Thoughts on the Combat Light Meme
(My goal with this blog is not now, nor has it ever been, to be a cheerleader for the regime’s security forces, nor to pick fights within the community, based on doctrine, tactics, techniques, or philosophy. There’s more than enough of that shit going on. However, when I see someone post something of note, I feel it incumbent to add my personal experience-based thoughts on the subject in question.
Tonight, CA posted some links to the CombatLight guys. While I agree with some of the goals and philosophy of their pages, too much of it is simply wrong to not comment on them. –J.M.)
I’ve attended the Level 3 SERE course at Camp Mackall, NC. It’s a “great” course, for what it is, but it’s not what these guys apparently think it is. Yes, there is some survival/evasion training, but the majority of the course is concerned with POW resistance. It’s not a “live-off-the-land” course. Further, there’s no way a modern Army, guerrilla or otherwise, is going to “live-off-the-land” in the manner these guys are implying. This is the same misguided belief that claims survivalists will run to the mountains and live off deer and elk, or eating grubs and bugs. I’ve taught primitive living skills for a living, and I don’t want to do that shit for real if I can at all avoid it. Thinking a combat patrol can take the time to set traps and snares, or forage around, digging for grubs and bugs, while still having the time to actually accomplish anything, demonstrates a disturbing lack of experience in any of the subject areas discussed.
The philosophy of Combat Light is spot-on, but it needs to be tempered with logic, common sense, reality, and experience. A fucking laminated card in your pocket is NOT going to keep you alive.
Nevertheless, the acronym DROP, for Decide on the mobility level necessary to accomplish the mission, Reduce/Remove any unnecessary gear, Organize a means to transport unit gear, and Police the ranks, is spot on, and has been mentioned in these articles before. Guys should only be carrying what they need, to accomplish the mission, and nothing more. Nevertheless, reducing loads beyond that level is foolhardy at best, and criminally negligent at worst.
The Combat Reform guys claim that “Your rucksack is a unit logpack (logistics pack), not an individual’s “mobile home.” This is complete horseshit, especially from the guerrilla standpoint. While your rucksack should be used to carry mission-essential gear, it also needs to carry your essential survival gear, from food and water, to sleep gear and shelter. As Arctic Patriot pointed out in the comments on WRSA, a buttpack shelter system isn’t going to suffice in an arctic or sub-arctic environment, without some serious fieldcraft training. There is no reason that a light fighter using modern, lightweight gear cannot get his basic survival load in his ruck to weigh far less than 20 pounds, leaving adequate weight-space for mission-essential equipment (Even in the Combat Reform article, they mention the requirement to use a vacuum sealer to get your Gore-Tex into a compressed space enough to fit. I’ve carried some strange shit in the field–cast-iron dutch oven anyone?–but who the FUCK carries a vacuum sealer? Or do they think guys aren’t going to actually USE their Gore-Tex?).
Please, for the love of all things Holy, do not try and tell me that, even though you’re an old guy, who can’t do the kind of PT and physical feats the “young guys” can, that you’re suddenly going to be able to patrol, day-in/day-out, and perform combat operations, living out of your buttpack, while the young guys are sissies for wanting their sleeping bags, wet-weather gear, and food, because it’s bullshit, and we both know it.
The Combat Light guys go on to tell us how to “fight combat light,” which further leads me to question their actual combat experience:
a. One e-tool per every 2-man buddy team because only one can dig at a time while the other provides security, and it must be on his ETLBV not his rucksack! (This is a solid idea, and correct, except for the part of carrying the e-tool on your LBE. The LBE needs to be as LIGHT as possible. I’d rather dig with my fucking combat knife than carry a fucking e-tool flopping around on my plate carrier or war belt while trying to infiltrate stealthily).
c. Extra BDUs are unnecessary. One set on your body can easily last one week or more. Dry out during the night in your poncho-tent…(Someone has obviously NEVER operated in a wetlands environment, or even just rain, in winter or fall…You don’t just dry out. On my first rotation through JRTC at Fort Polk, Louisianna, my platoon had at least six of us go down with hypothermia and/or frostbite, from crawling through the bayous all day, then the temperature dropping below freezing after dark and not being allowed to change into dry BDUs….). SF and the British SAS both teach that a guy should carry one spare, dry change of clothes. You sleep in the dry clothes, then put your dirty, cold, wet shit back on when it’s time to move out. Yes, you risk it getting wet too if you suddenly have to run-and-gun while wearing the dry stuff, but more importantly, you’re sleeping and recuperating when you’re supposed to be, rather than fighting to stay warm and alive.
