Archive for the 'Women in Combat' Category



Heavy Loads Could Burden Women’s Infantry Role

BY Herschel Smith
1 year ago

Military.com:

If and when women assume the role of infantry soldier, one of the biggest challenges they may face is the weight on their backs, according to an official at the Veterans Health Administration.

The average female will have trouble as infantry soldiers must carry a load often weighing more than 80 pounds for many hours at a time over rugged terrain in some cases, said Dr. David Cifu, national director of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Veterans Health Administration.

“I’m certain the majority of women doing this won’t be physically able to do it as long as the men. It’s a matter of body size and body mechanics,” Cifu said.

Well gosh.  This could be embarrassing for the women, the Army, the Marines and just about everybody associated with this effort.  If only someone could have said something beforehand?  If Dirty Mick and my son Daniel had only weighed in on this issue, maybe some of this embarrassment and trouble could have been avoided.

Developments Concerning Women In Combat

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 2 months ago

Women in combat, and in fact, in special operations.

The commander of U.S. special operations said Tuesday he expects to see women in the elite commando forces now that the Pentagon is allowing them to serve in combat.

Adm. William McRaven, head of the US special operations command, said he was “fully supportive” of the decision to lift the ban on women in combat.

I’ll tell you what.  Obama has himself some lackeys doesn’t he?  Adm. McRaven is remarkable.  But no more so than the current Commandant of the Marine Corps.

In his first interview since the Pentagon opened ground combat jobs to women, the commandant of the Marine Corps said some occupations may ultimately remain closed if only a small number qualify.

The Marines will not lower physical standards for certain specialties, Gen. James Amos told USA TODAY. “We can’t afford to lower standards,” he said. “We can’t make adjustments on what’s required on the battlefield.

“That’s not why America has a Marine Corps,” he said.

Sounds like he isn’t so much of a lackey, huh?  But wait.

The Pentagon last week ordered that the services provide the opportunity for women to enter all fields, including infantry, tanks, artillery and other combat arms.

The entire process could take years as the services develop and validate “gender neutral” standards. The secretary of Defense would have to approve any fields that remain closed to women.

“If the numbers are so small with regards to qualification, then there very may well be (job fields) that remain closed,” Amos said. “Those will be few and far between.”

Deploying only one or two female servicemembers in a unit, for example, would make it difficult for the women to succeed. “You want to have assimilation … so our females can mentor one another,” Amos said.

“Difficult for women to succeed.”  We wouldn’t want that.  After all, that’s what the military is there for – to allow women to succeed.

I’ve already discussed my own (and my son’s) view of women in combat.  I can’t add that much to it except to say that it’s the most stupid social project the American progressives have ever conceived.  But let someone else tell you that as well.

America has been creeping closer and closer to allowing women in combat, so Wednesday’s news that the decision has now been made is not a surprise. It appears that female soldiers will be allowed on the battlefield but not in the infantry. Yet it is a distinction without much difference: Infantry units serve side-by-side in combat with artillery, engineers, drivers, medics and others who will likely now include women. The Pentagon would do well to consider realities of life in combat as it pushes to mix men and women on the battlefield.

Many articles have been written regarding the relative strength of women and the possible effects on morale of introducing women into all-male units. Less attention has been paid to another aspect: the absolutely dreadful conditions under which grunts live during war.

Most people seem to believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have merely involved driving out of a forward operating base, patrolling the streets, maybe getting in a quick firefight, and then returning to the forward operating base and its separate shower facilities and chow hall. The reality of modern infantry combat, at least the portion I saw, bore little resemblance to this sanitized view.I served in the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a Marine infantry squad leader. We rode into war crammed in the back of amphibious assault vehicles. They are designed to hold roughly 15 Marines snugly; due to maintenance issues, by the end of the invasion we had as many as 25 men stuffed into the back. Marines were forced to sit, in full gear, on each other’s laps and in contorted positions for hours on end. That was the least of our problems.

The invasion was a blitzkrieg. The goal was to move as fast to Baghdad as possible. The column would not stop for a lance corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, or even a company commander to go to the restroom. Sometimes we spent over 48 hours on the move without exiting the vehicles. We were forced to urinate in empty water bottles inches from our comrades.

Many Marines developed dysentery from the complete lack of sanitary conditions. When an uncontrollable urge hit a Marine, he would be forced to stand, as best he could, hold an MRE bag up to his rear, and defecate inches from his seated comrade’s face.

During the invasion, we wore chemical protective suits because of the fear of chemical or biological weapon attack. These are equivalent to a ski jumpsuit and hold in the heat. We also had to wear black rubber boots over our desert boots. On the occasions the column did stop, we would quickly peel off our rubber boots, desert boots and socks to let our feet air out.

Due to the heat and sweat, layers of our skin would peel off our feet. However, we rarely had time to remove our suits or perform even the most basic hygiene. We quickly developed sores on our bodies.

When we did reach Baghdad, we were in shambles. We had not showered in well over a month and our chemical protective suits were covered in a mixture of filth and dried blood. We were told to strip and place our suits in pits to be burned immediately. My unit stood there in a walled-in compound in Baghdad, naked, sores dotted all over our bodies, feet peeling, watching our suits burn. Later, they lined us up naked and washed us off with pressure washers.

And what sensible women wouldn’t want something like that?  So that women can experience the ultimate thrill of being shot at, going a month without a bath, getting their limbs blown off, and defecating near the faces of their colleagues, the evisceration of the U.S. military continues unabated so that the social engineers can have a legacy.

