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Posts Tagged ‘LTC Terry Baldwin’

The Baldwin Articles – Leadership: Acting Like a Leader

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

When asked what experience had been most critical in preparing him for senior command in WWII Dwight Eisenhower allegedly replied, “I studied drama under MacArthur for three years.” Now, I suspect Eisenhower thought that MacArthur was a drama queen but the teaching point is that leaders always have to ACT like leaders. To be clear, we are NOT referring to Hollywood style acting. Military leaders will be ineffective if they are ever perceived to be “faking it” by their soldiers. There are no movie magic special effects, convenient plot devices, stunt doubles or reshooting of scenes in military leadership. Rather, it is important that leaders meet their subordinate’s expectations and “walk the talk” while always acting accordingly.

This dynamic means that leaders do not have the luxury of entertaining their own emotions at the expense of the organization. Despite any personal misgivings, a leader has to display confidence. This is especially important if he or she does not feel confident at all. Leaders have to motivate organizations even if they are personally unmotivated in the moment. A good leader must project calm strength, a positive attitude, singular focus and dedication to mission – particularly in the most adverse circumstances. In other words, good leadership demands that individual leaders set the right example and tone. This is a military fact, not some exercise in esoteric navel-gazing. For good or ill, a unit will reflect the attitude of the leader. A weak leader who cannot live up to the leadership role – if not replaced – will inevitably foster an undisciplined and unfocused organization destined to fail in combat.

A while back, I told the story about how – under threat of Article 15 – I was kicked out of an infantry battalion in Germany and transferred to the Divisional Pathfinder Detachment. That kind of “rehabilitative” transfer rarely happens. How was I so lucky? With due respect to Paul Harvey (for you old timers who know who that was), here is the rest of the story. Many factors lined up in my favor in this situation. Most importantly, my Platoon Sergeant and First Sergeant saw some potential in me. Damned if I know why. I had recently returned from the 3rd Infantry Division’s PNCOC or Primary Noncommissioned Officers Course. PNCOC was only open to combat arms in those days. PLDC or Primary Leadership Development Course started later and was for combat support and combat service support. Eventually the two were combined as PLDC.

PNCOC was both a classic NCO Academy with room and uniform inspections in garrison and patrolling for tactical leadership training. This was the winter of 1975-76, and the instructors were all Vietnam combat veterans so our patrolling in the German forests had a very jungle rather than Warsaw Pact flavor. I loved the patrolling but hated the garrison portion. On graduation day, I was in my dress greens when one of the cadre grabbed me to buff one of the hallways in the school building one last time. I was pissed. Lining that hallway were some very sharp wooden replicas of the combat arms unit crests of the Division, each about 10” x 16” square. Since I was alone, I stole the one for my unit, the 15th Infantry, and put it in my duffel bag.

When I got back to my battalion, I figured it was just a matter of time before I was tracked down. There had only been about four of us from my battalion in the class. So I showed the crest to my First Sergeant and told him why I took it. About that time, my Company Commander came back to the orderly room. The First Sergeant said, “Hey Sir, Baldwin just got back from PNCOC and they gave him this for being Honor Grad!” and he showed the Captain the crest. The Captain congratulated me and the First Sergeant had one of the company clerks immediately hang the crest right next to the orderly room door. I do not think PNCOC ever came looking for it and it probably hung there in the unit for years afterwards. It was a very nice crest.

However, the First Sergeant knew that I was a poor fit for a mechanized infantry unit and it was probably just a matter of time before I got into real trouble. Fortunately, he and the NCOIC of the Pathfinder Detachment were drinking buddies. The detachment desperately needed airborne infantry bodies but was not a priority fill as compared to the infantry battalions. Even more importantly, my Company Commander was an aviator rated officer. This was before aviation became a branch. As a practical matter that meant that the Captain had to get two hours of flying time in Hueys per month to maintain his rating. He knew and had flown with the Aviation Battalion’s leadership while in Germany and in a couple of cases had flown in Vietnam with the same guys.

The truth is that when they brought me into the Commander’s office and gave me the Hobson’s “choice” of an Article 15 or a transfer the fix was already in place. My Company Commander actually supported the move and had already personally worked out the transfer between the two Battalion Commanders. I know this because after a couple of beers at the Rod and Gun the First Sergeant told me the whole story about six months later. All that being true, then one might ask why the show…why the drama? The answer is simple. My leadership understood how important it was to act like leaders. They could not very well “reward” me for getting into a fight with another three-striper. I needed to be taught a lesson. Probably more importantly, they were sending a message to the rest of the unit. Standards have to be enforced and discipline maintained. My Company Commander probably was angry with me, but he was not as angry as he wanted me and the other soldiers in the unit to think he was. He was being a good leader.

From him and many others afterwards, I learned the important lesson that leaders rarely get to act the way they might actually feel but instead must act in a way that is of greatest benefit to the unit and the mission. I used that example to guide me countless times over the years – especially when delivering the classic “ass chewing.” The trick is to make it count by inflicting pain without doing permanent damage. As a case in point, I had a young cook attached to my SF Company (-) in a West African country in the mid-90s. The young man had slipped off the Host Nation base alone to hook up with some local girl the night before. His NCOIC brought him in after he and my SGM had already had their turns. I was not mad at the kid. He was young and stupid just like I had once been. And most of us have had our own ill-advised adventures with the most powerful substance known to mankind.

Therefore, I proceeded to verbally melt him down to his component atoms – for his own good and the good of the unit. It was one of my best ass chewings ever and I wish we had filmed it for future professional study. Still, in the end, I knew that in a couple of days the sting of my words would fade and the lure of that young lady would not. So, my SGM and the NCOIC arranged to protect the young man from his impulses and to ensure he would have closer adult supervision for the rest of the deployment. I do not know if that young man benefited personally and professionally from that experience the way I did in Germany years earlier. But I do know that we successfully kept him out of further trouble and reinforced the message to the rest of the unit so that no one else tried anything similar. I have no doubt that anyone who has been in the military any length of time will have seen leaders who do it right and some who get it wrong. Bottom line: Good leaders must always act like leaders to the satisfaction of their bosses, their peers and their greatest and most important critics – the soldiers in the unit.

The Baldwin Articles – Fort Benning Trip Report

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

I had the opportunity to spend a few days this last week at Fort Benning, Georgia. It is now the U.S. Army’s Maneuver Center but has been known as “The Home of the Infantry” even longer. I went ostensibly because of my Nephew’s graduation from Infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT). However, I traveled early specifically because I had additional objectives in mind. It was a perfect excuse for me to at least briefly observe training first hand and engage some of the training cadre. My time was short so my impressions below are admittedly not scientific or comprehensive. Still, I spent a great part of my professional career quickly assessing the capabilities and status of individuals and units. Therefore, I have reasonably strong confidence in the accuracy of these snapshot assessments. While there, I met with OSUT Drill Sergeants, Officer Candidate School (OCS) Tactical Officers (TACs) and even members of the 1st SFAB.