d. Individual Fighting Gear sublimation: the two canteen covers on your ETLBV should be covered, multi-use pouches and the canteens themselves flexible, collapsible, so if they are emptied of water can be stuffed in the buttpack and the pouches used to carry AMMO, grenades, etc. for firefights. All M16/M4 magazines with pull cords to clip onto a snaplink to not get lost when emptied in a firefight (okay, this is fucking retarded. SOG and LRRP teams in Vietnam liked to use 1-qt canteen covers to hold magazines, because they needed so many to be effective in a contact. Modern MOLLE-type options make this unnecessary, and digging around in a canteen pouch is horribly inefficient versus pulling a magazine out of a dedicated pouch. As far as the snaplink for hanging magazines from…uhm….yeah….uhm….that’s beyond retarded. You’re either doing a speed reload, in which case, the least of your concerns is magazine retention, or you are performing a tactical reload, in which case, you’ve got time to shove it in a pocket/shirtfront/dump pouch. Hanging it off the front of your LBE to bang around and get fucked up or in your way, is just, well….you know….). Two field pressure dressings taped to the stock of weapon for entrance/exit wounds and to act as “cheek weld” for firing positions (good idea, but a CAT-T has replaced the field dressings for extremity wounds, and keeping with the doctrine of Tactical Combat Casualty care means you’re going to want/need other medical gear close at hand. That’s what your IFAK/BOK is for.) Camelback on your back puts 70 more ounces of water (100oz now) available on the move, and should have a purification filter so any water source can be used to pump fill the reservoir and the two 1-qt canteens (I don’t disagree with this, although I seldom carry water on my war belt. I keep a 100oz Camelback on my plate carrier and another in my ruck). Goggles or binos held in chest pouch worn over top of body armor (I agree with this too). Natick stove/canteen cup in your rucksack for parachute jump, transferred to your LBE for water boiling/hygiene at first opportunity (why wouldn’t you just leave it on your canteen on your LBE in the first place? When I do carry a Nalgene bottle on my warbelt, I keep a stainless steel cup nested around it).
e. Unit Mission Gear sublimation: ropes, radios, and batteries, Claymores, MG spare barrel bags with tripods, CLS bags, etc. whenever possible are carried on the back of the designated soldier by their own carry straps, avoid requiring the rucksack to carry FIGHTING LOADs; rucksacks should be LOGPACK with generic extra supplies, and even then as a packboard is best configuration to carry heavy, dense ammunition (this is again evidence, to me, of a writer with little real-world experience, or at least recent experience. Anyone with sense would rather have one load on their back, in the form of a tight, well-packed rucksack rather than ten or fifteen different pieces of gear flopping around as he tries to infiltrate or IMT. This goes back to the reality that if your basic survival load is less than 20 pounds, the weight of the mission-essential equipment can be effectively cross-loaded and keep ruck weights reasonable enough that mission-essential gear can be carried, and removed as needed).
7. Test for Combat Heavy not Sports Illustrated: The current sports t-shirt, shorts and running shoes APFT should be junked in favor of a 6 mile march for time with full combat equipment; rucksack, LBE, basic load of ammo, helmet, BDUs, boots. If we can achieve 4 mph with “combat heavy” loads with rucks on our backs, then when we cache the rucks we should be able to go 4-7 mph “combat light” (As regular readers are aware, I don’t have a specific problem with this combat. I think gym-based PT, especially in the form of weightlifting and running, have a very important place in combat conditioning, it is important that we remember what we are training for. It’s not a bodybuilding competition, nor a marathon. I will say though that a 15-minute mile, especially with a 20-30 pound sustainment load, is pretty fucking minimal. I’ve done 10-minute miles with 85 pounds in my ruck, plus LBE and weapon, for 12 miles every two weeks as a conditioning training. The 15-minute mile is a good waypoint however, on the journey to combat fitness! I’d like to see groups adopt the Ranger Physical Assessment Test–RPAT–as a standard of fitness measure, but realize that I’m probably pissing upwind.)
Speaking specifically on the letter from a Rakkasan 1SG, this has been picked to death for lessons learned by people within the infantry and special operations communities. My analysis on this is nothing new or novel:
“I guess the biggest lesson I learned is nothing changes from how you train at JRTC. We all try to invent new dilemmas and TTPs because it’s a real deployment but we end up out-smarting ourselves. Go with what you know, stick with how you train.” While there have definitely been modifications to the TTPs used prior to the GWOT, and for we irregulars, there will continue to be changes necessary to the doctrine, the fundamentals are proven. More importantly, train how you expect to fight, then fight how you trained. If you’re going to do field training exercises, live out of your ruck, have your guys sleep in patrol base formations, stick to field rations, etc….