It’s a great country.

Amelioration of Battle Space Weight and Women in Combat

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 1 month ago

Do you recall what Tim Lynch said about battle space weight?

Many of their Marines are suffering chronic stress fractures, low back problems as well as hip problems caused by carrying loads in excess of 130 pounds daily.  ”We’re fighting the Mothers of America” said one; if we lose a Marine and he was not wearing everything in the inventory to protect him that becomes the issue.  Trying to explain that we have removed the body armor to reduce the chances of being shot is a losers game because you can’t produce data quantifying the reduction in gun shot wounds for troops who remain alert and are able to move fast due to a lighter load.

Do you recall what I said?

This Marine is carrying his backpack filled with food, hydration system, clothing, etc., and is also carrying ammunition, weapon, body armor, and other equipment.  He is likely going “across the line” at 120 to 130 pounds.  He is suffering in heat and with heavy battle space weight.  For weight lifters like me, let’s put this in terms we can understand.  This is like putting three York 45 pound plates in a backpack and humping it for ten or fifteen miles in 100+ degree Fahrenheit weather.

Battle space weight is a recurring theme at The Captain’s Journal, and will remain so.  Money should be devoted to the weight reduction of SAPI plates in body armor and other low and even high hanging fruit.  The weight of water is decided by God and cannot be altered.

Another salient point bears down on us.  This is why women are not allowed in Marine infantry (or Army Special Forces), and why women suffered an inordinately high number of lower extremity injuries (leading to ineffective Russian units) when they deployed with the Russian Army in their losing campaign in Afghanistan.  Just like God decides the weight of water, He also decides the physiques of men and women.

And NPR weighs in.

Soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan routinely carry between 60 and 100 pounds of gear including body armor, weapons and batteries.

The heavy loads shouldered over months of duty contribute to the chronic pain suffered by soldiers like Spc. Joseph Chroniger, who deployed to Iraq in 2007.

Twenty-five years old, he has debilitating pain from a form of degenerative arthritis and bone spurs. “I mean my neck hurts every day. Every day,” he says. “You can’t concentrate on anything but that because it hurts that bad.”

Like many soldiers and Marines, Chroniger shouldered 70 to 80 pounds of gear daily.

A 2001 Army Science Board study recommended that no soldier carry more than 50 pounds for any length of time.

“We were doing three, four, five missions a night sometimes,” Chroniger says. “You’re jumping out. You’re running. I mean it hurts — it hurts.”

Muscle strain is usually a short-term condition that has always been prevalent among soldiers.

But after a decade of war, the number of acute injuries that have progressed to the level of chronic pain has grown significantly.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who retired with musculoskeletal conditions grew tenfold between 2003 and 2009.

Col. Stephen Bolt, chief of anesthesia at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., says the Army has started deploying physical therapists to serve with some infantry brigades in combat areas.

“The faster you can address some of those issues at the clinic level, the less likely you are to see those injuries progress to a true chronic-pain state that’s going to require them to be evacuated from theater and replaced by someone else,” Bolt says.

But that’s a relatively new concept.

Col. Diane Flynn, chief of pain medicine at Madigan, says chronic pain is complex and challenging for the patient and the physician.

“Primary care providers who provide most of the pain management to patients have had very limited tools in their toolbox,” she says. “And it’s medications for the most part and maybe physical therapy — but very little to offer in addition to that.”

In an effort to provide more options for pain management and lessen the dependence on prescription drugs, the Army is starting to incorporate other forms of treatment including yoga, meditation and acupuncture.

Deploying physical therapists is a great idea.  But the best possible enhancement to warrior recovery hasn’t been floated, i.e., deployment of Chiropractors.  Reduction of battle space weight is one avenue of approach to maintain healthy skeletal and soft tissue systems, but immediate medical amelioration is possibly the best effect for the dollar that could be spent.  Chiropractors are our best bet.

On another front, we find repeated accounts of the duress that our warriors are under due to battle space weight, and this, interestingly enough, at the same time that we see silly and sophomoric advocacy for women in combat roles.  But Former Spook reminds us that:

Almost 20 years ago, columnist Fred Reed published results of an Army study, comparing fitness levels among male and female soldiers. The data reaffirms that most women simply lack the upper body strength and endurance required by an Army infantryman, a Marine rifleman, or most special forces MOS’s.

The average female Army recruit is 4.8 inches shorter, 31.7 pounds lighter, has 37.4 fewer pounds of muscle, and 5.7 more pounds of fat than the average male recruit. She has only 55 percent of the upper-body strength and 72 percent of the lower-body strength… An Army study of 124 men and 186 women done in 1988 found that women are more than twice as likely to suffer leg injuries and nearly five times as likely to suffer fractures as men.

The Commission heard an abundance of expert testimony about the physical differences between men and women that can be summarized as follows:

Women’s aerobic capacity is significantly lower, meaning they cannot carry as much as far as fast as men, and they are more susceptible to fatigue.

In terms of physical capability, the upper five percent of women are at the level of the male median. The average 20-to-30 year-old woman has the same aerobic capacity as a 50 year-old man.

The same report also cited a West Point study from the early 90s which discovered that, in terms of fitness, the upper quintile of female cadets achieved scores equal to the lowest quintile of their male counterparts (emphasis ours).

So, what’s a chief diversity officer supposed to do (don’t laugh–the commission recommends creation of that very post, reporting directly to the SecDef). Water down the standards so more women will qualify for combat service, removing that “barrier” to reaching the flag ranks? Or create some sort of double-standard, allowing females to punch their resumes in the right places and continue their climb to the stars.

