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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Weighing the Options

Weighing the Options

Every time I hear some liberal Democrat ranting about our not providing enough armor to protect the troops I just shake my head and tell myself, that idiot’s obviously never humped a ruck in combat. Hell, most combat infantrymen in my day didn’t want to wear a steel helmet even though they knew it offered significant protection from head wounds. I wish I had a dollar for every time I had to say, “Put that steel pot on, soldier! Now!” I knew fellow NCO’s who volunteered for Special Forces just because those guys never had to wear pots, even into combat.

For an infantryman, who must carry not only the weapons, ammunition and communications gear with which to fight, but also the food, water and clothing to sustain his fighting ability for up to several days, everything has a weight to value ratio as well as a weight to mobility ratio. In Vietnam, every paratrooper in my battalion was issued a gas mask in a canvas, carrying bag. After several months in country, I was instructed by the battalion CO to inventory all the chemical protection equipment in our unit. Guess what? While nearly all of the troops still had the carriers strapped to their legs when they went out on operations, most contained changes of socks and underwear or candy or smokes, all things which were of greater value to them than a bulky, heavy, rubber, seldom-if-ever used gas mask.

Unless the infantry has changed a great deal from my time, which this article makes me doubt, (among the subjects interviewed are a truck driver, a graves registration marine and a military police officer) the actual groundpounders, who need to be fleet of foot when the balloon goes up, don’t want to be inordinately weighed down when the ability to move may be the most important factor in surviving a firefight. When the shooting starts, you want to be able to jettison that rucksack or whatever else you’re carrying that isn’t essential to the immediate situation at hand. You can always come back for that gear once the shooting stops. Conversely, and by necessity, body armor must be worn all through the fighting and may in fact encumber some individuals to the point their combat skills are degraded.

If you read the comments following the article, you will see that others who have been there agree. The most astute comment is the one observing that intelligent local command discretion should be used in making the determination as to whether additional armoring up contributes to or takes away from the success of the immediate mission. If this sort of mission-specific logic is applied to the use of body armor, I will wager that infantry units, when involved in foot operations, where they have always gone into battle with minimal protective gear, will consider that weight to value/mobility ratio and opt for less weight and more mobility. It is significant that even some of the non-infantry personnel are complaining of armor-induced constraints.

Believe me, if the troops doing the fighting really need something badly in this email- connected age, you can bet they’ll be letting their families and their politicians back home know about it. As for the combat-deprived, reality-challenged, liberal Democrats attacking the administration over this issue at every opportunity, I would remind them there is a reason for the military designation, Light Infantry:

It’s the weight, Stupid!

Russ Vaughn

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