Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Weight of War

Today's Washington Post reports on increasing injuries to soldiers from the weight of their gear. Equipment loads--weapons, body armor, ammunition and communications gear--range from a 97 to 125 pounds, according to one study.

That's a hell of a lot more than I carried in Vietnam, a load that was plenty damn heavy, maybe 65 pounds for the three days until the next resupply chopper. I never learned how to lift that pack on to my back--I had to sit down, put my arms through the shoulder straps and slowly stand, using my M-16 as a crutch. About three months into my tour, I transferred to the company command post to carry a 20 pound radio strapped to the top of my pack. I no longer had to carry a 200 round belt of machine gun ammo but the radio and spare batteries were definitely a net wieght gain. The radio was at least interesting; I certainly was better informed.

So I know what it's like to carry a shitload of gear. Harder to imagine is functioning with all that encumbrance (the Romans called it impedimenta). In Afghanistan soldiers are operating rugged terrain at high altitude against a lightly clad, highly agile adversary. My adversary in Vietnam was also light and agile. So were our best forces but mostly we were the cumbersome, lethal US Army. Commanders are asking for lighter gear--a technical fix. That was the default solution in Vietnam also. Not an encouraging portent. Just as individual soldiers find their bodies breaking down at the long, heavy loads, the American polity is as likely to suffer from overload.

Backpacking guides recommend pack weight at no more than one-third of body weight. I keep mine at 25 percent. It's still noticeable but doesn't kick my ass like the 65 pound packs I carried on some of my early long hikes. My experience has been far more pleasant since I cut the pack weight so dramatically. I recommend that America take a hard look not only at the loads individual soldiers carry but also at the weight of its fears.



Blogger Patrick said...

Rezdog, it really is bizarre that the military thinks these weights are reasonable. Talk about making someone a target!

The only time I've ever carried over 60 pounds was on easy terrain (Paria Canyon--about half water) and it still kicked my ass.

8:50 PM  

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