Good data and perspective, but he equivocates by saying:

No one disputes the benefits of more flag officers who are women or members of minority groups. But the real emphasis should be on demanding excellence from all who aspire to flag rank, and promoting those who meet–and exceed–a very high bar. Some of the “remedies” outlined in the Lyles report seem closer to social engineering, particularly when you introduce the notions of “measurement” and “metrics.”

So that no one is confused and to ensure that I’m not misinterpreted, and just to make sure that we know that Former Spook is incorrect in this first assertion, let me state unequivocally and without reservation: I do dispute the benefits of more flag officers who are women or members of minority groups.

Note that this is from someone who would vote for a certain black man for president of the U.S. before any white man I know (and my co-blogger agrees).  I see no need to recruit the presumed “brightest” from Ivy League schools, and no one has offered me a compelling reason to believe that the principles of war and strategy and tactics in warfare are a function of race or gender, any more than, say, the sciences or engineering could benefit from a white, black, male or female presence.  Anyone who believes something like that doesn’t understand the sciences or engineering (or warfare).  That kind of thought is reserved for onlookers who want to do social engineering.  It’s for the land of make-believe, the domain of people who spent too much time and money learning from effeminate professors in college classrooms.

And so too the notion that women can handle loads of 120 pounds on ten miles humps when male bodies are breaking down doing it.  Long gone are the notions of winning hearts and minds by driving to the front in vehicles and drinking tea as a means to combat the insurgency.  This is an infantryman’s war, and it means fighting.

Finally, just to make sure that you know the stakes, let me make one thing clear.  If you claim that combat “roles” should be opened up to women but don’t clearly delineated that you mean infantryman (for the Marines that MOS 0311), you are hedging and not being honest.  At least be honest with what you say.  And finally, if you claim that the infantryman MOS should be opened up to women but exclude special operations forces, you are a liar.

Let me make it clear again.  If you want to open the infantryman billet to women but exclude SOF (SEAL, Ranger, Green Beret, Army Combat Diver, Marine Scout Sniper, Force Recon), you are a liar.  You are being disingenuous and dishonest, and it’s not even worth debating you.  You don’t really even believe what you are saying.  You want to believe that infantry is now only part of so-called “general purpose” forces, that they serve only as policemen in our new nation-building paradigm.  Leave it to SOF to do the kinetics.  But you know that this won’t last.  Your paradigm is a pipe dream, and Afghanistan and Iraq have shown that.

So if you care to debate the issue I am open to such a debate.  But let’s be clear that it doesn’t begin at opening “combat roles” to women (whatever combat roles means).  The debate will be an honest one, which means that in order to be consistent and honest, you must advocate that all billets, including SOF, be opened to women.  Otherwise, don’t even bother with the debate.

Women in the Infantry

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 7 months ago

Quite an ugly exchange took place a few days over the issue of women in infantry (note, not women in the military, but women in infantry) .  But many may still harbor the notion – or believe the myth – that it’s all about social mores.  My detractor is not a Marine infantryman, and neither am I.  So I decided to go right to an authority on the issue and discuss this with a certain Marine infantryman whom I know that has spent a lot of time in the field, earning the combat action ribbon in Iraq.

I expected a visceral reaction, and to my surprise I got much more of a reflective, studied response than I bargained for, at least initially.  The initial thoughts concerned the Navy Corpsmen and the sorts of things they treat for Marines on a daily basis when Marines are in the field for 28 days and don’t shower.  A whole host of different diseases and different logistical concerns would exist for women than for men.  But we won’t rehearse the balance of that part of the discussion – it was far too personal.  Other issues were brought up.  The very long discussion eventually shifted to a number of physical issues.  It went something like this (this is a condensed summary statement of what I heard; there was much more than included below).

“Look.  Whoever said this is a pogue and has never been in the field.  Yes, it’s about the 120+ temperatures – it’s almost impossible to operate.  Yes, it’s about the heavy body armor, and in full gear with backpack, hydration, weapon and ammunition, it’s more than 120 pounds for as long as the hump, 15 or 20 miles.  But it’s really about more than that.  It’s even more than about the ability to carry heavy weight for long distances in high temperatures.  We don’t bathe for a month at a time.  If we are doing MCMAP quals, we beat the hell out of each other, continually – every day, all of the time.  Literally.  Men beat the hell out of men, and get it back too.

Remember when I was in Fallujah and I had to jump off of the roof of the house?  I was under fire, my unit was leaving and I had to catch the HMMWV, and I had on full body armor with hydration, SAW drums and SAW.  And I had to jump from the roof of a house to the ground.  I have had to tackle men in Fallujah who were assaulting us.  Full grown men, attacking us by hand.  Football style tackle with holds and moves on the dude while in full body armor.

Remember when I trained the SAW gunners before ___________?  I would make them hit the road for a four or five mile run in the morning, full armor, to the range.  Range all day, then four or five miles back.  Screw PTs.  Can you run and live all day in full armor?

You want to know what it’s like, physically, to be an infantry Marine in the field?  Strap 120 pounds on your body and play men’s football for a season, and do it while being sleep deprived with guys dropping around you from heat stroke.  Do squad rushes with full weight.  And when you hit the ground, don’t pretend.  Hit the ground.

Whoever said this is a f****** pogue.  He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but he’s trying to impress the women around him.  He’s listened to what they’ve said for too long.  Tell him I said that he’s a pogue and sits behind a desk.  Time to get his ass up and hit the field with the infantry Marines.  Then he’ll understand.”

