Friday, May 20, 2011

Praxis: The Militiaman's Load. What "Wrong" Looks Like. Fight light and live.

M1956 Load Bearing Equipment with four cotton duck canvas Universal Small Arms Ammunition Pouches (designed to accommodate various ammo loads, such as a folded bandoleer containing six 8-round clips of M1 .30-06 ammunition or two BAR magazines or four 30 round M-2 Carbine magazines or two M14 20 round magazines or four 20 round M16 magazines), two canteens (with cup) and buttpack.

Before Motaain, I carried typical Infantry commander's webbing -- lots of navigational equipment, maps, and orders and plans kit, as well as minimal ammunition, water, and first aid equipment. I wore issue belt webbing but supplemented this with British-issue Northern Ireland chest webbing when on patrol, with extra water and ammunition. Many people who wore chest or vest webbing in firefights, including Motaain, came away wanting to ditch it and revert to the issue belt webbing. This was because the chest webbing, by placing the pouches directly below your chest, lifts you an extra ten centimeters or so off the ground. This sounds like a miniscule amount, but with someone shooting at you, it feels enormous. With belt webbing, it is the pouches that are lifted off the ground, while you can hug the earth to your heart's content. After Motaain, I wore the lightest possible belt kit, with ammunition, water, and large amounts of medical kit only. My commander's kit and minimal survival equipment I stuffed into my pockets. I slept out many nights in the jungle with only this equipment, suffering no significant inconvenience. The lesson here, again, is that we are killing ourselves with comfort and convenience -- a little more austerity and a willingness to suffer discomfort in order to better kill the enemy would be well worthwhile. -- From Counterinsurgency by David Kilcullen, Australian Army.

Ran into a member of a local community defense unit yesterday at the hospital. He recognized me from the gun shows and started up a conversation about preps and equipment. He has a couple of guys who are into "do it like Uncle Sam does it" and asked for my advice on how to cure the gear disease. Difficult, I said, but not impossible. First, I told this promising young unit leader to look up this video:

Next, I asked him a bit about his AO, the likely threats he was preparing his unit for, how they intended to shoot, move and communicate, and the ages and physical fitness of his guys. On the last count his unit is better than most, but still the tendency to acquire every bit of gear and prepare for every contingency has turned some of his guys into slowly moving forts, also known as easy targets.

Their AO is relatively large for their unit size and exigencies may require moving across it through woods at best speed by shank's mare -- that's on foot to those who don't understand old codgerese.

M1956 web gear from the front. (Lose the E-Tool, it only slows a maneuver warfare militiaman down. If you REALLY think you'll need to dig in, permit no more than one E-Tool per two-man buddy team.)

Being he is in the deep South, with summer conditions of temperature and humidity that can be brutal, I pointed out that he could do worse than the old (and very cheap) M1956 or even ALICE web gear. They are both open to allow body heat and perspiration to escape and it is a simple matter to add two canteens to the rig -- an absolute must down here. The canvas M1956 is heavier than the nylon ALICE and absorbs moisture but is quieter in the bush. Yes, indeed, he told me, he used an ALICE with Y suspenders, modified to use some MOLLE pouches. I told him he would probably like the "H" harness better because it distributes the weight more evenly.

Old style canvas M1956 buttpack. Heavier and smaller than current nylon versions, but canvas is quieter in the brush than nylon.

Then came the "yeah, buts." But, I pointed out, most of his guys' "yeah, buts" could fit into a standard buttpack, if they cut down to absolute essentials. Anything else mission specific -- extra ammo was a big "yeah, but" -- could be carried in slung cloth bandoleers or bags with shoulder straps. Most logistics in any militia AO, I pointed out, ought to be handled with pre-sited caches.

Nylon butt pack: Roomier and lighter than the old version.

There is some good discussion of what is, and is not, required for effective field gear at's "buttpack environmental field living module."

