Tuesday, May 10, 2016

SHTF Self-Education Series: "From the Library" The Soldier's Load and the Mobility of a Nation

The Soldier's Load and the Mobility of a Nation - Col S.L.A Marshall (US Army)
A Partyzantski Tuesday Book Review

     One factor that bears down upon us all - prepper, military, police, Wal Mart shopper alike is the load that one carries.  One cannot help but sense the physical pull of gravity, especially after carrying a pack all day.  It robs you of attention, sensation and energy with every step.  To provide some historical perspective on this subject, I am breaking out the S.L.A. Marshall classic, "The Soldier's Load and the Mobility of a Nation" to provide you with some solid background on how much people can realistically carry and do their job.

     This topic carries a great deal of personal familiarity for me, as it will many service men and women, whether or not they have read it to date.  As we age, we have less ability to recover physically from the wear and tear of activities taken under loads, both large and reasonable.  We all have run with SAPI plates in a carrier, with canteens, rifle, ammo, helmet, radio... the weight creeps up there quickly.  That weight translates into injury.  You can tear discs in your back, suffer bulging discs as your body struggles to handle the load for days, weeks, months... years.  Vertebrae get small fractures, arthritis sets in.  I predict that there is going to be a silent epidemic of osteopathic related injuries to the back, hips and knee/ankles of America's military.

a used Large ALICE pack, complete with external frame and straps

     On to the work itself.  Written by S.L.A. Marshall, one of America's foremost military historians, the work was copyrighted by the Association of the United States Army in 1950.  That the work is over a half century old does not invalidate the conclusions of the work one iota.  If anything, modern military leadership should turn their attention to this work to better comprehend just what they are asking of not just Infantry and other combat arms, but of logisticians and clerks alike.  They all carry the same general load, dictated by policy for the most part.

     An aspect of the work is the intersection of psychology and exhaustion.  Marshall addresses this early in the work, relating several examples of strong men becoming utterly exhausted in combat.  His statement that "worn out men cannot fight or think" on page viii of the introduction is such an immensely important consideration, a consideration that the community may not have a full appreciation of.  This issue MUST be considered, in rest plans, duty rotations and other expectations.  The character who expects to be  firing on all cylinders, day on day on is not just mistaken, but is dangerous to the well being of his fellows.

Not an endorsement of the NVA and VC, but take a look at what they carried as light infantry.

     The actual text after the intro, is about 120 pages, is broken into two sections.  The first is, naturally enough, "The Mobility of the Soldier".  To cut to the chase, the conclusion is that the load a man can carry in combat has not historically varied much for recorded history.  That load is about 50 pounds.  More than that, and you become ineffective quickly.  The terse wisdom and numerous examples provided by Col. Marshall need to be soaked in by the Reader.  There are hard won lessons in here for ANY person, hunter, shopper, and so on.  Overburden yourself and others at great peril.

     The second half of the work, "The Mobility of a Nation", gets to the operational and strategic reasoning for moderating loads effectively.  Note that you NEVER will have enough transport assets.  Being judicious is one of the most effective combat multipliers out there.  On page 84-85, there is a Russian example given where the logistics needs of the Russian soldier are considered.  Multiply that simple requirement over the masses, versus the "Iron Mountain" of American logistics and you will see the absolute advantages of carrying less.  Just don't skimp on your boots, or you will regret that choice.  Here are links to boot reviews by Outdoor Gear Lab and Backpacker Magazine.

     Col Marshall wraps it up in the end with a neat bow, linking mindset and mobility through a series of vignettes from his personal experience and that of the staff.  What I desire the reader to take from this is the concept that there is a great benefit in discipline of the ounces.  You are preserving your spirit, energy and capability for the true work at hand, and shunning the role of pack animal.

If you spend time outdoors, you will WANT one of these .... the WOOBIE.
Amazon Link to buy a MARPAT Woobie HERE

Thanks for visiting, reading and hopefully sharing.  You may enjoy some of  Partyzantski's previously published book reviews listed HERE.

