Another Former Enlisted responds: The 152 pound load is just one more outdated way of approaching today’s conflicts
- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Sebastian Bae
Best Defense Council of the Former Enlisted
Aaron, good piece with well-argued points. I enjoyed it. However, I have a few problems with your argument, though I’m not saying I agree with the Colonel either.
Yes — the infantry is a physical profession. Physicality is important both in terms of the respect you earn in the infantry culturally, and as a metric of being able to perform your duties.
However, I believe that the infantry’s emphasis on physicality over intelligence is a joke. The fact you can get into the enlisted infantry with a pitiful 32 ASVB is laughable. Meanwhile, it is open knowledge that the military education system, even for officers, is less than rigorous and challenging. So, if you are going to fight COIN and have a modern warfighter in today’s complex geopolitical and challenging battlefield, you need to stress intelligence and nuance as much as pull-ups and long-distance humps — and arguably more.
Secondly, the trend even in the Marine Corps is to move towards technology that lightens the load for the infantry so they don’t have to carry 152-plus pounds. It causes all the chronic problems so many Marines have after their service and the pure costs in healthcare and benefits is staggering and eating into the Department of Defense’s budget. My argument for the standards to be changed, not necessarily lowered, is that the nature of military operations is changing in several ways — technology, policy, budget, etc. As much, the Marine Corps and the Department of Defense at large have to adapt to those changes and start creating new standards to shape the kind of fighter they want.
Lastly, the fact we, as warfighters, walked around in the deserts of Iraq and hills of Afghanistan and carried heavy gear didn’t stop us from losing the war. Our superior physicality as individuals didn’t win us Afghanistan or Iraq at the end of the day. We can win all the fire fights we want, carry all the gear we can muster, but none of it amounted to anything enduring. And if the lessons of Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq taught us anything, it is that asymmetrical and irregular warfare, which is growing increasingly common, is deceptively hard to win, and the emphasis is less on force and physicality, and more on policy and winning the narrative. The fundamental point is: The fact that Marines moved from one FOB to the next, patrolling like well-armed mules, didn’t produce results for over ten years. The perennial game of whack-a-insurgent equated to little lasting effect. Ultimately, the patrols didn’t amount to anything, and we kept cutting off the heads of the hydra and it kept sprouting more. So why keep a standard for your warfighter that doesn’t build your ability to win wars?
People say not to fix the system if it ain’t broken, but the last decade of the GWOT says the system is quite broken — from policy, strategy, manning, and tactics. So, measuring women in the infantry by the 152 pound ruck sack metric isn’t useful for the future. It is an outdated metric for an increasingly irrelevant type of warfare.
Sebastian Bae co-hold the Marine chair on the Best Defense Council of the Former Enlisted. The other co-holder is Aaron Ferencik, to whom this piece is responding.
Photo credit: Sgt. Sarah Anderson/U.S. Marines