So there you have it.  The case is closed for The Captain’s Journal because an authority has spoken on the issue.

Counterinsurgency, Brutality and Women in Combat

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

Generally I think that articles which rely on the ideas of other bloggers is to be avoided.  Occasionally however, it is appropriate to respond to critics.  One strength of blogging is the ability to link, criticize, interact, and respond.  I accept that although I don’t want it to dominate my prose.

Now for Gulliver at Ink Spots.

People will use just about anything as evidence for things they already believe.

Case in point: Herschel Smith thinks that the presence of women in Soviet combat formations is one of the top five most important reasons for their failure in Afghanistan.

I think that other things were essential to the loss, including [a] focus on the cities v. the countryside, [b] complete breakdown of the lines of logistics due to [a] above, [c] heavy losses because of Taliban control over the roads due to [a] above, [d] focus on mounted combat and mounted patrols as opposed to dismounted operations, [e] women in combat billets which led to a high number of lower extremity injuries and a high number of combat ineffective units, and a whole host of other things. [emphasis mine]

This comes in the SWJ comment thread about an article on “Sri Lanka’s disconcerting COIN strategy,” as part of a post in which Smith dismisses Soviet “ruthlessness” as one of the primary reasons for defeat in the Afghan war.

So in short, girls in the infantry were more damaging to the Russian war effort than bad counterinsurgency tactics. “There is the thing of testosterone, and it’s different because God made it that way.” Ok? Ok. Glad we cleared that one up.

Let’s think carefully about both my comment and Gulliver’s reaction to it.  Both say something about the commenters and their thought boundaries.  The comment was left at the Small Wars Journal blog in response to an article by Major Niel Smith.  If I may be allowed to summarize the thesis, he posits that the more violent and less population centric counterinsurgency model has its supporters.  He specifically mentions Ralph Peters and Colonel Gian Gentile; I’m not sure sure about Ralph Peters, but I would comment that the inclusion of Colonel Gentile in this category is true to some extent, but somewhat inappropriate given the nuance included in Gentile’s model and also given the use made of this inclusion (for one of the best discussions of Gentile’s position, see The Imperative for an American General Purpose Army That Can Fight, Foreign Policy Research Institute).  His (Niel Smith’s) discussion ranges into the brutality of less population centric counterinsurgency, and in this he should have (in my opinion) focused more on Edward Luttwak.

But getting back to the main point, Niel goes on to grant the assumption that some of the evidence is compelling in favor of this view, but that there is even more compelling contrary evidence – defeater evidence – for the success rate of counterinsurgency focused on heavier combat tactics.  At this point he uses several examples, one of which is the Russian campaign in Afghanistan.

So Niel has written a fairly open minded article positing that there is evidence to support what I will call the Luttwak position, while more compelling defeater evidence.  He then invites critique.  In my critique I didn’t weigh in on the overall thesis, but did essentially state that the Russian campaign was a poor example to support the thesis.  I opined that there were other more important reasons that the Russians lost the campaign.

Enter Gulliver.  He thinks that I have listed my top five reasons that the Russian campaign failed.  Why Gulliver thinks that I have listed my top five reasons is not known.  Gulliver would have to answer that question himself.  If I had been asked to list my top reasons that the Russian campaign failed, I probably would lead with focus on the population centers and relegation of the countryside to the Taliban to recruit, train and raise support.  In second place wouldn’t be U.S. help and assistance, although many would place this one in first or second.  My second reason (challenging for top spot) would be the existence of the Russian made RPG, plentiful to the Taliban for reasons that included U.S. help.  The Russian RPG was the first EFP (explosively formed projectile) used en mass on the battle field.

But no one asked me to enumerate my top five reasons the campaign failed.  I merely included a list of things that initially came to mind.  Let’s deal with women in combat now.  Gulliver’s response drips with sarcasm even after his incorrect assumptions concerning my list of reasons that the Russians lost.  But it remains undisputed that there were women in combat billets in the Russian campaign, and it remains undisputed that there were a large number of lower extremity injuries and that this led to a large number of ineffective units.

Marine in Helmand suffering under a heavy combat load, way more than 100 pounds.

But there is more to discuss on this issue.  As regular readers know, we have followed the dismounted campaign by the U.S. Marines in the Helmand Province.  CBS reporter Lara Logan has seen the Marines in Helmand without an ounce of fat on their bodies, and she has even expressed concern over their health.  When my son deployed to Fallujah he was so slim and muscular that I wondered how he would lose any weight whatsoever, as there was no weight to lose.  The only way he lost 20 or 30 pounds was the same way the Marines in Helmand do it.  The body turns on itself and begins eating muscle for energy.  I am a weight lifter and I know how to avoid this, i.e., I know when to stop my workout because I am no longer helping my body.  It’s actually dangerous, although Ms. Logan doesn’t know how to express it.  The body hurts itself when it begins using muscle and internal organs for energy.

Here is a test question.  We have discussed the Marines carrying 120 pounds on their back in 120 F heat in Helmand, patrolling all day and even conducting squad rushes with this weight.  Now for the question for the readers.  How many of you – raise your hands now – believe that women could carry 120 pounds in 120 F heat all day in Helmand and then conduct squad rushes?  You can answer in the comments – it’s okay.  But if you answer yes, you are also required to tell us what kind of dope you’ve been smoking.  You see, we all know what the honest answer to this question is, even if Gulliver doesn’t admit that he does.

