Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Praxis: The Case for Combat Load Carry & Rucksack Roadwork…

The latest from The Trainer:

The Case for Combat Load Carry & Rucksack Roadwork…

"Speed marches gave maximum development to lungs and legs, and most importantly, to feet. In the early stages we had blisters by the bushel. Finally, though, we became hardened, and our feet were able to stand up under any kind of pounding. On one occasion during the training in speed marching, the Rangers flew across ten miles in eighty-seven minutes, flashing that long stride that was to become our trademark in the Mediterranean war." - William O. Darby and William Baumer – “We Lead the Way”

Before we go any farther, let me make this clear: “NO, we are not Rangers!” Never have we claimed to be; however, we can take their example as they are superb light infantry, and when allowed to operate in MW methodology, do not have many peers in the world. Our group is special in that it does not accept modern, ‘politically correct’ reasoning in our training choices such as ‘gender norming’ and others. We are instilling in our members that they need to accept this one fact:

Your enemy is training as you read this. He doesn’t care how much his ruck weighs, it weighs what it weighs; he doesn’t care how long the walk is, it’s over when it’s over; he doesn’t care whether you’re a man, woman, or a goat. He doesn’t care if his weapon jams when he’s firing for practice; he clears it and continues firing. He’s training to kill you right now. Period.

With that in mind, let’s look at what’s going on with our own military folks recently and see if we can learn from their 'real world' feedback. It’s a truism on the job anywhere that if you really want to know the score, ask the ‘grunt’ in the field humping the heavy stuff because he will not lie!

One major complaint coming back from the ‘sandbox’ is that soldiers are extremely unhappy that they did not train as they are required to fight and it cost them. In garrison, or when training in the States, they don’t carry ammo or munitions in their rucks and on their person; they aren’t made to carry their primary weapon on conditioning marches, and so on.

Those lessons have not been lost on us.

We require all of our members to carry their basic load (minimum pack list) on their person with their rifle, ammo, water and food when we’re demonstrating our fitness level with a road march.

And it does work!

Yes, we push ourselves to our personal limits; yes we are bushed when we’re done; yes, it’s a pain in the ass to go back and get those who’ve not finished yet, but the reward is worth much more than the sacrifice: We’ve all learned about boot quality and foot care; we’ve all learned about the importance of conditioning; we’ve all felt the gratitude as well as the guilt when someone who’s in better shape finishes and then comes back and helps us finish because they are our teammate, and we’ve all felt the exaltation of finishing under the minimum acceptable time, especially when we’ve failed previously. On top of that, our rifle qualification scores mean that much more to us when we know we can shoot accurately after expending so much energy!

But sometimes when we’re out doing a road march exercise with 35 lb or heavier rucks, rifles, ammo, food and water, somebody starts bitching that we’re carrying too much….that we won’t do that in the field….that it’s ‘too hard’ (even though we see people actually smoking along the way!). Apparently, there will always be people who whine in private life just as much as there are on active duty.

That’s not the point, though.

The point is that after doing some research on the subject, actual feedback from active duty soldiers validate our methodology and why we’ll keep ourselves focused on getting from point A to point B quickly with a load that requires upper body strength, wind stamina, and strong legs and still be able to operate when we get there.

Now, will those of us over 40 ever achieve the speeds indicated below? Probably not – but it doesn’t mean we can’t meet our own minimums and keep trying! Our members under 40, especially those in their 20’s and early 30’s, who don’t have medical restrictions should be able to get much closer to the higher end of combat mobility speeds than us 'olf farts'.

So, how is ‘combat mobility’ defined? In today’s parlance, a group or unit has “Combat Mobility” if they can move on foot from 4 to 7 mph to their objective and complete their mission after arrival.

We don’t meet that right now. Currently, our minimum speed for a road march with a 35 lb ruck, rifle, ammo, water and food is 3.9 mph for all walks ranging from 2 through 10 miles. A 7 mph speed on the high end is a 8.5 minute mile! Damn fast, and would be expected only with web gear, weapon, and ammo for short distances. And even so, that’s just a tad under the speed youngsters must achieve for entrance into some of the more elite military schools today, so we don’t have to address that.

