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US Army Issues Leader’s Book for Mountain Warfare And Cold Weather Operations

Monday, April 27th, 2020

The newly issued “Mountain Warfare and Cold Weather Operations Leader’s Book” was developed in conjunction with the Asymmetric Warfare Group.

Mountain operations present leaders and units with unique challenges that compound existing difficult combat realities. This handbook addresses the principal gap of informing leaders and staff of the considerations necessary to plan, operate, fight, and win in mountainous terrain at the company level and above. Leaders will find this handbook valuable in prioritizing tasks for training and pre-deployment planning for any military operations in the mountains. No previous mountain training or expertise is required to understand and practice most tactics, techniques, and procedures contained in this publication. Users who have experience operating in a mountainous environment can use this handbook to assist them in learning what veterans of mountain operations already know: vertical environments are among the most challenging in which to conduct and sustain combat operations.


The Baldwin Files – Survival Strategy

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020

Kansas tried to kill me once. It happened like this; a.k.a., this ain’t no bullshit. I returned from a three-year plus tour in Germany in the fall of 1978. I spent a couple of weeks leave with my parents and siblings in Kentucky and then drove cross-country to my new assignment at Fort Lewis, Washington. I had been a Sergeant, E-5 for almost two years and had managed to save a little money. I took that cash and bought a used Ford Pinto. For those of you too young to remember, the Pinto was one of the earliest American compact cars. It was supposedly prone to exploding into a ball of fire if rear-ended by another vehicle. I had no such experience. However, the Pinto was cheap and good enough for my needs. It served me well for the next year. This particular Pinto had two idiosyncrasies that are relevant to this story; the AM/FM radio never worked and the heater was anemic.

There were no GPSs in those days. I planned my trip by using a big Rand McNally booklet of roadmaps. I simply looked for the shortest route. That took me along Interstate 90 that generally parallels the northern border of the country. It was already early November, but frankly, I did not give due consideration to the weather. In my defense, there was no Weather Channel or weather apps in those days so a cross-country forecast was not available. I was in luck this time. There was quite a bit of snow on the ground in the northernmost states, but the roads were clear and I made good time. However, I did freeze my rear end off along the way. Therefore, when I took leave the next October, I traveled a slightly longer and more southerly route back home along Interstate 80. 80 runs through Nebraska and Iowa. The weather cooperated but the ride was still chilly. Consequently, I planned my return route even further south along Interstate 70, which runs through Kansas and the middle of the country.

I still had no clue what the weather would be enroute. By the time I got to Kansas City, it was around 2300 hours and a cold rain was falling. The temperature was already less than 40 degrees. I filled my gas tank and headed west, fully expecting to push through the rain in short order. I could not have been more wrong. Even before I got to Lawrence, Kansas – some 25 miles away – it was snowing heavily. However, the snow was “dry” and blowing in the wind rather than wet and heavy. I saw that as a positive since it was not freezing or packing on the road and the Pinto still had good traction. I continued to think that this was a linear storm that I would soon pass through and so I pushed on. Another 25 miles or so and I was just west of Topeka, Kansas. The going had been slow but steady. I had drafted behind an 18 Wheeler almost all the way; however, he turned into a Stuckey’s Truck Stop on the edge of town. I kept going…for approximately another 6 miles.

The snow had stopped falling by that point, but when the wind would gust, blowing snow caused brief whiteout conditions; there were no more tracks from other vehicles to follow and the road was becoming harder and harder to discern. I was probably going 5 miles per hour when I lost the road on my left side. I felt the difference when the Pinto left the pavement and immediately began to slide down the low embankment sideways, but I could not stop it. It was a truly slow-motion event as the Pinto snowplowed sidelong into a big powdery drift and came to rest only about 6 feet from the road. To make matters worse, the engine died and the headlights went out immediately. The car was canted slightly to the left and I knew that the driver’s side door was blocked by snow so I went out by the passenger door to survey the situation. I had been chilly in the car, but as soon as I stepped outside, I knew I was in deep trouble. It was bitterly COLD. I found out later that at the time, the temperature in Topeka was 12 below zero and the wind chill made it ~25 below. I was not prepared for that extreme in any way, shape, or form.

I had no flashlight, but the sky was now clear and there was some moonlight for illumination. I did a quick 360 but did not see any lights anywhere. I knew about how far it was back to the truck stop but had no idea if anything was closer in the other direction. There did not seem to be any farmhouses nearby and the closest line of trees appeared to be 100 meters away or more. That scan only took a few seconds but my toes, fingers, and ears were already burning and breathing the frigid air was hurting my nose and throat. I popped the hood and saw that snow had been pushed up around the fan blade and battery, melted by the engine’s heat, and refrozen almost instantly into a solid block of ice. I was not going to be able to do anything about that. I tried to close the hood, but it was frozen open. I jumped back into the car and could not fully close the passenger door because the latch had frozen. Likewise, moisture had heavily frosted over the interior of all the windows in the vehicle.

It was dark and cold in there, but at least I was out of the wind. I was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, loafers, and a light jacket – the standard fall uniform of young men in the 70s. I did not have a hat or gloves or heavier clothing with me. I dug into my duffle bag and wrapped another t-shirt around my head and ears. Through a combination of ignorance and hubris, I had managed to drive myself into a real-world life-threatening survival situation. At that point professionally, I had not gone to a formal survival course; however, I did have a modicum of training, skills, and experience. After three winters in Germany and a year at rainy Fort Lewis, I knew a lot about recognizing and mitigating hyperthermia and frostbite. As I sat there shivering uncontrollably in the dark I knew I had to act fast or risk succumbing in short order to one or both.

