The Baldwin Files – The Fighting Load Continuum Part II

It has been a couple of months since Part I of the Fighting Load Continuum (FLC) series. I am not going to re-plow the same ground, but I will be referencing points from the first article. Consequently, it would probably be helpful for readers to review Part I before reading this iteration. We will start where the last part ended. “leaders have to face the fact that for the majority of dismounted combat operations – even relatively short ones – it is all but impossible to avoid at least some overloading [and]…the goal of effective load management should be to keep as many of a unit’s soldiers as possible in the more combat effective green range [of the FLC] – for as much of the time as possible – rather than the cautionary amber or high-risk red zones.

I gave away the “bottom line” of my own FLC concept last time. There is no magic solution and there is no trick to effective dismounted load management – it just requires timely, hard choices and deliberate trade-offs between firepower, protection, and mobility. However, units can be considerably more tactically effective if leaders make better-informed, pre-mission load management decisions. That involves consistently practicing the fundamentals like planning the mission first, then the load; focusing on successful prosecution of the fight, rather than equitably distributing the weight; and practicing and mastering deliberate and hasty load transitions. If a unit is following the age-old principles I outlined last time, everything carried is needed and represents capabilities deemed essential – not just unrelated or superfluous burdens to be endured.

Leaders need to acknowledge their limitations and not waste time agonizing over factors that they cannot “fix,” mitigate, or eliminate. Consider body armor for example. For extended dismounted combat operations involving “closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver,” I am – and have been – comfortable with lighter plate carriers and helmets. I accept the tradeoff between reduced protection and enhanced individual mobility. If in a static defense or mounted operations more body armor (protection) may be more appropriate. For dismounted reconnaissance perhaps no armor at all. What the leader cannot fix, mitigate, or eliminate in combat is the likelihood – sometimes the certainty – that some of your soldiers will die or be seriously injured no matter what choice you make. A leader has to live with that truth and shoulder than burden alone.

Likewise, recognize up front that load discretion is actually quite limited. Fixed weight items are a constant. Weapons, clothing items, body armor, and technological aids weigh what they weight – and if deemed necessary will be carried. NBC protective gear would be another example. If there is a realistic threat that the enemy will use chemical weapons there may not be a choice – the gear will need to be carried. On the other hand, consumables, like water, food, batteries, and ammunition, must be carried in quantities based on the anticipated rate of consumption and frequency of planned resupply. Longer duration missions, and those with limited options for external resupply, naturally force a unit to carry more of all consumables. Still, a unit should only carry what it truly needs, wasting nothing, and not burdening itself with “nice to have” items.

There is nothing new about that tactical reality. In fact, US Army doctrine on load management has been remarkable consistent for decades. ALL of the doctrine has repeatedly recommended that the “fighting load” not exceed ~48 lbs and so called “approach march load” not exceed ~72 lbs. However, FM 21-18, Foot Marches, as far back as 1990, explicitly acknowledged the inescapable conundrum. “Unless part of the load is removed from the soldier’s back and carried elsewhere, all individual load weights are too heavy [emphasis added]. Even if rucksacks are removed, key teams on the battlefield cannot fulfill their roles unless they carry excessively heavy loads. Soldiers who must carry heavy loads restrict the mobility of their units. Overloaded soldiers include the antiarmor teams (individuals carry weights of 111, 101, and 90 pounds), mortar teams (individuals carrying 83 pounds, even after distributing 100 mortar rounds of 3.5 pounds each), fire support teams (carry 92 to 95 pounds), and M60 machine gun teams (carry 78 to 87 pounds). All radio operators equipped with the AN/PRC-77 and KY57 VINSON secure device are also loaded above the maximum recommended combat load (84 pounds). AT4 gunners and low-level voice intercept teams are overloaded as well as Stinger and engineer breaching teams.”

That goes to show that recognizing the problem does not in and of itself solve the problem. One might incorrectly assume that today’s excessive loads can simply be attributed to changing public attitudes about casualties and some element of subsequent risk aversion by modern uniformed and civilian leadership. Except, the overloading of soldiers has always been a problem in every army and in every era throughout history. Generally, soldiers went to war with less capability, a.k.a. “lighter” than their opponents only because of the logistical limitations of their side in the conflict – not by choice. It is also true that lighter forces alone can reasonably delay, but rarely “win” toe-to-toe fights against heavier forces. Think Operation Market Garden.

Much has often been made of the fact that, in many cases, insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan can run away faster than we can pursue on foot. Sure, small groups of locally based fighters that have no intention of seeking or accepting decisive battle can operate and travel extremely light. Indeed, blending quickly back into the general population enhances their chances of survival –not firepower. That is frustrating but in no way indicates that the insurgents are “winning” individual skirmishes. As a matter of fact, because of the more substantial capabilities we routinely carry and can bring to bear, we have – on average – been killing more than 100 insurgents for every one of ours lost for the last 18 years. Even overloaded by comparison, it is extremely rare for us to be at risk of losing any tactical engagement. Granted, it is also true that the prosecution and ultimately the strategic outcome of a war has very little to do with relative body counts, or whether we succeeded or failed to manage individual soldier loads, or even win tactical engagements.

Let us focus for a moment on one consumable class of supply in particular – ammunition. Can a unit or individual have “too much” ammunition. If in a static defense the answer may be no; however, if that ammunition has to be carried on soldiers’ backs the answer is yes. Ask any overloaded trooper who drowned in the inland canals or wading ashore at Normandy. Excess weight is excess weight. As mentioned in Part I, the baseline or standard “fighting load” has been defined by whatever the “basic load” of ammunition is for a rifleman in a given timeframe. Frankly, there has never been much “science” behind determining what a basic load should be. In the First World War, when the 1903 Springfield was the standard rifle, a soldier’s basic load was 55 rounds. 50 in his ammunition belt and 5 in the rifle. For the M1 Garand it was 88. 80 in the belt and 8 in the rifle. For the M14 it was 100 rounds, 80 in ammo pouches and 20 in the rifle. During the initial fielding of the M16 it was 140 (seven 20 round magazines) – although in Vietnam soldiers habitually carried twice that or more. After Vietnam, and the standardization of the 30 round magazines, a basic load stabilized at 210 rounds (7 magazines). I am not being facetious when I say that, historically, it seems the number of rounds or magazines a solder can carry in the issue ammunition belt or pouch has dictated basic loads – not rigorous scientific study.

Do modern riflemen actually need to carry almost three times more ammunition than their World War II counterparts? There is no quantifiable evidence that I am aware of that supports any such conclusion. Logisticians have developed scientifically derived and reliable food and water consumption rates for soldiers in combat. On the other hand, ammunition consumption rates are essentially subjective; and therefore, are of limited utility and not reliable at all. Simply stated, based on even a cursory review of modern (WW II and later) historical combat engagements, the more ammunition available, the more ammunition a unit in combat expends. This is true whether the unit ultimately wins or loses any particular fight.

If a modern unit does legitimate mission analysis and concludes that double or triple basic loads – i.e. 6-9 times what the WWII infantryman carried – is necessary to take an objective, maybe the task is simply more appropriate for a larger unit to tackle?  In any case, I would respectfully suggest that the unit establish an expedient range and expend that extra ammunition to improve soldier shooting skills and confidence before going on the mission instead. I can just about guarantee that would be a more effective use for that ammunition than carrying all that extra weight out of an overabundance of caution or fear.

