The Baldwin Files – The Fighting Load Continuum

In the mid-1980s, there was a great deal of re-emphasis on dismounted load planning and load discipline in the U.S. Army. Much of this effort fell under the rubric of the “Light Division” concept. It was a worthy endeavor to lighten a soldier’s load and improve tactical dismounted mobility; but ultimately the resulting initiatives had little enduring impact. Since then we have incrementally added a great deal to a soldier’s burden – essentially without removing a single ounce of legacy weight. Tactically useful items like body armor, individual radios and night vision devices have become standard issue for almost everyone in our combat formations. GPSs have supplanted analog maps and compasses. Likewise, all individual and crew served weapons now have some form of day and night optical systems; and, of course, all the new electronic tools need batteries. Lots and lots of batteries.

The net result is a considerable increase rather than any aspirational reduction of a soldier’s mission load in combat. On the plus side, all of this high-speed “light weight gear” gives the American military tactical and operational capabilities that are the envy of the world. Nevertheless, it was indeed fortuitous that operations in Afghanistan and Iraq quickly became almost exclusively vehicle-centric. Dismounted operations of any duration away from immediate vehicle support became a rare exception. In that sense, the increased soldier load was at least partially masked by the fact that vehicles have been readily available to carry the extra weight in theater. As a result, small unit leaders became pretty good at putting together sound vehicle load plans but did not have to spend much time addressing rucksack load planning. Not surprisingly, the art of dismounted load management atrophied rapidly after the first year or so of GWOT.

There is no leadership alchemy that can make 100 pounds of gear weigh any less than 100 pounds. Ultimately, the unit mission load weighs what it weighs. Leaders have to deal with that reality; it is an enduring problem that cannot be wished away or avoided. However, here are some bullet points that can help organize leaders’ thoughts and efforts to successfully manage soldiers’ individual combat loads.

Dismounted Load Management Principles

  1. Pre-mission planning should determine what a unit MUST carry to accomplish the assigned tactical task.
  2. Load discipline requires individual soldiers and leaders to work collectively to ensure the unit effectively carries what is required – no more and no less.
  3. The eternal conundrum: A leader must accept risk to keep individual loads as light as possible. Conversely, a leader cannot gamble with the mission – or with lives – just to lighten the load. Remember the Gilligan’s Island Rule; it is never safe to assume that any mission will only be a “Three Hour Tour.”
  4. Sound load planning and enforcement must always be based on mission dictates, NOT on achieving equal burden sharing or relative individual comfort.
  5. In other words, ensuring maximum probability of mission success and his soldiers’ survival must be a leader’s overarching priority; military necessity – not “fairness” – must be the focus.
  6. Nothing a soldier carries into combat belongs to him. In terms of load carriage, he is a self-actualized mobility platform transporting resources vital to completing his team’s mission.
  7. Every piece of equipment is expendable – if necessary – to accomplish the mission. I say again, ALL equipment is expendable!
  8. While lighter equipment alternatives are generally more desirable, a unit may often need to carry whatever item is most effective to support the mission – regardless of weight penalty.
  9. Likewise, if a piece of equipment or ordinance – no matter how heavy or bulky – is deemed mission essential the question is not IF it will be carried but rather HOW it will be carried.
  10. A good load plan is comprehensive, utilitarian, and flexible; it must also anticipate and designate deliberate load transition points to support the upcoming mission.
  11. Use pre-mission inspections and rehearsals to confirm if the load plan is correct, complete, and works as intended. Make adjustments as necessary.
  • Another factor that negatively influences the training of leaders in effective load management practices has been that the official terminology tends to be imprecise and even misleading. When ALICE was fielded in the mid-70s, the Army referred to only two load configurations: Fighting Load and Existence Load. The fighting load consisted of two full ammo pouches on the harness, first aid pouch, one canteen, the bayonet, and the etool. Nothing else. In temperate or hot climates, the ALICE medium rucksack – without frame – was supposed to be more than adequate to carry all of the other items needed to “exist in the field.” Which is a bizarre and inexplicable conclusion given how habitually overloaded solders had been in Vietnam. The fielding of MOLLE introduced three load configurations: The Light Fighting Load (FLC Vest only), The Assault Pack Load, and The Full Pack Load. Beyond identifying the standard load carriage items issued to soldiers, neither framework provides a very informative or useful construct for mission load planning.
  • I re-read parts of the 1990, FM 21-18, Foot Marches, for this article and I recommend it (or whatever newer version may be out there) as a good resource. Chapter 5, in particular, goes into a good deal of detail on soldier load planning considerations. It also explains additional concepts like “Approach March Load,” “Sustainment Load,” and “Contingency Load.” Unfortunately, the manual continues to perpetuate the notion that there is a distinct line between vest or harness only “fighting loads” and everything else. I vehemently disagree. Therefore, in the attached picture, I am outlining a more simplified, precise and functional way to think about planning, arranging, and distributing a soldier’s and a unit’s combat load. I call it “The Fighting Load Continuum.” The concept is simple. If moving on foot into combat then anything the unit deems essential enough to carry on soldiers’ backs is – by definition – a component of the individuals’ “fighting load.” Whether we are comfortable with that fact or not. Note: Items displayed in the picture are pieces of gear I had on hand and are presented only as visual aids to illustrate the concept.


    Starting from the left is the Minimum Fighting Load. In World War II, frogmen went into harm’s way with little more than a pair of UDT shorts and a Kabar knife. Tunnel Rats in Vietnam faced danger with only a 45 and a flashlight. It is also true that even today a good number of people on the battlefield have a sidearm as their only issued weapon. Obviously, that gives soldiers so marginally equipped a defensive capability but not an offensive capability. That is why the Minimum Fighting Load is highlighted in cautionary amber as clearly sub-optimum. Soldiers who have the primary mission of “closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver” need considerably more than the minimum. Starting with the “Standard” Fighting Load displayed second from the left. I have put “standard” in quotations because what constitutes a standard fighting load has changed countless times over the years for the American Military – not to mention other Armies. Generally, the baseline “fighting load” has been built around the “basic load” of ammunition for a rifleman in a given timeframe. Therefore, since the current standard is 210 rounds, we will start there – with the caveat that mission specific load planning may raise or lower that number considerably.

    Of course, a solder going into battle likely needs a few more tools in addition to his rifle and ammunition. Today, a couple of fragmentation grenades, a first aid kit, helmet, body armor, and water are usually considered part of a standard fighting load. Leaders, grenadiers, automatic riflemen, and those manning crew served weapons will have duty position specific items as well. A radio for a leader for example. Still, the “standard” fighting load is almost never sufficient without at least some augmentation. Enter the “Enhanced Fighting Load” that adds a small backpack to the Standard Fighting Load configuration. This pack may be a Modular Assault Pack (MAP) as shown or something slightly larger. MAPs have been issued in SOF units for at least the last 12 years or so. A MAP is not common issue with MOLLE or FILBE; however, since units often buy “off the shelf” some non-SOF units probably issue these as well.