Unfortunately the site is a bit dated and several of the links no longer work, but it is still full of useful suggestions including the "buttpack environmental field living module," containing:

a. Army standard NSN 8405-01-416-6216 Eco-Tat Lightweight Sleeping Bag Multi-Purpose LWSB-MP (3.0 lbs)

b. Army standard NSN 8405-00-290-0550 Poncho with 550 cords to be a poncho-tent, hood tied into a knot (1.3 lbs)

c. Army standard NSN 7210-00-935-6665 OD Green space casualty blanket (0.6 lbs)

d. Army standard NSN 8415-01-228-1312 ECWCS Gore-Tex jacket (1.5 lbs)

6.4 pounds TOTAL

As the light infantry veterans at CL explain:

This is all you need to survive from the elements from freezing to 100+ degrees. Items b-d fit inside your buttpack or inside the Ecotat LWSB Multi-Purpose's stuff sack. Item a, the LWSB-MP straps on top of the buttpack or directly to your LBE rear and acts as a kidney pad or stuffs inside it. The weight you save by not carrying even the empty ALICE rucksack (6 pounds) essentially "pays for" the Live Light Package at your buttpack. Why carry 6 pounds of volume when you can carry instead 6 pounds THAT DOES SOMETHING FOR YOU; ie, allows you to live comfortably (YES!) in the field?

Live "Combat Light" in Closed terrains

If you are moving and it begins to rain, you put on your waterproof, but breathable GT jacket, otherwise you sweat in your brush-breaking BDUs and hopefully dry out by night's end. GT jacket also acts as windbreak, but must be treated with water repellency Revivex treatments to remain effective. The GT jacket extends down far enough so that only a small part of your legs are uncovered but while you are moving these large muscles are getting hot so they will dry off any rain/dew on vegetation contacted so the GT pants are not needed.

How can you compress the GT ECWCS jacket so it can fit with the other Combat Light items?

Compress the GT jacket with a clear plastic vacuum bag from so it takes only a small part of the space inside your buttpack.

At night's end and you become stationary; you find two trees or bushes and tie your long poncho-tent cords to stretch them out. Cut branches to act as tent stakes and mash down into the ground. You now have a rain and wind break; 15 degrees of warmth gained. Unfold mylar blanket shiny side up to reflect your heat back to you (about 15 degrees F) so its not lost to the ground via conductivity and stretch out inside your poncho-tent as a floor.

I suggested to my young friend that he schedule an FTX for the soonest, hottest day he could find on private property guaranteeing discretion and insist on having his guys turn out with all their "essential" equipment and have them carry out shooting and moving drills thus burdened. Then he would have them divest themselves of their gear, and switch over to some ALICE harnesses with canteens and buttpacks that I would provide out of stores (thank the Lord for thrift stores and five gallon plastic buckets). He could then have them run the same drills and see which they liked better. More importantly, they could discover in which rig could they move fastest, hug the ground tightest, etc.

He agreed.

Thus do we hope to make the point about the necessity of fighting light for a maneuver warfare light infantry militiaman.


Anonymous said...

Consider SAW pouches as universal ammo/gear holders on your webgear.

They work.

LFMayor said...

Extra ammo
two canteens and some purification tabs. take an old sock and use it to quiet your canteen cup, the sock can also serve to filter water going into the canteen before you drop purifier tabs in.

extra ammo boys.

you can go hungry for a day or two, but take a little something to eat to help keep you alert. funny how a little bit of candy or something salty will help sharpen you up mentally.

nothing rattles, and tuck your damn straps.

Anonymous said...

If it comes to a fight, we will not have the support structure the military has. We will need to move fast. It will be hit and run for us, as we are very limited in our ability to stand up to armor and APC type weapons.
We can still knock out those type of weapons, by removing support, then attacking with the peoper simple tools.
Speed of movement will be more important to the Patriots.
Besides we need to remember KISS, keep it simple stupid. The guy in the video couldn't do that in a barracks with no one shooting at him. I doubt he could do better in combat.
P.S. The first thing you do when taking fire is go to cover then drop the ruck.

Carl said...

Love the old M1956 setup. It was standard issue in the early 70's. There is an amazing amout of room in those old canvas butt packs. I moved the first aid/bandage case up to the suspender near my shoulder for more room on the belt. One guy I know said they didn't buckle their belts so when they hit the ground there was nothing underneath them. I see pros and cons on that one.
Still, a great system. Glad I have one as some pieces are getting harder to find.