In other words, it is much more likely that excess ammunition will be wasted rather than used for good effect. As seen in the attached picture, blindly pointing a weapon in the general direction of the enemy and going cyclic until running out of ammunition or a weapon inevitably fails is usually referred to as the “spray and pray” firing technique. Indeed, even calling it a “technique” lends it some semblance of unwarranted legitimacy and is far too kind. Let us call “spray and pray” what it is – panic fire. While panic fire may be emotionally cathartic for poorly trained leaders and scared soldiers, it produces no positive tactical results – and wastes a great deal of ammunition. In short, despite its reportedly widespread use by American forces in Vietnam, panic fire is NOT effective at eliminating the threat or winning the close fight. How do I know that with a high degree of certainty? Simple, no Army has ever had programs of instruction or ranges designed and dedicated to teaching panic fire techniques.

A unit that allows soldiers to panic fire every time they make contact does not need more ammunition – they need more training and a lot more fire discipline. Fire superiority does not mean that one side makes more noise or simply fires more rounds than the other side. Fire superiority requires synchronized fire and maneuver to gain a relatively dominate position to suppress, fix, and ultimately finish an enemy – while simultaneously thwarting his efforts to do the same to you. That means, upon contact  – if not prior to contact – soldiers shed their excess load, return disciplined, aimed, and effective, fire in order to seize the initiative, out maneuver, and decisively out fight their opponents.

Historically, cohesive units with more combat experience tended to carry less rather than more ammunition into battle. Arguably, the unpopular draft, individual soldier and officer frequent rotation policies, and shake-and-bake-NCOs made the experience of some American units in Vietnam the exception that proves that rule. Conversely, American Airborne units of World War II were a great example for modern leaders to study. The paratroopers certainly jumped overloaded to get as much materiel into the fight as possible. However, the troopers dumped or cached the excess ASAP and went into the fight with not much more than ammo and water. That is because the Airborne training program emphasized speed over firepower. The ability of relatively lightly burdened troopers to secure tactical and operational objectives as fast as possible before heavier forces could react and reinforce those positions was critical to mission success. Therefore, the individual troopers and leaders trained with a focus on the lightest possible fighting load, not the necessarily heavy jump load.

Similarly, today’s leaders must triage the fight ahead and adjust load priorities accordingly to facilitate mission success. Do not confuse what you CAN carry with what you NEED to carry to win that fight. Determine what is needed, who needs to carry an essential item, and where (what echelon of the FLC) does the item need to be in to effectively support each phase of an operation. I would suggest that – except in extreme circumstances – a basic load of 7 magazines should be considered the hard ceiling for an individual rifleman’s load. Indeed, smart small-unit leaders know that their bigger organic “boom sticks” can produce better tactical effects against a determined enemy. Machineguns, recoilless rifles, and mortars provide more combat bang for the buck than individual carbines. In other words, instead of carrying more M4 magazines, a unit’s mission is likely better served by distributing more of the heavier ammunition for the crew-served weapons.

In Part III, I will discuss techniques for mastering those load transitions and some training strategies that can better prepare units and leaders to successfully manage every aspect of the Fighting Load Continuum.

LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (Ret) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments. SSD is blessed to have him as both reader and contributor.

50 Responses to “The Baldwin Files – The Fighting Load Continuum Part II”

  1. Ex Coelis says:

    Some really great food-for-thought here. Thank you LTC Baldwin!! And thank you for posting this, SSD. Looking forward to Part three.

    P.S. retrospect and this article helps to appreciate just how far our ‘modern fighting load’ has actually progressed. Then-of-the-day, I utterly abhored using my CanForces issued framed/unframed ALICE pack. Many moons later, absolutely LOVE using my Mystery Ranch 6500… Cheers to all here!

  2. Linz says:

    “On the other hand, ammunition consumption rates are essentially subjective; and therefore, are of limited utility and not reliable at all. Simply stated, based on even a cursory review of modern (WW II and later) historical combat engagements, the more ammunition available, the more ammunition a unit in combat expends. This is true whether the unit ultimately wins or loses any particular fight.”
    SLA Marshal?

    • Terry Baldwin says:


      No, that was me talking. I think SLA Marshall was right when he wrote about a Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation. However, in terms of employing weapons, I – for one – think SLA Marshall got it perfectly wrong. The M16 was developed as a full auto weapon in part because of Marshall’s anecdotal and unscientific analysis that soldiers with full auto weapons fired more often in combat in WW II and Korea.

      From that simplistic and incomplete observation, His extrapolated the seductive but fatally flawed premise that if more soldiers simply fired their weapons that would produce both a quantitative and qualitative enhancement of small unit combat effectiveness. He was wrong. All it did was exponentially increase ammunition consumption rates in Vietnam – without producing any other measurable tactical advantage.


      • Kirk says:

        LTC Baldwin,

        I think that if you go back and actually examine the documentation extant which would verify Marshall’s line of BS, you’ll find what I did: Nobody in any position of importance (in relation to these decisions about training and the M16) even knew who the hell he was, let alone what his theories about combat were. I’ve been all over the Trainfire stuff that I could get my hands on, over the years, and the reports and studies I’ve seen make no mention whatsoever of Marshall. They also don’t mention anything about either the theories about “combat non-participation” that he came up with, and which Grossman has turned into a minor cottage industry, but that’s another issue for another day…

        Marshall was a consummate publicist, and the majority of his work has that run through it. Hackworth describes what it was like being his assigned PAO officer in Vietnam, and it’s telling: Most of what Marshall was interested in was what would help his books sell, not some ideal of accuracy or much of anything else. Having met and talked to guys who participated in his group discussion sessions in WWII, I think that was always his primary motivation–Making money. As such, anything the man had to say needs to be taken with a strong dose of salt, because there’s not a hell of a lot of “there” there, when you go to look for things like actual gathered data or statistical analysis. Everything he said was quite literally pulled out of his ass, and pulled out with a view towards monetizing it. Marshall, in short, is an unreliable source for everything, particularly his fairy tales about how influential he was with regards to small arms and the training thereof. He took credit for it, but if you read what he wrote, there’s no mention of who was supposedly listening to him, or what they specifically did. Nor can you find anywhere in the supporting documentation that I’ve seen where the people at the Army Research Laboratories even knew who the hell Marshall was, let alone the things he was saying.

        In short, Marshall=Fraud.

        The other thing I’d like to address is that whole idea about “full auto” you mention–The thesis that I remember coming through most clearly from Marshall was that it wasn’t necessarily the full auto weapons that were most effective, it was the crew served, weapons that were run by a team. This was pretty much the same idea that the Germans had during the run-up to WWII, and it is one I can’t find much to disagree with, so Marshall got that much right. Whether he was echoing conventional wisdom he’d picked up, or it was something he got right by accident, I do think he had a piece of the reality of things in that idea. Crew served weapons are more effective, especially in the context of less well-trained troops, because the two or three soldiers working together are more likely to fire, more likely to keep firing, and mutually reinforcing in ways that individual riflemen on the move don’t have going for them. They’re also generally in the company of a leader, under their direct supervision, and possessed of a more effective weapon. As well, the MG teams are usually better trained, because that’s where you’re going to spend most of your training time, if you focus on the MG in the squad element.

