Fundamentals of Fieldcraft: Packing for Partisans: A Conceptual Approach to Equipment Selection and Load-Bearing, Regardless of Position or Duties, with Specific Examples
(This article is a revision of a series I wrote in the very beginning of the blog, entitled “Equipping the Guerrilla Fighter.” I have been thinking about this subject a great deal, since coming across a “prepper” manual on the subject that, while well-written, and well-intended, was poorly thought out and approached from ignorance of reality. Idealism is seldom a bad thing…unless it fails to be tempered with reality. Instead of focusing on specific items and recommendations, for the paramilitary guerrilla security force dude, or the auxiliary Home Defense guard, or even the underground operative, we’re going to approach this topic from a genuinely conceptual approach, so that anyone can look at it, from genuine Gus the Guerrilla to Polly Prepper, and figure out how to approach the issue from their own perspective and needs, with a systemic approach.
BTW–My apologies for the length. It was 22 type-written pages….J.M.)
The partisan, whether guerrilla, auxiliary, or underground, must learn to function as a light-infantryman in the classical sense of the term. Regardless of his or her operational environment–wilderness, rural, suburban, or urban, he is, conceptually, a woodsman-scout. The partisan must learn to operate in a manner that emphasizes the expert use of his personal small-arms for self-defense, the use of stealth in all of his movements, including the use of available terrain for cover and concealment, in order to counter the supposed technological advantages possessed by potential hostile forces, and an expert grasp of the fundamental concepts of small-unit, “hit-and-run” maneuver warfare.
The partisan must possess the trained ability to operate day or night, over varied, broken terrain, using field-craft expertise and whatever limited technological assets are available to him, to escape the interdiction of his movement by his enemy. Like his woodsman-scout forebears of the American westward expansion, the modern partisan needs to develop a system that requires him to carry only the necessities to ensure his survival and effectiveness. Additional, unnecessary weight leads to excessive, accelerated fatigue, impedes and slows movement, and leads to a compromising over-reliance on the technology represented by his equipment, rather than his native wit and skill in field-craft.
The traditional light-infantry paradigm cannot be found in the Stryker Brigades, LAV-equipped Marine Corps units, or even HMMWV-mounted convoys that drive to a disembarkation point two kilometers from the objective (although all of these certainly possess value in their own right!). The light-infantry paradigm is found in field-craft, mobility, tactical expertise, and marksmanship/weapons-handling. The ability to sneak inside the enemy’s OODA Cycle-defined reactionary gap unnoticed, strike with overwhelming violence-of-action at his weakest points, and then disappear into the surrounding environment before a reaction force can be mustered, is the definition of the light-infantry paradigm. This “hit-and-run” ability and mindset, is the chief tactical advantage available to irregular forces in a technologically or numerically disparate battle space.
The conventional-force military today generally lacks a true light-infantry capability, outside of a small number of limited-application units, such as Long-Range Surveillance Units (LRSU). The fundamental problem, the over-burdening of foot-mobile infantry soldiers, has existed nearly as long as armies have existed, and has been a subject of study and debate for nearly as long. The modern development of advanced, even “lightweight,” technological war fighting assets, has exacerbated the problem rather than remedying it, as soldiers have had communications tools, STANO (Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Night Observation) equipment, and soldier-tracking devices, added to their load. Despite the best efforts of military logisticians and theorists, the load of infantry soldiers has continued to increase. The modern conventional-force “light” infantryman is often required to carry loads far in excess of 120 pounds, even when operating in difficult, broken, and steep terrain such as the alpine environments of the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan.
The load of infantry forces has been a subject of intensive study and research since at least the 1700s, and is still a problem that seems immune to a convenient, realistic, and effective resolution. Technological advances in weapons, STANO, communications, and personal protective equipment (PPE), have all added to the soldier’s load. Even rabid attempts at miniaturization and weight-reduction have only slightly mitigated these issues, and once mitigated, the gain are quickly overshadowed by the addition of more equipment deemed “essential” to the soldier’s survivability. Worse yet, continually lowered standards for physical fitness, as a result of a steadily declining level of fitness in the general population recruiting base, has made the ability to carry the necessary weights an equally large part of the problem.
According to an unidentified infantry First Sergeant, from the 187th Infantry Regiment (“Rakkasans!”) of the 101st Airborne Division, concerning load-bearing equipment during Operation Anaconda back in 2002,
“We had extreme difficulty moving with all of our weight. If your 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 klicks. With just the vest (Interceptor Body Armor vest) and LBV, we were easily carrying 80 pounds. Throw on the ruck and you’re sucking.”
During World War Two, the US Army conducted research studies that found that the average infantry rifleman had carried approximately 55 pounds from the skin out (FSO) during movements in the field, on foot. These studies concluded that this was about the maximum weight that the average soldier could effectively carry during the approach march, and still be able to fight once he reached the objective. A decade later, a follow-on study determined that this still applied, but allowed for a maximum 48-pound fighting load, in actual combat (i.e. on the objective), if carried by a CONDITIONED FIGHTING SOLDIER.
The fighting load is doctrinally defined as the actual load carried by a soldier during combat, while actively engaging the enemy with their personal weapons. The approach-march load, on the other hand, is the load carried by the soldier, in order to survive, while he attempts to get close enough to the enemy to prosecute a fight. Despite the results and knowledge gained by these studies, by 2003, soldiers engaged in dismounted combat operations in the mountains of Afghanistan were carrying a 60-80 pound fighting load, while their approach-march load was often in excess of 120 pounds. In some instances, particularly in the case of M240 Machine-Gunners, the approach-march load could be in excess of 150 pounds.
As the previously cited comment from the Rakkasan’s First Sergeant noted, today’s conventional-force “light-infantry” personnel simply cannot move fast with his doctrinal load, especially in restrictive terrain environments such as steep alpine locations. It is important to remember however, that these loads are necessary only in areas that restrict the use of vehicles and air assets, forcing the infantryman to revert to his roots as a man-mule. Sadly however, as numerous studies conducted during Operation Enduring Freedom evidenced, these loads were predicated on a regular re-supply via rotary-wing aircraft, or ground-vehicle convoy every 48-72 hours for water, food, and ammunition. This means that, much of that load was basic survival equipment, and war-fighting equipment.
The partisan cannot expect to have the support assets available to effect re-supply every 48-72 hours. He will be forced to live off his own preparations, in the form of caches, native wit and ingenuity, and what he can carry, with the hopeful, but certainly not guaranteed largesse of his community, as an auxiliary supply source. The partisan, again, regardless of operational area, must overcome these liabilities. The ability to function as the woodsman-scout, carrying all he needs for survival, will be absolutely crucial to his survival.
There are several lessons we can learn from the Special Forces and Special Operations Forces community when it comes to developing our own TTPs and SOPs for setting up equipment selection and load-bearing equipment. Number one amongst these, is the generalized rule that, the best thing you can do, from step one, is to minimize your load-bearing requirements, through the use of extensive re-supply caches and safe-houses throughout your operational area.
Next, we can adopt the concept of the three-tiered, survival-load/fighting-load/sustainment-load approach to equipment selection and load-bearing. The survival load is comprised, quite simply, of those items that can be carried on the person, daily, not attached to his fighting load, that can help ensure survival. The conceptual approach to the survival load should be that it can allow the individual to escape and evade hostile pursuit, while surviving in the operational environment, for an indefinite period of time.
After the 1st line “survival” load, we approach the 2nd line “fighting load.” This is the equipment required to allow the individual, within their operational requirements, to prosecute a fight against the anticipated enemy, based on METT-TC. Finally, we deal with the 3rd line “sustainment” load. This is the equipment required by the partisan, to sustain himself, for as long as necessary, while moving to the enemy’s position, or away from the enemy’s position, as the case may be. It may also be the equipment necessary to move from one secure area to the next, in order to avoid unnecessary, or undesirable contact.