The Pathfinder Detachment I had been a part of in Germany belonged to the Division’s Aviation Battalion. We were issued all the same survival gear that the pilots and crew chiefs received. We also had the additional tasker to provide quarterly fieldcraft and survival refresher training to the aviators – principally to make sure they remained current on the issued items. Therefore, once a quarter for two years, I had been giving classes on things like shelter making and fire starting. For the most part, my teammates and I had taught ourselves those skills by reading the survival manual, following the instructions, and independently practicing the techniques. Then the detachment would go off to the local training area by itself. We would each give our assigned presentations to be “murder boarded” by the team before giving the classes to the aviators. A time tested old-school training methodology that worked well throughout my entire career.

That night in Kansas, I realized that I had been guilty of thinking about survival situations only in the context of a military mission gone wrong – soldiers cut off behind enemy lines and that sort of thing. Again, in my defense, the survival manuals I had read were almost exclusively focused on that potential circumstance. Likewise, those classes in Germany had been tailored entirely toward that kind of specific scenario. I was smart enough to know that I was woefully unprepared to unexpectedly be fighting for my life in Kansas. I was shivering too hard to dwell on it, and my ears, toes, and fingers were still hurting. I needed to get my blood flowing and core temperature up. A Pinto was never designed to be a gym. However, I began to do calisthenics as vigorously as I could in the cramped space. It would have made a hilarious video if someone had filmed it but I took it seriously and tried to work up a sweat. I did not manage that, but the exercise did help. Indeed, I was grateful that my toes and fingers were still painful and had not gone numb.

I had also failed to bring much in the way of survival gear or even basic supplies. I had no water or food available. However, hunger and even dehydration were not of immediate concern. On the plus side, I was young; physically fit, uninjured, and was certainly not lost. I knew exactly where I was and I was only feet away from a major thoroughfare. While the snow in the drift I was stuck in was perhaps three feet deep, the snow on the road was only about four inches and hardly impassable. Had my car been working and on the pavement, I would have likely been able to drive the Pinto out. Indeed, had I been wearing the appropriate cold-weather clothing, I could have reasonably considered walking out. By this time it was probably 0300 hours and I was beginning to wonder why no other vehicles had passed going in either direction. Had I missed them somehow?

What I did not know is that this severe early winter storm had been declared a statewide emergency and the Governor had closed all the roads. This was the heyday of the CB radio but I did not have one of those either. However, I suspect that the trucker who had pulled off the road got word of that shutdown on his CB. Although I did not know the reason, it became obvious that I was on my own – at least in the short term. I realized that a car with the hood up on the side of the road would appear abandoned and might not be searched or even approached. I started to think about drawing attention. I did have a couple of items to work with. I had a 4” Buck folder on my belt and a zippo lighter in my pocket. To be honest, I carried the Buck because that was what infantry soldiers did – on and off duty – to ensure that we were not mistaken for support soldiers. Likewise, while I did not smoke myself, I carried the lighter solely because – occasionally – a young lady needed a light for her cigarette.

At least I had some minimal tools to work with. I decided that as soon as there was some light I would throw out my spare tire, use my Rand McNally as tinder and perhaps throw on other clothing items if necessary to keep the fire going until the rubber started to burn. I did hope to get some heat from the fire but primarily wanted it to be a smoke pot. Indeed, I was concerned that it not be too close to the vehicle so that the fumes would be suffocating or smoke me out of the car. I decided to cut the stem and punch some additional holes in it with the knife to make sure it was completely deflated to avoid the possibility of it popping explosively when it started to burn. I was letting the air out of the tire when my plan became moot. Help had arrived and I had not seen or heard it coming. There was a pounding at the back of the car. I did not waste the opportunity. I kicked open the passenger door and surprised the Kansas State Trooper at the back of the car. He had been knocking the snow off the tag to get the license number of just one more abandoned vehicle.

I do not remember what we said to each other, but I grabbed my duffle bag and a minute later was in his very well heated Ford Bronco enroute back to the Stuckey’s I had passed some 4 hours earlier. It seemed a lot longer than that. In hindsight, there is some irony in the fact that I rode in on a Pinto and out on a Bronco. I had survived. The Pinto did not make it. That experience had a significant impact on me personally and professionally. It was sobering and left me with the conviction to never again be caught by an emergency so poorly prepared. I redoubled my efforts to learn traditional survival skills as well as other foundational life skills –like cooking – that have served me well.

I did not have unlimited funds, but over time I equipped every vehicle I have owned since with essential tools for recovery and safety. Items like a machete and etool to dig or cut my way out if stuck; road flares to serve as a signal of distress as well as a fire starter; long-burning candles for warmth and light; two poncho liners per vehicle; gloves and wool hats, etc. In part, because I learned those lessons and made those preparations, I was never in such a dire situation again. I doubt I ever will be. The experience confirmed to me the things that the survival manuals talk about. In order to survive a person needs the will, the tools, and the skills – indomitable will being by far the most important factor.