        The analysis about “spray and pray” has to include a bunch of factors that a lot of people don’t take into consideration. If you look at the Sturmgewehr and Avtomat concepts that the Germans of WWII and post-WWII Soviets came up with, the general idea was for a weapon that partook of the SMG and the rifle class, a weapon that was meant to be fired on full-auto during the assault by masses of low-quality (in terms of training) troops. That was the essential tactical theory and intent of the weapon class, and it was analogous to what the US did with the Garand–Put the majority of your firepower out in the individual rifleman, and rely on them swarming the enemy in the assault. Difference being that the US thought that precision semi-auto would win the day, not mass and volume. The ultimate test of that was the early days in Vietnam with the M14, and anyone interested in the history of things will tell you how that worked out, when the two concepts came together to clash in combat.

        I think that what needs to happen is a fundamental reexamination of just what the hell is actually going on, in combat: The Germans tried the MG-centric route in early WWII, made it work, but then transitioned to what amounted to a hybrid format later in the war, with the StG-44 down in squads that had the MG42 attached from the platoon and company. Same-same with the US–We started with a squad that had the Garand and BAR, and transitioned toward a squad that had integrated belt-fed with the M1919A6, and never really went away from that idea until late in the seventies with the M249. Soviets tried several formats, and eventually settled on an AK/PK solution. Every time anyone has tried to go to a single-caliber intermediate solution, reality has slapped them in the face, and the actual combatants have moved back towards a dual-caliber system on their own.

        From that, I think we can take that a lot of our theoretical structure about what goes on in combat is essentially delusional. I don’t expect the NGSAR do much better, to be quite honest.

        There’s a fascinating little book that I’ve just gotten my hands on, written by a guy who did operations research for the British Army. I’ve yet to grind all the way through it, let alone digest the thing, but it’s fascinating in what he found by way of combining historical research a la dePuy and van Creveld with actual exercise-produced real-world data. There’s a lot of information to wrap your head around in there, but I’d highly recommend getting a copy and reading it–It’s The Stress of Battle Quantifying Human Performance in Combat by David Rowland, published by the The Stationery Office in the UK. Thing about it that just yikes me is that until one of the guys who worked with Mr. Rowland pointed it out to me, I’d never even heard of this work or the man who was the driving force behind it. King’s The Combat Soldier doesn’t even have it in the bibliography, and Rowland’s work was published back around 2006. Well worth looking up and reading–I can already tell this thing is going to be one of those books I keep going back to, like English’s On Infantry.

        Full-auto “area fire” vs. sem-auto precision is an issue more predicated on intent back in the time frame where we’re deciding how we’re to fight, rather than anything that really goes on in the midst of things. If you train and equip for a mass-fire spray-and-pray philosophy, even because you defaulted to that through a failure to train and equip for anything else, that’s one thing–And, most of the mass armies of the late 20th Century did just that. It’s another to do like the Rhodesians did, and plan and train for a force trained to professional standards and then equipped them for precision semi-auto fire. That’s the essential dichotomy, not the crap that Marshall blew out his ass. In Vietnam, we really did not, in all too many cases, train to the same standards that the Rhodesians did–Largely because it was a draftee Army, and the powers-that-were had the idea that the manpower taps were never getting turned off. The Rhodesians didn’t have that kind of base, so they went for a different solution.

        Final analysis? It’s the planning and training that make this issue of aimed semi-auto vs. spray-and-pray. Tactically, you can make either work, but the issue then becomes “How do we mean to fight”. By default, the Army in Vietnam set conditions such that the spray-and-pray philosophy dominated the field. It would be interesting to somehow take a unit that had been trained in our era, and confront them with the conditions prevailing in Vietnam; which operating mindset would prevail…? I somewhat suspect that our disdain for what they did then would prove to be somewhat ill-conceived, because of the conditions obtaining in the jungles of Vietnam.

        And, if this seems chaotic, what I’m writing…? It is. This is an arena which suffers from a lack of solid research, and whose fundamental terminology is poorly conceived. Our thinking about this stuff suffers from the fact that it is so poorly thought out, which is both indicative of our lack of thought, and a partial product of the language we’ve been forced to use talking and thinking about it.

        I’ve been saying for years that we can do better, and that we badly need to. Hopefully, the discussions here will help.

        • Terry Baldwin says:


          I absolutely agree with you about Marshall. I still think he got it right about a soldiers load; but only because I have been able to make similar – albeit also anecdotal – observations during my career. But that is about the only case where I would call his conclusions reasonably reliable.

          I do not know who he was actually able to influence in terms of small arms and training. However, it certainly seems that some of his weapons employment ideas did filter into weapons development.

          For example, the move to lighter ammunition (5.56) – not to lighten the load – but to allow soldiers to carry more ammunition. All without determining if the soldier needed to carry more rounds at all seems suspiciously SLAM-istic.

          Finally, I have mentioned it here before, I served in a rifle company with Dave Grossman when he was a 2LT in the old 9th ID. I do not have a high opinion of him or his half-baked theories extrapolated from SLAMs equally suspect conclusions about combat participation or non-participation.


          • Kirk says:

            I’ve been saying it for years, now–The whole arena of what you’re talking about in your third paragraph is one that has been based more on sophistry and wishful thinking than actual data and research. The way we’ve gone about trying to get the numbers to quantify this stuff has been mostly by way of subjective BS and an utter lack of interest in getting at the reality of things.

            It all ties in together, too–Soldier load is inextricably intertwined with weapon and tactic choices. You want light loads? Best pick weapons and tactics that support that, and be willing to pay the price in tradeoffs. You want invulnerable soldiers that can dominate every firefight with massed firepower? Then, be prepared for your overweight myrmidons to be medically unfit for duty in very short order, because you’re going past the limits of human capabilities when you do that.

            This is one reason I’m so cynical and dubious of the whole NGSAR thing, and the supporting ideas of the current lot of leaders. They’re calling for more “lethality”, while not bothering to articulate what the hell that is, in their minds. Is “lethality” one shot-one kill? Is it a systems thing, where the weapons are going to become more capable via some technical magic akin to the Underpants Gnomes business plan?

            Calling for things like a “100% increase in PK”, which I remember as the goal for the ACR program, is just nuts. We are not at a stage in the technology where such a massive jump in things is even possible, let alone likely to be created by directive-from-on-high. You’d have been better off simply saying “Hey, we want to see an increase in MRBF, service life, and affordability”, then defining the numbers we have right now with the fleet. The way they did it? Boondoggle. It’s like sitting back in 1790, and demanding the arsenals deliver unto you the Chassepot, or asking for the Garand in 1889. The underlying technology is simply not there to enable this kind of thing.

            Not to mention, there’s a clear necessity to integrate what we’re issuing the troops with how we’re training them to fight, and then conducting our operations. Nobody thinks about that, at all–The M4, for example. How the hell did we get that thing as the basic infantry individual weapon? Did anyone set out to design it as such? Nope; that was meant to be a weapon for rear echelon troops, and nobody at all ever expected it to be glommed onto as the default individual weapon. Zero forethought or experimentation went into the barrel length, for example; it is what it is because the f**king accessories like the M203 and bayonet needed to still fit on it, and nobody particularly cared whether or not the damn things had decent ballistics because they were only going to equip the guys in the rear like us Engineers and Artillery.