Using the three-tiered, survival/fighting/sustainment load approach to equipment-selection and load-bearing, allows us to maximize the software-centric approach that value training and experience over and above the hardware-centric approach that too often takes precedence within the community specifically, and American culture generally. Too often, even amongst survival “experts,” the solution to the equipment-selection issue is misinterpreted as a hardware issue. Never rely on the “Altoids Survival Tin” approach. The focus should, instead, be on the effective use of field-craft and survival knowledge, facilitated by real tools that are available to you.
To look at this subject from the software-centric approach, we look at what roles the equipment in each load must fulfill. We’ve previously discussed SMOLES in this blog, on the specific subject of “bug-out bags.” What is often overlooked is that SMOLES will actually cover any of the three tiers of load-bearing, and that SMOLES can be further divided into different sub-categories, to ensure that no requirements are overlooked. Let’s look at how we define SMOLES, then we’ll take a look at how we break each category of gear into sub-categories. Then, we’ll apply those to each tier, with specific examples from my own selections, to help make the conceptual approach, more specific and increase clarity.
SMOLES is an old acronym from the Special Forces and Ranger survival training culture that represents the necessary areas that should be provided for with your survival equipment. It stands for: Self-Defense, Medical, Observation/Optics, Land Navigation, Extreme Weather Conditions, and Survival. Each of those can further be sub-divided, based on the tasks necessary to fulfill the obligations inherent within the category.
- Self-Defense. Self-defense, in our paradigm, can range from protecting yourself and your family from a mugger in the city on a Friday evening, to defending your family on a camping trip from a gang of MS-13 gangsters, to self-defense in combat. Regardless, the three broad categories that we need to address are: Shoot, Move, Communicate.
- Medical. Medical care in our paradigm can range from the band-aids and aspirin of the the “boo-boo” kit, to the trauma medical care of TC3’s Care-Under-Fire and Tactical Field Care phases.
- Observation and Optics. This can range from a pair of decent binoculars to NODs and Thermal Imaging devices, depending on METT-TC and your capabilities.
- Land Navigation. Map-and-compass. Map-and-compass. Map-and-compass. Map-and-compass.
- Extreme Weather Conditions. The general assumption, when we begin discussing dealing with extreme weather conditions is the need to survive in extreme cold weather, like we deal with in the winter time here in the American Redoubt. As any of the bloggers in the region will “gleefully” inform you right now however, we’re dealing with extreme heat, in thetmental, base level of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs: Oxygen, Water, Food, and Shelter (which includes clothing, which is nothing more than individual shelter from the elements…). In addition to understanding these, we need to understand the Rule of Threes. You can survive three minutes without Oxygen, three hours without Shelter, three days without Water, and three weeks without Food.
In order to address each of these categories, we will look at the sub-category requirements of each, then look at them in more detail with some of the ways we can fulfill those requirements, for each tier of our equipment-selection and load-bearing paradigm.
The Survival Load
The survival load can be defined as those items the partisan carries on his person, either in his hand, in his pockets, or on his belt, but are separate from his fighting load tier of equipment. The concept behind the survival load can be most simply defined as gear that will allow the partisan to escape and evade contact, provide for self-defense, and survive indefinitely, if not comfortably, long enough to return to the control of his friends and family.
For the underground or auxiliary member, the Survival Load may be all he carries with him on a regular basis, whereas the guerrilla fighter may have the benefit of carrying a fighting load on his person as well during actual security operations. However, even for the guerrilla, the conduct of a clandestine infiltration of denied-territory, or the need to simply dump all of his gear in an effort to run faster while trying to escape an overwhelming enemy force while breaking contact, the need to develop an carry a 1st Line Survival Load-out is critical.
At it’s fundamental level, the survival load consists of:
Self-Defense Items. These can range from a simple folding knife or ASP baton that can be used to defend yourself, to the more practical concealed carry sidearm. While I am an advocate of “Never bring a knife to a gunfight!” my experiences and training, leading to recognition of the importance and truth in the so-called “21 foot rule” (more properly, probably the “30 foot rule”), lead me to also be an advocate of “Never bring a pistol to a knife fight!”
As a matter of practical application of science, I will always choose a firearm over a contact weapon, but I also recognize the importance of being able to defend myself until I can get my weapon into the fight. That means, as important as my sidearm is, my combatives abilities are as important to my survival load, if not more so.
In extreme evasion scenarios, daily self-defense, or covert or clandestine operations conducted in denied territory in built-up areas, my sidearm may very well end up functioning as my primary weapon. The necessary prerequisites are that it be utterly, unfailingly reliable and readily concealable. Because the sidearm plays a dual-role in a resistance situation, as both a personal defense weapon and a direct-action combat operations primary weapon, against multiple possible hostiles, a magazine-fed, high-capacity, self-loading pistol is really the only logical choice for this selection (as a slight historical/technical footnote, while I’m not denigrating the 1911 variants, for those of you who carry high-capacity 1911s, like the Para-Ordnances, I’d like to point something out…If you’re carrying a double-stack “1911” then you’re not carrying a fucking 1911. John Moses Browning never–to the best of my knowledge–designed or built even a prototype double-stack 1911. Calling it a 1911 is the equivalent of calling a Browning Hi-Power a 1911, because they share similarities.).
In addition to your sidearm, you need a method to carry it. This can range from “Mexican Carry” by shoving it down the front of your pants (not something I recommend with most striker-fired pistols like the Glock…), to a holster. You also need sustainment for the weapon, in the form of additional magazines. These can range from carrying a spare mag in your pocket, to dedicated pistol mag pouches on your belt.
As specific examples, I carry a Glock 19 in a Raven Concealment Systems VG2, Appendix-Inside the Waistband. I choose this method of carry, despite the potential safety issues (after all, the gun is pointed at my dick and my femoral artery...) and the minor discomfort (when I sit, the muzzle is jammed into either my dick or my femoral artery), because it offers several very distinct advantages over other carry positions. Number one, it’s smoking fast to draw from the appendix, even under a cover garment. Number two, and perhaps more important to me, I’ve got more positive control of the gun. It’s in my workspace, and easy to defend against gun-grab attempts. Number three, it’s the easiest place there is to conceal the weapon. I do NOT recommend the A-IWB carry for novice gun carriers. Let me repeat that, I do NOT recommend the A-IWB carry for novice gun carriers. The margin for error from inept or careless gun-handling are too slim, and the drawbacks to those errors occurring are too severe.
Additionally, if your “sidearm” is serving as your primary weapon, then the ability to reload the weapon, in order to continue to prosecute the fight. Determining how many reloads you need to carry as part of your survival load out will necessarily be METT-TC dependent (Personally, I’m ALWAYS an advocate of carrying as much ammunition as you’re physically capable of carrying without interfering with your ability to fulfill your role. I make it a point to carry no less than two spare magazines for my Glock in every day carry–EDC– and those are G17 mags, for my Glock 19).
In addition to your sidearm, a back-up weapon is generally a good idea. This can be a second sidearm, or it can be a knife. For my purposes, a knife makes more sense. While I advocate a general field-utility knife, the possibility of using it as a combative weapon to create a path to your sidearm should never be overlooked. My choice of survival load cutlery has run the gamut from a Benchmade folder in my pocket (I don’t carry any folding knives except Benchmades, as I’ve explained in previous articles) to a Cold Steel push-dagger, to a RAT III bush knife. The primary requisite is that it should be small enough to be readily concealable and carried daily, while being large enough to actually be functional as both a weapon and a tool.
Medical Items. The Blow-Out Kit on my fighting load fits into a double-stack M4 magazine pouch. Unfortunately, walking around the mall or Wal-Mart with a double-stack mag pouch on my belt would be neither practical nor prudent. At a basic level however, your survival load medical items should facilitate you being able to provide basic Care-Under-Fire TC3 care to yourself or someone else. This means a tourniquet of some sort, and a pressure dressing and compressed gauze or CombatGuaze. In my normal TC3 classes, as part of the Patrolling classes I teach, I advocate against the carry and use of two things: TK4 tourniquets and QuickClot compressed gauze. In my experience, and the experience of numerous 18D Special Forces Medical Sergeants that I’ve discussed the subject in-depth with, the CAT-T tourniquet is preferable, by an order of magnitude to the TK4, and regular compressed gauze is as effective, while being far less expensive, than the QC product.