I will start by enthusiastically and shamelessly plugging the National Infantry Museum (NIM) that is located just outside one of the Post’s gates just off Victory Drive. I actually visited the NIM twice. The first time by myself and the second time with my Nephew and his family. It is an impressive and ultra-modern historical facility and is open and free to the public. There is everything one would expect from a museum focused on the Infantry. Like small arms and support weapons displays – including never fielded experimental items – broken down by era. Likewise, uniforms and field gear. Touch screens accompany many displays and provide background and context on the history of the individual exhibits. For those that appreciate the art of scale modeling, as I do, there are a number of examples displayed throughout the museum including several impressive professionally built dioramas of battle scenes. If I had more time, I would have gone through a couple more times. The NIM alone is worth the side trip if you happen to be in the area.

On my second visit to the NIM, I had one of my better Forrest Gump moments. That is I was in the right place at the right time. By sheer coincidence, it happened that the 1st SFAB had their official activation ceremony on the parade field behind the museum mid-day on Thursday. I cannot tell you who was in the reviewing stand on the far side of the field or who spoke at the ceremony. I observed the event from the second level observation windows of the NIM. I had a great view – but no sound! Two things stuck out immediately about the unit formation. First, as to be expected, it is much smaller than a standard modern maneuver Brigade. Second, it is a combined arms and multifunctional organization. There were infantry, artillery, engineer, combat support and combat service support company guidons on display.

SSD has already reported on their revised beret color. In person, it is dark brown as the pic he posted most recently showed. No mistaking it for the SF green or Ranger tan berets. Likewise, the revised patch is more distinct than the earlier version. I talked in passing to a handful of the younger SFAB NCOs after the ceremony. They were all combat vets – as were most of the NCOs and Officers I saw from the unit. Not to say there were not some without combat patches, but they were few in number compared to those with combat experience. To a man, they were eager to get on with their upcoming deployment. In short, they seemed sharp, disciplined, motivated and ready to take on their mission. As I have said on this site before, I have concerns about meeting their long-term personnel sustainment needs or if the Army can find enough talent to stand up six SFABs total. However, I do believe the mission is valid and, based on everything I have seen and read, I am convinced this first unit is well prepared to tackle this critical assignment.

I had hoped to spend some quality time with the Black Hats at Airborne School but had only limited success. I observed training for the students in ground week for a couple of hours. Specifically the aircraft exit drills on the 34’ Towers. Not much has changed in this phase of the school since WWII or when I went through decades ago. No surprise, the mechanics of jumping out of a fixed wing aircraft in flight or the physics of how a parachute canopy functions have not really needed to evolve much over the years. Consequently, although the students were wearing ACHs rather than steel pots or camouflaged ACUs rather than OD green fatigues, the drills looked exactly the same. The tempo of the drills and the student to instructor ratio was such that I did not get to talk with the Black Hats there. They were simply too busy for me to feel comfortable interrupting their rhythm. I had intended to go out to Fryar Drop Zone on Wednesday. The Cadre Drop Zone Safeties usually have down time between aircraft sorties and I knew that was my best opportunity. However, it drizzled rain all that day and I unfortunately did not have the option of rescheduling.

I did get to spend two early mornings with the TACs at OCS during their 0545 PT sessions. It was my first formal exposure to some of the newer PT techniques that the Army is transitioning towards. For old timers, the most obvious difference is that PT is a lot quieter than it used to be. Not any “in cadence…exercise” involved in the new system. There were still traditional pushups as well as a number of variations, pullups, dips, fireman’s carries and tire rolls. In short, it was not as exotic or unfamiliar as I might have expected. In fact, it just looked a lot more like the small team / individualized PT I had seen and practiced for years in SF units. Of course that means it was quite different from the centralized and regimented system I had experienced in line infantry units way back when. I do not know if this system will ultimately result in better overall physical conditioning. I do suspect that it will generate fewer long-term joint issues than the old system routinely produced. In any case, by the end of those hour plus drills I observed, it seemed obvious that the OCS Candidates were getting a good workout.

I, of course, spoke to my Nephew quite a bit about his experiences in OSUT. I also talked to a number of his compadres. They were all sharp, disciplined, respectful, and showed appropriate pride in their uniforms – as one would expect of newly minted infantrymen. It would be fair to say that they seemed a hell of a lot more professional than my peers and I were at the same point in 1975. However, since the new guys did not have any real frame of reference, it was the Drill Sergeants that I was most interested in surveying. During the week, I spoke one on one with four different Drills, one from E Co, and three from C Co, 54th Infantry (OSUT). As one would expect, they were an impressive bunch of leaders and trainers. All had CIBs, some with multiple tours, all were airborne and one had his Ranger Tab. They certainly compared favorably with the Vietnam veteran Drill Sergeants that trained me.

I will summarize what we discussed beyond exchanging war stories. They were generally comfortable with the product that they were putting out to the force. They emphasized to me that they had already incorporated portions of the 2016, TC 3-22.9: Rifle and Carbine, during the Basic Rifle Marksmanship (BRM) portion of OSUT. In fact, Drill Sergeants were required to rotate through a formal marksmanship program on post specifically to learn how to train what was in the TC. They saw that as a significant positive and thought as a result that BRM was much improved from just a couple of years ago. Still, we all agreed that the new guys did not really know their ass from a hole in the ground yet – but they had proven to be trainable. However, we also agreed that they were no more clueless than we had all been at their age and level of training.

A generation in the Army is about six years. You can tell because every six years or so some young promotable Sergeant, Staff Sergeant or First Lieutenant will write a letter to the Army Times bemoaning the supposed FACT that today’s entry level soldiers are no longer as well trained, disciplined, patriotic or professional as they were when he or she came in. Of course, the “grizzled veteran” is oblivious to the fact that someone said exactly the same thing about him when he was a cherry soldier. After observing this cycle a few times, it becomes predictable and humorous. Often the alarm is raised because someone saw a ragbag or two at some airport. And, of course, that in turns means all new soldiers are ragbags. If you think an occasional disheveled soldier is a new phenomenon you must not have passed through an airport in the 70s, 80s, 90s or 2000s.

But, the alarmist will say, the standards have obviously been lowered! Standards change all the time. True, not all changes produce the intended results. In that case, standards will be readjusted yet again. Rigidly adhering to the old techniques because that “is how it has always been done” is even more counterproductive and ultimately dysfunctional than experimenting with change. The new PT routine I mentioned above is one example that may or may not be perfectly successful but will likely at least reduce rates of injury over time. But, but…the minimum standards are too low. This argument is entirely subjective so it is a little harder to refute. Most professional soldiers believe in demanding and achieving the highest practical standards – individually and collectively. I do. But do not fall into this trap. You will notice that the guy who can run fast always thinks the minimum run times should be shortened. If he is less confident about his upper body strength, he will argue just as energetically against raising the pushup standards.