            Who, irony of ironies, never saw the damn things until just recently.

            How the hell did we get so bad at this? Seriously, I want to know: Why is this crap happening? Can nobody play this game? Am I the only one who sees the implications of issuing a 14.5″ barrel with ammo that’s ballistically matched to a 20″ one, and then wondering why we’re getting reports back about guys not being able to get reliable stops in combat?

            Where the hell were the senior officers when all this was being done? Whose genius idea was it to hack off on this stuff, and then behave as though it all happened “by accident”? The M4 was never, ever meant to be the default IW; that just happened by sheer accident, because someone noticed that it was a lot easier to carry around and use in combat. The M4 did not become our basic IW out of some carefully planned and thought-out process; it was entirely a misadventure. A fortuitous one, but a misadventure all the same.

            Frankly, if I had oversight over the Army’s weapons programs, and I were looking at this from a distance? I’d take the M4’s path to dominance as the individual weapon, and the failure to anticipate the M60 becoming non-viable as a support weapon as clear signs that the Army’s small arms programs were completely dysfunctional. The M4 and the M240B both happened by accident, and in a complete absence of foresight, planning, or preparation. It’s a damn miracle that either weapon works for us, let alone as well as they do. We most certainly did not “plan” our way into their success, in any way, shape, or form.

            This is a clear indication that the system is broken, in my mind. Is it any wonder that same system can’t get the issue of soldier load straight, either…?

  3. Kirk says:

    I think the problem with all of this is that the entire conceptual basis behind it all is poorly conceived and that the terminology we use to discuss the issue is equally ill-conceived.

    There’s a lot of talk about “agility” and “mobility”, but the two are rarely divided up by rational layers–You can be agile as hell with your logistics back in the base camps, allocating your “stuff” as the mission’s shifting needs dictate, but if you’re getting those supplies out to the guys on the pointy end of things via only one or two closely-constrained transport options…? Zero agility. You can’t flex, if it’s as involved as loading the choppers and sending them out on a two-hour mission. There in the base camps, you can re-allocate and take your “stuff” from one unit’s pile of “stuff”, and move it over to another unit that has more need for it very easily–But, when you have to factor in the transport time from base camp to fighting line, your agility just went “Poof”.

    Same-same with the factors of agility and mobility out on the line. Sure, you’ve got agility like a mofo, at one level–You can fly your guys out all over an entire province, while the enemy is restricted to foot, mules, or motorcycles. In theory, you’ve got an advantage in both mobility and agility; in reality, once your guys hit the ground, you’re at a disadvantage, precisely because now the equation is in the other guy’s favor: He can decide when and where to engage or dissolve into the population, and if he abandons his weapons, you can’t do a damn thing to him because of ROE. Even if you know he’s a bad guy…

    All this is confusing as hell, and because we don’t conceptualize it properly, or have the terms to talk about it, we don’t solve the problem. It’s akin to the issues in math–You can’t write the equation, you can’t solve the problem posed in the data. Hell, without the proper framework, it’s difficult to even describe the problem, or recognize it…

    There is mobility-in-fact, represented by Abdul the Taliban and his one magazine plus AK47, and then there is mobility-in-theory, where Captain America can’t shoot the bastards he knows are Taliban, ‘cos ROE and PID. The agility with which Abdul can move from “can’t-be-shot-‘cos-innocent-civilian” to “guy-shooting-at-us-who-we-can-shoot” is as critical as his speed in moving across the ground. And, because we lack the language to define this sort of mobility, it doesn’t get discussed when we talk about ROE and PID, at all. The fact that the enemy can do an instantaneous category change from non-combatant to combatant is an unrecognized arena of mobility that we don’t take into account, simply because the idea isn’t supported in our terminology and language.

    Language and terminology is a tool; if you lack the correct tools to think about something, the end-product of your thinking is going to be flawed in concept and execution.

    I think a large component of our issues in all this regard stem precisely from the fact that our language and mental frameworks for thinking about these issues are inadequate and fundamentally flawed. You can’t discuss and engage in clear thinking about what you can’t even clearly define or conceptualize. Hell, a lot of the time, you can’t even recognize that there’s a damn problem, because your thinking is running down pipelines laid down in the language you use to conceptualize it.

    • Kirk says:

      One of the things I’m trying to get at here, with this post, is this:

      There is agility and mobility in the sense that you can move rapidly around the battlefield, and then there is the sense of the ideas where you’re changing state.

      In that, what I’m getting at is the essential nature of the combatant; little Johnny Taliban can perform a phase transition between combatant and non-combatant simply by dropping his weapon, or not having one visibly nearby. This confers on him a state of superiority in terms of agility and mobility that we simply don’t seem to grasp, because of the way we think about things. Our own ROE creates a situational imbalance that no amount of lightweight gear or high-speed transportation can overcome, and we do it to ourselves in our command centers because we don’t think of these things in this manner. The issue is framed as “is it legal to kill this guy”, and nobody ever stops to consider that by making PID mandatory, you’re conferring a huge advantage on the enemy. And, it’s all in our own heads–Johnny Taliban can move from “dangerous combatant” to “innocent non-combatant” literally at the drop of an AK.

      You and I are conditioned to think of agility and mobility in terms of “can I get there from here quickly”. The enemy doesn’t think in those terms, and have the advantage because of that. Their concept of agility and mobility stems from that phase change between “I’m legal to shoot” and “Nope, can’t prove combatant status, can’t shoot…”. Thus, without even leaving the village, Johnny Taliban has far more agility and mobility than we could ever possess–And, the nasty thing is, it’s quite literally all in our heads.

      I’ve yet to meet the American officer who thinks in these terms. You talk about getting a mobility advantage, and they think purely in terms of physical movement, when the reality is, that concept of “mobility” actually covers a lot more than just ground movement.

      And, because of the mental framework we bring to the issue, nobody thinks about that. JAG confers conditional immunity on people we can’t PID as enemy combatants, and we instantaneously lose true tactical agility and mobility. Guys in Afghanistan know those assholes trailing our units on motorcycles are spotters for the Taliban, but can we do anything about that? Oh, no–They’re “unarmed non-combatants”. With radios. Talking to “combatants” with guns.

      Conceptually, we don’t even recognize that we’ve ceded initiative, agility, and mobility to the enemy. And, what’s even better? We did it in our own TOCs. I’d say that there are maybe 99% of the officer corps who are completely oblivious to this, simply because they don’t think of it in those terms, and their thoughts are channelized by the language and conceptual framework we use in discussing this shit.

  4. TKS says:

    This is a question rather than a comment. (I have 29 years of USN service, 80% with the Marines). Can Vietnam vet verify US forces actually did the spray and pray routinely? My only references are movies and in my opinion almost every Vietnam movie was a display of the writer/producers agenda. News reel clips of Marines in Hue firing over a wall…widespread tactic or used by the editing crew to show panic over matches Marines in a hopeless fight?

    Educate me

    • James says:

      I’ve seen(video),heard, and read it both ways over the years. Hal Moore specifically wrote about using full auto extensively on LZ’s ( shooting any potential cover), Bruce Norton wrote about aimed semiauto quite a lot, footage I’ve seen from SOG fights showed a lot of general direction semi at a couple of rounds a second, video from line units showed aimed full auto in 5 + round bursts(similar to what Moore wrote and what relatives have described to me). Willing to bet it was a very unit and situation dependent thing.