Now let’s close with a little examination of what the Democrats think about special forces, special operations forces, and women in combat billets.  I support women in the military, and one example of such a role would be the use of female Marines to interact with Afghan women after terrain has been seized.  But the Democrats in Congress ( hereafter Dems) wanted something different for the Army.  Hence, women occupy combat billets in the Army.

The Dems want their social experiments and projects, but even they know that there has to be a boundary for this.  Michael Fumento has a good article on the Dems’ love of SF and SOF and their promise to expand the SF.  I have weighed in on the cult of Special Forces, so I won’t reiterate my issues with the Dems’ proposal or Michael Fumento’s prose here.

The point is that SF are deployed all over the globe.  They are involved in black operations that are never seen, never heard of, and are not subject to the Dems’ social experiments.  The Dems know this and they want it that way.  Women are not allowed in combat billets, not in the Special Forces, not in the Special Operations Forces, and not in Marine infantry.  The Dems want their programs, but they also want to know that they can call on infantry to do the job of infantry, so they restrict their own programs to known boundaries.  I challenged those boundaries and believe that they should not allow women in Army infantry.  The Dems include women in Army infantry.  But they stop there.  Not the Marines, and not Army SF.

There you have it.  They are at the best simply not forthcoming, and at the worst, disingenuous liars.  The truth gets spoken in quiet circles when no one but the power brokers are listening.  The public hears what the power brokers want them to hear.  One piece of that tripe is that there is no difference between men and women in the military.  They know better, but don’t want you to know that they know.

Now back to Gulliver … if Gulliver has managed to hang on and pay attention this long.  Is it I who has allowed his bias (presuppositions) to dictate the outcome, or Gulliver?  Note again his comments above.  Gulliver is simply indignant that I have “dismissed” Soviet ruthlessness as the reason for their failure in the campaign.  But isn’t he begging the question?  Has he not even allowed the Niel Smith’s assumptions to dictate the course of the debate?  Niel has allowed that there is evidence that supports Luttwak’s thesis, but believes that there is stronger defeater evidence.  Gulliver doesn’t engage in the debate.  He simply assumes that the Soviets lost due to the reasons he outlines, and then proceeds from there.  Who then is the one who uses just about anything as evidence for things he already believes?

The reader can judge for himself.  In the mean time, I have given you Luttwak, Gentile, Niel Smith, women in combat billets, heavy combat loads, squad rushes, the Small Wars Journal blog, SF and SOF, black operations and the Dems in Congress to think about.

If I ever give you worthless tripe like you read at Ink Spots, you should savage me in the comments.

Concerning Marines and Mules

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

Yes, there is many a Marine NCO out there who after reading the title of this post, is asking himself “what’s the difference?”  Well, Starbuck at the Small Wars Journal Blog has written about the recent Marine Corps training in mule handling as a means of transport of heavy supplies, including ammunition, ordnance, and the other things that weigh the Marine down while patrolling and travelling.

With 75 pounds of military gear cinched on her furry back, Annie was stubborn the whole way.

The two Marines assigned to her pushed, pulled and sweet-talked her up the steep, twisting trail on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.

“C’mon, girl, you can make it,” Lance Cpl. Chad Campbell whispered in her ear.

“Only one more hill,” promised Lance Cpl. Cameron Cross as he shoved Annie’s muscular hindquarters.

The red-hued donkey snorted, nibbled on grass and let loose that distinctive braying, which begins with a loud nasal inhalation and concludes with an even louder blast of deep-throated protest.

She also dropped green, foul-smelling clumps, which the Marines carefully sidestepped.

On the rocky, uneven path, Annie never stumbled. A good donkey, Marines say, knows three steps ahead where it wants to walk.

For Campbell and Cross, the day with Annie could be a preview of days to come. The two may soon deploy to Afghanistan, where donkeys and mules have been the preferred mode of military transport for centuries — and remain so.

With the U.S. shifting its focus from the deserts of Iraq to the mountains of Central Asia, this course on pack animals at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center has become critical to the new mission.

I just have one bone to pick.  I dealt with this almost four months ago in Marines, Animals and Counterinsurgency.  I also linked and embedded the video of the Big Dog, a mechanized set of processors, servos and other components that will malfunction, have no power when the batteries degrade or die, and require constant maintenance due to dust, mud, and overuse.  Brandon Friedman at the SWJ has it about right.

The BigDog seems pretty ridiculous. We could probably buy a mule for every infantry squad in Afghanistan and feed it for a year for well under the price of one BigDog. How does the BigDog work in the rain? Can it make a water crossing? How many batteries does it require? How heavy are they? How are they charged? Who’s trained to do maintenance on it? Will he or she have to accompany the BigDog on missions? I really love the stealthy buzzing sound it makes, too.

Yes, the thing sounds like a million angry Africanized bees.  I am all in favor of weight reduction for warriors, and have constantly advocated R&D for ESAPI plates to reduce body armor weight.  But the low hanging fruit has been picked, and any further weight reductions will come at high expense and hard work.

I can’t escape the feeling that some of the drive at DARPA to build mechanical beasts to support logistics has to do with the eradication or neutralization of gender differences.  We have dealt with this issue before in:

Marines, Beasts and Water

Scenes from Operation Khanjar II

Where we discussed the fact that Marine infantry and Army Special Forces don’t allow females to occupy billets.  Females have different PT requirements than males, and suffered an inordinately high number of lower extremity injuries compared to males in the Russian Army while they conducted their campaign in Afghanistan.