I admit it was grim that night in Kansas, but I never stopped believing in my ability to ultimately prevail. However, it should be obvious, that had I been better prepared and informed I could have changed my route and avoided the storm and drama. Then it would have been just another boring and unremarkable cross-country drive rather than a dangerous adventure. Learning enough to avoid unnecessary risks is both a survival and life skill that is more common in older rather than younger people. It is definitely something that deserves to be passed from generation to generation. Some people, units, and leaders do not want to “waste” time learning “primitive” skills. First, it is misleading to think of these skills as primitive; thus implying that they are easy for modern people to master. On the contrary, successful fire starting, for example, is a complex enterprise that requires considerable practice.

I have observed that the will to live is strengthened considerably when individuals and teams have confidence in their capabilities. Therefore, to me, “survival training” of any kind – drown proofing for instance – is well worth the cost of time and resources. That is true even if the individual soldier never has cause to use those lifesaving skills in an actual emergency. Consequently, I strongly recommend leaders break out the manuals or find in house subject matter experts. Take your Messkit Repair Company (Airborne) out to the local training area, build some shelters, and start some fires. Bring in some chickens or bunnies and have a kill class, and – of course – eat your training aids. Do more than that. As leaders, we are responsible not only to teach our soldiers how to survive, or simply live in the field on the margins. We are teaching them how to individually and collectively thrive in the pervasively dangerous conditions of combat. Sure, trying to avoid death is job one. Nevertheless, that is just the minimum starting point. Nor should we ever go into battle with the goal of just “getting by” or fighting to a draw. A good unit prepares and fights to win – each and every day.  

I have tried to consistently apply the survive, live, and thrive methodology to my life since that night in Kansas. In the interim, my wife and I have experienced two hurricanes, multiple tornadoes, a nasty ice storm, and even a relatively close encounter with a volcanic eruption when Mount Saint Helens exploded. We gained valuable experience from each event. We learned that it was infinitely better to be prepared rather than reactive. I am not a “prepper” as the term is perhaps unfairly, but still commonly applied. Nor do I consider preparedness a “lifestyle” choice or side-hustle. Preparedness is an integral part of my family’s life. It is our routine to keep a full pantry of nonperishable items. Therefore, we do not need to go out and panic buy when a crisis approaches. We keep our vehicles well maintained and habitually top them off if they get below three-quarters of a tank. Having learned multiple times that gas stations may not be able to pump gas out of their tanks if the electricity is off.

Many of those habits are traditional Army SOPs constantly reinforced by training and deployments. At the end of a mission, we automatically rearm, refit, and maintain our gear and vehicles before resting. The more self-reliant we can be individually the more resilient our military teams and civilian communities will be in a disaster – and the quicker we can bounce back from a setback. We have all seen it countless times. Shortly after the tornado passes, self-reliant people are out with their chainsaws clearing trees from their neighbors’ yards. We expect it. Ideally, being self-reliant makes us more selfless not self-centered. I caught part of the Tom Hanks movie “Cast Away” earlier tonight; specifically, the scene where he loses Wilson at sea. I was reminded that the Hanks character was only in a “survival situation” during the first 8-10 days on the island. Once he figured out fire, shelter, and food, he transitioned to living under austere circumstances. As I recall, he successfully lived that way for 4 years before loneliness drove him to build a raft and risk death again. He was living but not thriving.

All the successful people I know have made a habit of getting the most use out of their time. Many of us are in some form of isolation today. Awhile back, Gunz mentioned that it is a great time to start or restart a PT program. I agree. I have personally made a point of trying to learn new skills, read a good book, or build something. I refuse to binge-watch some TV show to waste time. In other words, I suggest investing time vice killing it. We are all facing a situation that requires us to live under more austere circumstances then we have been accustomed to. We learned to survive by changing our routines and embracing new habits like “social distancing.” Each region of the country may be in a different place in the continuum. However, like Hank’s character, many of us are through the survival phase and have largely adapted to the new pattern of our lives. I would suggest that all of us keep supporting those most at risk and on the front lines. Have confidence. Eventually, we will overcome this threat. In the meantime, we need to find ways to thrive and win. We are in this together.

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.

The Missing Aspect of Soldier Lethality: Improved Armor Carriers in a Constrained Fiscal Environment by CPT Daniel Vazquez

Saturday, April 11th, 2020

Occasionally, we get the opportunity here at SSD to share some great writing by fellow members of the profession of arms.? “The Missing Aspect of Soldier Lethality: Improved Armor Carriers in a Constrained Fiscal Environment” was written by US Army CPT Daniel Vazquez in an interest in providing his troops with more effective armor carriers.

Anyone who has been issued body armor in the conventional Army knows that it is bulky, heavy, and less than ideal. This has often led to individuals purchasing their own plate carriers. In today’s article, one Soldier went a step further and conducted testing and evaluation of several commercial options in comparison to the current Improved Outer Tactical Vest and Soldier Plate Carrier System to show the commanders above him the data showing improved performance. With one of the current modernization efforts in the Army being Soldier Lethality (covered here on SSD as well) the concept of providing Infantrymen, Cav Scouts, Forward Observers, etc with better plate carriers compared to support personnel doesn’t seem like too far a stretch these days.