      • Kirk says:

        Your last sentence nails it. Also, you need to take into account where in Vietnam, along with when. Vietnam wasn’t a war of singularity, at all–You can talk to a half-dozen different veterans of it, and they’re all going to tell you different things about what they saw and did. That’s not because any of them are lying, it’s because that war was literally a different experience for everybody that served over there. Guys who fought in the Delta will tell you truths that applied to them, which sound like BS when you talk to guys who fought in the Highlands or the cities like Hue. Vietnam wasn’t a war where everything stayed the same throughout the theater or during its historical course.

    • GANDIS says:

      I can’t remember what episode, and when in that episode, but the Ken Burns Vietnam docu had a few videos of US troops spraying and praying over walls at the enemy. I think it was a later episode. I remember because it stuck me as odd at the time.

      • Kirk says:

        You have to be exceedingly cautious in what you take from video “evidence”. How much was staged for the camera, and then sold as “real live action, straight from the front”?

        As well, there’s the whole “observation changes the state” problem, where people respond entirely differently in view of the camera than when they know they’re not under observation.

        I know guys who’ll tell you flatly that they did a bunch of stuff simply because they thought someone else was watching them, and that had there been no observation…? They’d have done nothing.

    • Andrew says:

      Maj. Plaster’s book S.O.G. described SOG’s SOP for breaking contact during an ambush as the entire team dumping at least one mag on full auto towards the enemy. Obviously unit and situation specific, but there is at least anecdotal evidence.

  5. Paul says:

    I go through this every pre-mission check of my equipment – what is a necessity and what is a nice to have. How much ammo do I need? Because of the type of missions I ran my last two deployments, I only carried 4-5 magazines on my person and left my reloads in my truck bag. I remember Paul Howe or Kyle Lamb talking about using 3 rounds per bad guy means I should be able to kill 10 guys per magazine. How many bad guys are expected on target? How many good guys are going? Take that with a grain of salt and their background. BUT – that mentality can be applied everywhere. If you live in the “what if” realm, you’ll carry the kitchen sink.

    On a similar note – we went for a light ruck testing our new jungle rucks. The packs themselves only weigh 5lbs so we loaded up 45lbs total weight and we were laughing that it didn’t matter what ruck we used, it’s still 45lbs – but – we ditched 5lbs of unnecessary nylon and aluminum so we could carry 5lbs of mission related equipment. Which is a winning outcome. We can pack the same load and be 5lbs lighter (or whatever weight savings your were blessed with).

  6. Mark says:

    Great insight! I remember in Robert O’Neils book where he referenced only carrying a couple extra mags and even dumping his pistol for some missions. I’ve seen a number of LE Swat guys carry way more ammo than what was probably realistically needed. Definitely a thought provoking article! Thanks.

  7. I’ve seen some very interesting video from the Rhodisian war, very controlled fire, minimal rounds used, and they got the results

  8. TKS says:

    Controlled semi automatic fire vs “spray and pray” vs belt fed or two caliber. 5.56/5.45 spray and pray is probably less effective than a 7.62 belt feed area weapon. Taking foliage, distance and buildings into consideration. Both LtCol Baldwin and Kirk bring some “spot on” points up. This is an area where I think big-service leadership gets it wrong every time. They are concerned with money, cost of training, and publicity optics. What is really the best individual and small unit weapons structure? Of course mission dictates the ultimate answer. I think very few leaders think through this. It is all about looking good for the next promotion board during my very brief combat tour.

    Navy personnel were allotted 10 rounds of 5.56 to FIRE in Kuwait before being “qualified”to go into Iraq. That was a big Navy decision. In Individual Augment (IA) training big Navy allotted 50 rounds of 9mm. 10 for fam and 40 for qual. So when discussing aim precision fire be spray and pray which leads to combat loads, training is the starting point. Big service leaders and civilian bean counters really aren’t concerned with effectiveness, just end dollars. Does anyone really think after 10 rounds of fam fire on an M4, the average Navy guy’s aimed fire is any more effective than spray and pray?

    This is a very relevant and thought provoking topic.

    • TKS says:

      By the way, our dictated combat load was 4 30 round M4
      Mags and 4 15 round M9 mags. Who made that decision?
      (Please excuse all the “auto-corrupt” errors in my comments above)

      • Terry Baldwin says:


        I had a lot of other Service Augmentees work for me in Afghanistan and Iraq. I agree with you that in terms of being truly “combat ready” almost all needed some additional work.

        You already answered your last question, someone just made a budgetary decision and decided that 4×4 magazines was all that an augmentee needed and that was all they were going to buy and issue.

        Same with the number of rounds you were allocated to fire in Kuwait. They also figured that you could easily scrounge up more magazines in country and the augmented unit would give you more training and range time as necessary. I know that is what we did.


  9. Stefan S. says:

    “Do modern riflemen actually need to carry almost three times more ammunition than their World War II counterparts?”

    WW2 marksmen were taught more BRM, and with the M-1’s normal basic load of 96 rounds, there wasn’t 210 to blow through like today. The 30.06 killed you dead, not like the issues we had with the green tips in Iraq/A-Stan.

    My Grandfather was in the 101st, from Normandy to the Eagles Nest. His M-1 had 21 marks carved into the stock. I inherited it. He told me before I went to basic at Ft. Benning 1988, “To take proper aim and not to fire till I was sure of killing my target”. His words still applies no matter what the basic load is.

    • Kirk says:

      I think it would be more accurate to say that “Some WW2 Marksmen were taught more BRM…”. WW2-era training was spotty, even more so than today’s. There were literally documented cases of soldiers arriving as replacements at the front lines who’d never, ever fired the M1 rifles they were carrying, having been trained on the M1903 or M1917.

      The WWII paradigm of combat was different than the one we have; it was completely different than the pre-war Army had imagined it would be, and it wasn’t what the Army later remembered happening, either. I talked to a bunch of those guys, and the one universal thing that came through loud and clear was that “the book” wasn’t what they did, in combat. Most of the line units “acquired” a lot more firepower than the documents described them having, and they used it. Liberally–As in, lots and lots of full-auto. The guys I talked to who’d been jeep-mounted scouts? Oh, holy hell… The stuff they matter-of-factly described doing with machineguns in Germany would have left the pre-war theorists having conniption fits, especially about ammo consumption. “Recon by fire” was not just a Vietnam or Korean War thing.

      I think everyone tends to idealize a lot of things about their war, and that one of the biggest go-to issues for Americans is that “rugged individual rifleman” thing. Yeah, there were guys who did that, living that out, but by and large? We were a firepower army, and we loved us some supporting fires. Your mileage may have varied, but in WWII, the Army’s premier weapon wasn’t a firearm; it was the radio.

      • C Wolf says:

        There was no universal BCT in WWII. Some folks would be issued uniforms and ship.

        As casualties mounted, Commanders began throwing rear area Soldiers into front line units.

        Eventually Congress passed a law that all Soldiers get a minimum amount of training.