    The earliest MAPs I encountered were smaller than the sample I have on display. They had no shoulder straps and were designed to be mounted directly onto body armor via PALs. Other than the “modularity” of the design, they were not much different from the small hydration packs Camelbak produced as far back as the 80s. The newer, larger versions still have the PALs direct mounting option. However, it is more common to see them used as “day packs” or “go bags” with the detachable shoulder straps attached. That arrangement works better riding or getting into and out of vehicles and makes the pack’s contents more quickly accessible. This MAP is ~1200 cubic inches. By comparison, the Army issue Assault Pack is ~2000 cubic inches and the Marine Assault Pack is slightly larger at ~2300 cubic inches (neither shown). Those packs are not designed to be directly attached to individual armor, but rather can be buckled onto the top of the full sized rucksacks.

    Next over would be the Supplementary Fighting Load. That means a larger pack to carry more stuff. These packs represent an intermediate load-carriage solution. They are often called “3 Day Packs” and also date back to commercial versions popular with soldiers in the 80s. These packs tend to range in size from ~2000 cubic inches to ~3500 cubic inches. Indeed, the issue Army and Marine Assault Packs actually straddle the low end of this category of medium rucksacks. Likewise, there are numerous mission specific versions of packs in this size range currently being issued to medics, JTACs, EOD, as well as machinegun, mortar, and Anti-Tank crews. The aforementioned smaller assault packs are simple not of adequate size to carry the volume and weight that these specialists habitually need for their tactical mission. The example shown is the Army’s Medium Rucksack that has ~3000 cubic inches of space. I have a couple of extra pouches mounted as well as a beavertail so this one is probably in the ~3500 cubic inch range.

    Anything bigger than that falls into the Full Sized Rucksack class, a.k.a. the Maximum Fighting Load in the Fighting Load Continuum. For reference, the large ALICE is approximately ~3800 cubic inches. Both the MOLLE and the FILBE rucksacks are ~4000 alone and up too ~5000 cubic inches with only a pair of Sustainment Pouches added. In terms of volume, both of those two standard rucksacks, with sustainment pouches and issue assault packs attached are ~7000 cubic inches or more. In other words, almost equivalent to two Large ALICE packs. That explains why carrying a Maximum Fighting Load automatically moves a soldier’s burden from the lower-risk green range into the tactically riskier cautionary amber zone. To be clear, soldiers have to be able to fight with the full rucksack on their backs. It is not always tactically sound to drop rucks when the shooting starts. For example, when the situation is untenable and the unit has to break contact under pressure.

    Then there is the perpetual issue of the Overburden Load. Soldier overloading actually extends beyond the Fighting Load Continuum but remains inexorably linked and must always be considered in realistic load planning. The Overburden Load can be just about anything deemed mission essential but excessive to the Maximum Fighting Load. Red indicates that it represents undesirable high-risk but is nevertheless often unavoidable. As I mentioned in a previous article on Packboards, for extended operations in particular it may be expedient to deliberately put as much on the backs of some soldiers as they can carry. However, doing that makes those soldiers combat ineffective until they can dump that excessive load. Other, less burdened, troops will have to provide security for them because they – sometimes quite literally – have their hands full. Intentional overloading is actually quite common in one specific situation. That is when evacuating the wounded. As a rule, soldiers carrying a casualty are effectively out of the fight until they can at least drop off their injured teammate in some relatively safer location.

    In the end, 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 entirely. However, as indicated by the color-coded arrows, 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 – for as much of the time as possible – rather than the cautionary amber or high-risk red zones.

    To be continued in Part II.

    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.

    39 Responses to “The Baldwin Files – The Fighting Load Continuum”

    1. Braun says:

      I rarely disagree with someone who has such a vast experience, but given the poor understanding of why the loadout changed and subsequently suggesting solutions destined to fail, I have to.

      Loadouts changed because the doctrine changed. No military these days is willing to sacrafice a soldier, they have become too important due to their use for propaganda. This is why soldiers are being overloaded with equipment aimed at keeping them alive, protected and sometimes, considering how heavy some loadouts have become, incapable of fighting.
      Most equipment issued doesnt even increase the capabilites of the soldier to perform what he was sent to do. The advantages much of the equipment offers is laughable. Ever wondered why rice and poppy farmers with Aks constantly win against superior enemies?

      In the past troops were given a certain objective and it rarely involved bringing everyone home. The extreme would be the Soviets not even issuing rifles to all their soldiers.

      Same for the successful Blitzkrieg strategies, they were not about everyone surviving, why would anyone issue tons of expensive equipment that would be lost?

      The doctrine on how to treat an occupied space also changed. While a normal person would assume that soldiers live off the land and people they occupy, we no longer believe that this is a feasable option. Instead they are supposed to bring everything themselves. God forbid you occupy a house of terrorist and use his water supply. What would the media say about your men at war? You would certainly be worse than those you fight. Again, in the past no one cared about the life of the enemy in general.

      Expect this to get worse in the future. With feelings now being a protected part of every mans, excuse of every genderless persons body, the doctrine will change accordingly. Heavy visors and VR-Googles will become standard issue and grey out the actual violence, so the soldier will not sustain any injuries, mentally and physically.

      Valuing your soldiers life and the life of the people you fight is actually the reason the West has not won a conflict since WWII and why every military in the world keeps piling pounds on their soldiers.

      • JM Gavin says:

        I don’t see that you are really disagreeing with LTC Baldwin. You are writing about a risk-averse mentality about casualties among senior leadership. The problem in addressing the risk-averse mindset is that it is easy to quantify dead and wounded US personnel that died from some sorts of penetrating trauma, etc, It is harder to quantify dead or wounded that resulted from being overloaded and unable to move fast enough.

        • Kirk says:


          We don’t have the necessary numbers to plug into equally non-existent equations to figure out when and where to cut the load, so we wind up never cutting it. After all, as a reader of history might know, you can never tell when you’re going to need an axe to break down a door, so we should always carry one…

          I remain convinced that we really don’t actually know, in any real and quantifiable sense, what the hell is going on in combat. We think we do, but what we actually have is a narrow slice of our own subjective impressions of what’s going on around us, and we arrogantly expand that understanding out to encompass the whole battlefield, whether it’s a firefight or a tank battle.

          The one thing I came away from the NTC with was the certain knowledge that probably 90% of the military history I’ve studied since childhood was probably wrong, and the product of people who reported subjectively what they saw, but who were actually horrible witnesses because they only took in a tiny fraction of the battlespace. And, all the rest of the data we’ve gathered down the years is highly questionable, simply because the people gathering it were not looking at the big picture.