GardenSERF said...

Re: the video

A medic vest was also issued during the "early years" in Iraq. The vest allowed you to take a few items on foot without resorting to the entire medic backpack (aid bag). A CLS shoulder bag was another option for a quick grab & go from a vehicle.

Big difference in the video is the doc is probably expecting to hoof it thru Afghanistan and has to carry all that stuff so he can take care of 30 guys. If 6 guys get hit on an ambush, he'll go thru a bunch of IV bags in a hurry while waiting for a medevac in the mountains.

The guy carrying the commo probably doesn't have it much better. Again, we were able to leave that attached in the vehicle in Iraq.

Crustyrusty said...

Damn, I've been saying it for years- if you wear a vest it will hurt when (not if) you go to a prone position, and you will be higher off the ground.

Nice to know someone else agrees with me...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the praxis on web gear, Mike. Keep it coming. There is a lot of stuff out there and many of us are $$, age and time challenged. Lighter is better. The last hump I was on taught me lighter is not just nice, it is a matter of survival.

Folks should also keep in mind that regular troops that are on foot that are mounted/dismounted cavalry are supported by approx 7 people behind the scenes that keep all manner of supplies coming.

Did an all day shoot in 104F a few years ago that required we carry everything we needed in terms of ammo and water. By the end of the day everyone,regardless of age, was dragging a$$ and I'd bet they would have traded their last round for more water. Nobody was whining about food, nobody. Water (+bottle of p-tabs) and ammo are critical. Nothing else mattered.

Old Hand

Anonymous said...

I too used the M1956 gear in the early 70's. We weren't issued buttpacks in the USMC, but most of us had one. Our main backpack was the WW2 haversack and I will still continue to use a small backpack, in addition to the buttpack, today the MOLLE assault pack works nice. Yes, I have lived out of my buttpack for weeks at a time, we moved light in Recon, but we were always resupplied with water and C-rats. So living with only a poncho/liner was easy.
I live in a cold climate now, shelter and sleeping bag are necessities,even in summer. A Brit basha now works great for cover and use the poncho for ground cloth. A small Snugpack sleeping bags works nice until winter.
Everything else in the picture is perfectly set up, H harness is only way to go. Forget those stupid Y straps. 2 canteens w/2 cups/stoves. A Cold Steel Kukri. And the old M-14 pouches are still great, you can now get them in nylon if you like. I too have tried the chest pouches, sorry, they just don't work for me, can't ditch them easy either, well, maybe with a knife. Try what you like a few times, modify until everything works and/or it stops hurting.

Semper Fi 0321

Anonymous said...

In my current AO (the Arizona Desert) water is a major need. However, our foriegn invaders have taken up shooting, so armor is now required for our little group. Still trying to keep the load outs down. Basic load is: 210 rounds .223, 41 rounds .45, IFAK, kabar, armor plates, 10x42 binos, 3L of water, radio for comms. maps and such are in pockets. In pack food, extra water, first aide supplies, survival gear (Shade, saw, fire etc). Your area and mission dictate the gear, you must remain flexible. My $.02

Anonymous said...

All props to Bill Mauldin: Willie sez to Joe "I can't get any lower - me buttons iz in da way".
Personal gear is just that - personal. Uniformity is for the 'garritroopers' - find the gear assortment that works the best for you & your particular needs. Water and ammo always take priority - most of us can easily go w/o food for a couple of days ;-)

Dakota said...

I still prefer the old Alice stuff too. I got a nice LB Trading vest but it don't pile everything in front like most vests do.... very comfortable but spendy. I still reach for my H harness with canvas buttpack & 2 canteens with cups and heater stands, it just works darn good.

Anonymous said...


You really need to do a review on the Molle II Fighting Load Carriers available on EBay right now.

Got one for $50 shipped, came with two three-mag shingles (one on each side of the vest) three two-mag pouches, two general purpose pouches and two grenade pouches.

I'm still determining what I'll really be needing, so that video was most helpful in that regard...