        Although the recent round of improved marksmanship training to 3 position qualification is significant, the reality is that Pat Rogers tested expert KD shooters on moving targets and those folks got zero hits. One problem is peep sights make lousy action sights.

  10. mark says:

    I’ve read quite a few articles and studies on soldiers load.

    Its fairly typical to focus on ammunition – cartridge weight, and how many cartridges carried.

    But when I do the math, this doesn’t really seem to make much sense as the area to focus on.

    Lets say the current troop is carrying 75lbs, and the goal is to get to 45lbs.

    A loaded 30rd PMAG weighs 1.16lbs – reducing the combat load from 7 to 4 mags would save 3.5lbs.

    So you have 40% less ammo now, and still weigh 71.5lbs, with 26.5lbs of additional weight that needs to be shed to get to the 45lbs goal.

    It seems like it would make more sense to focus on the other 26.5lbs of weight savings first.

    The most obvious weight savings opportunity being Armor.

    • Kirk says:

      The reality is that the armor is there because the powers-that-be in our political leadership and who appoint those running things in the military refuse to accept the losses and wounds which would result from doing anything to lower the armor scale.

      I can about guarantee you that any technology that comes along which enables lighter armor is going to be used differently than you imagine; they’re going to use it to increase the armor level instead. Tell the politicians in and out of uniform that they can have what amounts to a Level V or VI armor potential vs. cutting the weight of existing armor, and they’re going to opt for making it Level VII, if they can. Why? Because the idea of having to explain to constituents that their sons and daughters were not as fully armored as possible.

      And, this is why we’ll likely have a lot of trouble managing weight loads; politically, it’s just a non-starter, even if you could lay out how many guys get back injuries and have heat stroke. The minute some outraged parent or wife can point to something and say “My Bobby would be alive, if only…”, well… You’re screwed, when it comes to managing weight.

      That’s been an issue going back to Vietnam, and it’s one we’ll need to address. GEN Schwartzkopf got nailed for that exact issue, because a young man under his command got killed when he wasn’t wearing a flak vest and a friendly artillery shell fell short…

    • Terry Baldwin says:


      Your math is correct. I never suggested reducing the combat load from 7 to 4 magazines. I just said that 7 was probably more than enough in most cases – and if the mission could be accomplished with less not to carry more than you reasonably need. That goes for everything that is carried.

      However, my point in discussing ammunition is NOT to save the weight of a couple of M4 magazines – or anything else specifically. As you can see, I suggest that other items might be carried instead – actually heavier items. The Army has a stated combat weight goal that it admits cannot realistically be achieved. I am not going to tilt at windmills so I have no such weight reduction aspiration.

      I am a realist. Indeed, my focus of these articles is to hopefully help young leaders make smarter decisions about what to carry and what not to carry. I am arguing that carrying ONLY the mission essentials may or may not result in lighter individual loads, but likely will enhance the unit’s chances for mission success.

      As far as your point about armor, I agree in general with Kirk’s response immediately below. However, I like to bring my guys and gals home alive – if not perfectly intact – so I accept the capability and the trade offs that body armor represents.

      Besides, as the 1990 (pre-body armor) manual I keep referencing points out, soldiers were already overburdened then without armor. Soldier overloading is not a new phenomena. Human nature being what it is, unless ruthlessly controlled by leaders, units and individuals will ALWAYS carry as much as they can get on their backs “just in case” when going into combat.


      • mark says:

        Hi Terry,

        I just re-read your article and you’re right, you don’t advocate carrying less then 7 mags, but rather not carrying more then 7 mags unless absolutely needed.

        I do think though that the underlying point I made is worth examining if the ultimate goal is load reduction. Namely, that ammunition, while heavy, is not the majority of the weight being carried.

        If you’ve got a soldier carrying 75-85lbs, and ammo makes up 8.12lb(7mags)-16.24lbs(14mags) of that load – then that still leaves 67lbs of additional gear to examine for weight savings.

        What is that extra 67lbs made of? Figuring out exactly whats being carried, and what it all weighs, is where I think any real hopes of weight savings lie.

        Thats the same tactic used by ultralight backpackers – they measure all of their gear down to the gram, and then cut weight by omitting some items, and purchasing lightweight replacements for other items.

        I mention Armor because that’s a prime candidate for that approach.

        The IOTV weighs 30lbs in Medium. Its comprised of 4x Level IV hard armor plates, plus an additional set of IIIA soft armor.

        Now that we know what this is and what it weighs, we can look at alternatives. Here’s one option, where Level III+ standalone plates replace the Level IV+IIIA currently used.
        S&S Plate frame = 1.375lbs
        Stop BZ Side plates x2 = 2.6lbs
        Stop BZ Medium x2 = 8.32lbs
        = 12.3lbs
        –> Weight savings of 17.7lbs, while maintaining nearly the same level of protection against all but the most exotic projectiles.

        With a detailed weight list of other items – and an understanding of what is actually being carried – I imagine more weight savings are likely to emerge.

        Now, with that said, your point that soldiers have always been overloaded will still likely remain – its likely that 17.7lbs would then be replaced with something else. But better “75lbs of lightweight gear” then 75lbs of needlessly heavy gear.

        • Kirk says:

          The fundamental issue is always going to come down to commanders, and their self-discipline/awareness over what they’re prioritizing for loads. It’s unfortunate, but the lack of emphasis on this issue is one that starts in the commander’s mind, and ends there.

          I think we need to have a much greater degree of awareness of what is going on, load-wise, out in the units. Commanders need to have consideration of this matter beaten into their heads at every opportunity in their training, and they need tools available that can make the issues visible.

          To my mind, a “unit dashboard” would be helpful, one that reflected actual weight-carrying capacity for individual soldiers. PFC Jones weighs 120lbs soaking wet; the dashboard ought to show the commander that his SOP already has Jones maxed out at 67lbs of gear, and if he then mandates everyone carry an extra two days of food and water, red lights go off over that squad and Jones in particular.

          A lot of the time, commanders aren’t even really conscious of what the troops are carrying, load-wise. Especially the specialist jobs, like RTO and medic. As well, they don’t really think in terms of “unit weight” carried, for gear like the radios, batteries, and everything else. Often, the unit gear isn’t even calculated into basic loads, when it really should be.

          To a degree, load management and unit equipment weight is something we need to automate, and produce an aide for. Few commanders have that data at their fingertips, and keeping track of it all would require superhuman abilities. But, make a tracking app for everyone in the unit, and that problem becomes much, much easier.

          It’d be a lot easier to track and comprehend, if there were something out there that took individual soldier capacities into account, and then cataloged what they were carrying by SOP, then mission load, and then highlighted what was going on. I would wager good money that most commanders would be horrified to discover what the actual weights were, out in the line units.

          Other thing is, they need to start making portable scales more readily available to the units, and integrate them into training and operations. Digitize the bastards, so that you could take your ruck, webbing, and armor, hang it off the scale, and get an accurate weight for what you’re hauling around. Then, have that data recorded and sent to higher for management. Commanders should be able to have at their fingertips exactly how much weight they’re having the unit carry by plan, vs. what is actually going on backs.

          I think that much of the problem in this arena boils down to a lack of emphasis, and the fact that we don’t make it easy to actually quantify or track. Start making SSG Jones validate his loads before going out of the wire, and having CPT Smith track it for reporting to higher, and things will probably improve. Right now, CPT Smith simply doesn’t know that third squad of second platoon is carrying 200 lbs more than the men in that element are supposed to, by their body weight.