Even at just over half maximum speed, we’re still not too awfully bad with our standard minimum of 15.5 minutes per mile for moving quickly from start to finish. Even at that, you’d be surprised at those who can’t do it at first, but it can be done.

Yes, it takes work on everyone’s part and you have to have the discipline to keep your exercise and roadwork routine up all year so that when we are in the field, you can meet the minimums. And remember, I’m talking about those who don’t have medical restrictions. But even those who do have medical restrictions can work with their doctors and improve their diet, their physical capabilities and shape so they can be more self-reliant and more of an asset to the group. There’s really no excuse that will hold water, now, is there?

This year, we will be increasing a few of the road march speeds to 4 mph, cutting 30 seconds from the minimum acceptable time when we do it with just ‘combat gear’ (rifle, web gear, ammo). Why? Because it may mean the difference between success and failure! Remember, ‘more sweat in peace means less blood in war’!

Incidentally, history documents that forced march speeds going all the way back to the Civil War was 4 miles in 50 minutes, or 12.5 minute miles (just under 5 mph), and yes, that would be with just ‘combat gear’ (rifle, ammo, & web gear). Incidentally, this ‘forced march’ speed allowed no mitigating factors for age, height, weight, etc. You either did it or were considered ‘unfit’. Stragglers were not looked upon with great favor, either.

Let’s see what today’s soldiers have to say about the subject, shall we?

Here are a couple of quotes:

“We recommend that we change the two-mile run to a three-mile or 6 mile speed march in BDUs, 35-pound rucksack, Kevlar(c) PASGT helmet and weapon which can be a "rubber duck" or a 2x4 piece of wood cut to a 36" length and spray painted black. To get 100 points, you must do the three miles in less than 30 minutes or 6 miles in 60 minutes for a speed of six miles per hour or better. A tangible goal. A lot of people wail about the "Soldier's Load" problem but do not do anything more than offer a band aid solution of telling leaders not to overload their men. There has to be a yardstick to prove one way or another if men are overloaded or not. If they cannot move at 6 mph with their battle gear they are not "all that they can be". If they cannot even maintain 1-2 mph they are overloaded, not properly conditioned for COMBAT or both.” - Anonymous Soldier on US Army PT program standards

“The 2-mile run is done with NO load whatsoever. Unfortunately, this means that people who run really fast for 15 minutes dominate the PT test, and are seen as the ideal -- and physical training is geared towards making greyhound runners, with little concern for upper body strength. (Got news for all you 'PT masters' who can do 2 miles in 10 minutes, and still make good scores on situps and pushups -- if you ain't GOT any upper body, it's pretty easy to lift it off the ground 75 times in 2 minutes, ain't it? But that won't help you carry heavy things?)

Personally, I'm less interested in how fast you can run 2 miles in jogging shorts and sneakers than in how long you can carry a 50 load at a reasonable pace -- and I've found damned little correlation between the two tasks. Most super runners I've met couldn't hump worth shit, and vice versa. The 'moderately good' at one was generally moderately good at the other -- but the current test slants the emphasis the wrong direction.” - Anonymous Soldier on PT tests versus Real World Requriements

So, let’s take what they’re saying into context:

As you are a ‘light infantry’ type group, you need to carry a reasonable amount of equipment on your back, including extra ammo, food, and water. This load will be a minimum of 35 pounds, maybe more like 50 or 60 pounds. But whatever it is, you need to be able to carry it for long distances and operate when you arrive at your destination.

The only way to get to the point of actually being able to achieve that is to practice it under similar conditions. You can’t just hit the track or treadmill or elliptical (though they do help getting your wind and legs in shape!) You must develop the core strength needed to perform over long periods of time and still fight at the end of the trip.

Garrison BS, standing around and looking cool doesn’t do anything but help get you killed.

So, here we are getting ready to go out and train. With things being the way they are in the country and world, can you honestly say it isn’t time to ratchet what we do up just a couple notches?

And the about the bitching? Well….we can’t have everything, I guess.


Clell said...