We are lucky to share his work with others who may be in a similar situation. Below is an abridged of the full work. A link to entire study is available at the end of the post.The Missing Aspect of Soldier Lethality: Improved Armor Carriers in a Constrained Fiscal Environment

“All the campaigns which we have studied lead us to the same conclusion, that the load carried by the infantry soldier must be reduced.”

– Report of the Committee on the Lessons of the Great War, October 1932.

In February 2018, then Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, announced the creation of a Close Combat Lethality Task Force (CCLTF) whose mission is to improve “the preparedness, lethality, survivability, and resiliency of our Nation’s ground close-combat formations”. In the two years since, great strides have been made in cutting through the bureaucracy and red tape regarding acquiring “kit” for this force. The roughly 100,000 personnel identified are the potential recipients for a new rifle, optic, night vision and augmented reality heads up displays, a synthetic training environment, and more. Something that is missing, however, is any mention of a push to improve the current defensive equipment fielded by this force. The majority of this force relies on the legacy Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV) and Soldier Plate Carrier System (SPCS) body armor systems, made to meet the Army’s lowest common denominator human factors, to hold their ballistic plates and soft armor.

With the XVIII Airborne Corps as the USFORSCOM proponent, I propose that the CCLTF should work with PEO Soldier’s Soldier Requirements Division to authorize rapid Other Transactional Authority (OTA) procurement of commercially available plate carriers. These plate carriers should offer decreased weight and improved mobility in comparison to current (IOTV/SPCS) and future (Modular Scalable Vest (MSV)) systems and would be for the Army’s conventional component of the force. This Army Conventional Close Combat Force (AC3F) as defined in this paper consists of the same Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) that are to be the recipients of the Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW), ENVG-B Night Vision, and Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) programs. Lessons learned over the past 19 years of warfare should drive purchasing and equipping decisions for the AC3F, independent of the rest of the Army. This can be immediately applied with options that are currently available, for less than what the Army already pays for the MSV, IOTV, and SPCS.

Testing, Evaluation, and Methodology

In order to compare plate carrier systems performance to the IOTV, multiple tests were ran to evaluate plate carrier performance versus current Army issue (table 1 to table 4). Omitted from this testing is the Crye AVS as the AVS is already a standard within USASOC and 1st SFAB. Those interested should search USASOC’s and 1st SFAB’s testing/selection of it. All plate carriers tested in this T&E are aftermarket ones personally purchased or donated to provide examples of alternate choices. The goal of this paper is to inform the reader of other potential options on the market, not to sell a particular plate carrier to the Army. All tests were oriented around soldier performance related to combat activities.

Table 1: 1 Mile Run (1MR) for time. Uniform for testing was the standard army IPFU. All individuals conducted a one mile warm up jog at the start of each testing day. Service members then rested for five minutes before conducting the one mile run for time. All individuals rested for eight minutes between IOTV/plate carrier iterations. No more than three iterations were conducted per day in order to avoid significant degradation of the service member’s cardiovascular ability to the point where it would significantly affect test results.

All participants averaged 9 – 41 seconds improvement in their plate carrier times (pending type of carrier) versus their IOTV control times. Of note is that all plate carrier times were faster than the IOTV even though the majority of plate carrier runs occurred as second or third iterations versus all IOTV times were done first to eliminate fatigue from factoring into the control time. See Table 1 below for all times. Times highlighted in green were the fastest recorded times and those in red were the slowest recorded.

Table 2: O-Course Evaluation. Uniform for this testing was OCP pants, OCP top, boots, and tan t-shirt. Control time was run with IOTV. Service members conducted a warm up iteration wearing a slick uniform before resting five minutes before conducting the first iteration. Service members then rested 5 minutes and then conducted the event again wearing a plate carrier. Four iterations (not including the warm up iteration) were conducted per day.

All participants averaged 29 – 60 seconds improvement in their plate carrier times (pending type of carrier) versus their IOTV control times. All plate carrier times were faster than the IOTV even though the majority of plate carrier runs occurred as a second or third iteration. See Table 2 below for all times. Times highlighted in green were the fastest recorded times for the carrier and those in red were the slowest recorded. O-Course obstacles (in order) were as follows: 260m run, 2x 6ft wall, balance beam, monkey bars, low wall vaults, and a forty five degree wall. The event occurred as follows: a complete lap of the O-Course, followed by all listed obstacles for time. The intent of the event is to replicate movements (run/jump/climb/balance) required during combat operations in complex terrain.

Table 3: Combat PT Stress Event. Uniform for this testing was OCP pants, boots, and Tan-T shirt. Control group was established using IOTVs. For each carrier all individuals conducted a 50m 190lbs SKEDCO drag, a 100m farmers carry with 2x 53lbs kettlebells and a burpee every 25m, 15x 30inch box jumps, 5x 225lbs deadlift, 5x 135lbs hang clean, 5x 95lbs thruster, 3x standing long jump, and 5x tire flips using a Medium Tactical Vehicle (MTV) tire. The purpose of the event was to replicate movements common to combat environments. Each participant conducted a round and then swapped carriers. At the end of each round, each service member rated the carrier just worn by its perceived comfort, weight, and mobility. All participants evaluated each carrier on a scale from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest) and swapped carriers prior to the next iteration. Each carrier was rated separately, all individual ratings were then averaged together. The individual factor scores (Comfort/Weight/Mobility) were then added together for a total score.