          • Terry Baldwin says:


            Spot on! If I accomplish nothing else, I am hoping these articles will re-energize leaders’ emphasis on soldiers’ loads similar to what we had in the late 80s “Lightfighter” era. Combat loads are both an enabling and debilitating combat factor that deserves much more active leadership attention then it is now receiving.


            You certainly are making some good points. But I must admit that I always cringe a little when I hear combat loads being compared / equated to civilian backpacking. Even extreme forms of backpacking. While both involve packs they are apples and oranges.

            An ultra-light guy may be pitting himself against nature. However, he is not also simultaneously moving to engage and destroy armed opponents that are intent on killing him first.

            A combat leader’s mission is to win the fight with every resource he or she needs to bring to bear. That alone is the ultimate goal. If a lighter load facilitates mission success, great. If a heavier load is needed to get the job done, so be it.

            I will use one example that will come up again in the next iteration. For a time in the 82nd I was a mortar platoon leader in a rifle company. We had both 60mm and 81mm mortars – 3 tubes each.

            The 60s (and their ammunition) was obviously the lighter option. If my platoon was tasked with harassing and interdiction (H&I) fires the 60s would do. However, if the company was going to be attacking a dug in enemy, the 81s were clearly the better choice. In short, because they were much more effective, the company humped the 81s more often than the 60s – despite the extra weight.

            Your last point is spot on. If combat weight is reduced because of lighter plates, etc. the almost instinctive tendency is to use that “savings” to now carry something else. I would question that, if a leader did not consider “something else” mission essential before, why is it mission essential now? It still sounds more like “nice to have” to me.


            • Kirk says:

              I think a lot of the issue comes down to visibility. The commanders, especially the less experienced ones, just don’t know what the effect of their decisions are, out on the line.

              If you were to put a decent digital scale out there, in every platoon, and had some means of passing the actual weights of the rucks and other gear up the chain easily and clearly, I think you’d be a long way towards solving the issue. Right now, it’s all mostly subjective–Who weighs their rucks and web gear, and when do they do it? Usually, it’s only done in garrison in a situation where you’re doing EIB or EFMB training, maybe for a road march like the Manchu Mile. The rest of the time, there’s limited to no visibility on things.

              Enable people to take actual real-world weights in the field, make them reportable, and you’ll see some serious change.

              What I’m envisioning is something like a digital fish scale, something you could hang off a support or just have someone lift, in order to get an idea of what the actual weights were in the field. Too often, guys just don’t have a damn clue what they were carrying. I remember one time where we were doing one of those 72-hour ARTEP-like exercises, and everyone packed to SOP and then added three days worth of food. Ruck weights were in the neighborhood of 60-90 lbs just starting out, and that was before people started adding the mission loads for specific stations. What was bad was that a lot of those weights weren’t really *known*, because we didn’t start out weighing them out until after we got back, and everyone was going “Holy crap, that just about killed me…”. Between all the different missions and everything else on that exercise, my squad walked something like 32 miles in three days, and I’ve gotta tell you, when I got back…? I was looking at my ruck with a degree of hatred usually reserved for ex-wives. Worst part about it was there wasn’t a lot of excess fat on that load–It was all called for by the unit SOP, and the folks in charge weren’t exactly shy about adding “good ideas” to the matrix.

              Visibility is the key, here–Make the loadouts clearly visible on some kind of dashboard for the commander, and they’ll do a better job of prioritizing them. Hell, make it easier to recognize overload when you’re out in the field or on missions, and you’ll solve a lot of problems.

              One of the deals that kind of shocked me was talking to a guy who’d been doing foot patrols in Afghanistan. His squad got stripped of two-three people for some reason relating to force management levels, and taskings around the FOB. So, where he’d had 9 guys on paper to haul all the required gear like the electronic countermeasures stuff, he’d been cut to five effectives to haul the same load that 9 were supposed to… Add in losses, leaves, and guys who couldn’t make a given mission for some reason, and he was sometimes going out with even less. There should be some sort of tracking system in place for foot operations such that they show the weights of required collective equipment vs. individual gear, and what each guy is carrying. Cut one body from an element, and you suddenly overload everyone…

              • Nick says:

                It’s these kinds of posts and comments that make me really value SSD, especially the comments section in LtC Baldwin’s pieces.

                From the commercial perspective, making a way to visualize loadouts and operationalize tracking (in which I mean showing commanders the initial Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP) profiles of the equipment of their units could be done pretty easily in conceptual theory… I know that implementation is a far different story though. Definitely something that I would find time to discuss over beers until there’s a feasible way to help solve the problem

                I also don’t think that enough work has been done to causally attribute how we fight wars currently with human “breakage” years down the line, and I feel that we are robbing our military of otherwise experienced and able-bodied leaders by not addressing issues with the fighting load. Maybe this can be done through a more holistic look at “wellness” and “fitness” (both hugely “loaded” terms, in my opinion) from early in the career pipeline.

                Again, I know that this would take acceptance and adoption of a different perspective than what we have in widespread fashion currently, but I do genuinely believe that in the long-term, there would be unbelievable benefits wrought from finding a more sustainable way to accomplish what we want to accomplish. Who knows, we might just outperform our current baselines by trying something new and different.

                • Nick says:

                  LTC Baldwin*

                • Kirk says:

                  Nick, I’ve been saying for years that the services need to do some longitudinal studies, tracking from recruitment, enlistment, IET, through career status and retirement. One thing I noticed when I went to do my own retirement physical, after 25 years enlisted combat arms: The guys with me, who had done the same things I had? The bigger the guy, the thicker the medical records. Especially for the Airborne/SF/Ranger types. The short wiry guys? Tiny little thin medical records…

                  The people to talk to would be the ones who do the screening for VA, who could probably tell you a thing or two about service longevity for various body types.

                  As well, I think the services ought to be doing some longitudinal studies on who stands up to stress better, in terms of PTSD avoidance. Observationally, I think a lot of the stuff that predisposes towards PTSD is absolutely something we can predict, and then either provide prophylactic support or just not recruit the guys and girls in the first damn place. There’s no point to taking someone into the service who’s already half-broken from shitty childhoods and other backgrounds, and then finishing the job so that the VA can pay for their care and treatment.

                  We need to be doing a lot better than we are. As it stands, nobody really even bothers to gather the data. We should be, and I’ll tell you another thing: We very badly need to have a means of tracking the overall physical/mental condition of a unit, and then observe how that condition either improves or worsens under a particular commander. One of the assholes I worked for, back when, was someone who basically expended the entire company’s physical and mental well-being throughout his tenure in command. New commander came in, the company was ‘effing done, and he had to spend his entire time in command trying to rebuild the mental and physical reserves across the company. Commanders can absolutely destroy a unit, and many have done so by taking the attitude that it’s there for them to use and use up, getting a good OER. Some means of tracking the state of mental and physical health in a company would work wonders to keep those assholes in check from running their command into the ground while they have it.

                  • C Wolf says:

                    The Army has significant injury & re-injury rates which are affecting attrition, readiness rates, manpower, etc.

                    A significant number of folks arrive with undiagnosed osteopenia (Lappe FLW) and/or nutrient deficiencies (Cropper).

