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Old 02-01-2009   #1
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Default Weight of Combat Gear Is Taking Toll

Weight of Combat Gear Is Taking Toll - Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post

Quote:
Carrying heavy combat loads is taking a quiet but serious toll on troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, contributing to injuries that are sidelining them in growing numbers, according to senior military and defense officials.

Rising concern over the muscle and bone injuries -- as well as the hindrance caused by the cumbersome gear as troops maneuver in Afghanistan's mountains -- prompted Army and Marine Corps leaders and commanders to launch initiatives last month that will introduce lighter equipment for some U.S. troops.

As the military prepares to significantly increase the number of troops in Afghanistan -- including sending as many as 20,000 more Marines -- fielding a new, lighter vest and helmet is a top priority, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway said recently. "We are going to have to lighten our load," he said, after inspecting possible designs during a visit to the Quantico Marine base...
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Old 02-01-2009   #2
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Default Never ever learn...



This really annoys me. It's as if the corporate memory of every army ever involved in combat operations from the last 60 years, has just evaporated.

The question not being asked is why, when everyone knows how to lighten the load, are they not doing it? Sure, it involves running risk. Risk is inherent to the job.
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Old 02-01-2009   #3
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The new equipment, called a "plate carrier," would protect vital organs and weigh less than 20 pounds. It would not include additional pieces that troops currently use to shield sides, shoulders, arms, the groin and other areas -- pieces that, with a helmet, weigh about 35 pounds.
There is also the issue of agility. In our zeal to turn every Soldier into a walking fortress, I think some lose sight of the fact that our doctrine and tactics are about taking the fight to the enemy, rather than absorbing enemy fire and calling for exfil. You simply cannot move if you're kitted out like King Arthur and your effectiveness is degraded. Let's not forget why Soldiers are out there: to find and kill the enemy. In OIF III, we fielded the shoulder guards. I have never seen anything so restrictive to one's arm and shoulder movement. They might as well have issued us straight-jackets. We refused to wear them and sent them back to the warehouse to be removed from our property book. Eventually, "higher" deemed that only turret gunners were required to wear them. We generally complied (METT-T dependent).

As for the total weight, it is surprising that if these items are only 35 pounds that Soldiers are still carrying so much weight. I wonder where the statistics come from. Obviously, Afghanistan requires heavier loads simply due to water requirements alone. But in Iraq, the average combat load for us was 13 magazines (probably less for most units), 1 gallon of water, 2 frags (probably less for most units), a first aid kit that weighed maybe a pound or so, another pound for an NVD, and then either a radio, shotgun with 8 rounds (probably not carried by most units), or some other item - none of which weighed more than 10 or 12 pounds. By my guestimation, that's about 40 or 50 pounds (I'm overestimating to account for batteries), to include an M4, at the most, added to the 35 pounds of armor and helmet. SAW gunners and M240B gunners did not carry the "other item" so the total weight wasn't too much more for them - maybe 10 pounds more at the most. (Note the several instances of "probably less" and "overestimate"). If all of this weight were being carried in an ALICE pack, then I could see how it would get old really quickly. But given how we carry this stuff now - close to the body, distributed evenly - this amount of weight was barely noticable. I've really got to question the physical training of someone who feels overly weighted down by this.

Regarding one item of protection noted - the groin protection - that weighs almost nothing. I kept it folded up, underneath my RACK and when the shooting started simply leaned forward and brushed the guard down into position. I'll take the risk of muscular-skeletal injury over the risk of losing the family jewels.

Lastly, there are some legitimate points in this article, but I've got to raise the BS flag on this part...

Quote:
Sgt. Waarith Abdullah, 34, is struggling to recover at Fort Stewart, Ga., from a lower-back injury that he says was caused by the strain of wearing body armor for long hours each day during three deployments to Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Abdullah's injury flared up painfully during his most recent 15-month deployment to Balad, Iraq, where he had to maneuver to search vehicles and stand for 12-hour shifts in guard towers.
(emphasis added)
What the heck is going on in Saudi Arabia that requires wearing heavy "combat" gear? "Maneuver" to search vehicles? And what is this guy weighted down with while standing in a guard tower? Body armor, according to the article, is 35 pounds. What other gear is this guy carrying, versus having readily available at his post? Could the author have found a more ridiculous example to illustrate an otherwise legitimate observation? I've seen pregnant Soldiers able to work harder than this.

Last edited by Schmedlap; 02-01-2009 at 01:38 PM. Reason: Spelling
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Old 02-01-2009   #4
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Light weight, capable, flexible, is known. Pick up an REI catalog or GALLS. We've talked about this before, but nobody is listening.