For the survival load however, a TK4’s primary drawback (lack of a windlass device, to ensure adequate tension to stop deep-tissue arterial bleeding) can be overcome in an EDC (Every Day Carry) environment, through the application of an expedient windlass device. QC comes in a much more low-profile packaging that compressed gauze, making it simpler to conceal tucked in a pocket, than H&H compressed gauze that is my preference in a fighting load BOK. Combined together, the two can also form a pretty reputable replacement for a battlefield dressing like the Israeli Battlefield Dressings.
In essence then, the medical items in your survival load should, in light of your level of knowledge and practical expertise, provide you with the ability to stop massive hemorrhage for Care-Under-Fire. For me, the carry of a TK4 tourniquet and QC compressed gauze, answers that need.
Observation/Optics. The need for optics in the survival load is often, in my experience, over-emphasized. I can certainly see the need to be able to look back and search out pursuers, or to look ahead and determine likely areas of enemy concealment along my route. However, outside of specific METT-TC determined needs, which makes them part of the fighting load, the only Observation/Optics need I include in the Survival Load is a pair of sun/safety glasses.
In the mid-1990s, the Ranger Regiment issued every Ranger a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses as part of his CIF (Central Issue Facility…your basic issue of equipment). Nevertheless, Rangers were not allowed to wear them, because it was considered non-uniform (WTF,O? I never have been able to understand that…). Today, thanks to lessons learned from operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the use of safetyylenses is generally accepted as mandatory. Polarized, tinted lenses during the day, with ANSI Z87 safety ratings, will increase your visual clarity, reduce eye strain and fatigue, and protect your eyes from common battlefield debris flying around. While these can range from $10 glasses from Wal-Mart or your local Stop-N-Rob, the two most popular manufacturers of “tactical” safety glasses are inarguably, Oakley and Wiley X. While the argument can be made that the Wally-World China-Mart specials are less conspicuous than the latest cool-guy, CDI tactical selections from Ranger Joe’s, I’ve seen enough oilfield workers wearing Wiley X and Oakleys, that I’m not particularly convinced of that being an issue, at least until gangbangers start shooting people for their sunglasses like they used to for their Air Jordan Nike shoes.
A dedicated flashlight is also pretty critical to your survival load out. While you may carry a weapon-mounted light, although it can be difficult to do with IWB concealed carry, you also need a separate hand-held flashlight. While I, like many people, prefer simplicity in my technological gear, I do advocate for one of the multiple purpose, cool-guy tactical lights for this role (I carry a StreamLight PT2L. It’s an LED light, and has a variable-mode tailcap operation that allows for a 260 lumen bright light, a completely fucking useless high-intensity strobe function, and a dimmer light at a mere 13 lumens for general purpose use. While I used to carry a low-powered miniature light on my key chain, the 13 lumen low power on the Streamlight made this unnecessary)
Land Navigation. I personally subscribe to the view that all of your land navigation issues can be met by carrying a decent orienteering or USGI lensatic compass and a laminated topographical map as part of your survival load.
(I don’t do GPS, for numerous reasons, all of which have previously been described, in detail, in this blog in the past. If you prefer a GPS, more power to you. I will say however, that if you run a GPS, and don’t bother learning to use a map-and-compass, then when you die from being lost in the woods and exposure, I’m stealing all of your cool shit.)
While the woodsman-scout background of the partisan light-infantryman means the fighter should possess the ability to determine directions, at least roughly, without a compass, he should rarely, if ever, be without a compass. The ability to reliably traverse terrain that the enemy considers impenetrable is the strength of the guerrilla. Possessing a compass, whether a standard orienteering compass on a lanyard around the neck, or a simple button compass on a watchband, should be considered a necessity for anyone, anywhere, as part of his ability to escape and evade when needed.
Extreme Weather Conditions. As previously mentioned, the ability to function under extreme weather conditions is not solely a matter of surviving in extreme cold weather. Triple digit temperatures, high humidity, and unrelenting overhead sunshine, can contribute to survivability issues just as severe as cold weather. Further, while cold-weather conditions can be pretty simply accommodated in the survival load by carrying some form of fire-starting device, there really are no simple answers in hot weather, except the use of a wide-brimmed hat (boonie hats or straw/palm leaf “cowboy” hats) and a scarf that can be wet regularly and worn around your neck to cool through the evaporative process.
For cold-weather, at the survival load level, dealing with extreme weather conditions is fundamentally limited to what you are wearing, although in climates like the northern boreal forest regions and high-elevation areas of alpine regions, shoving a casualty blanket folded up in a coat or parka pocket can be a life-saving addition as well. It should go without saying that a poly or knit-wool cold-weather hat is a no-brainer, as is the use of adequate thermal underwear, as long as your thermals do not contribute to heat exhaustion due to exertion.
Additionally, simply carrying a means to start fires for warmth can be a life-saver for the evader in extreme cold-weather conditions (for you readers from the South, just to clarify, 0 degrees Farenheit is NOT extreme cold-weather. Unless the temperature is dipping below -20F, or you’re soaking wet, the great outdoors is survivable without fire, assuming adequate proper clothing and/or shelter). Fire starting materials may be a simple Bic lighter, waterproof match-safe stuffed with weather-proofed “hurricane-lifeboat” matches, a flint striker, or a flint-and-steel kit. The serious survival expert will never allow himself to be caught without some means that he can use reliably, to build a warming fire to stay alive. More important than what you specifically carry, is the trained, proven (not “Gee, I bought this and watched some videos on YouTube, so I’m good to go!”) ability to utilize it under austere, extreme field conditions.
Survival. As we discussed briefly above, the requirements of survival are covered by a glimpse of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs, and an understanding of the Rule of Threes.
Oxygen, for the survival load, may be as simple as making sure you don’t end up somewhere with bad air. That could mean being able to read HazMat decals and placards. For instance, in Wyoming’s natural gas fields, walking into an “empty” condensate tank without respiratory protection will result in your very rapid demise, due to the air quality. Additionally, while the concealed carry of a military or law-enforcement protective mask is probably unrealistic, N95 respirators and/or simple paper dust masks may be adequate in some scenarios. Finally, your handy-dandy scarf for hot weather or cold weather may be enough to provide some protection when wrapped tightly around your face.
Water can be difficult to carry in any quantity. At eight pounds per gallon, water is heavy stuff, and it’s bulky enough to make concealed carry unrealistic. Fortunately, the common carry of water bottles by every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the world these days means packing a Nalgene bottle around is pretty innocuous. The ability to procure or manufacture safe drinking water however, cannot be overlooked, especially in a situation wherein your only gear is what you are carrying on your person. Historically, evaders have suffered horribly from dysentery after being forced by necessity, to drink stagnant, putrid water on the run in evasion situations. Even if you cannot or will not carry a dedicated water bottle, the prevalence of store-bought bottled drinking water, soda, and sports drinks, means that you should always be able to find a useful receptacle to carry your water, as long as you can purify it to make it safe for drinking. Whether a small contained of iodine tablets, a filter straw, or a pocket-sized “standard” water purifier, it is critical to possess safe, clean drinking water to stay alive, healthy, and effective (I personally still use a product called “ION Stabilized Oxygen” for water purification. I’ve used it all over the world, purifying water from stock tanks and ditches, without ever getting ill. It’s smaller, lighter, and more effective than any micro-filter method I’ve seen or used. I can keep a bottle in a cargo pocket and forget that it’s even there. I’ve heard of course, even from commenters here on the blog, that it is nothing more than bleach. I don’t know how it works, or why. I do know it’s FDA approved for water purification–for whatever that endorsement may be worth to you–and I know it’s worked for me.)
