national…

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