Next time somebody snags a Taliban insurgent, weigh his entire kit.
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Old 02-01-2009   #5
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Next time somebody snags a Taliban insurgent, weigh his entire kit.
I think the usefulness of that observation is limited. If we kill 100 Taliban in one day, our adversaries don't lose much sleep. If we lose 5 Soldiers in one day, it imperils public support for the war. Hence the body armor.

Also, the Taliban can afford to travel light because he can hide among the people. If he runs out of ammo, he can throw down his weapon and mingle with the locals. If a Soldier runs out of ammo, then he's probably getting his head chopped off.
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Old 02-01-2009   #6
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Originally Posted by selil View Post
Light weight, capable, flexible, is known. Pick up an REI catalog or GALLS. We've talked about this before, but nobody is listening.

Next time somebody snags a Taliban insurgent, weigh his entire kit.
True, but when the much heavier kit is more bulletproof, the senior leaders who made the right decision to go with the lighter gear will be crucified by the same media for not giving the soldiers the very best (now defined by how resistent vs how light) it is.

Real Catch-22.

I had to chuckle a bit at GEN Chiarelli's comments about humping a heavy ruck. I really like this guy as a person and have tremendous respect for him as an officer. This is a general who walks the walk when it comes to taking care of soldiers. The reason I chuckled though, is because he is Cav/Armor thru and thru, and is far more likely to put a dash of fuel in his coffee than ever hump a ruck! I had the privelege of working for him back in 2002 in Army G-3 during football season, and as he is a Univ of Washington alum, it led to some good banter with this Oregon State product.

For weeks I had endured good natured ribbing about us SOF guys and our dewrags and general disregard for good military decorum. Come the week of the big game between UW and OSU I challenged him to a small wager during the evening shift change (which this 2-star never missed, morning and night he ran the rehearsal and the actual brief...not to cover his ass, but to ensure he knew the issues and the product was tight, and he did and it was). Gen C was immediately up for the bet and asked me what I would be willing to wager. Simple, if my team lost, I would stand the next shift change wearing a Kevlar. If his team lost, he would stand the next shift change wearing a dewrag. Suffice it to say the wager was too large...

But I know this, whatever the best combination of light weight and good protection is available, this general will bet his stars to see that the soldier receives it.
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Old 02-01-2009   #7
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Default "A hundred pounds of lightweight

S**t is still a hundred pounds" as the old saying goes.

Part of the problem is that we default to a technical solution for everything. As we miniaturize something and make it smaller and more compact and lighter we (or industry) comes up with something new that will enhance our missions that much more. Communications, computers, more weapons and ammunition and of course the emphasis on force protection (which is not a bad thing but we have to understand that protecting a soldier from a kinetic weapon requires sufficient mass). And as long as we have large rucksacks and load bearing equipment and vests on which we can attach and hang things we are always going to add something new that we think we will need or supposedly help us to better accomplish the mission or protect us. Like nature abhors a vacuum, if there is space on a soldier (or in his ruck) we will fill it!!
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Old 02-01-2009   #8
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The thing that bugs me, is equipment that is fairly effective will be the first on the "cut" list. Body armor has grown, and perhaps needs to be scaled back, but I do not buy that it is the key weight holding us back. Part of this is from how the weight of the armor is carried and part is from what I have seen many units carry in the fields. I have seen units carry breaching kits on every patrol, take way more snivel gear then they need to survive, overload ammo, water etc etc. These items are carried in a backpack that carries the weight off balance from the body, while the armor weight is distributed across the torso. And really, do you need a breaching kit on every patrol? Why not keep it in the support vehicle and call it up if you need it, unless your going specifically on a raid. Just becouse there is space in your "3 day assualt pack" does not mean you need to fill it. I'll stop here before I wander too far from my point.
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Old 02-02-2009   #9
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I remember this discussion occurring during Desert Storm/Shield, where the average dismounted 11C seemed to be carrying 700 pounds and a labrador retriever everywhere in the reports. Is it true that whereever there is space on the soldier, we feel a need to fill it. However, we have definitely lost sight of the METT-TC analysis which should go into equipping soldiers pre-mission. While we do the best we can for risk mitigation (Shoulder armor, groin protector et al), the point on the breaching kit is right on. In motorized maneuver, where the dismount is supported with vehicles, it is only appropriate to factor this support into the equation.