                    Those nutrient deficiencies increase as training progresses (Westphal).

                    Treatment generally does not diagnose or treat either the osteopenia/osteoporosis and/or nutrient deficiencies.

                    Meanwhile the nutrition standards are not validated on athletes (2006 IOM report) and nutrient content in food has decreased (USDA).

                    So, it is a complex interaction of all variables.

  11. Mr. Blutwurst says:

    I have spent last 10 years being deployed and came up with very simple conclusions:
    – On most dismnounted patrols, I would happily ditch my body armour and helmet and wear old webbing or assault vest with hat instead (ESPECIALLY during patrols when we got shot at). It´s no secret that we (coalition forces) do not manuever with dismounted troops anymore when under fire. We just drop like sacks of potatoes, return fire, and wait for CAS and vehicles.
    – Losing war is more acceptable nowadays than being accused of violanting enemy´s rights.
    – Protecting soldiers with all sorts of armour and expensive gizmos makes them so heavy that they have to be driven, and then killed by IEDs. Our solution?? Add more armour and more gizmos!

  12. TKS says:

    This is a great subject but I agree politically it is a non-starter. Back injuries are up, as are hip, knee, ankle and foot. The true avalanche of injuries is yet to come. We will see in 10-20 years as troops age and the premature wear and tear become apparent.

    Australian and British wear their ammo and accessory belts on their hips, thus taking the weight off the vest and lower back. We have to look tacticool and have our stuff in our vest. Yes, I was one of those guys who saw the Instructors and multi-tour guys wearing all their stuff on the vest. I moved all my stuff off my hips and into my vest so I would be tacticool too.

    Combat load is a serious problem. As a Navy Doctor I saw and treated too many worn out backs and lower extremities. I also am a victim of my ego. Daily back problems after jumping down from a 7-ton with all my shiznit on (on my vest). Until the senior leaders and politicians come to grips with the near 100% injury rate as the true casualty number for our wars, we will never have a real and meaningful discussion in combat loads.

    Thank you everyone for very insightful comments! TKS

    • Kirk says:

      A lot of the load carriage differences are actually predicated on things like vehicle door design, and seating… The chest harnesses are so popular with US troops because they work better for vehicle ingress/egress, and you’ve got access to it all, while sitting. Waist-belt designs, you’ve got issues getting at what you need.

      On the one hand, you’re gonna get a bit more damage from overuse injuries, on the other, you’re gonna see more problems from guys being stuck in their vehicles when things go south. Six of one, half-a-dozen of the other…

      • TKS says:

        I agree 100%

        • TKS says:

          Going back to an earlier comment. We all have different wars within the same war. As a staff wiener, getting out of a vehicle quickly to engage a threat was not my priority. Chest mounted access to mags was not as critical.

          I love this topic and others related to it. How do we equip and prepare are warriors? The results of combat loads on the human body was in my lane.

          Again, appreciate the thought provoking comments of all

      • C Wolf says:

        It would be interesting to see an integrated modular vest, pack, and hip support design.

        It might save some weight. Shoulder nerve damage from straps is fairly common.

        There are all kinds of potential interface issues. And It’s not just weight… it’s also heat load, weight distribution, etc.

        Same for the helmet. The body prioritizes blood flow to the head, so lots of heat goes into the helmet. Can we accept some risk and put vents in the top rear?

  13. SteveB says:

    I always look forward to every installment of the “Baldwin Files”. Perhaps it is time for a “Baldwin Book”?

  14. Bold says:

    Besides making actual carried weights known to the whole chain of command, I think it would be a good idea to let young leaders experience the practical short- and mid-term effects of different loadouts in exercises/drills that are explicitly designed for that experience (yes, I know – where do we take the time for that from…).
    From marching to negotiating obstacles to combat movement to shooting etc.

    Being light and mobile (in a situation where mobility actually helps) needs to be recognized as an asset in itself or we will never get away from “but we absolutely HAVE to take this along, and that, and that over there…”

    • Nick says:


      I think that it would be an excellent idea to let young leaders (and old alike) experience these effects, and also the inevitable failures that will come along with different decisions. This seems to be a persistent issue that transcends the military and extends into public service and high-risk careers in a much more pronounced way than it does in the corporate world: successful learning by experiencing the often painful or unchangeable consequences of incorrect decisions ideally leads to less failure and better decisions in the future… If we breed a cultural hatred of failure, we won’t have the opportunity to move from the realm of idealistic, operational dogma into a matured concept of what works and what doesn’t. That’s a really scary prospect, and I see it in board rooms and corporate cultures all the time.

      If we extend the same failure-averse attitude to preparing to conduct higher risk activities like combat, then we will have unbelievably poorly prepared leaders, who will perpetuate and exacerbate problems that we could have fixed decades ago.

      It would be really nice to learn from the experiences of our brethren who have learned the hard way and paid for their experience in blood, sweat, and tears, but I don’t see an opportunity to do so on a widespread level until we accept that failure can be a learning experience, swallow our egos, learn to be patient, and listen to those who came before us.

      I think that we will be waiting a very long time for the above to happen in many pockets of our society as a whole, let alone the military and public service sectors…

  15. Will Rodriguez says:

    LTC Baldwin;

    Have you considered reaching out to Infantry magazine? Your insights need more visibility even though SSD is a great place to be.

    • Terry Baldwin says:


      The short answer is no. I have not made any effort to push these articles elsewhere. Although I have found some of my SSD stuff reposted or linked to other sites. I have no problem with that. I will consider your suggestion. Thanks.


  16. C Wolf says:

    Although the focus has been generally on the weight itself, other folks have looked at the resulting heat load (the portable oven effect), and one researcher talked to the effect on the venous return system (ye olde heart only pumps out).

    The helmet captures heat (arteries run full bore to head & neck) resulting in eyes full of sweat and glasses underwater.

    And, a variety of interface issues. IBA has no deltoid pocket, pushes the rifle further away, etc. So, moving to rifle qualification in IBA with the M16A2 resulted in lower qual rates in short folks. Moving to the M4 with adjustable stock helps.

    There are a variety of reports. The MORS folks did not put her paper up so far. If anybody has, please share.

    These are not radical ideas….. the mobility-armor-firepower trade-offs have been argued for years in tank design.

    One Army argued a minimum body size standard for Infantry.

  17. C Wolf says:

    • Terry Baldwin says:

      C Wolf,

      I appreciate your contribution. I checked out a number of the links you provided. Good stuff. Unfortunately, since the original conversation is more than a month old, I doubt anyone else will comment in response to your posts.


  18. Bold says:

    For what it’s worth, I bookmarked this comment section to catch late contributions and having this link collection here is deeply appreciated.

    I have not yet read through all of it, but I very much enjoyed the British comparison of WW2 and modern loadouts.
    My opinion is similar to its conclusion: We are doing it wrong and we have been getting away with it for so long that we now think it is the correct way to do it.

    You can only win any given war once and you can’t go back and try it another way to see if you are more successful (which raises the question what your metric for success is anyway). Only hard failure prompts change and while we haven’t failed hard in infantry combat for quite some time, it is for completely different reasons (!) – correctly analyzing all of this and drawing the right conclusions without hard failure is difficult for small groups and nearly impossible for big organizations.