Likewise, the guy who readily shoots expert thinks “marksman” is too low a standard. Alternatively, the guy who is already bilingual or learns languages easily always thinks 2/2 should be the minimum entry-level score for SF soldiers. I for one would not have gotten into SF if that had been the minimum standard. Each and every one of us have probably been in a situation where we were eternally grateful that the minimum passing standard was no higher than it was. My observations at Fort Benning led me to conclude that the minimum standards are being strictly enforced and that those new infantrymen, soldiers seeking those silver wings and candidates reaching for a commission are, in fact, doing far better than the minimums.

Let us talk about symbols. Are hats or beret colors important to you?  Probably not. Ask any Green Beret and he will tell you that it is not the hat that makes the man and therefore the beret is not that important. He will be sincere when he says that, but just try to take that piece of felt away from him and suddenly it is important. Symbols in the military are significant and powerful. They are magic. But they only have as much magic power as we infuse them with – sometimes even including baptism with the blood of heroes. I thought of that magic as I pinned my Nephew’s infantry blue cord on his ASUs on Thursday morning. Symbols like that cord, or jump wings and jump boots, or tabs, or combat patches can simultaneously mean nothing…and everything.

I personally appreciate the passion that symbols evoke – often manifested in the comments on this site. I was in when GEN(R) Rogers took away the Airborne maroon beret and GEN(R) “Sly” Meyers gave it back a few years later. Paratroopers had complained about the beret until it was no longer authorized – then they wanted it back. Now it would be all but impossible to take it away from them again. GEN(R) Shinseki wanted to harness that symbolic power when he made the decision about issuing the black beret. I respect him and think he was well intentioned. Unfortunately, it has not worked. The Army has never managed to infuse the black beret with any magic. If it went away tomorrow, it is not likely that there would be much of a fight to keep it. However, those kids at OSUT did not know all of that history or drama and seemed genuinely proud to be wearing their berets. As a side note, I admit that I had not noticed before that the generic blue Army flash is a good match in color to that infantry blue cord.

Everyone I observed and talked to at Fort Benning gave me confidence in the future. These young people and their instructors are ably carrying on the traditions of selfless service the American people expect. The Army is sound and the Republic is not in any jeopardy with them – ever vigilant – on the parapets. They are at least as capable and motivated as those that served in my formative years and on par with every generation of soldiers I have served with since. Bottom line, they ARE as well trained, disciplined, patriotic and professional as we “old timers” like to think we were. My Nephew starts Jump School on Monday.

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 Baldwin Articles – Leadership and Training

Saturday, January 6th, 2018

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” – Proverbs 27:17

Although the above quotation is not specifically related to military training, it is very appropriate to the subject. Here is another exchange on the topic that many of you will recognize. “What kind of training have you men been doing?” “Army Training, Sir!” If you have seen the classic movie, you also know exactly why we do not let privates train on their own recognizance. As I said last time, planning, managing and conducting good training is a complex art – and in many ways is just as hard to master as war itself. In other words, it is a truly serious business requiring continuous attention and effort. Here are just a few points to ponder and discuss.


Let us start with the bad news. There have been and always will be training distractions and obstacles. Those routinely include conflicting priorities, constrained resources, and especially limited time. The trick is not to let the distractions sidetrack you – stay focused on the mission. True, it is something easier said than done. Still, good units and effective trainers work around or through those diversions all the time. Unfortunately, it is also true that a good number of leaders simply do not know how to properly organize and drive their training efforts. I especially worry about those squad leaders, platoon sergeants and platoon leaders who do not necessarily know what right looks like when it comes to planning and conducting truly productive training at the tactical level.

Just as you have to fight for intelligence on the battlefield, a unit has to fight to train. Know what you are trying to accomplish before you start. Plan to train but do not get fixated on your plan – be flexible. The training objective is what is important not the process. Many units spend a great deal of time trying to make the training look good and in the process lose sight of their actual training goals. Likewise, others become preoccupied with making the training uber “cool” rather than effective. My advice is to make sure your people are well grounded in the fundamentals before moving to master the high-speed flaming hoops drill (above).

Always train to a pre-established and reasonable standard and not to a time schedule. Training is never finished so do not become obsessed with the outcome of any one event. Do not be afraid of failure. Training exposes our shortcomings – if we are doing it right. Take advantage of the opportunity to figure out why you failed to achieve the intended training objectives. Was it a planning mistake, a resource shortfall or an issue of poor time management? Did the trainers know beforehand how to do the task required properly themselves? Take corrective action and do better next time.

Aggressively prioritize. Some training is always better than no training. A good trainer can get something out of even the most unproductive training evolution. At least the experience can serve as a reminder to build a better plan for future training events as mentioned above. Know who needs or will befit the most from the training. When time or other resources are limited, it is usually much better to train a few to a higher standard then everyone to a sub-par level. Look for non-traditional training opportunities and partners. Old school and new techniques can often coexist and reinforce one another. Do not presume that they are mutually exclusive or that one is automatically better than the other.

We have all probably seen the following counterproductive dynamic on qualification ranges more than once. In units with poor training habits, the intent invariably devolves into just cycling everyone through as fast as possible. The alleged point of the drill, i.e. improving unit marksmanship, turns out to be a pretense and not the true objective. Unfortunately, the longer-term and deeper negative effect can be debilitating to that entire unit. The leadership has revealed to their soldiers that they consider training an onerous chore that is to be competed as quickly as possible. Positive results are optional or even irrelevant. Sadly, that dysfunctional lesson will imprint some soldiers for the rest of their careers. They in turn will invariably infect others. It is an all too familiar cycle – but it can be broken.

Fighting back against bad training habits is hard but not complicated. It starts with leadership. Recognize that all unit training always involves team building AND leader training. Make sure to give your subordinate leaders something important to do in the training plan; and keep them visibly in charge of their soldiers as much as possible. This is especially important for those new sergeants who are leading for the first time and are trying to establish their credibility. In turn, soldiers benefit directly from seeing their leaders treated like valued members of the unit’s leadership team. In short, properly conducted unit training should professionally develop better leaders and concurrently result in stronger teams.

This also helps mitigate the problem of a unit hampered from accomplishing quality training because the leadership is overly distracted with the many other balls they are juggling. First, recognize and take advantage of the fact that every leader is part of a team and does not have to carry the burden alone. Delegate dammit! Moreover, a leader has to learn (and teach subordinates) not just to juggle but also how to judge those balls. Some balls are more important than others; and not all of them are made of glass. In reality, some balls can be set aside for another time or safely dropped. In doing so, we have the opportunity to demonstrate that unit leadership indeed considers quality training a high priority – though action rather than empty platitudes.