I also found it interesting the quantity of injuries and 10th MTNs story of success. While I agree that the average human structure is not really designed to carry the full weight of the basic combat load, the reality is that with proper conditioning, everyone can carry the 35 pounds of IBA and ACH. The truest warrior athletes train harder and are even more capable of enduring the additional weight. Does it suck? Sure, but conversely it beats the alternative. Improve the pre-mob physical training, and I suggest that the results will improve.

I am left to wonder though, if the decrease in physical fitness of the incoming soldier is related to this as well. I remember seeing 18-20 year old trainees who struggled to do a 10 minute mile at Reception station in the late 90's. I was recently at Ft. Bragg and saw two shaved headed non-combat patched members of the 82nd, who looked barely old enough to be in uniform. They were chowing at Arby's and were clearly doughy. I assumed that they had just gotten there, as they certainly didn't make the profile of the Airborne yet. I suspect that upon donning their gear, they would break under the weight. My point is - Does the incoming post-teenager now represent a physically weaker specimen? I am sure I would have struggled at 10,000 feet as a 34 year old platoon sergeant, but I could see these two getting injured doing gate vehicle checks and standing in the tower above.

Further the technology provided by industry is also at fault here. Radios down to the individual - I get it. Tacking on additional sensors? As a tech guy, I dig it. However, as a trooper I am only carrying it if there is real, responsive, and tangible benefit to me at the end of the day. So if the sensor gathers raw video data for example about the mission, then analyze it immediately, and feed it back to my platoon's leadership, so that tomorrow I am smarter because of what we did. If not, the sensor is getting left under my hammock. The reality is that too many current sensors or information requirements do not really assist the troopers who feed the data into the information monster. Close the loop and then I will carry it. To Reed's point, we would instead cut the effective stuff in exchange for the shiny objects.
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Old 02-02-2009   #10
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My comments are those of a civilian who has no practical experience in this area beyond camping and chasing juvenile deliquents down the street after jumping out of a patrol car so I expect to get torn to pieces. But...

This problem has been around for a long time. Hoplites could never catch peltasts unless they wanted to get caught or made a big mistake. Peltasts generally couldn't hold against hoplites. You needed both. Maybe we are reaching that point again. Maybe we need to develop a corps of skirmishers of some kind who would have some chance of catching or keeping up with a Taliban running up a mountain.

I think no matter how fit a heavily armored trooper is, he isn't going to match a very lightly equipped man in moving about.

If I remember correctly, one of the things used to judge increased American success againt the VC/NVA was how many contacts were initiated by them against us vs. how many were initiated by us against them. This is probably being tracked in Afghanistan. If some units are going about less heavily burdened than others, might this not affect how many contacts they started and could that be compared to other units?

Lastly, I talked to a guy once who was in the South African Army when they used to run long patrols in Namibia and Angola. The troops were given very wide latitude in deciding what they did and didn't want to carry. Would this be an option for our troops?
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Old 02-02-2009   #11
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Default ESAPI Plates

I have fairly detailed coverage of body armor at my site. I have called for weight reductions so many times I have lost count. But there is something that everyone should face regarding this issue, or there will be no path forward on it.

The low hanging fruit has been picked. Period. The soft panel armor has been scaled back to minimal, losing only ounces or at the most a few pounds. The carrier (which is very low weight itself except for the groin and neck protection itself on the MTV) is light, the soft panels slightly more weighty, but the ESAPI plates HEAVY.

Unless and until we invest the dollars into the innovative design and testing of new hard plates (ceramic or otherwise), there will be no further weight reduction while maintaining the same level of protection. We must find a way to reduce the weight of the ESAPI plates. Our Soldiers and Marines deserve it. This means dollars, national labs, studies in fracture mechanics with finite elements codes, and real commitment rather than just nice words.

Now, for the weight. The IBA (and Marine newest, MTV or its replacement in Afghanistan which reduces the soft panel coverage a little) is about 32 pounds, give or take a few ounces. It's almost all due to ESAPI plates (well, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but the majority of it is plates). But when you hear about the heavier loads, it's because, of course, they attach other gear (e.g., gun via a carabiner, ammunition, eye wear such as ballistic glasses, hydration system, etc., etc.). Most of the time the systems total out at 65 - 85 pounds, and that is if they don't have a backpack, at which point they might cross the line at 110 pounds.

Body armor is weighty, but it isn't the only thing that adds load to our troops. But the main target of weight reduction if we wish to improve the IBA / MTV is the ESAPI plates. I come back to this point again and again, because it is so true and obvious that I'm surprised that anyone even tries anything else to decrease weight. I advocate spending dollars where it will make a difference rather than trying to pick high-hanging fruit that won't help.