          Take a seemingly simple thing–Which weapons produce the most effect, on the enemy? In most studies, you look at where they got the data from? It came out of the casualty treatment stream; who got wounded and then picked up by the medical system. You want to analyze how well your weapons are working, this is a horrible methodology–For one thing, the few people in your casualty collection pipeline who were wounded by your weapons is going to be relatively tiny. What you’re looking at is mostly the product of the enemy’s weapons… So, what good does that do to tell you what’s working, and what isn’t?

          Over and above that, let’s consider this: The people who get wounded and survive to make it into the casualty collection stream are the cases where the weapons didn’t work as designed; they’re still alive. The cases where the weapons worked? They’re out there mouldering away in the care of the Graves Registration people, and those guys are rarely doing forensic analysis to figure out what killed the people they’re engaged in burying. Even if they were doing that, the nature of the historical data would be suspect because the people who’d have collected it were not exactly forensic experts…

          So, just that one aspect? The data is crap.

          Then, you get into the whole “Who shot who…?” thing. After a few rotations at the NTC, you learn the hard way that even what the Observer/Controller sees tain’t necessarily so–The data comes back from the Tactical Analysis Facility, and what you discover is that your heroic tank platoon that single-handedly wiped out the enemy attack column actually didn’t hit shit, and managed to call in artillery fire that wiped out the hidden infantry platoon which did manage to take out a company of tanks with its anti-armor and artillery observation…

          I watched that play out in real time in Iraq, from the Division HQ; we had an infantry platoon in contact during a search-and-seizure mission, and they returned fire: Successfully, they said, but we could see from the RPV feeds that they were firing into an empty hillside, while someone else dumped a whole shitload of MG fire into where the enemy actually was. Who that “someone else” was, nobody ever figured out, but the supposition to be made was that it was most likely enemy blue-on-blue fire that actually did in that ambush element… The LT remained convinced that he and his guys had done it, though…

          This is the crap we’re basing a lot of our decisions on. We don’t know the numbers, we haven’t got the equations, and the calculations we use to determine what things like our combat load should be are basically resting on a support of so much thin air. Actually, no… They’re resting on vacuum.

          I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: We need the data. Collecting it would be a challenge, but we absolutely need it before we can start doing rational calculation about all of these questions.

      • Jon Demler says:

        I feel like I understand your overall tone and agree that the job of a Soldier (the way this discussion is based. I realize there is a big Army and other branches with leaves) is to kill the enemy, which is inherently risky to the Soldier.

        As with any equipment the end-user is ultimately the most important component of the system. You can give some random guy a friggin’ laser beam and if he doesn’t know how to use it it is not going to make him combat effective. If a unit, at whatever level, doesn’t understand how to keep Soldiers combat effective because of the amount of equipment they are carrying there is a problem and I believe that this happens often enough to draw attention however, it is not the norm.

        I’m can only speak to my experiences so I don’t know about rice farmers (I’m assuming Vietnam?) but I do know about poppy farmers. They did not constantly win. They actually constantly lost because of the equipment that was being brought to bear against them carried by dismounted patrols. You can hide under rocks at 900 meters all you want but when someone direct-lays a javelin up your chute or drops 60 WP on you, things change. Now the loadout that is being carried is enhancing the overall combat effectiveness of the Soldier because he is destroying the enemy.

      • Terry Baldwin says:


        I appreciate the chance to preview Part II. I must disagree with your first point. Loadouts did not change because doctrine changed. 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 “approach march load” not exceed ~72 lbs. However, FM 21-18 in 1990 explicitly acknowledges the conundrum.

        “Unless part of the load is removed from the soldier’s back and carried elsewhere, all individual load weights are too heavy. 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. What has changed is load management practices and popular attitudes as you reference. Perhaps that can be explained by some element of risk aversion by modern uniformed and civilian leadership. Except, overloading of soldiers has always been a problem in every army and in every era throughout history. Generally, soldiers went to war “lighter” than their opponents only because of the logistical limitations of their side in the conflict, not by choice.

        Therefore, if that situation is historically accurate, I suggest that the Soviets did not issue rifles to all their soldiers simply because they were unable to logistically support their troops – and they were desperate. Even totalitarian regimes that don’t give a damn about soldiers lives rarely want to simply waste those resources. And when the Soviets got a few better generals in place they made the effort to husband and preserve their manpower more effectively.

        I would also argue that you are mistaken about rice or poppy farmers “winning” against superior forces. As Jon Demler mentions, that is completely the opposite of my experience. In fact, we have been -on average – killing 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.

        However, I will add this. “Much is made of historical instances where it appears that “amateurs defeat professionals” on the battlefield. The reality is usually more complex and unclear. When amateurs face professionals at the tactical level, the cost in blood is usually much, much higher for the amateurs. Using that logical measurement, even a battlefield “win” by the amateurs rightly appears Pyrrhic. However, there are other more esoteric and harder to quantify – yet often more powerful – metrics involved in the calculus of war than relative body counts. Like the will to continue the fight. The Tet Offensive would be a good example. Despite being caught admittedly flatfooted the US and ARVN forces inflicted severe loses on the VC and, in that sense, “won” at the tactical level. Yet the US just as clearly – and ultimately more decisively – lost at the strategic level.”

        Certainly, as Kirk talks about below, the prosecution and ultimately the outcome of a war has very little to do with whether we succeeded or failed to manage individual soldier loads or even win tactical engagements.


        • Kirk says:

          I would argue that we didn’t lose in Vietnam militarily; we abandoned the battlefield politically.

          Saigon did not fall to an internal insurrection; it was taken by an armored column that brought more armored vehicles into the fight than the Germans started Barbarossa with. A similar conventional invasion in 1973 was stopped dead in its tracks with heavy losses on the North Vietnamese side. Without the Democrat-led betrayal of our treaty obligations in Congress, South Vietnam would have likely beaten the 1975 invasion back, as well.

          We didn’t “lose”. Congress pissed it away.

        • crackers says:

          The concept of what the minimum fighting load includes doesn’t fit my experience…doesn’t everybody carry at least one 152 or similar?

          • Terry Baldwin says:


            No, every Army or Marine grunt is not issued a 148 / 152 – yet. That is indeed the way we are going but that is not where we are today. The fact that we have front loaded extra gear into theater over the years means that units in GWOT often have more toys – like radios and vehicles – in country than the unit actually “owns” at home station.


            • Kirk says:

              Which, in and of itself, indicates a major problem: We’re not paying attention to “war as she is fought”, and most of the MTOE changes that that “extra” gear actually represents aren’t being institutionalized.

              It’s like the whole PSD thing. So far as I know, there’s exactly nothing being changed in regards to being able to provide that sort of support to the commanders in the MTOE; we strip sub-elements to provide personnel for the PSD on deployments, and on return to home station, the PSD is dissolved like we’ll never need such a thing ever again.

              Reality is? We’re gonna need a PSD for every commander at battalion and higher echelons, because you’re not going to have a safe rear area for them to move around doing battlefield circulation in. Like it or not, the reality is, you either have something serving the PSD function, or you keep your commanders prisoner in the command posts.