When the average Marine Infantryman leaves the line at greater than 120 pounds, it’s obvious that gender differences become pronounced, as do differences in conditioning and training.  If one supposes that this load is reduced to 90 – 100 pounds, how does that allow for the eradication of gender differences?  In fact, suppose that the Marine is only carrying his body armor, hydration system, weapon (let’s suppose a SAW), ammunition (let’s suppose several drums of ammunition), and a few other essentials for a daily patrol.  How does a reduction in the weight to 60 – 70 pounds eradicate gender differences when the Marine needs to sprint from compound to compound in order to avoid sniper fire?

As for the mules and donkeys, I have previously described my view of what fathers should be doing with their sons.  My Marine knew how to train Quarter horses and care for dogs before he ever went into the Marines because I taught him.  He eventually became better than me.  Every Marine should know something about how to handle dogs, mules, horses, and other animals, and should also know something about the anatomy of animals (e.g., how do you prepare a snake to eat after you have killed it, how do you care for horses in the absence of a farrier, and so on).

As we pointed out before, the discussions about animals in the Small Wars Manual doesn’t seem so far fetched in this day and age, does it?  The Afghanistan terrain and climate that would kill most machines is ready made for beasts of burden.

In summary, weight reduction ought to be pursued with available funds to reduce the burden on the Infantryman.  But Marine infantry is for young men, and the push to eradicate gender differences, if that’s what this is about, makes the DoD and DARPA look stupid.  Marine Infantrymen must be males for a whole host of very good reasons.  The push to eradicate gender considerations should stop, as the money is needed elsewhere.  All Marines should know something about the proper care of animals, and there is no excuse for leaving this out of pre-deployment training.  The Marines aren’t so busy that they can’t rotate through a week long course with another Marine instructor who has himself been more thoroughly trained on animals.

Seriously.  What could possibly be controversial about what I have said?

Scenes from Operation Khanjar II

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

U.S. Marine Cpl. Brian Knight, of Cincinnati, Ohio, with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, 1st Battalion 5th Marines, pauses briefly in the heat to rest with his heavy pack filled with mortar equipment, ammunition, food, and water in the Nawa district in Afghanistan’s Helmand province Saturday, July 4, 2009.

This Marine is carrying his backpack filled with food, hydration system, clothing, etc., and is also carrying ammunition, weapon, body armor, and other equipment.  He is likely going “across the line” at 120 to 130 pounds.  He is suffering in heat and with heavy battle space weight.  For weight lifters like me, let’s put this in terms we can understand.  This is like putting three York 45 pound plates in a backpack and humping it for ten or fifteen miles in 100+ degree Fahrenheit weather.

Battle space weight is a recurring theme at The Captain’s Journal, and will remain so.  Money should be devoted to the weight reduction of SAPI plates in body armor and other low and even high hanging fruit.  The weight of water is decided by God and cannot be altered.

Another salient point bears down on us.  This is why women are not allowed in Marine infantry (or Army Special Forces), and why women suffered an inordinately high number of lower extremity injuries (leading to ineffective Russian units) when they deployed with the Russian Army in their losing campaign in Afghanistan.  Just like God decides the weight of water, He also decides the physiques of men and women.

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Cryin’ Cause the Story’s Sad

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 months ago

The L.A. Times looks at women in combat, and while the whole article is worth reading, here is one quote that waxed interesting.

“I felt like the Gestapo,” she said. “All I could think of was ‘What would I feel like if somebody did this to me?’ “

Regular readers know our position on women in combat. Women in the military is one thing, but women in combat is quite another. Russia had women in the infantry during its war with Afghanistan, and found that women suffered a disproportionately high number of lower extremity injuries and men did foolish things attempting to pair up with and take care of women. There is the thing of testosterone, and it’s different because God made it that way. The PT requirements are different between male and female Marines because they have to be, and the Marines don’t allow women in infantry.

The day that the Marines have women in the infantry will be the day that the U.S. Marines as we know it ceases to exist. OF course, all of this is controversial, and it could be that The Captain’s Journal has made a number of women mad over this post. As for kicking in doors in counterinsurgency, to be sure, one has to know when to show respect for a sheikh and when to treat him like the rest of the population – when to bust in doors, and when to sit and watch ball games on TV. It should all redound to winning the counterinsurgency campaign, and whatever is deemed appropriate at the time should be done.

As for the woman who couldn’t stop feeling like the Gestapo, the immediate reaction here at TCJ comes from a tune by Joe Walsh, and the line is “and we don’t need the ladies cryin’ cause the story’s sad.”

For the women reading this post, just relax with some weekend music instead of being angry with us.

MOS 0311: A Young Man’s Work

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

My son’s MOS is 0311: Marine Infantry.  It is my policy not to blog on things I learn from my son.  However, it is nice to see these things in print elsewhere, even if rather cleaned up for publication.  W. Thomas Smith, Jr., has written a great article entitled Young Man’s Work: A Snapshot of Marine Life.

Tired, dirty, footsore, slightly dehydrated, hungry, and with an aching back and shoulders, I limped toward the battalion headquarters building from where a clean, fit, and slightly younger Lt. Col. Jason Bohm — task force commander of 1st Battalion, 4th Marines — emerged. I had just returned to Forward Operating Base Al Qaim after several days operating out of one of Bohm’s battle positions up on Iraq’s Syrian border. Bohm was getting ready to head back out to be with his men.

“Colonel, this is young man’s work,? I said.

He smiled and responded, “That it is.?