Food can be equally difficult to carry in quantity in the survival load. While Clif Bars and other sports nutrition bars are an often-voiced option, even they take up quite a bit of space when your carry options are limited to pocket space. My answer to this, as recently espoused in a letter that was posted to Western Rifle Shooters, is to suck it up, buttercup. In a survival situation, you’re going to be hungry. Deal with it. The Rule of Threes says you can go three weeks without dying, so a week before you can find some more food is certainly do-able. For people with dietary-based medical issues like Diabetes or hypoglycemia, I don’t have any simple answers.
Shelter for the survival load is fundamentally the clothes you are wearing, and your ability to construct shelter in the field. From tents and jungle hammocks to poncho hooches and bushcraft lean-tos, the ability to get the rain and other precipitation off of you, and methods to trap your body heat, or other heat sources, like fires, is critical to survival in cold-weather conditions. In hot-weather conditions, shelter can be equally important, if for no other purpose than providing shade to protect you from heat and direct solar radiation.
Cordage is, rightly, considered a critical tool in the survivor’s tool kit. The simple truth is, outside of a good knife, there are few things of more practical use for shelter construction than high-quality, high-strength cordage. Many long-range surveillance units (LRSU) and some ODAs make it part of their SOPs to to replace the laces in their field boots with 550 cord. It’s out of the way, readily accessible, and the survivor is never without the requisite material to construct field expedient shelters (to this day, every pair of boots and shoes I own has the laces replaced with 550 cord).
The Survival Load Conclusions
Different “experts” on survival will recommend different elements to add to the survival load. One issue with this is that, depending on your outlook, there is either no such thing as a “survival expert,” since only someone who has HAD to subsist off his survival gear could be considered to have earned this title, and then only in the specific environment where this occurred. Additionally, we are all survival experts, by the definition of we’re still upright and breathing.
When looking at the “survival load” as part a layered, tiered approach to equipment however, a minimalist approach, reinforced by solid, realistic field-craft training and survival lore, will more than adequately provide the essentials needed to keep the evader alive during escape and evasion scenarios in the remote chance that he has to ditch his fighting and sustainment loads, or is compromised and forced to E&E without the ability to procure and utilize his normal fighting and sustainment loads.
The Fighting Load
To preface this section, it is critically important that one understand that the selection of tactical equipment in preparation for future social unpleasantness must be predicated on some major philosophical constraints. Among these is the recognition that the world and nation we know is rapidly imploding around us. If this recognition exists, there are some critical issues that must be addressed. The first of these is in regard to the degree of seriousness with which one prepares. If it is simply a hobby in which you participate, because you enjoy shooting guns (and your wife tolerates your gun-hobby if you label it “preparedness”), that’s okay. There is certainly nothing wrong with that in a free society (of course, there’s also nothing wrong with me calling you a fucking moron, either). If that is the case, you don’t need to invest any more time or money than you feel like spending. You will get along just fine with inexpensive, airsoft-quality gear and base-level, budget-priced firearms and tools. However, if you genuinely believe that “bad times, they are a-comin’,” then you obligate yourself to look at your preparations in a far more serious light. In this brighter, more harshly focused light, then genuine quality becomes a far more crucial issue. How much is your life actually worth to you? How about the lives of your spouse and children? What about a successful restoration of the Constitution and the Republic?
Keeping the previously mentioned importance of maintaining the lightest possible load for the partisan in the woodsman-scout motif firmly in the forefront of deliberation, the foundation of the 2nd tier, Fighting Load is the load-bearing equipment, or LBE. While it is certainly possible for the guerrilla or auxiliary Home Guard partisan to toss a spare rifle magazine in his pocket, a bag of lunch and a blanket in a knapsack, and traipse off to war, experiences and battle damage assessments (BDA) from Afghanistan have demonstrated that this is far from an ideal way to go about this business (on numerous occasions, following airstrikes on Taliban/AQ positions, SFODAs conducted BDA and found numerous dead enemy fighters with this exact load-out). Such a poorly equipped fighter is, while certainly capable of wreaking great levels of havoc and despair on his enemies, regardless of the depth of his religious motivation, a lousy match for an equally-devoted and well-trained fighter with proper equipment.
While the partisan may spend a great deal of time in nothing more than his basic 1st tier “survival load,” whenever the situation permits, he is not going to willingly choose to go to a fight, even an unintended fight, with only his survival load.
Unfortunately, with the wide variety of different LBE available on the current market, making a suitable selection can be daunting for the unschooled. Should he copy the equipment used by an infantryman of the 82nd Airborne Division or the 1st Marine Division? Perhaps a set-up like that used by a member of the Ranger Regiment or the SEAL Teams would be cooler? Considering the difference in missions, logistics support, and organization of these different units, the answer should be readily apparent that none of these selections would be appropriate for the partisan.
The partisan must, as in every thing he does, look at this task through the filter of METT-TC. What is his mission? What is his suspected likely enemy situation going to be? What Troops will he available to him, including auxiliary support? What time factors will play a part (will he be operating at night, or only during daylight hours? All year round, or only in “good weather)?” What kind of Terrain will he be operating in (the alpine deserts and forests of the Redoubt require a different approach to load-outs than the urban jungle of large urban areas or the dense hardwood forests and swamps of the Old South)? You must base your fighting load on the likely projected circumstances of your future operational environment. While it is obvious that you will likely not possess the logistical support services available to the conventional military or law enforcement forces, it is also critical to realize that even many historical guerrilla models will not fit.
The American Prepper Partisan (ooh, another new Mosby-term?) cannot realistically expect much help from external sources such as friendly foreign nation-states, such as enjoyed by the Viet Cong from the PAVN and the PLA. The Syrian and Iranian governments aren’t likely to support American partisans following an international grid-down situation., nor are the Saudis and Pakis, as they supported the mujihadeen and Taliban in Afghanistan, through the ISI. Even during World War Two, the French Resistance, from whom this blog borrowed its original title, enjoyed an extremely high level of material, moral, and technical support from the Allied Forces High Command. Instead, the American Prepper Partisan will necessarily be forced to “live off the land,” turning to his friends and family within the auxiliary as well as pre-positioned caches, battlefield re-supply, and whatever he can carry on his person, for logistics support.
While the utilization of auxiliary support may facilitate the use of vehicles for transportation of both personnel and supplies, the ability of potential regime or foreign security forces to utilize both airborne and space-borne surveillance and reconnaissance assets for vehicle-tracking and pursuit, as well as probable fuel and spare parts shortages on the open and black markets, will mean that vehicular transportation for partisan forces will in many cases, be extremely limited. The resultant need to revert to “primitive” light-infantry, traditional foot-mobile travel will act as a limiting factor in the fighting and sustainment loads of partisans.
For several decades, following it’s official adoption in 1973 (although development unofficially started in 1961, and it was just a lighter weight modification of stuff that’d been used since at least World War Two), the standard issue load-bearing equipment of the the ground forces of the US military was the LC-1 and LC-2 “ALICE” system. Comprised of a wide, thick pistol belt with various equipment pouches and canteens suspended from it, this system used a pair of nylon suspenders to help hold the loaded belt around the soldier’s mid-section. The ALICE system was sufficient, if not ideal (in other words, she’d do, but she was a moody bitch at times…). Drawbacks included the fact that the ammunition pouches were cumbersome and slow to reload from, the canteens carriage tended to result in occasionally disabling (and always annoying) chafing and more serious injuries (I once sustained a seriously bruised pelvis from performing a PLF–parachute landing fall–on to my canteen. It left me with a pronounced limp for several weeks), and the disheartening reality that the system was neither well-balanced on the soldier’s body, nor ergonomic for the soldier’s need shoot, move, and communicate.