As I have mentioned before, there is a great book on training in WWII that I would recommend called “The Making of a Paratrooper” by Kurt Gabel. The author was a trooper going through Airborne training as a unit with the 517th PIR. He describes how the NCOs and junior officers would go off by themselves, learn a skill and – sometimes the very next day – turn around and teach it to the other troops. Not the ideal situation of course, but they made it work. They optimized, as best they could, their available organic assets to maximize limited external resources and extremely constrained time. They successfully met the challenge as an increasingly cohesive team and always took their training seriously. They knew that there was no other option. It also sets a great example to emulate even today.

Remember that even the most realistic training, conducted by the highest-speed units, has logical constraints that require soldiers to suspend disbelief when necessary. One simple example would be blanks or simunitions. If used properly, blanks are not going to kill or maim. Nevertheless, soldiers are expected to react to blank fire drills as if they were life-threatening live rounds. Likewise, when introducing simulated casualties the expectation is that soldiers will act in as close an approximation as possible to how they would respond to a real injury.

Teach your soldiers to value training though your example. It is true that not all training is fun and adventure. For instance, there is a lot of necessary repetition required to master the fundamentals of any individual or collective task. That can become boring. Bad weather can also make even good training more than a little unpleasant. Still, successfully building skills, competence and confidence – even in the worst of circumstances – is always a net positive for the collective esprit of a unit and the morale of individual soldiers.

Most of the veterans on this board could point to countless hours wasted on the tarmac or field site somewhere waiting for transportation. Did anyone in your unit consider trying to use that otherwise dead time to get at least some critical training accomplished? More often than not the answer is no. If someone made the effort, it was probably less than effective because it was not pre-planned but pulled hastily out of their fourth point of contact. Still, to be fair, I would give them at least partial credit for trying. Assuming they do better next time.

Time, money and ammunition are always finite resources. Never waste those precious assets – especially time! Always seek to get maximum effect from the resources you have. Do not waste time lamenting the resources you do not have. As with everything else we have been talking about, I would submit that the wise use of resources always comes down to the quality of leadership at the small unit level. Funny thing is that good leaders, despite the perpetual distractions and constraints, always seem to have enough to build good strong units. Even during periods when resources are much more constrained than has been the case in the last 16-17 years. Poor leaders, on the other hand, always seem to need more time, money or ammo – and still cannot get quality training results.

My final advice on training is that leaders must be willing to take risks. Most soldiers, myself included, like to think that we can always be as physically courageous as required in battle. Perhaps not ready, but willing and able to risk our lives if necessary. From my experiences and observations in various hostile places, I would say that is generally true enough. However, displaying moral courage is arguably much harder. In part, that is because the need for action does not present itself as unambiguously as it does in combat. It sneaks up on a leader over time. It often starts with the insidious – often self-generated – pressure to pencil whip a few training records so the unit looks good or to CYA. After all, training is not life or death and is certainly not important enough to risk damaging a career…or is it?

Now we are clearly talking about dedication to duty more than we are training. You have to ask yourself a question. How much do I really value training and how hard am I actually willing to fight for what might only be a modest and temporary improvement? That is an individual decision we all have to make for ourselves. The Army does constantly tell soldiers to do “the hard right over the easy wrong.” That is noble and righteous advice. However, it would be a mistake to think the institution actually cares. It does not. The Army is a soulless, unfeeling and ungracious machine; a whore who has never loved you – and never will.

If you are a whistleblower, no matter how justified the complaint, you will not be rewarded for your courage or you honesty. No exemplary service award is waiting for you; no building or street named in your honor; and you are not going to receive public recognition as the unit’s soldier, NCO or officer of the year. Worse case, you might even be punished. It should come as no surprise to any professional soldier that truly selfless service is always a bitch. None of that changes the fact that the right thing is always the right thing. In the end, all I can tell you is that principled leadership in training and war is never easy or painless – but I strongly recommend it anyway. De Oppresso Liber and good luck with your training!

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 Baldwin Articles – Leadership and History

Monday, January 1st, 2018

Lately there has been quite a bit of talk about the connection between history, professional military education and quality training on this site. Perhaps we can all initially agree on a couple of facts to frame some additional discussion. First, war is a bloody art form much more than it is a science and requires continuous study and practice to truly master even at the tactical level. Second, planning, managing and conducting good training is also an art – and in many ways is just as hard to master. For the sake of brevity, I am going to address training separately in part two of this article so that we can concentrate on history as a component of professional education up front.

So how can studying history help make you a better soldier and build stronger units? To be sure there is an important caveat; any “lessons” gleaned from history cannot and will not give definitive answers to today’s military questions. The past is not some accurate predictive tool that can somehow be used to prophesize future outcomes. Nevertheless, the study of history certainly often provides valuable context that can and does serve to inform decision makers in the present. Therefore, it is safe to say that seeking to understand events and characters in history does indeed teach and enlighten.

Obviously countless others have had a similar opinion about the enormous utility of historical study. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that a great many notable historical figures have been self-acknowledged students of history. That has certainly been true of military leaders. Roman generals like Caesar studied the writings of the ancient Greek warriors intently. Not just to learn how they fought, but also how they successfully trained, motivated and sustained those earlier formidable armies. Later others studied Caesar’s campaigns to capture his insight into war. Each generation in turn contributing and perpetuating an unbroken military historiographic circle of life.

We now live in a golden age of information. I have more educationally sound books about all aspects of warfare throughout history sitting on the shelves in my home than were ever available to any general in WWII. Moreover, my collection is extremely modest compared to the exponentially greater volume of material accessible through any modern digitally empowered library. It would be a shame – really a crime – if those of us with that kind of fingertip access to vast reservoirs of information did not take full advantage of all of that educational abundance.

Based on my own personal experiences, I have always been able to learn a great deal about my profession from men and women who died long ago. Military philosophers and theorists like Clausewitz still speak to me. Over time I internalized his concepts, Sun Tzu’s teachings and Machiavelli’s advice and was no doubt the better soldier, trainer and leader for having done so. For me, reading “Lee’s Lieutenant’s” and “This Kind of War” or “The Uncertain Trumpet” was never some academic exercise that was not destined to serve any practical purpose. I learned to appreciate history from the example set by the leaders I met early in my career. In turn, I have tried to pass on that historical sensibility to those I have had the privilege to serve with, lead, and mentor over the years.

In fact, studying books like those above was vital to my vocational education and eventually critical to whatever success or failure I might achieve while practicing my profession. Most importantly, I was able to make better and timelier decisions in ambiguous and challenging circumstances than I would have if I had not had that reasonably broad and sufficiently deep historical exposure beforehand. I simply would not have full confidence in any senior military leader who had no informed sense of history.

To be clear, I am not talking about a formal educational or degree producing program. No one needs to run off and get a PhD in Military History in order to be a good soldier or capable leader. Indeed, we can start at the small unit level with resources we already have readily available. How many leaders out there have made the effort to teach their subordinates their unit’s unique history – let alone the Army’s service history? I can tell you that the answer is not enough. What campaign streamers do you display on your colors? What battles do the elements of your unit crest represent? Why is your unit called the Manchus or Cotton Balers or Devils in Baggy Pants. Of course you might ask, is that “minutiae” really truly important to know? How will that information help “kill the enemy” or keep my people alive?