Go out in the woods, with a good ax, a pair of gloves, a 1/2 gallon of water, and chop down a 10" tree, and then chop it in 24" lengths as if for firewood.
After 3-4 of these, you will be well on your way to having decent upper body strength.

Just one way to train.

AmericanMercenary said...

4 mph for 3 hours with 35lb load (ruck or body armor with assault pack) is EIB standard for the US Army. This is a very achievable level of fitness and a good baseline for light infantry.

However, once you get into "unconventional" warfare, double the weight and increase the distance to sixteen miles. This level of fitness takes a while to get comfortable, and takes a lot more training to maintain.

Patrolling with a heavy load is always going to be a lot slower than training movements, no matter the weight and no matter the distance. Expecting men to move in combat conditions with the same speed as a training march is unrealistic, and smart leaders plan no more than .5 to 2.0 clicks per hour depending on METT-TC.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article, one that will hopefully be learned and applied by hundreds of thousands or more over time.

2 things:

1) That "rubber duck" will attract too much attention in any area of the country where there are people who aren't part of the group. Even the 2x4, if black and seen at a distance. Color matters not, maybe it should be some lighter color (or not painted - again, who cares about the color). To come close to the weight of a real rifle, the 2x4 should probably be made of treated lumber, which is far heavier than interior grade lumber.

2) Can anyone recommend a good surplus frame/rucksack package? It is all well and good to say "carry around x pounds in a rig," but those of us who never served don't know what to procure.

Anonymous said...

this is the one i use and have used for about 15 years now...10 of those on active duty.

Large Ruck w/Frame
a quick search found this one.

Mr. E said...

Thanks again to The Trainer.

Only thing I would add, as a second to what AmericanMercenary already said, is the great importance of practicing actual patrolling - as in off trails (trails are deathtraps!), cross country, through the brush, using noise discipline, security halts, rally points, the whole nine yards - and at night too.

That's when you really sort out your gear, learn to take care of your feet, learn how fast and quiet you can really move, and how far in a given night, etc. and really work out the bugs in all your skills, including land nav., hand signals, immediate action drills, etc.

That's really all that separates Rangers, SF, Seals, etc. from the rest of us - sound training, time in the bush, and fitness. They aren't super human, and any of you can arrive at the same level of skill and even approach their fitness (within our age limitations).

Trainer, you are providing the sound knowledge base, and then it is up to us to get out in the bush and "make it our own."

Mr. E

Mr. E said...

Another thougt Trainer:

Speaking from the perspective of a former soldier who is now getting older and feeling it, one other thing you might want to also address is effective calisthenics and stretching to improve mobility, agility, increase joint strength and range of motion, especially for us older guys.

Many of us are now like Treebeard from the Lord of The Rings - still strong as oaks, but not very, hmmm ... bendable.

Joint mobility and flexibility are important. I've seen men tear cartilage and ligaments in knees just trying to move and shoot tactically, such as while using "rice paddy prone" on uneven ground because they were heavy, inflexible, and had stiff joints.

One program you might want to give a look if you have not yet, is Flowfit, by RMAX. It is a fitness DVD that is FREE to veterans and current military. To get a free copy, go here:


It's real deal, no bull. I got one, for free, and have been using it for a couple months. Excellent!

Sort of a cross between PT style calasthinics, stretching, and movement yoga, and a perfect compliment to the road march training.

There are multiple levels, depending on your current level of fitness, with level one starting out standing and using a stool or chair for support, and then getting progressively more difficult.

From level 2 on, you are on the floor most of the time, going from standing, to squatting, moving in a squat, onto the floor, moving on the floor in various positions, including front leaning rest, and then back to your feet. Very challenging.

A good addition to cardio and strength work, and also complimentary to rucksack road work.

Just a suggestion.

Keep up the great work!

Mr. E

PS - here is some inspiration:

A video of a 40 year old Montana man who was obese and really out of shape, and who turned it around and lost over 100 lbs in less than a year. It's never too late!


Mr. E said...

Just realized the Flowfit free DVD promotion is no longer in effect.

But it is still available on Amazon for $40.00. Still recommended.

Perhaps The Trainer or others have other suggestions.