A reader reacts to yesterday’s photo of two heavily laden soldiers in Zabul Province
By Ryan Woods Best Defense department of the soldiers’ load Just a quick hit on the picture on your Afghanistan piece today that I’ve just been thinking about lately. Seriously, the combat loads that the U.S. military saddles people with are just crazy pants. 60 lbs just to walk around? INSANE. Batshit crazy. Foolish. Dangerous. ...
By Ryan Woods
By Ryan Woods
Best Defense department of the soldiers’ load
Just a quick hit on the picture on your Afghanistan piece today that I’ve just been thinking about lately. Seriously, the combat loads that the U.S. military saddles people with are just crazy pants. 60 lbs just to walk around? INSANE. Batshit crazy. Foolish. Dangerous. Stupid.
Even the military’s own reduction goals per that report are in no way adequate. They need to be shooting for a weight reduction along the lines of 80-90 percent (at least). In other words a total re-imagining of what it is our troops NEED to be lugging around, the design/materials/build of every last piece of equipment and probably for good measure, a reassessment of how each piece of stuff promotes an actual part of whatever given mission…all the way up to how each piece of stuff supports our overarching strategy in a theater.
Probably the best place to model this on would be to take a page from (unfortunately named) "extreme alpinism." EA is as much a philosophy as a segment of the sport, positing (basically) that every gram you carry does nothing but slow you down and expose you to more danger on your climb and so you should only bring the absolute brutal minimum. Weight = time = danger. It sounds insane but in the last 20 years or so it has been the philosophy behind some pretty amazing feats, ones that are simply impossible using a convention load. Ultralight backpacking is of a piece if not quite as…er…extreme. (See here also.)
This approach leads to a virtuous circle: lighter, more selective equipment leads to being able to use lighter, more selective equipment and the ability to move faster…necessitating less equipment…whereas the current paradigm forces heavier and heavier loads as a way to "manage" the heavier and heavier loads. The perfect example of this is the water loads, WTF! Duh, if a guy has to wear 60 lbs of crap to walk around in the summer, he is going to sweat balls and need to drink like a fool, which means he has to carry more water, which means he has to drink more water just to carry all his water. Bangs head. Or…why does a guy need big huge boots? To keep from turning an ankle trying to run under fire whilst carrying 100 lbs of crap he’s never going to use. Of course!
And I’m sorry, but if you were an Afghan villager, and one of these sweating alien-looking a-holes in moon-boots plopped down in your village, would you be helpful or just derisive? Yeah, me too.
I imagine that the single thing most corrosive here is the body armor/helmets. And believe me, I totally get why someone would want to wear it. But it is just like a medieval knight…too bogged down, sweaty, and hot with the weight to be effective. Weight = time = danger. And I am sure that the armor, just like a knight’s armor, physically removes people from interacting.
Side benefit: Even if they get the full load down to 20 lbs (an amazing, if not really radical, reduction in crap), you are looking at female soldiers being comparably much more effective.
I am not now nor have I ever been in the military. I am however a lifelong serious outdoors junkie and know a thing or two about being outside and figured I’d toss out a totally different paradigm.
Ryan Woods is a lifelong backcountry skier, hunter, outdoorsy gear obsessive who has been known to overpack but recognizes the value of light packing.
Thomas E. Ricks is a former contributing editor to Foreign Policy. Twitter: @tomricks1
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