The Hot, Young, New Girlfriend
In the middle 1990s, the Army’s Natick Laboratories, in cooperation with elements of the United States Special Operations Command and the U.S. Marine Corps, as well as several defense manufacturers, began development of a new, modular, lightweight load-bearing system based around the Pouch Attachment Ladder System (PALS). This system is known as MOLLE (although MOLLE is technically proprietary to Natick Labs, it’s the common usage term for any type of gear that utilizes the PALS attachment system). MOLLE, like most women, has her issues, but overall, has turned out to be a pretty decent lady.
This new system, first adopted by elements of the Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and the USMC in 1997, did not see widespread adoption until 2001. It offers several distinct advantages over the older ALICE gear. With MOLLE, equipment-carrying lay-out can be tailored to the mission-specific needs of the individual. Since the equipment can be spread more evenly over the individual’s torso, instead of everything hanging off the pistol belt, it rides closer to the body’s center-of-gravity, leading to reduced fatigue, as well as less interference with general combat athleticism.
The current, ready and inexpensive availability of the older ALICE gear on the military surplus market (although it seems to be disappearing quickly these days), makes it an obvious, popular choice for many survivalists. Between the low-expense, as well as the familiarity with the gear for many older survivalists who used the gear while in the service, there is nothing inherently wrong with the selection of ALICE gear as a primary fighting load system. For all intents and purposes however, outside of your being a cheap bastard, or holding a nostalgic affection for “the good old days,” or “back when it was HARD,” the advantages of a MOLLE-based system for fighting load carrying makes it a far better choice.
General LBE Considerations and SMOLES
Especially when we consider the SMOLES considerations, the choice of MOLLE becomes more self-evident as the smart money bet. The foundation of a MOLLE-based 2nd Tier fighting load comes in one of three basic forms: the plate carrier, the chest harness, and the newer, “War Belt,” which is really not new at all, but a MOLLE-based derivative of an age-old concept, the equipment belt. Making your decision on which system to adopt should be honestly, and objectively, based on a METT-TC analysis, and the SMOLES considerations.
Since the Fighting Load is the load we would choose to carry if we knew or expected we were going to a fight, it is imperative to look at it, first and foremost, as a Self-Defense load-out. That can mean that everything is predicated on “Shoot, Move, Communicate,” while carrying your primary weapon.
Plate carriers, designed to carry ceramic or metal plates that provide direct protection from high-velocity, small-arms threats, offer one huge benefit over chest harnesses and “war belts:” assuming they are equipped with those body armor plates (and there’s no reason to wear a plate carrier if they’re not), they fucking stop bullets! The use of ballistic armor in the form of rifle-round defeating hard plates, has saved an untold number of American lives from small-arms fire as well as the shrapnel threats from IEDs and indirect-fire weapons that were all the older “FLAK” jacket body armor would protect against.
For the partisan however, there are several mitigating drawbacks to plate carriers that must be considered. First among these is the fact that the weight of body armor MAY be detrimental to mobility for the foot-mobile light-infantryman. While no one who has ever been on a two-way firing range will (at least in my experience) argue the inherent value of body armor, there are some within the military who have questioned whether some of the lives “saved” by body armor were not in fact “saved,” but had their hits caused by the inability to move fast enough to avoid getting shot in the first place.
Certainly, the use of full-spectrum “Outer Tactical Vests” (OTV)uch as the military-issue “Interceptor,” with groin protection, side plates, deltoid shoulder protection, and throat guards, are best left to dudes who ride around in MRAPs and Strykers. The weight of these system and the resulting decrease in mobility is largely what led to the development of “stand alone” rifle plates that don’t need “soft armor” behind them to protect against rifle caliber fire, and “plate carriers” to hold them. These are smaller, lighter body armor developments that hold the ballistic plate over the vital areas of the torso, both front and back. Currently, there are plate carrier systems available that, combined with ceramic, multi-hit protection, NIJ Level III rifle plates, weigh significantly less than 10 pounds. Unlike the OTV systems, these provide adequate rifle protection while not limiting the mobility of the wearer, allowing him to both shoot and move effectively, while being reasonably well-protected.
Most plate carriers available today are covered, front and back, with PALS webbing, allowing the fighter, soldier or partisan, the ability to attach his load-bearing pouches directly to the plate carrier. This is probably the most common method of using the plate carrier (although I will describe below an alternative system that I, and many others of similar background, feel is a far better system).
Chest harnesses, unlike plate carriers, are simply light-weight panels of nylon with PALS webbing, that cover all or part of the front of the torso. While the chest harness suffers from the obvious drawback of not offering any ballistic protection whatsoever, they do offer increased mobility, due to their lighter weight. The fighter can move much faster, and possibly more quietly, with a loaded chest harness on than with the same load attached to a plate carrier, with the added weight and rigidness of the plates inside. In hot weather (Extreme Weather Conditions–see below), the reduced weight and increased ventilation offered by a chest harness, versus the plate carrier can have a significantly beneficial impact on survivability, due to the reduced risk of heat-related injury.
One of the loudest complaints about the chest harness MOLLE system in the past has been lower back strain resulting from the load being unbalanced towards the front of the body. While this can be remedied by the addition of a small assault pack or a full hydration bladder on the back, a new model of MOLLE load-bearing gear was developed that also served as an answer to the problem.
The war belt, or “battle belt,” system involves the use of an “outer belt” covered in PALS webbing nested outside of a stiff inner belt that suspends the load around the hips. Often, but not always (I don’t use them, for example), the load of the belt will be supported by suspenders, like the older ALICE gear. This system initially found favor in the civilian tactical shooting community, quickly followed by elements of the Special Operations community and PMC contractors.
(I actually currently run a combination of all three of these, ironically, in a tiered system that kind of replicates the older RACK–Ranger Assault Carrying Kit– and the ALICE gear we ran in the Ranger Regiment in the 1990s. It consists of a low-profile plate carrier, with a chest harness over that, and a war belt. This allows me a very modular approach to my LBE set up, as well as the ability to retain or ditch elements as necessary.)
The selection of which load-bearing set-up you use, whether a plate carrier, chest harness, war belt, combination, or an older ALICE system, is dependent solely on a honest and objective METT-TC analysis, including your fitness levels, preferences, perceived future missions (are a G, or the auxiliary?), and of course, current budgetary influence (However, in this last case, there are some serious considerations that need to be made. With the current demand for MOLLE gear for the military, law enforcement militarization, and the civilian enthusiast, there are a vast number of companies producing MOLLE gear in one form or another. Unfortunately, this high level of demand also means that the cost of quality MOLLE gear is still relatively high, especially when compared to older, surplus ALICE gear. While it is possible to procure less expensive imported gear, it is imperative to remember that most of the imported gear manufactured in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is intended solely for the recreational airsoft culture. While it looks, at first glance, comparable to hard-use gear, relying on equipment intended for a kid’s game in a life-or-death situation is stupid. The fact that some private in the 101st was dumb enough to buy it, and his NCOs were dumb enough to let him use it, is not evidence that it is suitable for actual combat use, especially if that dumb-ass private and dumb-ass NCO were say, an administration unit or something similarly non-combat arms. Having left the FOB once, to run some paperwork to Baghdad, does not make you a stone-cold killing, combat arms expert.
If you go forth and “invest” in the cheap ass airsoft gear for your load-bearing equipment, and subsequently die due to an equipment failure, I will personally make it a point to laugh at your funeral.
The following manufacturers have my ringing personal endorsement, for whatever that may be worth to you: Eagle Industries, High-Speed Gear Incorporated (HSGI), Special Operations Technologies, Original Special Operations Equipment (OSOE), 5.11, Shellback Tactical–I LOVE the Banshee Plate Carrier–and Tactical Tailor. Those are endorsed by me solely because I have used their equipment, or do use their equipment, and have found it trustworthy. If another gear manufacturer wants my endorsement for some fucking reason, let me know. If I haven’t run your gear, I’ll let you send me some for T&E…just be forewarned, I’ll be honest, for better or for worse.)