The answer is simple and ancient in origin. Expending the energy to inculcate a unit’s history helps build stronger teams. The Roman Legions understood this dynamic. Even today, the USMC – better than any of the other services – still understands and leverages this important bonding practice. So why doesn’t the Army do the same? Some units certainly do, but far too many do not even try. Some units consider it a waste of time and a distractor from other priorities. I would argue that the leaders of those units have the wrong priorities. They are shortchanging the professional development of their soldiers and failing in arguable their most important duty. That is to build motivated, cohesive, and ultimately winning teams.

And no, this does not mean a unit has to “stand down” or curtail other training to get it done. Some still serving NCOs or former NCOs out there probably think I am trying to put another rock in your already-too-full professional rucksack. The fact is that particular rock has always been your responsibility. You are the keepers of a unit’s history, and by extension the Army’s history, and have always had the responsibility to pass on that knowledge to your soldiers. The majority of NCOs do not need a reminder. They know they have the mission and do a superb job. But far too many do not – probably because they were never taught what right looks like when they were growing up. You cannot set the example or effectively teach what you don’t know or don’t value.

Obviously, we need to work diligently on correctly that problem at the unit level. However, we should not stop there. What are some of the positive aspects of studying history for broader professional development? Below I have selected three relevant quotes from my favorite fiction book, “Starship Troopers” by Robert Heinlein. For those not familiar with the work, be advised that the book has absolutely nothing to do with the movie series of the same name except the title. I have literally read the book a hundred times or more and always carried a paperback copy with me on deployments. I also loaned it out many times. But it was not the plot or the characters that keeps drawing me back. Rather it was the core ideas; the embedded concept of civil responsibility and duty as well as selfless service and even insight into conflict and war itself.

As many of you know, Heinlein was a brilliant, unique and even odd historical figure. He wrote science fiction primarily and never saw combat himself. Yet in Starship Troopers, Heinlein was able to capture the quintessential rationale of voluntary military service and martial virtue. He clearly intended to present more of a philosophy of duty than a practical military theory or strategic concept of war. Still, his book is a recognized military classic and has been on the recommended reading list for the Army and the USMC for many years. That is not to say that all of Heinlein’s ideas were original. He was well read and had an inquisitive mind so I suspect he had read at least potions of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu and quite possibly Machiavelli as well.

I appreciate this first quote because it perhaps explains why Sun Tzu still resonates after more than two thousand years. Why Clausewitz and Jomini are still read intently to be both interpreted and misinterpreted by countless professional soldiers. And perhaps it also explains why no more contemporary authors have ever been able to convincingly threaten their intellectual authority or supplant them.

“Basic truths cannot change and once a man of insight expresses one of them it is never necessary, no matter how much the world changes, to reformulate them. This is immutable; true everywhere, throughout all time, for all men and all nations.”

The second quote might appear to be no more than a restatement of Clausewitz’s basic theory. And I am reasonably sure that was Heinlein’s original source. But it does expand on the idea that in war it is the application of coercive violence and not killing itself that is actually the military “means” to the political “end” or “objective” that Clausewitz referred to repeatedly.

“War is not violence and killing, pure and simple; war is controlled violence, for a purpose. The purpose of war is to support your government’s decisions by force. The purpose is never to kill the enemy just to be killing him . . . but to make him do what you want him to do. Not killing . . . but controlled and purposeful violence.”

Lastly, I have used what I call “the cooking analogy” below many times to try to explain the notion of military education and realistic training providing immense value added on and off the battlefield.

“…unskillful work can easily subtract value; an untalented cook can turn wholesome dough and fresh green apples, valuable already, into an inedible mess, value zero. Conversely, a great chef can fashion of those same materials a confection of greater value than a commonplace apple tart, with no more effort than an ordinary cook uses to prepare an ordinary sweet.”

Unfortunately, higher-level professional training and education is largely undervalued in the institutional military. That is a counterproductive but systemic organizational attitude. To use Heinlein’s analogy, the services consequently only manage to consistently produce good “fry cooks” that can perhaps reliably fashion an edible meal but have a limited repertoire. In other words they are generally “tactically sound” in the most limited sense but not necessarily adaptive, multifunctional or innovative in any way.

We simply do not produce many world-class chefs; i.e. master craftsmen or artists with more advanced skills that can take the raw material and other means provided to them and produce results approaching a tactical, operational or even strategic work of art. We need military artisans who can be hard fighters AND consummate trainers AND equally deep thinkers. Leaders that have the intellectual tools necessary to profoundly reflect on the art and artifices of war and the disciplined aptitude to translate the resulting thoughts into practical applications. The enduring challenge for us remains how to identify, cultivate and encourage the intellectual development of more martial master chefs at every level.

That brings us to the final point for now. It would certainly be possible to put a committee together and “distill” the more advanced works of Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, et al into 3×5 cards of command approved military axioms that every soldier could carry in his or her breast pocket. Laminated of course and dutifully memorized and regurgitated on command. But that will not make us any smarter. To seek legitimate understanding of Sun Tzu and the others it is important to consider the social, cultural and historical context in which they lived and wrote. In other words, it takes intellectual effort. There is no shortcut.

If simply taken literally, out of context, or only partially and imperfectly understood, Sun Tzu’s or Clausewitz’s or Machiavelli’s ideas can be truly dangerous rather than helpful to a soldier or politician trying to make a decision with life and death implications. Therefore, the services – especially the Army – would clearly be best served by providing more opportunities for high quality, practical and continuous professional education at all levels. This could start by making the effort to instill a deeper appreciation of history in Army leaders of all grades. That is probably the single most useful thing we can do to improve the U.S. Military’s tactical, operational and strategic rate of success in the future.

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 Baldwin Articles – Leadership and Volunteers vs Conscripts

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

I have a lot of Vietnam era Special Forces (SF) friends. Their generation trained and mentored me and I owe them all a great deal both professionally and personally. They all volunteered to be SF eventually but many were initially drafted into the Army. I will be at Fort Campbell later this month for a couple of days during the 5th Group reunion and I look forward to seeing a good number of them there. I likewise intend to interact with as many of the current members of the Group still in the fight as possible. I also have a Nephew who just signed up for the Ranger Regiment option who will be starting Infantry OSUT at Fort Benning next month. I immediately recommended that he read Starship Troopers. In that classic book, Heinlein was able to capture the quintessential rationale for voluntary military service and martial civic virtue. After reading the book he solicited my opinion on conscription vs volunteerism. Coincidentally, the U.S. Army in Vietnam specifically had been something that I had spent considerable time on in my most recent Military History seminar. I am not a veteran of that war but with complete respect for my friends that served there I offer this as my professional answer to my Nephew’s question.