              Just like the mods to the MTOE that theater-provided equipment represent, the PSD is a reflection of reality. We’re not adapting to that reality, at all. Instead, we’re reverting to that fantasy world of the imagined WWII linear battlefield, where we have front lines, FEBAs, and all the rest. I’m here to tell you, that crap was wrong at the end of WWII, and it’s gonna be wrong going forward. Linear battle was an artifact of WWI, and it’s something we still seem to think is a natural condition of war. It’s not. There are no “safe rear areas”, there are no “safe harbors”, outside of the perimeters we secure with our own troops. Hell, even in WWII we had to worry about “leakage” along the lines of communications into the black market and criminal enterprises. I can only laugh, with all these projections about using autonomous vehicles to run supply convoys… None of the idiots working on that stuff are even considering what the hell the locals are going to do, with all that lovely, lovely loot in front of them.

              What I find really ironic here, in all of this? OK… We’ve got roughly twice to three times the population we had back during WWII. Automation, particularly in the agricultural realm, is greatly advanced–We’ve got fewer people doing way more productive work. And… We probably couldn’t even field a WWII-sized Army if we were to try. 8 million men under arms? LOL… The cost would be staggering, and the entire enterprise would probably sink under its own weight, these days. Good Christ, just thinking about the amount of paperwork that would have to be generated, doing the environmental impact reports for building all the new bases to house that force… Mind-boggling.

              In some ways, we live in a wonderland. In others, we are sadly, sadly diminished.

    2. ThatGuy says:

      ‘Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation’.

    3. Kirk says:

      My take on this has been that the root of the problem is further back up the food chain, and actually lies more in the realm of operational and strategic decisions.

      In essence, we have ceded initiative to the enemy. The enemy decides when, where, and for how long the engagements are going to last. Because of this, while we have to leave the wire loaded down for every eventuality, and be ready to deal with anything at any time throughout the course of a patrol of any kind, the enemy can run around the battlefield in a man dress and a beard, pick up a pre-cached weapon and ammunition, fire our guys up, and then drop the weapon and blend back into the population. The Vietnamese did this, and we see the same syndrome in action across our modern theaters of war. Overloading our troops is mandatory, because we let the enemy decide when the battle happens, where it happens, and how long it lasts.

      Fixing this problem would require a bunch of things. First, we need to admit that this is what’s actually going on, and then we need to deal with the implications of that fact. If we were taking the initiative, and we were the ones deciding those three critical factors of combat, then we could sanely manage the loads so as not to destroy the long-term health and well-being of the troops.

      We have to become the ones who decide the crucial where-when-how long of combat actions. In other words, we need to become the ones who initiate things on our schedule and at our chosen locations. You don’t do this with an ROE that requires PID and being “in the right” in every single fight.

      Frankly, the way we’re fighting these wars is insane. We know that those unarmed clowns shadowing our patrols on motorcycles are Taliban observers, and so does everyone else. But, we never do a damn thing about them. We know that the enemy blends into the civilian population deliberately, and we let them–If a combat-age male doesn’t have a weapon on him, we don’t do anything about him, even if we have working knowledge that he’s a member of the Taliban. Hell, we can’t even call these guys what they are–Bandits. Instead, we even cede moral primacy by calling them “insurgents” or some other weasel word.

      Nathan Bedford Forrest said that the key to winning in war was to “…get there firstest with the mostest…”. He wasn’t just talking about doing that physically; you want to win these things, you need to be doing that on a meta-level in the operational and strategic sense. If you let the enemy make the where-when-how long choices, you’re going to be on your back foot every time you go into battle, and some of the things that flow from that are what we’re talking about, right here.

      Every time we leave the wire, we have to be ready for anything, knowing that it could happen anywhere we’re going, and not knowing how long it will last. This is nuts–We need to be putting the enemy into that conundrum, not our guys. ROE needs to change, operational processes need to change, and the entire strategy needs to shift. Right now, we fight as though we’re on the defense, and we’ve ceded the moral high ground to the enemy. Hell, we don’t even talk about them in accurate terms, and we seem entirely unable to do what needs to be done in these sorts of fights. We need to take initiative back.

      Of course, our political masters need that set of facts beaten into their heads, as well–Much of the problem lies in the fact that our senior leadership has been suborned by the civilians, and they’re not willing to rock the boat. You want to start reducing the load on the troops, you need to start leaving the wire not as potential prey, but as hunters, with all that implies. And, if the civilians won’t countenance that? Somebody needs to start falling on their swords at the senior level, and doing their damn job of telling the civilians that this is not how you fight wars to win.

      Fundamentally, I believe that the overloading of the troops stems more from our near-automatic and witless decision to always be on the defense. If the guys were leaving the wire knowing that they’d be the ones to decide the terms of the engagement, then the loads could be sanely tailored to the mission. When you have to leave ready for anything to happen at any point along the mission route… Well, welcome to the world of the triple-digit “combat load”.

      • Bold says:

        Spot on!
        Current soldier loads and accompanying tactics are the symptoms of a much bigger problem.

        We are doing things very wrong from the political level down. The guys at the sharp end cannot fix this, no matter how well they are trained, how “well” they are equipped and how well they do in terms of losses etc.

        • Kirk says:

          One of the things that really aggravates me is how we seem to be stuck in a never-ending loop of repeating the same approaches and getting the same results–And, nobody stops to ask themselves “Why?”. Or, “How might we fix this, or at least, make different mistakes?”. There’s a strong thread of continuity from the ARVN through to the ANA. Why? Why are we seeing the same sort of mobility and agility issues repeating themselves in two very different theaters, Afghanistan and Vietnam?

          I’m going to submit to you that the root problem in both cases boils down not to the minutiae of individual soldier load-out (which is important, mind you…) but to the operational and strategic choices we’ve made in fighting these wars. In Vietnam, we denied ourselves the option of dealing directly with the enemy on their own ground, allowing the Viet Cong and NVA to operate from protected safe harbors. This was a deliberate choice that we made, for much of the war. We’re doing the same thing with the Taliban, allowing them to operate with impunity out of Pakistan. We’re also doing the same things, in terms of ceding tactical and operational initiative to the enemy. We’ve allowed the enemy to dictate most of the when, where, and how long of tactical operations. Again.

          Apparently, we have a learning disability.

      • jellydonut says:

        Extremely well-written.

        You need to submit an article to one of these military news websites, or at least an op-ed.

        • Kirk says:

          Here’s my experience: Being right means nothing in our system, without the proper credentials. Which I manifestly lack, having been part of the “thundering herd” that represents the enlisted part of the force.

          In the aftermath Indian Summer post-Operation Desert Shield, I was talking to a dude named Floyd Rockwell. Rocky was a Vietnam-era EOD guy that got his name into the New York Times back then, when they did a story about him running the US-financed end of demining Kuwait. During that period, I was running a little informal research effort for the Staff Engineer Section at I Corps, as one of my additional duties.