Table 4: The final event was MOUT/SUB-T training at Fort Campbell’s Cassidy MOUT Site. Following the conclusion of testing all participants were told to rate all plate carriers from most desired to least desired based on the question, “if you could only deploy with one for nine months knowing you would be operating in mountainous and urban environments in mounted and dismounted operations.” Each carrier votes were tallied and the places averaged. The scores of the user preference ranking were then combined with the previous ratings from O-Course, Combat PT, and 1MR times for an overall ranking.

Findings & Recommendations

The results of all testing bring to light four points. First, the government provided carriers (IOTV and SPCS) came in last after averages were taken for all events. Second, while the IOTV and SPCS consistently came in the bottom, the commercial carriers all varied in test results depending on the event, though all greatly surpassed the IOTV and SPCS. Third, at least amongst the sample population, the service members who participated in testing all valued smaller profile and lighter carriers for their use. Finally, amongst the top four places (with six carriers altogether due to two ties) the first place carriers and the fourth place carriers differed by only three points while the difference between the fourth place and fifth place had a difference of nine and between four and last a difference of fourteen showing that at least amongst the top four places that there is little variation in overall performance when comparing quality manufacturers and all perform much better than the government options.

The current next generation vest/plate carrier that the Army is developing is the Modular Scalable Vest (MSV). Part of the Soldier Protection System, the MSV portion is meant to replace everything from current concealable body armor to plate carriers to a full IOTV-style set up to include deltoid and groin protection. The issue that befalls the MSV is, like the IOTV, in an attempt to do everything, it will do nothing well. Part of this is from the intense focus on modularity. When it comes to the mass issue of a single system to fill multiple roles then having a modular system is understandable. A mass issue to a service with over one million personnel across all three components (Active/Guard/Reserve) fits the older fits the older industrial age Army but not that of a modern information age one. When one focuses on what level of modularity is actually needed for a force like the AC3F is it often actually less than what is provided by the MSV.

A plate carrier for the AC3F should meet the modularity requirement through compatibility with exchangeable back panels, different placards, as well as cummerbunds and/or a structural harness. The Crye AVS, Spiritus Systems LV-119 OVERT, and Velocity Systems SCARAB-LT are all excellent examples of the right sort of modularity that is needed for a member of the AC3F. The MSV’s level of modularity will ensure it meets basic requirements for the larger Army but over compensates in the categories that will actually benefit the AC3F.

Note: With the exception of the MSV, all weights were taken using an ETEKCITY model EL11 Scale

The use of commercial options currently on the market will also save the Army money. If the Army were to outfit the members of the AC3F with the Crye AVS Kit instead of the MSV, it would save $359.10 per individual. If the Army chose to outfit the AC3F with the LBT MPC instead of the MSV it would save $803.71 per person. In fact, the Army would be able to field three MPCs for the cost of one MSV. View further comparisons listed in table 6 (below). From a financial standpoint, the Army budget is in constant flux. The Army already conducts multiple “night courts” to determine which programs to cut in order to allocate funds towards modernization efforts. By purchasing a commercially available carrier for AC3F personnel the Army can use the saved money towards other programs. For some carriers, prices may vary depending on whether or not they are purchased as a kit or in a specific configuration.

Note: non-FedLog prices do not take into account price reduction due to bulk purchase and/or contract by the U.S. Army.Recommendations

In order to facilitate a transition to an improved plate carrier, the recommended course of action is that the Army either mirrors 1st SFAB’s 2017 procurement of the Crye AVS (via PEO Soldier and USSOCOM PM-SSES) as the example in the purchase and issue of improved systems or uses Other Transactional Authority (OTA) methods of procurement. The XVIII Airborne Corps, with the support of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, should be the proponent and initial force to test and evaluate through several soldier touch points and be the first recipient of the selected system. The XVIII Airborne Corps fits the requirement for evaluation due to the existence of three different formations (light, airborne, and armored) within it.

As an interim solution, the Army should identify a list of suitable options until a permanent solution for the AC3F is chosen and authorize, at either the Corps or Division level, funds for the purchase from single vendor for the interim carrier to meet the needs until the CCLTF and/or Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team can settle on a single carrier to meet the need of the warfighter. This sole carrier purchase will prevent the fielding of multiple different plate carriers and thus reduce the training complexity of needing to train multiple different carrier types for removal under stress.

The selection of a plate carrier separate to what KDH already offers the Army does not need to impact the current contracts already held by KDH either. Rather, the fielding of separate equipment to the AC3F can help facilitate the fielding of the MSV to non-AC3F personnel as the overall number required to receive the vest will be reduced.


To be clear, this paper is not arguing for “cool guy gear.” Gear alone does not dictate performance. While kit alone does not guarantee performance, it does effect a soldier’s overall performance when considering the Soldier as a holistic system and not one of an individual simply loaded down with equipment. As we improve the individual soldier, the squad will improve as well.

The MSV may suit the needs of MOS’s separate of the AC3F but it will not facilitate the close combat force in the overall effort of creating a more lethal Squad. If the MSV were to exceed the requirements of the close combat force, then units like the 75th Ranger Regiment would be fielding it en masse to replace their current systems. This is not the case. While members of the SFAB that was fielded MSVs may have stated that PEO Soldier “got it right this time” the SFAB is not a combat unit in regards to the forces identified as part of the Close Combat Force. The article in which the SFAB Soldier is quoted also does not specify the service member’s MOS nor his or her knowledge in regards to other offerings on the market.