Despite an almost unbroken string of tactical victories, the war in Vietnam obviously did not end successfully from our perspective. And today, despite a similar impressive series of tactical victories, the final outcome of GWOT is still very much in doubt. But that does not have anything to do with who did or did not serve or fight those battles. The U.S. Military has used a number of methods to fill the ranks in peace and war. A small “professional” volunteer army supplemented by mobilized volunteer militia forces and short-term recruits was the standard for most of our history. More formalized systems of conscription were established and routinely used from the Civil War onward but only during times of conflict until after WWII. But the fact is that the country has always struggled historically to get enough manpower to meet wartime needs. So conscription was inevitably used in every war in our history until quite recently. And just as inevitably that draft was hated and in as much as possible shirked by those that could. Up to and including the Vietnam War.

Hal Moore
*The picture is from the book We Were soldiers Once…and Young of then LTC Hal Moore and SGM Basil Plumley. It was taken shortly after their battalion returned to base camp after the fight in the Ia Drang Valley at LZ X-Ray, November 1965. These are the kind of men I think of when I talk with appropriate reverence about long-service volunteer Regulars.

The key to the institutional continuity and ultimately the battlefield success or failure of the Army has always traditionally been the long-service volunteer “Regular.” During the period of 1865-1898 those stalwart and unsung heroes – volunteers all – kept the professional faith during a time of not-so-benign public neglect. Again in 1920-1940 another generation did the same thing for a nation that was not as appreciative of the sacrifices involved as it perhaps should have been. WWII was a watershed and unique event for volunteerism and conscription in U.S. history. It was a “good war” and millions volunteered to serve throughout the conflict. The government generally used the selective service system as a means to meter the flow of manpower into the training bases of the individual services. The system was for once not seen as coercive or onerous and was accepted as a wartime necessity. However, the peacetime draft after WWII was only grudging accepted and was increasingly seen as unfair even long before Vietnam heated up.

American military history provides plenty of evidence that introducing untrained or poorly trained troops onto the battlefield is always ill advised. It does not matter if these inadequately prepared novices are volunteers, conscripts or mobilized militia. In most cases in WWII the recruits, regardless of how they were assessed into service, were formed into units after initial training and had the opportunity to develop at least some critical unit cohesion prior to deploying overseas. The fairly typical story of the “Band of Brothers” that Steven Ambrose wrote of is one good example. Those soldiers had been training together for two years with the same small unit leaders before they jumped into Normandy in 1944. Because of that pre-established unit cohesion they were also able to successfully integrate the individual replacements that came later and collectively endure the hardships of Bastogne.

Combat is not an individual sport! Army leadership manuals for decades have highlighted the fact that soldiers perform better and are more prepared psychologically if they have had the chance to bond with their teammates and their leaders before facing their first battle. It is safe to argue that unit cohesion and teambuilding are immensely more important than whether the soldier was originally a volunteer or conscript. Historically, Vietnam was the first and probably the last and only truly “long war” that we as a nation have fought with conscripts. But at the start of the war that was not the significant problem that it would be by the end. When Hal Moore deployed his battalion – as a unit – to Vietnam in 1965 they had been training together for months much like the units of WWII. The men trusted their leaders and the leaders knew and trusted their men. Unit cohesion had been established stateside and individually and collectively Moore’s unit displayed and maintained the highest level of professional acumen throughout their combat tour.

It is clearly evident in hindsight that the Army in particular struggled in Vietnam not just because of conscription itself but also because of a number of other inter-related and truly counter-productive personnel management policy decisions. First, the Army established a totally individual replacement model in country. Units remained in place on paper but were continuously receiving new personnel including leaders. In the course of twelve months the turnover would be close to 100%. In other words the units were continuously taking 8-10% “casualties” every month before they even encountered the enemy. These new replacements would literally join their units in the field and be in combat essentially with strangers sometimes within hours. It should be no surprise that unit cohesion began to degrade more and more over time and minimum professional standards and even basic discipline declined even more precipitously.

That methodology meant an even more dysfunctional transition for leaders. New lieutenants and captains might not even have a chance to learn their NCOs names and faces before they were expected to lead those men in a firefight. Trust and confidence between leaders and led suffered from this lack of opportunity to at least attain some level of professional familiarity ahead of time. The Army also began to rely more and more on “shake and bake” NCOs that were hastily trained and promoted but did not have the requisite experience to be truly effective small unit leaders. The traditional glue that holds units together in combat, those long-service Regulars, became more and more rare as the war dragged on. To make matters worse, the Army decided to have a 6-month rotation policy for officers. After half a year in the field the officers would be moved to a staff position on one of the relatively safer bases. This policy served to widen the distrust between the officers and the men and helped to further damage the already shaky cohesion of many American units.

The result was an Army that came out of Vietnam stigmatized with rampant drug use, alcoholism, indiscipline and racial violence. That is the battered but not beaten Army I joined in 1975. The Army’s own personnel policies in conjunction with what was perceived as a coercive and unjust draft had exacerbated rather than ameliorated all of those predictable internal cultural problems. Had the same misguided policies been applied to a volunteer army at war the outcome might not have been much different. Fortunately the Army does sometimes learn from its mistakes. The individual replacement concept for combat was completely discredited and is no longer used. Unit deployments including combat rotations have become the norm in any locations where the Army is not permanently stationed like Germany or Korea. The GWOT has likewise been a long war and it has no doubt strained and bruised the volunteer U.S. military. But because of the kinds of personnel management reforms mentioned above it has NOT had the same debilitating effect on unit cohesion and combat effectiveness that the war in Vietnam had on that Army.

Moreover, it is unlikely that we will use large scale conscription again to fill the ranks any time in the foreseeable future. For one thing the realistic requirements of the services are actually quite small as compared to the eligible cohort of the population available. We just do not need the masses of soldiers in the information age that we did in the industrial age. That means that any draft – no matter how fairly administered – would by necessity be limited and therefore inequitable in practice. From the military’s point of view – if a draft became necessary again – we would always want the “best and brightest” possible. But that too would be unfair because no matter how they were selected the draftees would be shouldering the entire burden of service and the majority of the population would be effectively exempt. As a side note, there is still some professional discussion of the possibility of a “targeted draft” for certain specialized skills that might not be inclined to enlist voluntarily – computer hackers for example.