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Fix. Bayonets.
Never Retreat.  Never Surrender.


DTG said...

"worn out men cannot fight or think"

Eggsactly right!

I'll echo many others much more well-versed than I to underscore the importance: PT, culling gear, getting the best equipment you can afford (such as really good hiking boots, clothing, etc), including as part of individual training whenever possible carrying one's rifle around all day, ruck walks of varying distances and weight intensities, balancing nutrition, sleeping on the ground in uncomfortable positions, etc, staying hydrated through natural or man-provided water sources, all help in preserving strength and energy for as long as possible.

Imagine, if you will, how exhausted one may be when one is in shape and used to the various tasks required and compare that to some of the stereotypical images available of people on ranges sporting large 'mobile food storage units' between their chins and belts. Further, imagine those folks on a 'forced march' of 5 miles an hour.

Nice review, by the way.

Adam Carter said...

Thanks for this timely article. Here's another good site for boot reviews: http://www.militarymorons.com/equipment/footwear.html

They review a lot of other stuff as well.

Stop shouting... said...

@DTG: AMEN. He's been preaching this FOREVER. I only wish people would start to listen!

Stop shouting... said...

Thanks for dropping by. Field evaluations of equipment are always highly valued. I hesitate to recommend "one" boot, because every person is facing different terrain conditions and has different needs. The core requirement always is good arch and ankle support. Hope to see you again soon!

Anonymous said...

I have spent a long time saying this in just about every internet forum. The load list's advocated by most "tactical trainers" and "preppers" are at best ridiculous and at worst suicidal. MANY of the students of men who advocate damned silly combat loads, brag about hauling 75 to 80 pound loads BEFORE they put on rucks. All the while chanting "YOU CAN DO IT WITH ENOUGH PT" and claiming that 60 year olds can ruck march 200 pound loads. These are men who are praised by the internet militia warrior as "combat experts" even though they have repeatedly demonstrated a total lack of both experience and knowledge, and saying damn stupid things on there personal blogs over and over and over. BUT: If you claim to be god on the internet, somebody will build you a church----Ray

DTG said...

Here's one 60 year old's opinion on ruck weight, conditioning, and equipment posted on another blog regarding the practice of adding body armor:

I look at folks who carry a full ruck, a full harness (or vest), 8 to 12 mags, and then put on body armor, which totals everything to around half their body weight (that's about 100 pounds these days) or more, and ask, “So….how far and how fast do you think you can carry that?”

Point being not to denigrate, but to get them to think about speed and stamina vs. ‘force protection’ mindset that seems to be slowing down 20 something combat troops when they need to run, let alone the 40 to 50ish ‘neighborhood defender’ who doesn’t do PT every day, might be carrying 20 extra pounds or so of his own weight, and hasn’t carried a load for more than a couple hours in a very, very long time.

Personal example on the equation of weight carried v performance capability: I’m routinely carrying up to 80 pounds up to 10 miles at a shot with no breaks. I don’t do 10 miles all the time; sometimes I do a couple miles at a run/walk pace (last time I checked I did 4 miles @ 13.3 mph). I also vary the weight I carry from 30 pounds and up for conditioning. Sometimes I run as fast as my body will let me carrying the various packs for as long as I can which might be 50 meters or up to 500 meters. My conditioning level has told me that should I have to have on more than a ruck (harness, rifle, etc), which will be the case in a SHTF scenario, I’m going to have to ensure that everything equals 80 pounds or less. Pack, rifle, harness, water, ammo – all of it. If I add plates, I have to cut down the pack,or harness proportionately so I don’t go beyond 80 pounds, because at 60, that’s my max for being able to move a particular distance and still perform when I’m done…..

So yes, diligence in staying fit is a part of it; ensuring you have only what you need in equipment is another part, and erring on the side of ammo, water and food in your equipment is the 3rd leg of the stool, IMHO.

DTG said...

Correction on my above time: 13.3 minutes per mile....NOT 13.3 MPH!!!