The bottom line is this: if America’s close combat force is different enough to warrant improved rifles, machine guns, and night vision, then it certainly warrants improved plate carrier solutions as well. The solution already exists on the commercial market with multiple options vastly superior to the current standard issue. All this exists at a price point less than the “solutions” that have been issued to the primary fighting force for far too long. So long as the commercial carrier can meet a set of established requirements (the requirements used by USASOC are a good starting point) and is using Army issued ballistic packages there is little downside for the AC3F end user. Given the prices of some sample options (not taking into account reduced cost from bulk orders), the Army would also save money by purchasing these systems versus the IOTV/SPCS/MSV.

In the end, the CCLTF exists to improve the lethality of America’s close combat forces and to enable them to remain the preeminent ground fighting force into the foreseeable future. Part of this objective can be achieved by equipping said forces with improved plate carriers to reduce weight and increase mobility. This is a “win-win,” if there ever was one. A decrease in weight will reduce fatigue on the soldier during long movements or in combat situations. Reduced fatigue will translate into better decision making, better employment of their weapons systems, and easier recovery if a service member is injured and unable to be moved under his or her own power. Lastly, a decrease in cost means more carriers can be purchased for the same price, or money can be saved for the same numbers. It is for these reasons that the Army should equip its AC3F warfighters with superior equipment today in order to set conditions for success in the future.

Special Thanks to Velocity Systems, Spiritus Systems, and ATS Tactical Gear for providing demonstration plate carriers and components for Testing & Evaluation. All other plate carriers used for T&E were either issued or a personal purchase by those participating in the testing.References

Note: All Pictures of worn carriers includes Army issued side plates and, with the exception of two carriers with side plate pouches organic to the cummerbund, IOTV side plate pouches to highlight compatibility with current issue equipment.

Ref 1: Modular Scalable Vest (MSV) on display

Ref 2: Crye Adaptive Vest System (AVS)

Ref 3: Generation III Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV)

Ref 4: Generation IV Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV)

Ref 5: Soldier Plate Carrier System (SPCS)

Ref 6: London Bridge Tactical Modular Plate Carrier (MPC)

Ref 7: Shellback Tactical Banshee

Ref 8: Crye AirLite Structural Plate Carrier (SPC)

Ref 9: ATS Aegis v2

Ref 10: Crye Jumpable Plate Carrier (JPC)

Ref 11: Velocity Systems SCARAB-LT

Ref 12: Spiritus Systems LV-119 OVERT

CPT Daniel Vazquez is a 2013 graduate of Norwich University’s Corps of Cadets and has a B.A. in history. Commissioned as an infantryman in 2013, he has served in both Stryker and Infantry Brigade Combat Team formations as a Rifle Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer, and Scout Platoon Leader. He is currently serving as the Battalion Operations Officer in an IBCT Infantry Battalion. He is the author of “The War Yet To Come: A Story of the Future Battlefield” available on Amazon Kindle. The views and opinions described in the paper are his, and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army.

You can download your copy of the complete study here.

Engineering & Computer Simulations to Provide Training Solutions for the Profession of Arms Center of Excellence in Support of the US Air Force

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

February 20, 2020 – (Orlando, FL) – Mick Golson, Chief Operations Officer of Engineering & Computer Simulations (ECS), announced that the company will be providing training coursework for the Profession of Arms Center of Excellence (PACE). Awarded by the USAF as a one-year contract, this innovative PACE project supports organic learning and innovation within United States Air Force (USAF) squadrons and develops newly appointed command team members for their leadership roles. Joanne Barnieu, ECS Director of Instructional Science, and Joe Neubauer, ECS Project Manager/Subject Matter Expert, will lead the project.

This project supports the training initiatives of the Secretary of the Air Force (AF), Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force by delivering innovative training solutions to develop leaders and to support organic learning within AF squadrons. The course targets newly assigned members of the command team, such as AF Squadron Commanders, Superintendents, and First Sergeants, so that important concepts and principles are taught early and can be applied throughout their assignment.

Golson states: “Strengthening the skills and experience of our U.S. Air Force squadrons is critical and, for over 23 years, ECS has been honored to help train those who serve and protect our country. As an Air Force veteran, I’m very excited; new projects, such as this one for PACE, allow our team to grow as we look forward to the future.”

In the early stages of development, this program will present a high-level overview of Emotional Intelligence, Empathetic Listening, Team Building, and Followership. Hosted on an Air Force learning management system, it will include stand-alone micro learning content, facilitator guides, and lesson plans to support an integrated multi-disciplinary solution for a Squadron Command Team Product Line. The PACE course will include four 50-minute, online lessons and will be reinforced with stand-alone microlearning content that will be used following the initial course. Each of the lessons will teach necessary skills, using a structured framework, to inspire, change mindsets, motivate, and educate squadron leadership. 

Barnieu adds: “It is rewarding for our instructional team to provide organic learning opportunities that will achieve positive outcomes for our military service members. This type of project-based learning allows for the squadrons to train to their highest potential in order to successfully perform their missions throughout the world.  As a “proof of concept” project, we are delving into innovative solutions for leadership skills and look forward to the client’s feedback in order to deliver future solutions for leaders at all levels.”