Notice, I did not say young person’s work. Nor did I say simply, man’s work. Though I’ve unconsciously understood infantry work to be “young man’s work? ever since I participated in my first, fast, route-stepping distance-march with heavy equipment under a searing Camp Pendleton, California sun some 25 years ago, the conscious reality of it surfaced for the first time during my recent, second trip to Iraq.

Granted, “once a Marine, always a Marine.? But at 48-years-old, and a civilian for most of my adult life, I won’t pretend that I am as capable today of fighting, surviving, and contributing to an infantry unit in action, as I was when I was in my early 20’s. By most standards for my age, I’m still strong and quick and I certainly know how to fight. But I also know my limitations, and in spite of my willingness, my body simply cannot endure the extreme heat and cold as easily as it once did. It cannot bear the same loads that it once did, nor can it run the necessary distances at the necessary speeds, negotiate the physical obstacles, or function, as it once managed to, when deprived of food and sleep. Neither can it perform the myriad other tasks required of young infantrymen in modern war.

The fact is, beyond my ability to shoot and think, I would be a burden on any infantry force in a desperate situation in which everyone needs to pull his own load and assist others with theirs. I think this is true for most war correspondents, though many would never admit it.

Infantry campaigning is difficult, and it has been ever since man first picked up a few stones, shouldered a club, and moved against a neighboring tribe. And despite modern weapon-systems and many of the new modes of delivery — helicopter, various ground conveyances — that difficulty has not changed.

Of course, we all remember former Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder’s attempt to dismiss the physical severity of modern combat with her now-famous line: “A woman can push a button just as easily as a man.? Perhaps, if combat were limited to waiting on the unthinkable in an air-conditioned missile silo in the American West, but that’s not how war actually works.

Ground combat — including fighting, campaigning, and surviving in the wild — is a young man’s work. It means bearing heavy loads (In the modern world, much of a unit’s gear can be carried in vehicles. But because soldiers today have so much gear, a lot of it — particularly personal equipment — simply has to be borne on one’s back, shoulders, and hips.), surviving in remote environs and severe weather conditions, and maintaining a level of proper hygiene for good health: None of which are easy in an environment where men are hunting one another.

One example worth noting: During the 1st Marine Division’s epic fighting-withdrawal from Korea’s Chosin Reservoir in 1950, Marines in one of the most remote regions on earth found themselves up against some of the worst weather imaginable; Snow, ice, and mercilessly cold temperatures, which often plummeted to 30-40 degrees below zero, were among the climate elements endured. Long, black nights and lashing winds of up to 40 and 50 miles an hour sometimes dropped the temperatures even further. Everything froze: Motor oil, medicines, blood plasma, even hands and feet. Marines touching the steel of their weapons often lost skin. Everyone was bundled up as best as possible, but it was never enough. Worse, the heavy clothes caused the exerting Marines to sweat. If they stood still for any length of time, the sweat turned to ice. The severe frostbite and other cold-related injuries were staggering.

As the Marines pulled back along the narrow reservoir road, the enemy attacked again-and-again, often at close quarters with the bayonet. So the withdrawing Marines had to stay alert, healthy, and ready to respond with brute force in an instant. They also had to keep their wits about them and remain in formation.

When the Marines at Chosin needed to relieve themselves, they did so on the road. To stray from the column meant death by ambush or getting lost and freezing. They urinated on the march, and relieved themselves otherwise by stopping and squatting in the middle of the road while other troops simply passed by. It was simply a reality of the animal-like existence for infantry troops on the move in combat. It hasn’t changed in over 50 years, or a thousand.

Iraq for the infantry — particularly those in the forward-most patrol bases and battle positions — is no different in that sense.

I hope I have gotten you interested.  Finish the article here.  If you read nothing else this week, read Smith’s article.  The feminists will howl.  Their howls don’t change a thing, and Smith is still right.

This is reminiscent of Ernie Pyle’s description of the infantry.

I love the infantry because they are the underdogs. They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end they are the guys that wars can’t be won without.

I wish you could see just one of the ineradicable pictures I have in my mind today. In this particular picture I am sitting among clumps of sword-grass on a steep and rocky hillside that we have just taken. We are looking out over a vast rolling country to the rear.

A narrow path comes like a ribbon over a hill miles away, down a long slope, across a creek, up a slope and over another hill.

All along the length of this ribbon there is now a thin line of men. For four days and nights they have fought hard, eaten little, washed none, and slept hardly at all. Their nights have been violent with attack, fright, butchery, and their days sleepless and miserable with the crash of artillery.

The men are walking. They are fifty feet apart, for dispersal. Their walk is slow, for they are dead weary, as you can tell even when looking at them from behind. Every line and sag of their bodies speaks their inhuman exhaustion.

On their shoulders and backs they carry heavy steel tripods, machine-gun barrels, leaden boxes of ammunition. Their feet seem to sink into the ground from the overload they are bearing.

They don’t slouch. It is the terrible deliberation of each step that spells out their appalling tiredness. Their faces are black and unshaven. They are young men, but the grime and whiskers and exhaustion make them look middle-aged …

MOS 0311: A Young Man’s Work

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

My son’s MOS is 0311: Marine Infantry.  It is my policy not to blog on things I learn from my son.  However, it is nice to see these things in print elsewhere, even if rather cleaned up for publication.  W. Thomas Smith, Jr., has written a great article entitled Young Man’s Work: A Snapshot of Marine Life.