Best, HPS
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Old 02-03-2009   #12
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1. If we're talking about the weight carried on Soldiers' backs, then I agree that we need to find ways to reduce weight. Climbing around mountains with 85 pounds of gear on your torso, plus a full weight (60? 80 pounds more?) on your back, and doing it everyday for a year in sweltering heat - we need to work on that.

2. If we're only talking about standard equipment that Soldiers wear on their torsos then I don't see any issue. Okay, so we've got 85 pounds (usually less) of vest, plates, ammunition, explosives, first aid kit, water, weapons, NVDs, and communication gear. As it is worn now, that's not a problem. It is distributed evenly and close to the body.

I agree that the body is generally not going to react well to the heavy weight, giant ruck, and steep terrain trio (paragraph 1). But if you can't keep up with the standard equipment evenly distributed and closely held to your torso (paragraph 2), then you're probably in the wrong line of work. I think the R&D, in that regard, would be better spent on breathable, cooler uniforms that reduce sweating, thus reducing water intake.
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Old 02-03-2009   #13
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Default But ...

I am assuming, Schmedlap, that the low hanging fruit has been picked for the other gear like it has for body armor. It really doesn't make any difference to the warrior whether the weight is coming from his backpack, hydration system, first aid supplies (for Corpsmen or Combat lifesaver), ammunition or body armor.

The point is that we can fiddle with the small stuff that won't make any difference, or we can attack the large stuff that will. ESAPIs are the gold mine. Fix this problem and you fix the problem of battle space weight.
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Old 02-03-2009   #14
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I think that where the weight is carried is very significant. Years of humping a 60 to 120 pound ALICE pack - before the advent of the interceptor or SAPIs - always sucked, no matter how much training preceded it. Patrolling in 85 pounds of gear distributed around my torso was nothing.

I agree that reducing ESAPI weight would be a significant step in reducing overall weight. But I also think that even if we reduced the amount of weight on the torso to zero, things aren't going to change all that much for the guy humping a ruck in the mountains of Afghanistan. Let Soldiers patrol those mountains with just a rucksack and no vest/plates/load-carrying equipment/etc and they're still going to develop the muscular-skeletal problems discussed. Figure out a way for them to patrol with the standard equipment that Soldiers have in Iraq, but no ruck, and I think the problem goes away.

Unfortunately, for the Soldier in Afghanistan, I don't see any way to supply him with water, food, batteries, and ammunition without requiring him to carry it.
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Old 02-03-2009   #15
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Default I concur

With the above.

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Old 02-03-2009   #16
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Unfortunately, for the Soldier in Afghanistan, I don't see any way to supply him with water, food, batteries, and ammunition without requiring him to carry it.
How about pack animals?
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Old 02-03-2009   #17
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The question I asked myself, and had my Team Sergeant ask our bubbas, is "Do I really need this?" If the answer was no, put it in your bugout bag or in the truck. If the answer was yes, hang it somewhere. Even so, the reality of our tactical situation often had us with loads that were certainly a consideration in planning the missions. Our agility was certainly not what it would have been without the armor but I imagine agility is also heavily degraded when 7.62x39 or shrapnel are investigating your innards. Not a truly serious point there but I can safely say that I saw guys saved by their armor and I can't think of a single instance where someone was wounded/killed as a result of wearing their armor.

There is little doubt that the weight of gear needs to be reduced but I'll be darned if I can find where that is going to happen. Sure, lighter armor is a good place to start. But, the truth of the matter is that it is on the leadership to evaluate the tactical situation and plan the approach load appropriately. That is, until Mother Army gets around to designing our nano everything gear.
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Old 02-03-2009   #18
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Default Popular Science...

...reported on this a while back, interesting, but I am not sure about it's practicality in the real world. I suspect that's why we are still issued rucks

Politicsbyothermeans,

Vehicles are indeed nice to have. Good to see another ca-bubba here.

Regards,

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Old 02-03-2009   #19
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But, the truth of the matter is that it is on the leadership to evaluate the tactical situation and plan the approach load appropriately.
Methods for doing that have existed for nearly 100 years, yet the US Army does not employ them. Each time I brief a solution, there's the old "Oh we can't do that." - "too dangerous, too risky, we'll get sued etc etc etc."

Everything I see, says the situation is set to get worse.
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Old 02-03-2009   #20
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How about pack animals?
I think that addresses the medical concerns, but not always the tactical ones. I understand some ODAs had good experiences with them. But I can't imagine that working well for the types of missions that an Infantry Battalion will be doing; at least not to a degree where the Soldiers will all be able to ditch their rucks.
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