US Army Small Arms Competitive Marksmanship Program

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020

Here’s an Army Regulation that recently came to my attention. The latest version of AR 350-66, Small Arms Competitive Marksmanship Program, was published last September. It provides several updates such as allowing the use of optics and M855A1 ammunition in competitions. It also increased the number of competitions each year

Download your copy here.

Air Force Changes Path of Entry for Enlisted Special Warfare Operators

Friday, February 21st, 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas – To better afford enlisted recruits the time and opportunity to find the path of their greatest calling, the Air Force has created a single path of entry into the special warfare recruiting and initial training pipeline.

TACP FTX @ Camp Bullis, Texas

The Special Warfare Operator Enlistment Vectoring program will officially commence in early April of this year with a new Air Force Specialty Code for accessions and the first shipment of special warfare candidates to the service’s basic military training.

“On initial entry into the Air Force, the 9T500 AFSC will be the only path for new Airmen to pursue a career into the Combat Control, Pararescue, Tactical Air Control Party or Special Reconnaissance career fields,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Lopez, chief of the special warfare division at Air Education and Training Command headquarters. “This change allows candidates to make a more informed career decision, prior to being vectored, after months of education, training, development, and mentorship, to see what career field might be the best fit for them. The program also enhances the Air Force’s ability to assign Airmen a permanent AFSC in an equitable way across the special warfare community after a thorough “whole-person” evaluation has been conducted on every candidate going through through the accessions and initial phase of training.”

Every day, special warfare Airmen deploy around the world to project American military power through global access, rescue friendly forces through personnel recovery operations and to destroy the enemy through precision strikes.

The SWOE-V program centers on a “coach-develop-mentor” mindset that begins in the pre-accession phase where recruiting development teams identify potential special warfare operators and begin the process to prepare them for the rigors of the special warfare training pipeline and later, their designated career field.

“The typical special warfare scouting, recruiting and development process for a candidate from pre-accessioning to shipping to BMT takes from four to six months,” said Lt. Col. Heath Kerns, commander of the 330th Recruiting Squadron which specializes in special warfare and combat support recruiting. “During pre-accessioning with help from our developers, candidates begin a 21-day “Pass the PAST” workout program developed to help them pass the Physical Abilities Stamina Test, while at the same time being educated on special warfare components, missions and specialties and the SWOE vector process.”

Another key element to the SWOE-V program will be the base lining of enlistment standards for recruits.

“Having a standardized baseline of enlistment standards will eliminate confusion amongst potential recruits, as well as opens up a larger pool of candidates during the recruiting process who might be eligible for and interested in a career in special warfare,” Kerns said.

After a potential candidate passes the PAST, a test that represents the minimum physical fitness entrance standards for enlisted special warfare career fields, they compete for selection and receive a developer recommendation before contracting and shipping to BMT at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, as a SWOE candidate, Kerns said.

During BMT, SWOE candidates will master curriculum that includes the Air Force mission and vision, core values, drill and ceremony, history and priorities, field training and joint warfare like every other trainee, but undergo additional training to prepare them for the Special Warfare Prep Course.

100% and then some, TACP apprentice course

“While assigned to their special warfare BMT flights, candidates conduct additional physical training and continue their education about all things special warfare related including components, missions and specialties and the SWOE vectoring process,” Lopez said.

SWOEs’ BMT performance evaluation data is collected throughout training to be included as part of the vectoring process once trainees enter the Special Warfare Prep course, administered by officials at the Special Warfare Training Wing, also at JBSA-Lackland.

“Along with the performance data from BMT, data from the Special Warfare prep course, and a SWOE’s career preference, candidates are vectored to either the Special Tactics and Guardian Angel, or the Tactical Air Control Party, courses of initial entry,” Lopez said.

Selection for a specific special warfare Air Force Specialty Code is heavily based on a candidate’s performance, which drives a competitive model early on, even before shipping to BMT, thus helping shape individual’s drive, determination and strengths, intended to create trust and team cohesion among candidates, Lopez said.

Special Warfare trainees honor fallen combat controller

“Nothing is given; Airmen must earn their spot in their chosen career field and fight for it,” Lopez said. “We are evaluating them continuously through pre-accessioning, BMT and the Special Warfare Prep Course, using a whole person concept that includes cognitive, physical skills, as well as Airmanship and instructors’ evaluation of teamwork and attitude.”

From this point in the pipeline, SWOE candidates are split into one of two paths: the four-week Special Tactics and Guardian Angel course of initial entry or the TACP initial course of entry.

“After successful completion of the ST/GA initial course of entry, candidates will be assigned into the combat controller, pararescue or special reconnaissance AFSC based on their continued performance during training and their preference,” Lopez said. “After successful completion of that course, candidates continue along their respective AFSC-specific training pipelines.”

Special Warfare Airmen train with U.S. Marine Corps Reserve

Those who enter the TACP course of initial entry and successfully complete it will continue along in the remainder of the TACP training pipeline, said Lopez.

“The SWOE-V really is a big deal as it represents a momentous change for the Air Force special warfare community,” Lopez said. “By removing constraints in the recruiting and accessions process, we are expanding the talent pool while streamlining entry into the service. We also ensure ensure equitable distribution consistent with and proportional to Air Force-established production goals.”