Tired, dirty, footsore, slightly dehydrated, hungry, and with an aching back and shoulders, I limped toward the battalion headquarters building from where a clean, fit, and slightly younger Lt. Col. Jason Bohm — task force commander of 1st Battalion, 4th Marines — emerged. I had just returned to Forward Operating Base Al Qaim after several days operating out of one of Bohm’s battle positions up on Iraq’s Syrian border. Bohm was getting ready to head back out to be with his men.

“Colonel, this is young man’s work,? I said.

He smiled and responded, “That it is.?

Notice, I did not say young person’s work. Nor did I say simply, man’s work. Though I’ve unconsciously understood infantry work to be “young man’s work? ever since I participated in my first, fast, route-stepping distance-march with heavy equipment under a searing Camp Pendleton, California sun some 25 years ago, the conscious reality of it surfaced for the first time during my recent, second trip to Iraq.

Granted, “once a Marine, always a Marine.? But at 48-years-old, and a civilian for most of my adult life, I won’t pretend that I am as capable today of fighting, surviving, and contributing to an infantry unit in action, as I was when I was in my early 20’s. By most standards for my age, I’m still strong and quick and I certainly know how to fight. But I also know my limitations, and in spite of my willingness, my body simply cannot endure the extreme heat and cold as easily as it once did. It cannot bear the same loads that it once did, nor can it run the necessary distances at the necessary speeds, negotiate the physical obstacles, or function, as it once managed to, when deprived of food and sleep. Neither can it perform the myriad other tasks required of young infantrymen in modern war.

The fact is, beyond my ability to shoot and think, I would be a burden on any infantry force in a desperate situation in which everyone needs to pull his own load and assist others with theirs. I think this is true for most war correspondents, though many would never admit it.

Infantry campaigning is difficult, and it has been ever since man first picked up a few stones, shouldered a club, and moved against a neighboring tribe. And despite modern weapon-systems and many of the new modes of delivery — helicopter, various ground conveyances — that difficulty has not changed.

Of course, we all remember former Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder’s attempt to dismiss the physical severity of modern combat with her now-famous line: “A woman can push a button just as easily as a man.? Perhaps, if combat were limited to waiting on the unthinkable in an air-conditioned missile silo in the American West, but that’s not how war actually works.

Ground combat — including fighting, campaigning, and surviving in the wild — is a young man’s work. It means bearing heavy loads (In the modern world, much of a unit’s gear can be carried in vehicles. But because soldiers today have so much gear, a lot of it — particularly personal equipment — simply has to be borne on one’s back, shoulders, and hips.), surviving in remote environs and severe weather conditions, and maintaining a level of proper hygiene for good health: None of which are easy in an environment where men are hunting one another.

One example worth noting: During the 1st Marine Division’s epic fighting-withdrawal from Korea’s Chosin Reservoir in 1950, Marines in one of the most remote regions on earth found themselves up against some of the worst weather imaginable; Snow, ice, and mercilessly cold temperatures, which often plummeted to 30-40 degrees below zero, were among the climate elements endured. Long, black nights and lashing winds of up to 40 and 50 miles an hour sometimes dropped the temperatures even further. Everything froze: Motor oil, medicines, blood plasma, even hands and feet. Marines touching the steel of their weapons often lost skin. Everyone was bundled up as best as possible, but it was never enough. Worse, the heavy clothes caused the exerting Marines to sweat. If they stood still for any length of time, the sweat turned to ice. The severe frostbite and other cold-related injuries were staggering.

As the Marines pulled back along the narrow reservoir road, the enemy attacked again-and-again, often at close quarters with the bayonet. So the withdrawing Marines had to stay alert, healthy, and ready to respond with brute force in an instant. They also had to keep their wits about them and remain in formation.

When the Marines at Chosin needed to relieve themselves, they did so on the road. To stray from the column meant death by ambush or getting lost and freezing. They urinated on the march, and relieved themselves otherwise by stopping and squatting in the middle of the road while other troops simply passed by. It was simply a reality of the animal-like existence for infantry troops on the move in combat. It hasn’t changed in over 50 years, or a thousand.

Iraq for the infantry — particularly those in the forward-most patrol bases and battle positions — is no different in that sense.

I hope I have gotten you interested.  Finish the article here.  If you read nothing else this week, read Smith’s article.  The feminists will howl.  Their howls don’t change a thing, and Smith is still right.

This is reminiscent of Ernie Pyle’s description of the infantry.

I love the infantry because they are the underdogs. They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end they are the guys that wars can’t be won without.

I wish you could see just one of the ineradicable pictures I have in my mind today. In this particular picture I am sitting among clumps of sword-grass on a steep and rocky hillside that we have just taken. We are looking out over a vast rolling country to the rear.

A narrow path comes like a ribbon over a hill miles away, down a long slope, across a creek, up a slope and over another hill.

All along the length of this ribbon there is now a thin line of men. For four days and nights they have fought hard, eaten little, washed none, and slept hardly at all. Their nights have been violent with attack, fright, butchery, and their days sleepless and miserable with the crash of artillery.

The men are walking. They are fifty feet apart, for dispersal. Their walk is slow, for they are dead weary, as you can tell even when looking at them from behind. Every line and sag of their bodies speaks their inhuman exhaustion.

On their shoulders and backs they carry heavy steel tripods, machine-gun barrels, leaden boxes of ammunition. Their feet seem to sink into the ground from the overload they are bearing.

They don’t slouch. It is the terrible deliberation of each step that spells out their appalling tiredness. Their faces are black and unshaven. They are young men, but the grime and whiskers and exhaustion make them look middle-aged …


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