“Some of the things in particular were Soldier’s load, because you’re in the mountains of Afghanistan, you try to invent new packing lists, or new uniforms, Some units went in with Gore-Tex and polypro only, when the weather got bad they were the only ones to have cold-weather injuries that needed to be evac’d. We’ve all figured out how to stay warm during the winter so don’t change your uniforms. It was never as cold as I’ve seen it here or Ft. Bragg during the winter. While I definitely saw it colder in the Stan than I have at FBNC or FCKY, he’s right in principle. If a guy has spent time training in cold-weather, he knows how to stay warm. Inventing some new-fangled method, simply because it’s “real-world” isn’t the route to travel. If you’re actually training now, instead of just talking about it and reading internet forums and blogs, you’ve figured out what works for you. Experiment now to develop the systems that will work for you and be adequately light, then stick with it. Talk to lightweight backpackers, study what homeless people are doing, and talk to guys who’ve got combat experience in light infantry and special operations units, to determine what has worked. Figure it out now, instead of waiting until you’re running-and-gunning through the mountains, trying to stay three steps ahead of the security forces.
“Because of the high altitude and rough terrain, we all should have been combat light.” Travel light, freeze at night, the mantra of the infantry exists for a reason. It works. However, logic, common sense, and experience tells us we can travel light enough to interfere with combat effectiveness. Guys HAVE to get rest when the opportunity exists. They need to eat to maintain energy levels. They need to stay healthy. Carry only as much as you must, but carry what you must.
“That’s the first thing you learn at JRTC, you can’t fight with a ruck on your back” Dead Horse. See above.
“We packed to stay warm at night. Which was a mistake; you take only enough to survive until the sun comes up.” This demonstrates one of the key differences between modern conventional-force infantry and irregular and unconventional force elements. The conventional force guy knows he’s only in the field for so long. The irregular force may be in the field for weeks or months at a time.
On the other hand, since the 1SG has a valid point in that you should be operating at night, and laying up during daylight, as much as possible. So, if you’re moving at night, you’re going to be able to get away with less snivel gear than if you’re sleeping in a static position at night, when it’s cold. The other issue we had, as SF guys, was pulling Strategic Reconnaissance missions on ridge-tops at 10,000+ feet. Staying in a static hide-site means you NEED snivel gear to survive. What you pack is going to be dependent in large part on your operational parameters. METT-TC is critical.
“We had extreme difficulty moving with all our weight. If our movement would have been to relieve a unit in contact or a time sensitive mission we would not have been able to move in a timely manner. it took us 8 hours to move 5 clicks…with just the (IBA) vest and LBV, we were easily carrying 80lbs. Throw on the ruck and you’re sucking…We out-smarted ourselves on how much water to carry. We took in over 12 quarts per man on out initial insertion, which greatly increased our weight. In the old days you did a three-day mission with 6 quarts of water, and that was on Ft. Campbell in the summer. Granted we were all heat casualties at the end but it’s more than doable. I say go in with six quarts, if your re-supply is working, then drink as much as possible, keeping the six quarts in case re-supply gets weathered out. We also overtasked our helicopter support bringing in unneeded resupply because we’ve lost a lot of our needed field craft.”…We didn’t even think to take iodine tablets until after we got on the ground. Jesus, THAT sounds familiar….Again, carry what you need, but no more than you can. Don’t forego armor in favor of feel-good shit. Some readers have seen me go hard as fuck physically, for a class on nothing but a few granola bars, Coca-Cola, and some kiddie fruit snacks. I can actually go weeks on light field rations. Yes, I lose some weight and strength, but that’s part of why I insist on being big and strong and fast in the first place. I’d rather carry water than food. If I had to give up weight due to strength limitations, I’d give up some of my water load before I’d give up body armor. I can carry a lightweight filter, or even some ION purification drops, and half the water.
“If you’re in a good fight, you’re going to need all your birds for medevac and ammo resupply. Bottom line is train at the right soldier’s load and relearn how to conserve water.” Folks, we’re not going to have air support for CAS or resupply or casevac. What vehicles we’re going to have for support trans are going to be needed for more important shit than carrying shit we should be carrying on our backs. If you’re doing vehicle-based operations/patrolling, first take a class on how to fight around/from in a vehicle, then pack your vehicle the right way. Otherwise, learn to fight effectively, the way fights actually happen, instead of how you fantasize about it going, and learn how to set up and carry your gear.