Finally, as a practical matter a 2-year enlistment – whether draft or volunteer – is no longer viable. It takes a year or more to prepare even entry level personnel for the (relatively) lowest tech military jobs available today. The Air Force actually learned this lesson right after WWII and paid bonuses and improved quality of life specifically to keep maintainers and pilots in service as long as possible to recoup the significant initial training investment. The Strategic Air Command (SAC) would not have been able to keep their nuclear bombers ready to fly at a moment’s notice without that professional continuity. The Navy did the same with their nuclear ship programs. Short term personnel with the resulting high turnover tempo were not suitable for keeping nuclear missile subs or aircraft carriers and air wings at a constant high state of readiness and continuous deployment. Even as early as Vietnam the ground combat services were beginning to recognize the need for longer term recruits. If the draft had not ended I suspect the services would still have gone back to Congress and asked to extend the term of service for draftees from 2 to 3 and perhaps even 4 years. When I enlisted, 3 years was the shortest option offered – and that was for infantry! For more technical fields the minimum was 4 years. Bottom line, a recruitment program that relies on volunteers is more suitable to fill and sustain the military’s modern manpower needs. For now it appears that sufficient numbers of those essential long-service volunteer Regulars are choosing to stay in. And despite all the other challenges, that bodes well for the future of the Army, the other services and our Nation.

The Baldwin Articles – Cargo Pockets

Monday, December 5th, 2016

There is one functional element that is found on the field uniform of practically all the militaries in the world today. It is some version of the simple but effective thigh mounted cargo pocket. Surprisingly, the genesis of that now ubiquitous feature dates only back to WWII. And it is very much an American innovation. Most militaries, including the US Armed Forces saw no need for anything other than small patch pockets on field uniforms prior to 1940. And most of those were located on issued jackets or shirts and not trousers. If you have a set of Dress Blues or Greens in your closet you can see what most truly old school combat uniforms looked like. But with global war imminent in the late 1930s new and previously untried clothing ideas found some traction and urgency.

During WWII the US Army fielded three types of field trousers each with different cargo pockets. The first and most widely issued was the Herringbone Twill (HBT) uniform (not shown). The HBT trousers had a relatively small unpleated pocket mounted high on the thigh that was secured by one button and a flap. This is the trouser worn by the Ranger characters in Saving Private Ryan (also seen in The Dirty Dozen and more recently The Great Raid). This uniform remained in service until the late 1950s generally only for summer wear. The second type of field trousers saw much more limited use. Those are the Trousers, Mountain, which were issued only to the 10th Mountain Division and the First Special Service Force (FSSF). These pants had a good sized cargo pocket with flap and two buttons for closure. Side note: even though they were also parachute qualified the plank holders of the FSSF preferred the mountain trousers to those developed exclusively for paratroopers.

But it was the development and eventual combat employment of mission specific paratrooper uniforms that rightly validated the utility of cargo pockets. By necessity the Army Airborne Command was a hotbed of invention. The leadership quickly recognized the critical need for a paratrooper to carry considerably more gear on his person than the typical soldier. Early on they produced two limited issue experimental uniforms that never saw combat: the paratrooper coveralls and the M1941 uniform. The coveralls had fair sized thigh pockets with a metal zipper across the top and no flap. The M1941 uniform had single snap closed pockets that were deemed too small but was hurriedly reengineered and fielded as the iconic M1942 Parachutist Uniform.

But by the time the American Airborne had a couple of combat jumps worth of experience it was obvious that the cotton twill of the M1942 uniform – especially the pockets – needed to be reinforced. To be fair, the troopers routinely overloaded the pockets with hard edged objects that would wear holes in almost any clothing material available at the time. Fortunately the Airborne units had a secret weapon not available to “leg” outfits. That is the Parachute Rigger. The Rigger was not only charged with packing parachutes but also with repairing them. So all were trained to use industrial grade sewing machines and had a steady supply of web material and high strength thread. Riggers were the first custom gear industry. They produced countless enlarged ammo pouches, specialized rigs for engineers and medics and anything else needed by Airborne units that was not in the normal Army supply channels.

So when time and mission permitted paratroopers turned in their uniforms to have canvas or cotton webbing reinforcements applied by the Riggers. This included leg ties, rectangular canvas patches for the elbows and knees (see photo) and webbing around all of the pockets. The leg ties were needed to stabilize and cinch the load to the troopers’ thighs during and after a drop. By the Normandy Invasion jump most of the troopers in the 82nd and 101st were wearing uniforms with these improvements. Again as widely seen on the Airborne characters of Saving Private Ryan and the first couple of episodes of Band of Brothers. I mention the movies in part because I don’t have a M1942 uniform to display. What I do have at the top of the visual aid is a set of “Rigger Pockets” that are of the same dimensions – and nearly identical design. With the aforementioned canvas leg ties and knee patches. These are well made replicas that come from a place called WWII Impressions that caters to Reenactors.

1st Row: Replica K Rations, Canvas Rigger Pockets (back and Front), M1945 and M1950 Suspenders. 2nd Row: M1965 Field Trousers (OD and Woodland). 3rd Row: OG 107 Jungle Fatigues, ERDL Green Dominant, ERDL Brown Dominant. 4th Row: BDU Woodland, DCU 6-Color, DCU 3-Color. 5th Row: ACU UCP, ACU OCP.

The M1942 uniform really was the archetype from which all subsequent US Military cargo pockets evolved. When then Captain Yarborough designed the parachutist uniform he sized each pocket based on purpose. The thigh cargo pockets specifically were intended to hold 3 K-Ration meal components (see photo). The pockets for every paratrooper were the same size to hold the same load. Not sized to look esthetically pleasing on the individual as is common today. During the upgrades mentioned above, two other design shortcomings were deemed less critical and were not immediately addressed. The pocket had bellows along all three sides. This provided for maximum usable volume. But also allowed the pockets to bulge out significantly and become a snagging hazard especially in wooded terrain. The pocket also had an “inverted box (2 sided) pleat” in the center to allow expansion (yes, I looked it up). Inverted simply means that the fold that forms the pleat is on the inside of the pocket rather than the outside (see photo). That pleat also tended to get easily caught by underbrush. But it was still the best uniform with the best pockets available into the late summer of 44.

Stateside, the Army had already been working on a replacement common combat uniform for the entire force. Experimentation was conducted on the proposed M1943 uniform beginning in 42. Early combat lessons learned by Airborne units were incorporated into the test up front. For the Trouser component six different cargo pocket configurations were tested. On some of the test pants there was actually a different pocket on either side of the sample. However, when the official type classified “M1943 Uniform” was fielded it had no cargo pockets. There were a couple of reasons for this. One, the Armor community and Air Corps did not want cargo pockets. They saw them as nothing more than an annoyance in a tank or plane. There was also some institutional resistance to cargo pockets because they made soldiers look “sloppy and unprofessional”. And, after all, the Great War had been won without cargo pockets. But I think the final decision came down to nothing more than simplifying the design so that the trousers could be easier to produce in mass quantities rapidly.