As we look at deciding which set-up to select, and how to set it up, we have to return to the Shoot-Move-Communicate necessities. Your gear absolutely cannot prohibit your movement or combat athleticism. If it’s too heavy, or too bulky, you either need to do more PT (probably), or you need to look at different load-out systems and/or ditching some gear.
When we look at the requirement to “shoot,” we’re actually looking at all the necessities of required to direct lethal force on the enemy. Primary amongst these of course is the rifle. That however, is a topic somewhat separate from the load-bearing equipment itself, so it’s been covered elsewhere. Second to the weapon, is the ability to continue feeding the hungry beast. Opinions on how much ammunition the individual should carry on his fighting load differs, based on whom you ask and what their specific mission experience entails. Some tactical trainers will insist that, for the armed citizen, no more than three or four rifle magazines will ever conceivably be needed. Former Special Operations Sergeant Major (SGM) Kyle Lamb (USA, retired), of Viking Tactics, is an advocate of this approach, even for military special operations. As he explains, logically, in his excellent book “Green Eyes, Black Rifles,” three magazines of 30 rounds each (like myself, the SGM advocates loading a 30 round magazine with…30 rounds!), equals 90 rounds. Assuming it takes three rounds per bad guy to kill him, that still allows for 30 dead guys accounted for by each shooter before he runs out of ammunition. If a person is in THAT serious of a fight, then either he’ll have plenty of buddies around to borrow a magazine from, or there will be plenty of rifles and magazines laying around to pick up. There’s a lot to be said for that argument, including the fact that such a minimalist load will do a great deal towards ensuring maximum mobility for the fighter (MSG Paul Howe, a veteran of the same unit as SGM Lamb, concurs with the SGM for that very reason).
On the other hand, unlike a member of that unit, the partisan fighter, like the SF soldier in an UW role, does not have the option of counting on a “speedball” re-supply getting dropped on the objective, not the ability to readily call for a helicopter-borne quick-reaction force (QRF) if help is suddenly needed. It is entirely possible, and far from uncommon, for every soldier in an UW, small-unit element, such as an SFODA or a LRSU team, to run through more than three magazines performing just one “break contact” battle drill. Additionally, in the event of a break contact, it is entirely plausible that, while performing an exfiltration from the immediate area of the fight, an UW unit could be forced into further contact with pursuing forces, before having the opportunity to re-supply from a pre-positioned re-supply cache. It should be considered that the US Army doctrinal “basic load” of ammunition is 210 rounds, and the average conventional force infantryman has a lot more buddies around to call for help, including CAS (close-air support), indirect-fire weapons, and QRF, than you will (as a young Ranger, I was blessed to have a squad leader who encouraged us to carry nine magazines on our old ALICE LBE, instead of six, and one in the rifle. As an 18B NCO in SF, my personal rule was to carry 12 full magazines: one in my rifle, one in a butt-pouch on the rifle, and ten on my LBE. My current standard is 12 magazines: one in the rifle, three on my war belt, and eight on my chest harness). My recommendation is, “carry as much ammunition as you are physically capable of carrying, as long as it does not preclude your being able to physically perform the job you’ve assumed.” (Want to test your load? Can you perform a 300-meter shuttle run in less than 1:30 minutes, with your gear on? Can you run an 800 meter sprint, through the woods, cross-country, in no more than half-again as long as it takes you without gear on? If so, you’re probably alright. If not, you either need to dump some gear, or do more PT…probably the latter) While this certainly adds more weight to the load-out, considering the possibilities of being out-numbered and pursued by numerically superior forces, it’s unlikely that you will ever be carrying “too much” ammunition (As I tell people in classes, “I’ve never been in a gunfight, after which anyone said, ‘Damn, I had way too much ammo! I should’ve left some of that shit in the rear.!’ I have however, been in more than one fight, where halfway through it, people were screaming, “Dude, I’m out! Toss me a magazine!”)
Magazine pouches today run the spectrum from single-mag to double- or even triple-stack configurations, both open-top and flap-covered. They can be had in soft nylon and hard kydex. The argument is often made, rightly, that open-tops offer the benefit of a faster speed reload. If you need a speed reload, you need the fastest speed reload you can manage, and an open-top magazine pouch can facilitate that. On the other hand however, an open-top magazine pouch is susceptible to the magazine falling out under stress, at least in theory, as well as the infiltration of dirt, mud, and debris, which could lead to malfunctions of the rifle.
Flap-topped magazine pouches, on the other hand, while significantly slower to execute a speed reload from (predicated on equal training and practice with both types), offer greater security and protection for the magazine.
(Personally, I run a combination. I run three open-topped HSGI “Kangaroo” style “Taco” pouches on my war belt. I’ve yet to lose a magazine from one of these pouches, due to the unique bungee-cord based retention system they use, and putting the magazines in the pouch open-end down precludes mud and debris being an issue. On my Tactical Tailor MAV chest harness, I run four double-stack, flap-covered magazine pouches. This offers me added protection for most of my ammunition load-out, while still facilitating speed reloads when necessary, from the war belt. It’s imperative to note however, that I’ve trained myself to only perform speed reloads from the belt. “Tactical” reloads always come from the chest harness. This system also allows me, in the event I have to ditch my chest harness, to still have three magazines on my war belt to continue to prosecute the fight with, or as is more likely, to protect myself as I escape-and-evade.)
While your concealed carry sidearm is part of the 1st Line “survival load,” it should be noted that there are various other options for carrying it once your LBE is added (although I do know one former Team Sergeant from SF who carries a concealed sidearm, AND another on his 2nd Tier Fighting Load! He’s about 18 times the bad ass I could ever aspire to be however.) For most of us, the facility of using a concealed carry holster, under our LBE is greatly reduced. In these cases, any number of holsters can work well, depending on the preferences of the individual. It should be noted however, that it is important to remember that the sidearm is, ultimately, a next-to-last-ditch weapon, followed only by the fighting knife and unarmed combatives. As such, it should probably remain attached to the individual, rather than the actual fighting load LBE, in case that needs to be ditched, as in an escape-and-evasion scenario. To me, this precludes mounting the holster on your plate carrier or chest harness.
Selection of a holster however, should entail consideration of a few critical elements. First of these, is that, if you are wearing body armor, or other LBE that covers a significant portion of your torso, traditional belt-holsters can be problematic as the LBE can inhibit your draw stroke of the weapon. Further, while some “experts” have advocated for the use of flap covers, such as on the old M12 from Bianchi (in fact, I should remove the sarcastic quote marks around experts, because the aforementioned former Team Daddy uses a flap holster, to the best of my recollection). The reasoning behind this is that the flap can keep dirt and mud from getting lodged in the holster, protecting the sidearm. Since that’s the reason flaps were originally used, it’s a pretty sound argument. Unfortunately, in my experience, if I need my sidearm, I need it right-fucking-now, if not yesterday. The M12 is a slow motherfucker to draw from. I’ve run a metric shit-ton of holsters, from the old Eagle Industries SAS drop-leg, to drop-legs that the riggers built me, to Safariland (my personal favorite and what I carry today). I’ve never had a problem with getting so much mud accumulated around the gun that I couldn’t get it out and functioning when I needed it, even when I ran finicky guns like 1911s.
It really doesn’t matter what kind of holster you choose, as long as it keeps the gun in the holster until you want it to come out, and at that point, it lets it out in a hurry (I run a Safariland ALS on a drop-leg panel). I’ve favored a drop-leg holster for as long as I’ve been able to carry a sidearm in the field. While some supposed internet “experts” deride drop-leg holsters as suitable only for the airsoft crowd and “keyboard commandoes,” this is ignorance speaking. Remember that this design was introduced to the world of gunfighting by none other than the British SAS. From the sands of North Africa during World War Two, to the Princess Gate hostage rescue, to the mountains of Afghanistan today, David Stirling’s boys stand second to no one as a fighting unit. The drop-leg holster is not intended to be worn Hollywood gunslinger style, around your knee, a la Angelina Jolie in “Tomb Raider.” It should be worn just low enough to clear your body armor and LBE–the reason it was designed in the first place–but otherwise, as high as possible on the thigh. In such a position, it is still more than adequately comfortable for long-term wear while moving on foot, and it stays in one place, ensuring it will still be accessible when it is needed, as it will be, in a hurry.