          See, my boss and I thought that the premises that a lot of the CPX exercises we were participating in were blatantly out of date and false, when it came to mine/counter-mine warfare.

          So, with his support, I stuck my nose into a lot of things during my spare time up at staff–For us, it was feast or famine, work-wise. One of those issues I researched for my boss was engendered by that NYT story about Rocky’s demining work.

          In the course of correspondence with him, and several phone calls, one big thing that came up was that the AN/PSS-12 Schiebel mine detector that we’d just issued was capable of doing a lot more than we thought, provided you did proper calibration and some other things, like keep careful logs of each detector’s idiosyncracies. Rocky was reporting that he could reliably find mines that were considered undetectable with a magnetic mine detector, because of that careful management and calibration.

          At the time, the ground-penetrating radar detectors were in development, and not fielded–I figured that if we could up our game with the AN/PSS-12, that’d be a Really Good Thing ™, and wrote all that crap up to submit to the Engineer School. Included things like proposed training range designs, and a lot of other things that were based on available training areas there at Fort Lewis.

          That “white paper” thing I did up was submitted, with a full package of supporting documentation, to the mine detector proponent office at Fort Leonard Wood. Where it vanished. I asked for a disposition on it, and the sea of indifference was both vast and deep. “We don’t need this shit… The detector does what it does well enough for us with the current guidance…”.

          Fast forward a couple of years, and there’s that little Safety of Use message that came out at the end of the 1990s, about the AN/PSS-12. Seems some Reserve LTC with a Ph.D behind his name got ahold of the same information I did, contacted one Floyd Rockwell, and essentially re-invented the information and recommendations I did. Only thing was, ‘cos credentials, it went somewhere.

          Staff Sergeant says something, it is easily ignorable; LTC with a Ph.D says the same thing? Oh, that’s the writ of God himself…

          Oddly enough, in the supporting documentation for that SOU, there were drawings of proposed training ranges that looked just like what I’d submitted years earlier. Right down to “Yeah, that’s gonna fit in the existing space left over in TA2, at Fort Lewis… Perfectly.”.

          I did ask some pointed questions about the provenance of that whole thing, but I was assured that not only did nobody involved know anything about what I’d previously submitted in the 1994-ish time frame, they’d come up with everything independently.

          To be honest, I was just glad that someone had gotten around to making the most of the AN/PSS-12; hopefully, that saved some lives before all the new GPR stuff came out.

          Which is one of the ways I learned my lesson about lanes, staying within them, and just how well this whole “Top down, bottom up” thing works in the Real Army(tm).

          I could write whatever the hell I wanted to, submit it somewhere, and even if I had a direct pipeline to The Truth(tm)…? Yeah; I’m former enlisted, and it would be a perfect modern-day version of that Johnson quote from Boswell:

          “Boswell: “I told him I had been that morning at a meeting of the people called Quakers, where I had heard a woman preach”.

          Johnson: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.””

          In the culture of the US Army, the enlisted man has about as much institutional credibility as that dog of Johnson’s, when it comes to these matters. Maybe less.

    4. james says:

      This is exactly what has evolved in those that have the choice over the last 20 years, with some extension into soft armor and low profile loads on the light end. The terminology changes as to how they describe it ,the pack sizes vary slightly and some like 4 packs instead of 3. Chuck Pressburg once talked about how he liked the “Armed Troop” concept, where you had choices of what tools to use when, and that training leadership to make those decisions was the key to it working- maybe understanding its a continuum and that not everyone will be at the same level are good steps on this side of it.

    5. the hun says:

      Ok…there are this nice toys:
      Exoskeletons w/o extra motoric Support
      there was the H&K G11 with this paper ammo…
      perhaps there will be some Kind of Military based Ups ,Fedex…
      deliviry-service with precision Missiles
      some Kind of combination will be the future
      Take a look at the (warfare) stuff of Stanislaw Lem!

      • Kirk says:

        That ain’t happening in our lifetimes, and when it does? The counter-measures and counter-counter-measures are still going to result in us loading out our guys like they were so many pack mules. Only difference is going to be that instead of ammo, they’ll be carrying batteries and spare controllers…

        I do think that the future of mechanized war is going to look a lot different, with robotics and autonomous vehicles; the manned “tank” of the future is going to be a command-control mothership to a bunch of RPV assets and the only weapons it is going to have built-in will be for local defense. The actual offensive combat weapons are going to be out in the cloud of surrounding RPVs and elsewhere.

    6. Kevin says:

      This is all true. But arguably worse is that a lot of the weight is also indirect fire and bomber magnets if we someday need to fight people who actually have an electronics industry. Along with the entire command and control system we’ve put in place that depends on high bandwidth nearly constant connectivity, much of it satcom based.

      • Kirk says:

        One of the things that occasionally keeps me awake at night is wondering what the hell the Chinese have going in quantum communications research, and what we’re going to find out about their programs the hard way…

        Everybody in the US military needs to be ready to operate in an information-austere environment, one that basically goes back to the electronic stone age. We’ll hopefully never find ourselves in that situation, but it’s a reasonable precaution to take.

        • Bold says:

          If slight exaggeration is allowed:
          The German (i.e. “my”) military seems only recently to have noticed that there is such a thing as computers – or at least it only recently has begun to try and understand what one can do with them besides using them as shiny typewriters.

          From that moment onwards, the only direction has been to pile up ever more electronics and gadgets on all levels – “we” might still be at a point where we would be able to implement a non-information-rich command & control backup structure, but we are doing our very best to piss this opportunity away instead of looking at the problems that militaries much further along the path of digitization are facing.

          Learning early from other people’s mistakes is a big advantage of not being in the vanguard of technological development, yet we are repeating all the steps and getting all the problems associated with them.

          Neither our military nor our civilian populace is even rudimentarily prepared for the moment when they have to do without all their shiny toys even for a very short time.

          • Kirk says:

            The historical judgment about the inimical effect of the Germans copying US military staff bloat and all the rest…? It remains to be written, but it is my belief that when the historians look back at things in a century or two, they’re going to observe a sharp inflection point between German military excellence before NATO and US influence, and after. The trend line is ever downwards, since we foisted off our own over-loaded staff practices and general policies.

            Which may, in the long term, be a good thing. German excellence at the art of war was always focused on the short-term tactical and operational levels; above that, the Prussian tradition badly needed someone with some strategic vision, like Bismark, and without that restraint, the “excellence at war” thing was positively counter-productive, because it kept leading to strategic overreach…

            I wouldn’t feel too bad about it all–Everybody else is headed down the same feckless path towards total digital operations, and while it’s tremendously seductive, the fragility of it all has been woefully underestimated.