“How many batteries does it take to sustain for three days (or three weeks…), etc?…Take what you need to survive through the night and then wear the same stuff again…the next day, you can only wear so much snivel gear. It doesn’t do any good to carry enough to have a different wardrobe every day. Have the BN invest in Gore-Tex socks, and SmartWool socks; our BN directed for everyone to wear Gore-Tex boots (ICWB) during the mission, you can imagine how painful that was. I gave up my boots to a new soldier who didn’t have any so I wore jungle boots, Gore-Tex socks and a pair of SmartWool socks and my feet never got wet or cold even in the snow.” See my above statements on extra clothing and snivel gear. A set of snivel gear, an extra set of dry clothes for sleeping in, and that’s it. Focus the rest of your survival gear load on survival gear. After that, focus your load on shit that helps you kill the enemy.
“You need two pairs of boots so you can dry them out every day.” No, you need lots of dry socks.
“All personnel involved hated the LBV. It’s so constricting when you wear it with the vest, then when you put a ruck on it cuts off even more circulation. I would also recommend wearing the body armor during all training. I doubt if we’ll ever fight without it again. It significantly affects everything that you do.” There are a lot of guys in the preparedness/Liberty community who pooh-pooh the idea of wearing body armor, whether because it is “too heavy,” or they “can’t afford it,” or some deluded belief that it’s not macho. All I can say is, if you’ve ever been in a gunfight, you’ll be a fan of body armor. If you haven’t, the first time you end up in a gunfight, you’ll either be glad you spent the shekels on it, or you’ll be eating dirt, wishing to hell that you had invested in some. There are very few operational considerations that would convince me to forgo wearing it. If you do invest in it, you damned sure need to be training in it. As the 1SG points out, it significantly affects what you do, from how you wear your gear, to how you mount your weapon.
“Equipment wise, your greatest shortcomings were optics and organic or direct-support long-range weapons. After the initial fight all our targets were at a minimum of 1500m all the way out to as far as you could see. Our 60mm and 81mms accounted for most of the kills. Next was a Canadian sniper team with a McMillan .50 Cal. They got kills all the way out to 2500m…I recommend all SLs (squad leaders) and PSGs (Platoon Sergeants) carry binoculars with the mil-dot reticle. Countless times TLs (Team Leaders) and SLs had the opportunity to call in mortars. More importantly is leaders knowing how to do it. Our BN has checked all the blocks as far as that goes. Guess what, they still couldn’t do it. ..” I keep a 45X spotting scope in my ruck, and 10X binoculars on my PC. Why? Because I want to be able to see the enemy long before he sees me. I want to be able to accurately read and assess the terrain between he and I, so I can effectively select routes of movement that will provide me adequate cover and concealment. If you’re part of a group, someone in the group needs to be running a large-caliber anti-material weapon, such as a .50BMG or a .338LM. If you’re not, but have the funds, invest in one yourself.
Do some research and find plans/prints for a 60mm mortar and munitions for it. Get some machinists in your network who will be able to manufacture them when the need arises. Study how to employ a “knee mortar” (DO NOT TRY AND FIRE IT BY RESTING IT ON YOUR KNEE……). Invest in a Havoc or other 37mm “grenade launcher” and training rounds and learn how to put rounds on target. When the time comes, have your machinists bore it out to 40mm and rifle it, then manufacture or steal 40mm rounds. Hell, steal a M203. Indirect-fire weapons will be your friend.
“It was always seats out due to the limited number of aircraft and the number of personnel we had to get in. That presents a few problems. Off-loading a CH-47 on a hot LZ packed to the gills is an extremely slow process (2-3 minutes). Landing was the most dangerous part. While we were there just because of the conditions and terrain, if you crash without seats and seatbelts you’re going to have a lot of broken bones…..” Go back and read my article on the old site about air defense…..
“Gators didn’t hold up too good, that place eats up tires like you wouldn’t believe. They’re great thing to have when they’re running…” The Combat Reform guys made an editor’s note here about this being why we “need” tracked vehicles, since one of their raison d’etre is the resurrection of the old M113 APC. The problem is, tracked vehicles are NOT the terrain eating monsters they are made out to be, and are just as liable to get stuck as a wheeled vehicle. Never mind the fact that the M113 and an ATV have two entirely different fucking roles….We didn’t have a lot of problems with our Gators, but we relied on the Polaris ATVs and Hi-Luxes more.
“Go in with a good or should I say great zero on all your weapons. We never got a chance to re-zero while we were there.” This is a critical lesson for irregular force guys like us to internalize. Your rifle needs to be zeroed, right-the-fuck-now. Unless your Nostradamus cap works better than mine, you don’t have any fucking clue when this shit is going to step off. Next month, next week, or ten minutes from now, unless you know, you need to be ready to go right now. If the Stasi stacked on your door right now, is your weapon ready to fight with?
The real point of looking at these topics in article form is to encourage guys to think outside of the box, but also to emphasize the importance of looking at what has worked and hasn’t worked in recent experience, and the importance of getting realistic, effective training to determine what actually works for YOU.
Somewhere in the mountains