However, the Airborne still wanted cargo pockets. So even before the M1943 uniform was shipped into the European Theater the Riggers were hard at work fabricating those Rigger Pockets. Using the M1942 pockets as the best available template. They chose canvas because it was the toughest fabric they had on hand. Then as the M1943 trousers arrived the Riggers sewed those pockets to the pants just in time for Operation Market Garden and all subsequent jumps. On the plus side, the unmodified M1943 Jacket, Field was well received by the paratroopers. The new ensemble was made of sturdy cotton sateen and was more durable than the M1942. It is important to note that the M1943 Uniform was envisioned to be a 3-season temperate zone uniform. It was supposed to supplant all the specialized uniforms including HBTs. But soldiers quickly found that while the M1943 was a great improvement it was simply too hot for summer wear even in Central Europe. So by default the HBT uniform soldiered on despite the Army’s original intentions.

Rigger Pockets themselves actually have a much longer history too. Post WWII the Army continued to issue the slick M1943 trousers. But Airborne units still wanted pockets. So it became something of a rite of passage for graduates of Jump School to receive a set of canvas Rigger Pockets and leg ties. Which the cherry jumper would then have sewn on at a local tailor shop. When the Rangers and the 187th RCT made the two large scale combat jumps in Korea almost all were wearing M1943 uniforms with canvas Rigger Pockets. The M1951 Uniform was eventually fielded with built in cargo pockets but did not get to Korea in any quantity till after 53 and the Armistice. But even after the M1951 uniform was available the Rigger Pockets remained the mark of a seasoned paratrooper and continued to be worn in the back woods of places like Fort Bragg and Germany. In one book I have there are a couple of pictures of an ODA doing mountaineering training in 1961. And it appears the older NCOs still have them on their trousers.

But as already mentioned some changes were definitely warranted in the cargo pocket design despite the mystique and longevity of the originals. So when the Army developed the M1951 Uniform they created an improved version that utilized the now familiar tri-panel “knife (1 sided) pleat” configuration. Additionally the leading and bottom seams were sewn down. The new pocket therefore only expanded in the rear. Both revisions served to greatly reduce snagging issues. Moreover, the bottom front corner of the flap was bartacked down for the same reason. This now classic design, with some occasional minor tweaks, remains the standard even today some 65 years later.

I don’t have any M1951 trousers anymore but I do have three of the follow on M1965 Field Trousers* on display. The only real difference between the 51s and 65s is in the buttons. The 51s had flat plastic buttons and the 65s have the oval plastic buttons we are still using today. The 51s also had buttons on the outside of the waist so that they would be reverse compatible with the M1945 Suspenders (see photo). I have also laid out the long serving M1950 Suspenders that many of you will recognize. The M1950s are apparently still in the system and being produced today in foliage green. Paratroopers learned in WWII that if you put heavy things in your cargo pockets suspenders were practically mandatory.

I was issued M1951s and those very M1945 suspenders in Germany in 1975. In those days you used serviceable gear until you literally wore it out. I put an asterisk next to “Field Trousers” above because there is one difference between the two OD examples I have. The earlier manufactured one is labeled “Trousers, Field”. The one produced later is labeled “Trousers, Cold Weather” as is the woodland set. As I recall we almost always just called them “field pants”. Like their predecessors, the M1951 and M1965 cargo pockets have the very useful leg tie downs hidden inside. I still remember enlightening soldiers and even NCOs in the early 80s who didn’t know the ties were there or didn’t understand what they were for. I used my tie downs just about every time I wore field pants. They definitely help keep the pocket’s contents from bouncing around.

The OG107 Jungle Fatigues and the first set of ERDLs are cut in the same pattern. They have the tri-panel knife pleat but a slightly larger flap that is obviously reminiscent of the Rigger Pocket or M1942 flap. Both of these uniforms were extremely functional and popular and have been discussed many times here on SSD. The last generation ERDLs (late 70s/early 80s) had a very different pocket arrangement. The jacket pockets were square and level rather than rounded and canted. And all had the inverted box pleat including, inexplicably, the thigh cargo pocket. I was issued this pair in 83 at Fort Bragg. On my first field problem the pleat caught on brush and was ripped. When I got back to garrison I had the pleat sewn shut. Problem solved. I can only assume that somebody had not bothered to capture why that feature had been abandoned in the first place and recycled it out of ignorance. Uniforms in this straight pocket configuration were also produced and issued in OG107 Jungles and in experimental 6-Color Desert.

The early BDUs circa 1982-83 had a myriad of problems. They had a goofy big collar, turned blue after one or two washings and shrank like crazy. But there was nothing wrong with the cargo pockets. The Army wisely reverted back to the knife pleats and a relatively narrow flap with a two button closure. Another side note. Some of you may remember that the original BDUs in NYCO Twill were intended as an all-purpose 3-season temperate zone uniform. Sound familiar? They were too hot and soon “Light Weight” Ripstop BDUs were produced to fix that problem. OG107 Jungle Fatigues were also authorized Army wide as an interim fix until the lighter uniforms could be fielded. Many soldiers, unaware of the history, often erroneously refer to the heavier originals as “winter weight” BDUs. As far as I know, USGI Desert Storm era 6-Color DCUs were only issued in Twill and later 3-Color DCUs only in Ripstop.

Today the USMC MARPAT uniforms and the Air Force ABU still use the same well refined and combat tested BDU pocket design described above. But the Army decided it needed to make some changes when it fielded the ACU in 2005. They kept the tri-panel pocket body. But they traded buttons for Velcro and shock cord. I’m not anti-Velcro. I believe in some applications it is a suitable closure device. Chest pockets under body armor for instance. But it is the wrong option for cargo pockets for a number of reasons which have been discussed here many times. The flap was also canted and was no longer bartacked down. These changes were all intended to make it easier to access the pocket when seated. Maybe so. I just personally don’t recall that accessing the older cargo pockets was a problem prior to 2005.

In any case, the Army has transitioned back to a button closure on the last generation of UCP ACUs and the newer Multicam and OCP ACUs. But for some reason someone decided that there was a need for a third “expansion” button. If that works for you then by all means drive on. But after some unscientific experimentation here on the homestead, I saw no use for it and removed the superfluous third button. When I was wearing the UCP ACUs in the 2005-07 timeframe I also had the bottom front corner of the flaps bartacked down. I experienced no adverse issues with pocket access. And I felt more secure in that the flap could no longer come completely undone and dump the contents (say in a vehicle roll over).

There are a number of newer and IMHO tactically questionable cargo pockets designs out there today. The Navy just adopted the NWU Type III that according to pictures I’ve seen has cargo pockets segmented by two inverted box pleats. I’m sure that will work fine aboard ship. But this style will never travel well through a jungle. Other popular commercial examples have internal elastic to accommodate rifle magazines. I can tell you that unless there is some provision to cinch that pocket to the thigh (or you like wearing really tight pants) those loaded magazines will beat your leg to death when you run. And one last thing. The flap on the OCP ACUs is noticeably larger than previous cargo pocket flaps. I thought of early BDU/DCU Elvis Collars when I saw it. It just seems bigger than reasonably necessary for the task. For those wearing them in the field today I would be curious to hear if the pocket flap is the snag monster I suspect it can be. TLB

LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (RET) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments.

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