            Circa 2003, you could observe the breaking point in US logistics for yourself, were you in Kuwait and trying to get anything out of the container yard at Doha. Literally thousands of containers, no inventory control, close to zero traffic control, and near-invisibility because the batteries on all the fancy RFID tags were running down, and because of that, the fancy computer-based logistics system was more-or-less completely dysfunctional. Didn’t help that the guys doing the “strategery” had cut the TPFDL of all the logistics bubbas that were supposed to be running the place, either–That container yard was the graveyard of careers for more than a few senior loggies. The over-reliance on those RFID tags was something that I think we still miss, overall. Everything needs to be multiply redundant, from personnel systems to unit tracking. Try to imagine doing something relatively simple, like personnel management, absent the modern computer. The whole thing has become ludicrously over-dependent on computers, and I shudder to think what the full ramifications might be of us losing everything we’ve come to rely on, either from an EMP attack, or a modern-day Carrington Event.

            Personally, I think the militaries of the world should step back from automation a bit, and consider “What the hell do we do if all this doesn’t work, any more…?”.

            What’s the most ironically funny? I bet you money that if you were to try to go back and reconstruct “how we used to do things” when there was only paper and relatively primitive stuff like teletype machines? We’d probably be at a total loss, because nobody bothered to record how the hell we were really doing things. More than likely, knowing the US Army, there simply aren’t any historical copies of things like the field manuals and regulations that made everything work, back in the day. We have a terrible habit of just throwing all that stuff out, and I’ll bet money that nobody has put thought one into trying to preserve it.

            Hell, the idiots aren’t even tracking on how hard it’s going to be to reconstruct what we were doing in Afghanistan and Iraq, back in the day–Where you have voluminous documentation from WWII, Korea, and somewhat less from Vietnam, nearly everything in Iraq and Afghanistan was digital–So, for the historian? You’re not going to be able to go back and get the morning reports on personnel for any unit in either Iraq or Afghanistan, because all that data was on whatever server there was, it was classified, and because of that classification, it was wiped during the turnover process between units. I was with the 101st ABN HQ in Tikrit between 2005 and 2006, and got to talking with the division historian. He was a little pissed-off because the entire digital archive from the previous 101st rotation up in Mosul had been wiped as “irrelevant”, and no copies of it were preserved. Anywhere. You want to know what specific units were doing in Mosul during the 101st’s initial tour in Iraq? Good ‘effing luck–All the source data is gone. Just like most of the rest of the units that were over there–The 2005-06 rotation specifically tried to preserve that stuff, but there’s no telling what actually happened to the mirrored copies of the servers. Nobody wanted to pay for archiving that stuff, or even taking it back to the states. 25 ID came in, wiped everything, and re-formatted all the IT gear with their own stuff.

            People are going to find that historical research in this era is going to be very, very difficult.

    7. Bold says:

      Yes, it’s scary how short the memories of big organizations in general and militaries in particular are even when they try to fight the negative effects.

      It’s like we built a giant house, hung it from a balloon and knocked away the foundations. If the balloon pops, we lose it all…

      • Kirk says:

        The irritating thing is that all the people who’ve pointed this out have been doing so since… Forever. And, nobody in any position of authority or power has paid the slightest amount of attention to the issues, past mere lip service.

    8. iggy says:

      from my experience the main culprits adding to load out weight are a culture of blinged out must-have bullshit, lowest bidder manufacturing and ignorance of basic ergonomics and design principles.

    9. Will Rodriguez says:

      As always excellently written and fantastic information. My introduction to the Army was during the “light fighter” heyday and a huge amount of emphasis was placed on planning, checking and supervising the load. There was a time where a portable radio or a can of Vienna sausages got a soldier in a lot of trouble if found out in the field. (That personal radio eventually used Army batteries and the pogy bait took up much controlled space and weight.)

      I hope follow on articles discuss the impact of risk (actually casualty) aversion at the strategic level impacting the soldier in the end. (This may be beyond the scope but no doubt impacts every aspect of the discussion. It also is pervasive. For instance, risk aversion is a big part of why the Bradley replacement was clocking it at 70 tons and got nixed.)

      Assessing risk has been mentioned but needs to be expanded. What the nation considers acceptable risk (again, casualties) has reached the point that it is near impossible for the small unit leader to carry out effective load planning. When theatre down to brigade commanders dictate what must be worn into the fight it effectively destroys leaders at company and below’s ability to tailor for a given mission. Case in point is how much body armor someone must wear. There was a time when collars, groin protectors, deltoid protectors, side plates etc. were required on every mission from echelons above battalion.

      On a separate not. I hope the author can chime in on one little piece of kit that has been missed and may never come back, the much beloved butt pack.

      • Kirk says:

        I think you’re on to something, Will. The whole IFV concept is contiguous with the problems that lead to overloading the light infantry.

        They used to talk about something they called “supply discipline”. In today’s Army, that’s a forgotten concept. I think we need to revisit that idea, and consider the impact of all this extraneous BS we’ve been getting away with.

        There’s an issue that ought to be looked at and deeply considered: Call it “Information Discipline”, if you will, and consider the impact that comes from a commander three levels up asking the guy on the ground during an engagement for information that’s not at all pertinent. In Vietnam, you had higher commanders flying around in helicopters, and looking over the shoulders of commanders three levels below them; today, they’re doing all of that digitally. What’s worse is that a lot of the junior leaders are getting used to the idea that there will always be somebody there to help make decisions, and when they finally reach a level where they’re the ones who have to do that decision-making…? Yeah; they’re not so good at it. No practice, no experience at doing it…

        A lot of the younger guys weren’t around to see it, but the transition between the old-school BTMS training system we used after Vietnam, and before the advent of ubiquitous computers? Yeah; that transition was very, very ill-managed. Today’s young lieutenant never really learns how to do what his predecessors did as a routine, when it comes to planning, managing, and conducting training. Why? Because they are never allowed to do it. Today’s training system centralizes everything and micromanages crap six weeks out, at a minimum. God forbid you take advantage of something that comes up in the interim between filing that training plan and execution; you can’t do it, because you’re in that paper straight-jacket. Back in the day, everything on the mimeographed training schedule was pretty much “Squad leader’s time”, “Platoon leader’s time”, or “Commander’s time”. You didn’t have this BS where you locked everything in; if half your platoon was at the Aid Station with the flu, you just adapted and overcame. Once you had that damn straight jacket of a training “system” that the computers made possible, it was “Oh, fuck… You’d better be out in that training area, today… I don’t care if you’ve only got one guy because of driver’s training–You’re a fucking Training Highlight for Division!”.

        To be quite honest, I think we’ve made a mess of a bunch of things, thanks to the computer and the illusion that we can control and micro-manage everything with them. You really, really can’t. Having something termed “Information Discipline” would greatly illuminate the issue, and maybe start us thinking along lines of “What happens when everyone is used to having the commander two levels up in their back pocket… And, then… Suddenly, he’s not there?”.

        Ubiquitous comms and all the rest are things we should not become overly reliant on; independent action and the ability to actually use initiative are things we need to foster, and I’m pretty sure we’re in the process of killing both, with the current trend lines.

