Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Physical training: How to have a unit run to maximize its combat effectiveness

We’ve had mucho discussion lately of running, so I was struck by RVN SF VET’s commentary, which comes at this from the approach not of the individual but of a unit seeking to maximize its combat effectiveness. It is worth considering the difference. By a RVN SF VET Best Defense combat fitness correspondent I was ...

The U.S. Army/Flickr
The U.S. Army/Flickr
The U.S. Army/Flickr

We've had mucho discussion lately of running, so I was struck by RVN SF VET's commentary, which comes at this from the approach not of the individual but of a unit seeking to maximize its combat effectiveness. It is worth considering the difference.

By a RVN SF VET
Best Defense combat fitness correspondent

I was out on the dock last night talking with a Marine from the 1960's. I was surprised to learn how smart his ANGLICO leaders were "in the day." He told me that they ran in formation in full combat gear! BUT, they switched to a march at the half-mile to regain cohesion and then began to run again. They ran very long distances. They were doing a variation of the fartlek while using it to regroup and keep together. 

We’ve had mucho discussion lately of running, so I was struck by RVN SF VET’s commentary, which comes at this from the approach not of the individual but of a unit seeking to maximize its combat effectiveness. It is worth considering the difference.

By a RVN SF VET
Best Defense combat fitness correspondent

I was out on the dock last night talking with a Marine from the 1960’s. I was surprised to learn how smart his ANGLICO leaders were "in the day." He told me that they ran in formation in full combat gear! BUT, they switched to a march at the half-mile to regain cohesion and then began to run again. They ran very long distances. They were doing a variation of the fartlek while using it to regroup and keep together. 

The mission was to get to the end with every Marine — NO ONE WAS LEFT BEHIND. (Essentially, the Marine Corps mantra.) So, if a Marine was starting to flag, another Marine took his rifle. If that wasn’t enough, another Marine took his pack. If he was still in trouble, two Marines would get on either side of him, grab his belt, and propel him to the finish. If necessary, I think that they would have carried him. No fall-outs! 

Of course, it was not acceptable for this to happen to the same man repeatedly, "but anyone can have a bad day." This is a very different type of long unit run. This is a completely different philosophy. This was a combat philosophy.

They were told that they had to arrive with maximum combat power. They needed that rifleman. That’s the way it should be. How could they have been so smart? 

They wore the wrong shoes and carried a lot of weight, but they did the run as intelligently as possible. How do we forget these things?

RVN SF VET was in the shit before you were in your diapers.

Thomas 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 ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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