In addition to rifle ammunition and a sidearm (which, ultimately, it is important to realize, is in no way a mandatory addition to the fighting load. While I would personally not forego my sidearm in order to forego a few pounds, especially since I consider it a critical portion of my 1st Tier “Survival Load,” it is easily legitimate to say that you don’t need a sidearm on your 2nd Line “Fighting Load,” unless you feel you need it.) the 2nd Tier load-out also needs to include spare ammunition for the sidearm. These can be integrated into the design of rifle magazine pouches, as they often are, or if you have adequate real estate on your LBE, they can be separate pouches (Since I run a war belt with “Kangaroo” pouches, I run three G17 magazines for my G19. Before I started using a war belt, I kept them in Kydex pouches on my trouser belt).
A combat/utility knife can be considered under the “shoot-move-communicate” category, due to it’s potential use as a fighting tool. Due to it’s primary role, in my mind, as a utility knife (since I don’t live in the martial arts fantasy world that so many people do…I know Gun-Fu beats tanto-jutsu or any Filipino martial arts, hands down), I relegate it to the “Survival” category instead, with its acknowledged potential as a weapon duly noted.
Under the sub-category heading of “Communicate,” we have to look at how we intend to communicate with others in our element, in the field. In addition to the obvious radio option (entirely too organizational dependent for me to even begin providing recommendations for, even if I were a commo guy, which I’m not, being a lowly knuckle-dragger and all. Hopefully, MSG Daniel Morgan will take the time to pen us an article on his recommendations? The only note I will add is that, even as a knuckle dragger, unlike a lot of “survival” and “tactical preparedness,” I’ve received enough signals intercept-based intelligence to recognize that the weak signal strength of commonly available FRS/GMRS radios are actually a benefit for tactical level intra-team use, since limited range means limited intercept potential), I would offer the suggestion of adding a signal mirror (optional, but oh so very multi-functional, since I use it to apply camouflage), and a patrol whistle (Ask anyone who’s taken a patrolling class with me, how useful the patrol whistile ends up being, even when there are radios present…) One often overlooked option for communications is some variation of simplified semaphore, even if it’s just waving a bright-colored flag at your support-by-fire element to signal a “cease fire.” The old tactical stand-by of sewing a piece of brightly colored VS-17 panel into the top of your patrol cap, or the inside back of your uniform blouse should not be overlooked (The VS-17 panel is a large ground-to-air signal panel of nylon material. It is fluorescent pink on one side and blaze orange on the other. They’re a pain in the ass to locate at Army Surplus stores, although they seem to still be readily available from internet sources).
A serious injury or wound can be the single most mobility-reducing issue to impact the partisan. With the development of the oft-mentioned on this blog, Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TC3) protocols, there exists a useful, working, single, doctrinal methodology for providing battlefield aid to casualties that makes complete sense, and takes into account the realities of the battlefield (sometimes, “good medicine is bad tactics, and good tactics are bad medicine,” but “the best medicine on the battlefield is fire superiority!”) Predicated on actually receiving functional TC3 training in Care-Under-Fire (CUF) and Tactical Field Care (TFC), your 2nd Tier Fighting Load medical gear should be a Blow-Out Kit (BOK) built around those principles. The equipment required is minimal, weighs very little, and will compact into a very small space, but it WILL prevent death from small-arms fire wounds if treated properly and rapidly (My BOK currently resides on my war belt, and fits into a double-stack flap-covered rifle magazine pouch. It includes a pair of nitrile surgical gloves, a Fr28 Nasopharyngeal Airway, a package of H&H Compressed Gauze, two occlusive dressing chest seals, a 3.25-inch needle catheter for needle decompression of a pneumothorax, and a 4-inch Israeli Battlefield Dressing–IBD, as well as a combat pill pack of analgesics in the form of Tylenol, and broad-spectrum antibiotics. I do NOT carry my three CAT-T tourniquets in the magazine pouch. Two are attached externally, to my war belt, and one is 100-mph taped to the stock of my rifle. It is critical that tourniquets be readily accessible to you or a buddy providing aid, without having to search for them, or dig through your BOK to locate them. I’ve currently got an order in for a new BOK pouch that takes up the same space as the magazine pouch, but folds out, and will hold an extra IBD and an extra package of compressed gauze. I tuck a pair of bandage scissors wherever I can fit them, tucked into the PALS webbing on my gear, usually, behind one of my magazine pouches on my chest harness, or on my plate carrier.)
Do NOT include “boo-boo” medical gear in your BOK on your fighting load. All it will do is get in the fucking way when somebody is trying to dig through your shit to patch you up in a hurry.
For the 2nd Tier Fighting Load, observation/optics play a more critical role than they do in the 1st Tier Survival Load. These may include binoculars, spotting scopes, and other STANO devices. I’ve carried a small pair of 8-10 power binoculars in the past, as well as a 10X monocular on my Fighting Load. I never particularly liked the monocular, since it led to undue eye-strain (I currently carry an inexpensive, but adequate pair of 10X compact Bushnell binoculars, after dropping a pair of Steiners off a fucking cliff in Utah. If someone wants to donate a pair of Steiners, I’ll gladly accept). The methods of carrying your STANO on your fighting load vary, from dedicated MOLLE compatible hard cases to protect the lenses and electronic components, to simply wrapping them in an old sock and shoving them in a pouch somewhere. Some guys even still tuck a small pair of binoculars under their gear and shirt, on a string around their neck (My Fighting Load STANO load-out includes the aforementioned Bushnell binoculars, and a US Night Vision Company PVS-14. Both are wrapped in old wool socks, and then crammed inside of a general-purpose utility pouch on the front of my MAV chest harness. Additionally, while I also carry the aforementioned Streamlight in my pocket as part of my 1st Tier Survival Load, I carry a Petzl headlamp in the same pouch with my Fighting Load STANO items.)
(In addition to an orienteering compass around my neck, I keep a tritium-illuminated, USGI lensatic compass on my chest. This rides in a grenade/admin pouch on the MAV, along with my signal mirror and patrol whistle, mentioned under communications in “Self-Defense” above. I carry my topo maps in a cargo pocket or, if I’m wearing jeans, tucked into the kangaroo pouch on my plate carrier.)
Extreme Weather Conditions
(I don’t really carry anything relevant specifically to this on my fighting load, since it’s taken care of as part of my Survival Load-Out and my 3rd Tier Sustainment Load.)
Remembering Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs, as well as the Rule of Threes, approaching the Fighting Load survival gear is pretty simple. First of all, we’ve got the quintessential survival tool, the knife. As mentioned above, the combat/utility knife will most generally, see its primary usage for general field craft and utility applications, but the potential is there for its use in the anti-personnel role . One perennially popular selection amongst professionals, in my experience, is the classic USMC stand-by, the Kabar (or any of it’s legitimate, government contract alternatives, such as the Ontario or the Camillus). Developed during World War Two, and originally (and I believe technically, still properly) designated the MK2, the Kabar as a well-earned reputation as both a general utility tool and an effective fighting weapon (despite the best efforts of Bill Bagwell, the one-time “Battle Blades” columnist for Soldier of Fiction…err…Fortune Magazine to tarnish or dispel that hard-won reputation. Considering that Bagwell was renowned as a BIG Bowie knife cutler, and an advocate of a classical European-fencing style of knife combatives training, that was somewhat understandable. However, when you consider that the MK2 was adopted at a time when the Marine Corps still taught the Fencing-style of knife combatives, under the influence of guys like LTC Anthony Drexel-Biddle and John Styers, it’s a little less understandable…it still works really well for the “put the pointy end in the soft spots” school of knife combatives that I personally subscribe to. As I’ve mentioned, numerous times, my selection for a Fighting Load knife has run the gamut from the Cold Steel push-daggers to the RAT 3, and even, back-in-the-day, or Back-When-It-Was-Hard, to the Gerber MKII dagger…I always seem to keep coming back to some variation of the MK2. Currently, it’s an original Ontario, Army-issue variant. In fact, the S-4 sticker is still on the leather sheath…It’s just a hard knife to beat when you look at the actual role a knife on the Fighting Load is intended to fulfill. I carried a Camillus version in Afghanistan.)