      • Terry Baldwin says:


        I agree. There are two kinds of risk that military leaders have to realistically assess. Risk to life and risk to mission. They are linked and – here’s where it gets complicated – may or may not be mutually exclusive. A leader has to balance and mitigate both – in as much as is humanly possible. I am going to do at least a Part II and probably a Part III on this subject but I admit even that will provide only a cursory examination of either.

        Risk mitigation is really what all of this discussion is about. As a rule, leaders cannot afford to be cavalier about lives. As I mentioned, even a despot is loath to waste men and material resources today that he may desperately need tomorrow. However, the fact is, mission success is never facilitated by undue emphasis on force protection. A leader who cannot accept risk to lives simply cannot lead a combat mission.

        I did do an article on buttpacks a couple of years ago here on SSD. You can use the search function to find it. Spoiler alert: I was also a fan for many years but I agree they will probably never return to common usage.


        • Will Rodriguez says:

          Agree Terry on your points about risk.

          My concern is that based on recent history and the current climate will small unit leaders be able to use their judgement to tailor the load? This new reality of load planning at BDE and higher is just as debilitating than our military’s traditional reaction to challenges which is first look to technology e.g. marksmanship.

          It appears to me that our junior leaders have never experienced the latitude we had in tailoring the combat load. Bottom line, soldier load SOP’s should not be made at higher than Battalion and even there it’s by exception for uniformity’s sake. Combat load decisions belong at the company and below. Junior leaders should be trained to make the right assessment, tested and eventually trusted.

          FWIW, this whole thing about risk aversion deserves its own article. It is pervasive in determining how we do everything from training to procuring. PT belts anyone? I believe there are multiple causes. One being unrealistic expectations on what war is like (lack of general experience among the public, movies, video games, instant reporting which allows for blame before understanding?) and the fear of senior leaders to confront superiors and explain it like it is..

          One thing I think we can agree on is it needs to be addressed at the highest levels. When we go to war people will die and hindsight is not a luxury leaders have. Of course we have to caveat that with every life is precious but zero casualties can’t be the standard. It can be the goal, but not the standard.

          My ultimate fear is that while you are absolutely on target leaders won’t be able to put into action the timeless principles you’re sharing.

          As always, thanks for your insight and eloquence.

          • Terry Baldwin says:


            I have been working on an article related to the (failed) doctrine of “Mission Command” since it was something the TRADOC Commander was talking about recently. The article is not currently focused on risk aversion itself but there is a direct link and I can easily make the connection more obvious.

            Since you brought it up, I also realized I missed a third risk factor that is as ubiquitous as the other two. The trinity of risk to life, risk to mission, and risk to career. Unfortunately, the last one carries as much weight as the other two and all-too-often shapes decisions – although it never should. Anyway, I will see about getting that out sooner rather than later.


            • Kirk says:

              If I might interject an opinion, about that “Mission Command” thing?

              From where I sat, the problem was not so much the idea itself, which came out of folks looking at the German successes in both WWI and WWII, but in how we implemented it. Actual Auftragstaktik as the Germans did it requires a set of cultural tools and assumptions to be built into the organization that we just didn’t bother to try to pull over when we did it–In a sense, we adopted the forms without even attempting to take in the substance of things.

              You want to be able to emulate the German way of doing things, which produced a climate where some rear-echelon staff type could gather up a bunch of broken unit elements and then form a Kampfgruppe around himself and conduct an effective counter-attack that hit back at the Allied troops before they could even consolidate on the objectives they’d reached, well… You have to start way lower in the military culture than we did. You want Kampfgruppe that can do that sort of thing, you need to create troops and mid-level NCOs who are able to plug themselves inside that structure and then function, not just at the level of junior officers in the combat arms. You look at the German track record, and what you find are case after case where some supply REMF gathered up cooks and drivers, and then led the counterattack–And, what’s most interesting is that often, that “supply REMF” was actually a former combat arms officer or enlisted guy himself.

              You can’t just publish a few articles and write some manuals about “Mission Command”, focus most of your effort onto the mid- and senior-level maneuver leadership, and expect success. You have to start down at the worm’s level, and create the junior enlisted and NCOs who’re going to be the ones actually implementing the concept. It’s a cultural thing; I’ve talked to German enlisted guys from the war, and one of the surprising things was hearing them say how much emphasis they got in their training about things we barely even mention–One MG42 gunner told me that he’d been taught from day one how important it was to get a counter-attack going, before the enemy could consolidate, and how he was given standing orders to always ensure that his gun and gun team did that, even if they were the only ones available. This was doctrine, and harped on throughout training and at all levels of leadership.

              I honestly can’t recall that we ever did things like that, in any unit I’ve been in or around. The Infantry guys I’ve supported never talked about that kind of thing, at all–The troops were all just expected to hang around and wait for someone to tell them what to do, and that seemed to be the basic assumption. I think that’s a telling point, and it points out how we have attempted to graft the form onto things, without paying attention to the supporting framework that needs to underlie that whole concept of how to do things.

              • Terry Baldwin says:


                I agree. Beyond our lackluster attempt to adapt the German Auftragstaktik model to American military culture, the point I will be trying to emphasis is that fundamentally we are not even doing Mission Command the way we say it should be done.

                Specifically, “(Mission Command) requires a command climate in which commanders encourage subordinates to accept prudent risk and exercise disciplined initiative to seize opportunities and counter threats within the commander’s intent.”

                It is a cliché that Americans don’t read or follow our own doctrine. However, in this case it is almost like the doctrine was written with a wink and a nod. As in we’ll write it down but have no institutional intention of actually trying to make it work.


                • Kirk says:

                  Yep; just like the whole ISO 9001 thing, it was more about the management fad of the moment than anything else.

                  You want to implement something like Auftragstaktik, you’ve got to start a lot deeper in the organization, and actually live the ideal at all levels.

                  It’s noteworthy that even the Germans didn’t follow their stated ideals consistently, especially at the higher levels of command. But, they followed them well enough at the lower levels to do better against the Allies than they should have.

                  It still blows my mind to realize that some 90% of the German Heer was still horse-drawn and foot infantry, even during the height of their conquests. That simply shouldn’t have happened, period. But, they leveraged operational and tactical superiority to take advantage of everyone else’s weaknesses, as well has had the clarity and presence of mind to observe their own deficiencies in Poland and then actually correct them for the Battle of France in ’40. I’m not so sure that we’d be able to do the same today, to be quite honest.

                  That self-assessment, self-criticism, and then creation/implementation of the fixes necessary is actually a lot more impressive than many other things the Germans did, in a purely military sense. It’s also something that few pay real attention to; the German military before Poland was probably incapable of doing what it did in 1940 in France. The speed with which they morphed into the organization that could do that is what a lot of people simply don’t get, and something that I think is far more interesting and significant bit of history that deserves a lot more attention.