Will fit M-3XL, and can either be zipped up the front, or you can use fastex buckles to keep the vest closed.

"One guy I know said they didn't buckle their belts so when they hit the ground there was nothing underneath them."

Easy to do with the FLC as well.

Arctic Patriot said...

Gear depends on the environment.

I can instantly pick out who buys gear and never uses it, carries it, lives with it.

'Course, when it gets really, really cold (I'm talking -20° and colder), "fighting light" is a relative term. I would say categorically that living out of a buttpack is not a good plan in the winter in my AO.

I agree with a lot of the food/water comments. In my experience, water comes first, sleep second, food last. Food is necessary, mind you, but nearly any combat soldier in the field would gladly trade his food for another hour of sleep.



Anonymous said...

A quick Google search for Ecotat Systems turns up some references but no company site that is still in business. Why bring up gear that doesn't seem to be available?

Anonymous said...

I roll with an ALICE LBE: Belt, Y-Harness, 4 mag pouches, 2 canteens, buttpack, and a battle dressing.

I've gone through all manner of vests and chestrigs, but I keep going back to that good old standby for one reason, and onne reason only: It works.

Anonymous said...

I noticed people use the word canteen rather often. Was this out of habit or is there a problem with "Camelback" type hydration systems with the long straw and a water bladder?

Anonymous said...

For most of us, Camelbacks are relatively new gear. Canteens have always been the basic issue for vets as long as we've been around. They come with a canteen cup and later, when C-rats were discontinued, even a stove/heater for heat tabs that all nestles together in the pouch. Super compact setup! (please stay away from aluminum canteens/cups, with some liquids like lemonade, they're just plain poison!!!)
I use a Camelback when I dirt bike and hike in the summer, they cease to work during hunting season when the hose freezes up on me. Also most older G.I.gear is not set up for Camelback use, and try putting gear on over one. Putting a Camelback in/on a pack doesn't always work well either, so many of us will use canteens on our LBE and then carry the Camelback with the pack. Most of the new guys have the Camelbacks down to a science, but I'm sure lots of older guys still don't use them.


Loren said...

Shot you an e-mail about some improv stuff, hope you can use it.

Daniel375 said...

Camelback was before my time in 3rd Ranger Batallion, but used it alot as a contractor...there are tube cap adapters for 1&2qt canteens, so that convenience is avaliable for LBEs. If you went through Ranger school in the old days(4 phases), you will possibly remember fantasizing about food and sleep. There is a water is a problem of highest priority, food/sleep have to be balanced. After 7 days straight without sleep, your mind goes to mush...not to mention unit cohesion/communication skills...lack of sufficient food to calories expended for days will do a number on you also. Hypothermia is also a killer. I had to report the deaths of Ranger students when I worked at Ranger school due to them getting lost in Florida phase and dying of hypothermia. Adjust your gear for your AO and the seasons.

Happy D said...

Good Lord that video is disturbing.

Scott J said...

OK, going to show some ignorance here. I've always kept the ALICE harness, belt and buttpack set up like you display atop the article (but with only 2 instead of 4 rifle mag pouches.

My question is on sidearm. I've always put it on the webgear belt.

Is it preferred to put it on the trouser belt instead and adjust your harness so the web belt rides just above the trouser belt? Again I always adjusted the harness to be at the same height on the body as the trouser belt.

Anonymous said...

always keep your sidearm and main knife on your body! Ditch your pack and your LBE(load bearing equipt) and you will still have your survival weapons on your body. Strapping your knife upside down on your H-Harness is for pogues, there's no quicker way to lose a knife that letting gravity do it for you! The pistol should be in a newer style thigh holster so you can access it without pushing your LBE out of the way, don't even think of putting it in a zippered pocket on a vest, way too slow, and when you ditch your vest, where's your pistol? Try several different ways, check for speed, access and then drop your load, see what works best. Just my opinion, check yourself, some mileage may vary.

Semper Fi, 0321

John Hardin said...

The canvas M1956 ... absorbs moisture

Would spraying it with Scotchgard or some similar waterproofing treatment be a good thing to do? Or does that, like, make it glow in IR? :)