Oxygen. It’s entirely plausible, if you see the use of chemical weapons, such as tear gas, by your perceived potential enemies, to add a protective mask to your fighting load (I don’t, so I don’t have any recommendations. The only time I ever wore a ProMask in the military was when it was–rarely–required for sustainment training).
Water. Carrying a Camelback or other hydration system, attached to the Fighting Load is an extremely common practice. The convenience of having the water tight to your body, and readily accessible for drinking, while moving, from the drink tube, makes it an apparent no-brainer…especially if you’re not carrying a rucksack much. On the other hand, if you expect to actually carry your ruck, the way it was designed, on your back, a 100 oz bladder can cause serious imbalance of the load. On the other hand, the old, kidney-shaped one-quart canteens, while they worked well, when seated against your ass-cheeks on the ALICE pistol belt, take up a lot of unnecessary real estate on most MOLLE configurations, adding one more advantage to the wide-mouth, hard Lexan, Nalgene-style water bottles. Additionally, the wide-mouths of the Lexan bottles allow for easier cleaning, as well as the addition of various drink powder mixes, such as Gatorade, which can enhance rehydration efforts (on the other hand, as I write this, it occurs to me, I’ve never bothered trying to place the old-style one-quarts on my war belt. While the Lexan bottles don’t fit particularly well, I can see the potential for the canteens to fit well….Fuck me, now I’ve got to adjust my gear again and try it out…)
In addition to your water carrying method, a means of purification is in order. One other advantage of the wide-mouthed bottle design, is the existence of various backpacker-type purification systems that screw right onto the mouth of these bottles (I personally stick with the ION Drops for the fighting load too). Water bladders also, however, like the Camelback, have in-line filtration systems available, although those result in contamination of the bladder itself that must be dealt with later. They also offer filtration systems for use while filling the bladder that can be an option.
(I currently use two wide-mouth Nalgene bottles, attached to my chest harness, in 5.11 VTAC water bottle pouches. They look cumbersome, but haven’t seemed to interfere with my ability to “shoot-move-communicate” in the slightest)
Food. As with the Survival Load, I tend to lean towards the idea that food in a combat situation, is an over-rated luxury. On the other hand, I am cognizant of the fact that most people are not the caloric masochist that I am, and in fact, I do carry food in my Fighting Load. This can range from a field-stripped MRE (as MSG Daniel Morgan alluded to in his suggestions in the WV AAR). This is simply disposing of the thick-ass plastic outer bag, and keeping only those items inside that you will actually eat, such as the Main Entree, any particularly delectable side dishes or deserts (How’s that for an oxymoron? Delectable in an MRE?), and the powdered drink mixes. The little pieces of Chiclet-looking gum reputedly have an anti-constipation, laxative effect, so if you eat MREs, make sure you eat the gum (We used to have a dude that would come back from a week in the field, having not taken a shit the entire time. He’d down a half bottle of laxative, then shit a turd so long and big, it would literally displace all the water in the toilet….use the gum!).
Alternatively, emergency rations in your fighting load (and make no mistake, they are emergency rations. If you’re eating them, it ought to be because you’ve lost your sustainment load somehow…) could be anything from sports nutrition bars like Clif Bars (I generally have Clif Bars), although these can get pretty rank in hot weather, or some form of backpacker’s Gorp-type trail mix (HH6 is particularly fond of a homemade trail mix I make for her that includes peanut butter, raw sugar, rolled oats, M&Ms, and whatever kind of nuts the local bulk goods grocery has in the bins that look like they might work well). I used to know a guy who stashed Peanut M&Ms in his LBE, as well as a one-pound block of mild cheddar cheese and a plastic jar of Crunchy Peter Pan peanut butter (the latter two only in winter). His claim was, the high amounts of fats in these helped stoke his internal furnace (makes sense to me, too. On the other hand, if you go this route, you’d better pack some laxative, or you’ll be shitting monster turds too…).
Shelter. (In addition to the aforementioned combat/utility knife, I keep two basic shelter construction tools in my fighting load. First is an additional 25 feet of 550 cord, above what’s on my boots. The second is a casualty blanket, tightly folded and rubber-band wrapped, that crams into the back of a utility pouch on my chest harness. Between the two, even in cold weather conditions, I can build a shelter, and stay warm. In extreme cold-weather, the addition of a small survival warming fire, like a Dakota-hole fire, will keep me alive, if not particularly comfortable.)
Ultimately, the greatest advantage of the MOLLE/PALS system, is the ability of the individual to set-up his load-bearing equipment that works the best for him, based on his personal operational needs, and his particular physiognomy. Only a few general recommendations should be adhered to religiously, in my far from humble opinion.
- Keep all of your ammunition where you can reach it, in a hurry. Some people will tell you that every magazine you carry must be equally accessible to either hand. I don’t agree with that, but I do believe MOST of your ammunition should be readily accessible by either hand.
- Keep your BOK where you can access it with either hand, in a hurry, while wounded. Keep it where others will be able to readily find it, under stress, with zero visibility. Make sure your BOK is clearly marked and identifiable. I don’t subscribe to the need to stick a bright red tab or cross on it (in fact, I think the bright red tabs on many currently available BOK pouches are so far beyond stupid that they are close to the status of vanity: “Fuck camouflage! I’m bulletproof, so it doesn’t matter if you see me!” Mine does get marked with a red paint pen, but the paint quickly dulls with exposure to the elements. It’s visible, but only at close distances.) In fact, of all the items on your Fighting Load, I believe the BOK and the tourniquets are the only two that should be placed, in accordance with a unit SOP, in the same place for everyone.
- Keep your tourniquets outside of your BOK. Keep them readily accessible, and easy to find. Keep a minimum of two on your fighting load.
- Be able to get out of your gear, in a hurry, when you can’t see, and perhaps, can’t breathe (for instance, if you were to fall into water and were unable to swim to safety due to the weight…it’s happened, more than once).
- Be able to “shoot-move-communicate” in your fighting load. If you can’t shoot, at least as accurately as you can without gear on, then you’re gear is fucking you. Fix it. If you can’t move at least 3/4 as fast with your gear on as you can without it on, either your gear is fucking you, or you’re not doing strenuous enough PT. Fix it, one way or the other, before you get your buddy killed. Neither nature, God, nor the Zombies, give two shits about how old and crippled you are. When the fight comes, it will come dressed as itself, regardless of what you wish it to be. You’d better be fit enough to deal with it, because it’s not going to give a shit about your excuses.
Like my previous article “Travel Light, Freeze at Night,” on setting up and packing your Go-Bag, this article is not intended as specific recommendations on what you should carry for your Survival Load and Fighting Load. The use of SMOLES as a frame-of-reference, along with the appropriate subcategories (“Shoot-Move-Communcate,” as well as Maslow’s Heirarchy and the Rule of Threes, specifically), should however, provide a very useful framework for you to begin developing a suitable and sustainable general equipment load-out, regardless of what role you see yourself playing in your community defense in the rapidly escalating unpleasantness.
Look at each aspect of SMOLES, for each Tier of your load-out, and measure them against the METT-TC analysis you can develop, then decide on what gear you need to have.