                  Seriously; the US Army? Did we ever manage to even identify the actual lessons of Vietnam? Judging from the performance of the ANA and the effort against the Taliban, I’d say not. And, that’s with twenty-thirty years and a couple of generations of leadership in between the two experiences.

                  A learning organization, we are not.

            • Kirk says:

              To add on something that just occurred to me: One of the fundamental things that you need to have in place to make a concept like Mission Command really work is an underlying ethos across the entire organization, not just a doctrine. You really want to get something like Mission Command to work, you need to have everybody on board and trusting in the fact that if they do something to support the mission, they’re not going to be the only guys doing it, and that they’re not going to get left out hanging if they take initiative and do something.

              That was one of the things that they used to absolutely hammer into the German individual soldier–It was better to do something, anything, now, rather than wait six hours for “someone else” to do it with the “proper numbers and organization”. If you hit a German unit during WWII, and didn’t manage to utterly destroy it, what you’d wind up with would be a bunch of very dangerous little clots of men who would coalesce into reaction forces that would, at the least, keep attacking you and keeping you off your guard, while serious counter-attack forces readied themselves or came on the scene. Time and time again, on the Eastern Front, this is what saved the German’s asses–The flexibility and resilience of the troops themselves. And, that started from the very base of how they were trained, and expected to operate. If you, as a commander, operate in a zero-defects mode in garrison, don’t be awfully surprised when your subordinates at all levels don’t take initiative in the field. What you do with your company commanders will get transmitted like some sort of viral disease down to the platoon leaders and squad leaders, because they’re watching you.

              The overall failure of Mission Command to do what the hell we expected it to do has had more to do with these things than anything else. You can have all the OPD and NCOPD classes on the idea you like, but if you actually live out an ideal of micromanagement and blame in day-to-day garrison operations, what you get when you take the guys to the field and on deployment is going to reflect the climate your actions create, rather than the ideals you pay lip service to in your OPD sessions…

              • Terry Baldwin says:


                Spot on. Soldier and junior leader initiative and risk acceptance only happens consistently in units that make those traits an integral and celebrated part of a unit’s defining character. And that does not happen unless senior leaders are unfailing in setting the right example every single day.


                • Kirk says:

                  What’s needed is not a process reform, but a wholesale cultural reform, down to the lowest level.

                  Unfortunately, when you look at history, that doesn’t seem to happen with the US military until there’s no other damn choice left to us.

    10. J says:

      One of the problems we have today is that we are not combating a peer to peer adversary. Fighting terrorist for almost 20 years is different from fighting against a peer to peer adversary. No one is planning for retrograde operations like we did in Europe with the current military operations.

      I am an infantryman from the 1980’s and it seems like a lot of things have change in the infantry with the enormous increase in weight carried by soldiers into combat these almost 20 years. No one has done any studies on this to really decide things about proper loadouts recently. Here is one plan that should be done. Mobility and maneuver test of two infantry companies. One company standard loadout and weight of current infantrymen. The second company loadout weight of infantymen from 1980’s and 1990’s. Have these two companies attack a small village. Road march 5 miles to perform the assault with the 2 different loadout weights. Do this for summer and winter conditions. Determine casualties of the 2 different weight loadouts. Second, test these 2 different loadouts for retrograde operations involving 15 to 20 mile road march with retrograde combat operations taking place at different locations to simulate enemy attacks and casualties. Most of the problems should appear quickly.

      • Kirk says:

        J, one thing that you’re going to run into difficulty with is that what you’re proposing is actually a huge qualitative mis-match. The gear is just that much different; modern sights alone, coupled with things like Blue Force Tracker are going to make today’s infantry so much more lethal that you really can’t compare the two at all.

        I’ve been that guy with 1980s and ’90s gear, tackling Force XXI light infantry. The experience was… Illuminating. With their gear, which was only barely equivalent to what we have on general issue today, they were killing us like we were fish in a barrel. One platoon of light infantry basically dismantled an entire, fully-prepared battalion defense in the course of six hours. We only regained the initiative and were able to deal with those guys after their batteries ran down, and we cornered them in one of their ORPs…

        All the weight of today? It makes for some very different odds, in terms of the enhanced lethality and capabilities.

    11. J says:

      Good points. I did state that they should use the current gear, but similar weights for loadout of the 1980’s and 1990’s infantryman. Replace the old LBE loadout with the newer Tactical Assault Panel (TAP) and assaust pack.
      In a mechanized infantry squad, we had M113A2s with 12 man squad with 4 squads per platton. Late 1980s to 1990s, 9 man squads with transition to Infantry Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV) M-2 in the military downsizing era.
      Feel free to add gear and weapons and comments.

      Here is what I can remember carrying.

      1980s and early 1990s
      1 M-16A1 Rifle per infantryman
      1 to 2 M-60s per squad (Later replaced by 2 SAWs with Bradley transition)
      2 Grenadiers per squad, M16A1/M203 grenade launcher
      Several M1911s throughout the company (Armorers, 1st Sargent, Communications NCO)

      Sometimes used for Retrograde operations
      1 Anti-tank M-47 Dragon missle system or Dragon II
      1 M-72 LAW per infantryman, exception M-60 gunner and Dragon gunner
      1 M-2 .50 cal w/tripod and attachment. Sometimes dismounted from M113s for retrograde operations and squad assault live fires. Items rotated among individual squad members to elimate

      LBE loadout
      1 LBE suspenders
      1 Web belt
      2 Quart canteens, 2 each
      2 Quart canteens covers, 2 each
      2 Quart canteens cups, 2 each
      6 Magazines
      2 Magazine pouches
      4 Grenades
      1 Poncho
      1 First Aid kit
      1 NBC kit
      1 NBC mask w/carrier
      1 PASGT Helmet w/cover and band (M1 helmet steel pot issued and later transitioned to the PASGT helmet)
      1 Ear Plugs w/Case

      Medium Alice pack loadout
      1 Medium Alice pack w/frame including shoulder suspension system and hip belt
      1 Entrenching tool w/cover
      1 Complete set of BDUs
      3 Pairs of socks
      3 Underwear
      1 M65 Field Jacket w/liner
      1 Poncho liner
      1 Wet weather jacket and pants
      1 Pair of gloves w/liner
      1 NBC outfit
      1 Cold weather sleeping bag with wet weather bag and attachment straps to Alice pack
      1 Sleeping pad
      1 Hygene bag with items

      1 Flak Jacket (Vietnam era flak jacket) (rarely used for anything, but for PT running 10 miles through the hills in the Fulda Gap)

      2010s and later
      Tactical Assault Panel Loadout
      1 Tactical Assault Panel (TAP) w/suspenders
      1 Radio w/pouch
      7 Magazines
      4 Hand Grenade Pouches
      1 Improved First Aid Kit w/pouch
      1 3L/100oz Hydration Carrier w/Bladder
      1 Knee and elbow pads

      1 M4/M4A1 carbine
      1 M240L 7.62 machine gunner

      3 Day Assault Pack