Topic: Soldiers' Load
A Soldier's Load
From Dirty Little Secrets; Military Information You're Not Supposed to Know, James F. Dunnigan and Albert A. Nofi, 1990
A properly outfitted medieval knight was less burdened by his armor than a modern infantryman is by his full set of equipment. After all, though a knight's armor might occasionally weigh as much as 100 pounds, it was rather evenly distributed over his body, and he had a horse to help carry the load, while an infantry's burden rests disproportionately between his shoulders, and he has only his two legs to help carry it. In this century, the weight of an infantryman's equipment and arms has consistently been excessive. About eighty pounds has been rather common, a hundred pounds not unusual. The Russian "norm" for paratroopers is eighty-eight pounds. In extraordinary cases, the load could run much higher, so that some American troops went into Grenada and Panama with 120 pounds, and in the Falklands British troops "yomped" as much as 140 pounds.
Armies have been aware of the problem for almost as long as it has existed. Studies by the U.S. Army suggest that no soldier should carry more than about 30 percent of his body weight—say, forty-eight pounds—into combat, nor more than about 45 percent—seventy-five pounds—in other circumstances. Yet efforts to lighten the load have proven only moderately successful, and run counter to the trend toward more gadgets and specialized equipment needed to meet the changing character of the battlefield: In effect, any savings gained by using lighter equipment of one sort is canceled by the need to add yet another doodad.
Consider the rifleman's basic load:
- Clothing, Boots, Personal Items – 21.1 pounds
- M-16, Loaded and with 6 Spare Magazines – 16.3
- Grenades, 2 – 2.0
- Helmet and Flak Jacket – 11.6
- Sleeping Bag and Accessories – 10.0
- NBC Protective Gear – 8.5
- Entrenching Tool – 2.5
- Rations for One Day – 3.0
The total comes to seventy-five pounds, but includes only the most basic equipment, with just 210 rounds of ammunition. Now, think about the effect on overall weight caused by the need for additional ammunition, rations, and such commonly issued items as nightvision goggles (1.9 pounds), portable radios (2.9 pounds), LAW antitank rounds (4.7 pounds), and, soon, handheld satellite-navigation receiving sets (secret). Then think about special cold-weather gear. Nor is the rifleman's burden the worst. A grenadier's is about 8.9 pounds heavier (grenade launcherv and grenades in lieu of M-16). A man toting a SAW — "squad automatic weapon," formerly known as a light machine gun—carries 14.5 pounds more, and a mortarman something like 40 pounds more. The troops, of course, are very aware of the problem, and in combat tend to shed equipment rapidly if not closely watched and well-disciplined. Usually, the first things thrown away are those they consider least useful. But it's all likely to be useful, depending upon the situation. The root of the problem is that the infantryman should not carry too much equipment, but everything he has to carry will be desperately needed in some circumstance.