By Dan Hawkins, Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs

AF Note: To hear more about the SWOE-V program, listen to “The Air Force Starts Here” podcast featuring Lt. Col Lopez, AETC’s special warfare division chief, and Lt. Col. Heath Kerns, 330th Recruiting Squadron commander. The podcast is available for download or streaming on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Play, as well as on the AETC website.

Operational Security Key to Mission Success

Thursday, February 20th, 2020

DUKE FIELD, Fla. — A Citizen Air Commando wrestles to equip his night vision gear as he sets off into the desert of a foreign land. Another Citizen Air Commando monitors a screen in a dark room as she determines which life to take in the theater of conflict.

Reservists from Duke Field are all over the world performing unique missions, including some whose stories can never be told. None of these operations could be completed without a strong Operational Security program.

“We’re talking about how we protect our daily mission,” said Craig Robinson, the OPSEC program manager for the 919th Special Operations Wing. “A lot of people are so used to safeguarding classified information, they sometimes forget the unclassified but sensitive information they need to protect.”

OPSEC is a broad program encompassing logistical details about operations, such as troop movements for example, said Robinson. This information might not be classified, but it’s central to how we get our mission done. If an adversary became aware that we were moving troops from point A to point B, they could possibly hinder the operation.

“If you don’t protect OPSEC, the adversary could get that information and make a decision to act on it causing injury or death to our members,” said Senior Airman Kimberly Nelson, a radio frequency technician with the 919th Special Operations Communications Squadron.  “It could also result in the mission just not happening.”

“I [often] work with cyber operations where all the information we use is important or critical,” said Nelson. “Giving out information that is critical to the mission would be considered an OPSEC violation. Just because you’re in the military or might be my friend doesn’t mean you have a need to know.”

One important OPSEC component that’s been highlighted by recent events is service-members social-media use, said Robinson. Voicing details or opinions about overseas military operations, even if it’s within the workcenter, can damage the overall mission. Airmen need to be careful about what they’re posting online. The same care needs to be taken with sharing photographs as well.

“I’ve seen my friends post pictures posing with planes and such,” said Robinson. “While it’s not classified, it’s about the overall scheme. By photographing sensitive information, we’re making folks an easy target for an adversary in a foreign country. So the less an adversary knows about our equipment, processes and personnel, the better.”

Nelson agreed and said keeping potential adversaries in the dark regarding current and future operations is the best approach.

“People don’t need to know the location where you’re deployed,” said Nelson. “They don’t need to see pictures of the equipment that you’re using because that’s no one else’s business.”

“I’ve heard stories of family members posting things about stuff,” said Nelson. “Airmen often tell their mom where they’re going, when they’re going there, what they’re doing and then what the deployed conditions are like. Then mom might post something such as, ‘I’m so proud of my Airman…he or she did this on this day. They’re coming back from overseas at this time.’ She’s being a mom and is excited, but she’s also giving out pertinent information.”

If you think that sensitive information has been released, contact your squadron’s OPSEC coordinator as soon as possible, said Robinson. That’s the focal point in each squadron that Airmen could go to if they think there’s an OPSEC problem.

“We have to be very careful when we share sensitive information,” said Robinson. “Practicing good OPSEC is the responsibility of every Airman. We all have to make sure we’re protecting details on our operations to ensure the mission goes according to plan.”

By Senior Airman Dylan Gentile, 919th Special Operations Wing

Wanted: Ideas on Space Force Members’ Name, Ranks

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS) — The U.S. Space Force is looking for feedback from U.S. military space professionals on what Space Force members should be called – similar to how the Air Force refers to its members as ‘Airmen’ or the Army refers to its members as ‘Soldiers’.

Given the significance a name has to the identity and culture of an organization, the Space Force is taking a deliberate approach to ensure Space Force member titles and ranks appropriately convey the nature of the newest Armed Forces branch and the domain in which it operates.

Toward that end, Space Force officials are soliciting ideas related to Space Force ranks, names for operational units and what Space Force members should be called collectively. They are especially interested in soliciting ideas from those currently assigned to the U.S. Space Force or those who expect to be members of the Space Force in the future.

Air Force Common Access Card holders with access to Air Force Portal should submit their ideas online by Feb. 24 through the IdeaScale website at usaf.ideascalegov.com/a/ideas/recent/campaigns/122. Space Force officials will also be reaching out to the Army, Navy and Marine Corps space communities to offer military space professionals in other services the opportunity to submit ideas.

“As we continue to forge the Space Force into a lean, agile and forward-looking 21st century warfighting branch, we want to provide space professionals the opportunity to influence what the members of our new service will be called,” said Lt. Gen. DT Thompson, U.S. Space Force vice commander. “The decisions we make today will shape the Space Force for decades to come, so we want to ensure those who will serve in the Space Force have a say when it comes to important organizational and cultural identity considerations.”

Officials emphasized several guidelines respondents must consider when submitting ideas. For example, proposals must be gender-neutral, distinctive and should emphasize a future-oriented military force. In addition, submissions cannot violate copyrights, infringe on trademarks or other intellectual property rights, or be proprietary. Any submission falling into those categories will not be considered. Submissions must also be in good taste.

Once the submission deadline closes, a panel of Space Force officials will review inputs along with other feedback received from various sources to help inform a final decision on the new Space Force member moniker. That decision, which will be made by senior Space Force leaders, will be announced publicly at a future date to be determined.

By Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs