Wednesday, August 17, 2011

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

NOTE: This was first posted back on 20 May of this year. As the subject has come up in emails recently, I thought I would repost it for the benefit of new readers.

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...

Mike, curious to your thoughts on carrying a gas mask. I have one on my gear but it's bulky and I keep asking myself if it's really needed.

Anonymous said...

Recently viewed and handled the full "battle rattle" my medic son wore in Afghanistan. This didn't include his weapon, ammo, medic pack, and water. I know he is tough but .... Humping all that up and down hill is just too much.

Drew in SC said...

Couple of thoughts.

The system above has many benefits but may not be best for all units.

1. On the odds that you find you or your unit in a situation where you are operating out of vehicles, a tac vest or similar will be much easier to deal with than a bunch of stuff on your waist or lower back. Getting in an out, dealing with seatbelts, and sitting comfortably are all facilitated by chest and back-mounted gear.

2. If you are operating in and out of large patches of woods and pasture, the few extra inches gained by being prone could save your profile and limit your visibility. But in urban or suburban combat--an arena in which, according to an army study, the vast majority of engagements are less than 50 yards--going prone is a death wish. In such a close engagement you must remain upright, keep your visibility, and be ready to move rapidly. He who can flank fastest will win.

The lightfighter concept is sound, but implementation should be dictated by a unit's AO and specific circumstances.

reference to Army study:

Tvarisch said...

I went through that phase where I had to have every piece of gear made, mostly for the propose of experimentation, but now I value simplicity and light weight. I like to say: "Stay light, move easy, run fast, live long."

ParaPacem said...

Sorry haven't checked in with you this week to see if you are OK but you have my number if you need me.
Exceptional article of course - but one little line still stares at me when i read this one. Just a minor disagreement.
I think that a folding e-tool may become an essential tool, depending on mission. A sniper or even medium to long range marksman, will find some type of digging implement invaluable in his trade. Not just for making a complete hide, but modifying available natural assets to best advantage for concealment before mission and often as not, use in withdrawing. Extra weight, yes. And for a skirmish or group assault, probably not a necessity.

But for those who go out along - in 'grey' - or in a formal pair, it can be helpful.

Chef said...

I read it the first time, and re-read it this time. Good info. Thanks for posting it again. It reminded me that I need to get a new pair of suspenders, which, I had forgotten to do. This time the "H" support, not the "Y" pair.

Anonymous said...

I like the M1956-type gear as well as anybody and have resisted, with mixed results, the changes to chest rigs and/or vests as its replacement.

While still liking the M1956 stuff, set up for ME... a person might want to try on whatever ruck they are current with, to see if the two systems are compatible.

I found that a well-fitted M1956 rig was not compatible with the Army's newer sort of Molle II pack. It does work with the Alice packs, of course.

You pays your monies, you takes your chances. Make sure your web gear and ruck combo matches your perceived need. Square pegs in round holes don't get it.

For me, compatibility with the Molle II ruck system was the most important thing, and I've gone away from the M1956 in favor of small and light chest rigs, with a small amount of water on the rig. I could not make the current FLC work for me, too hot.

The interference point of the generationally different rigs, was at the ruck's waistbelt area.

Others' experiences will vary. Hint... make the time for your own experience, find out what works for your needs.


Semper Fi, 0321 said...

Having used most of the M1956 gear when I was in the Corps, I still prefer it over most of the newer crap. Lately I moved over to a British Molle desert vest with US molle M4 pouches which will carry almost any type of mag combo(M-14,FAL, M-16) and my US molle canteen pouches(w/ cups and heaters) and IFAC. Pistol mags and Gerber tool on chest. Butt pack and poncho on back. The newer nylon buttpacks are shit, the d-ring attachment need fixing so they don't wear thru in a week. Put a VN issue E-tool on your ruck, worth every ounce of weight. Also got a Brit issue desert basha (has handles for use as a stretcher), great addition to a Bundeswehr poncho for shelter! 50' paracord and MRE's in buttpack.

Tvarisch said...

Everything ultimately comes down to what kind of fight you find yourself in, which may not be up to you to decide, unless you start the fight... But anyway, we're all basically guerrillas when it comes down to it, and the essence of guerrilla warfare can be summed up as Hit - Run - Hide, which requires speed more than sustainment, and heavy battle loads have no place - anywhere - in the history of guerrilla warfare, not that I can find. A light load and a network of caches generally works best for guerrillas.

Anonymous said...

What would be the feasibility of replacing one of the one-quart canteen w/cup with a two-quart canteen w/o cup?

Ands has anyone tried to stack two butt-packs on an H-frame web gear?

B Woodman

dozer said...

Instead of 550 cord I use bungees.

they are self tighening and no need for knots. Faster to hook up and tear down and they help secure gear when not in use.

Anonymous said...

I’ve been looking for a M1956 load bearing vest that’s complete since May.

It seems everyone wants them as well since I’m having trouble finding one.

I looked on eBay once in a while and the ones I have found so far are not complete or they go high.

Where can I get (several) M1956 type gear; places like cheaper than Dirt don’t seem to have them anymore.

Please if you have a source share it with us please.

Semper Fi, 0321 said... in Ohio, in Chicago, in Ariz.
have all treated me well and carry lots of the older gear. Also try Google.

And for those of you that don't like e-tools and gas masks, how are you gonna cover your shit or evade even tear gas??? They are as essential as your rifle and canteens. Or not.

gandalf23 said...

Not webgear related, but helmet related.

have y'all seen the Israeli IDF Mitznefet? It's a camouflage net which is placed on the helmet in order to distort the helmet's typical rounded shape. The Mitznefet is fully reversible - one side has woodland pattern and the other a desert pattern. It's oversized, like a chefs hat, so when worn you don't like like you're wearing a helmet.

Here's pictures:

Guys on eBay have them for $20.

Good idea? Bad? Dunno. Seems like a good idea to me, but what do I know? Thought it was interesting, and wouldn't be too hard to make one.

John Hardin said...

I asked this on the earlier post but I was too late, attention had moved on...

the canvas M1956 ... absorbs moisture

Would spraying it with Scotchgard or some similar waterproofing treatment be a good thing to do?