ARLINGTON, Va. — Every soldier in every infantry unit in the U.S. Army knows
the legend of the "120-pound rucksack." References to the "monster ruck" have
become shorthand for today's overburdened foot soldier, struggling to fight
while hauling the equivalent of another soldier on his back.
The monster ruck is a myth, according to Lt. Col. Charles Dean, an infantry
officer serving as the Army's liaison to the Institute for Soldier
Nanotechnologies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but that doesn't
mean soldiers aren't carrying huge loads — up to 150 pounds.
The burden actually includes body armor, helmets, canteens, weapons and other
gear that soldiers strap on or tote long before they pick up their rucksacks.
All told, the average weight carried by a soldier on a dismounted operation is
about 100 pounds, including a 30- to 40-pound rucksack, Dean said in a Thursday
To anyone who's been deployed, it's obvious that a soldier's gear needs to be
And the Army is working on just that: "Future Force Warrior" will spell out
what a soldier will wear and use come 2012.
The program includes "some very stringent weight-reduction goals" — shaving a
soldier's burden by 50 percent, Dean said.
Advanced materials are a key to this effort, such as composites that could
make weapons smaller and lighter, yet still more lethal. So are advances in
electronics and other high-tech areas that will let engineers miniaturize
equipment such as radios, and develop dual-use gear, like helmets with built-in
night vision gear.
But the researchers had a problem: in the Army's 228-year history, no one had
ever gone into a combat zone to analyze just what soldiers were carrying, Dean
And without a baseline, trying to figure out how to lighten the load is going
to be a wasted exercise, he said.
To get that baseline, Dean and seven Airborne Rangers spent May and June in
Afghanistan with infantry soldiers, analyzing loads in real combat situations.
The purpose of the trip was twofold, Dean said: to collect information that
will help the Army design the Future Warrior's kit, and to provide data on
problems with current gear that will help the Army provide soldiers with more
efficient, capable gear right now, not in the future.
Dean and his Rangers selected "Task Force Devil," the 82nd Airborne
Division's 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, as their test unit.
"It was a 'skinny' unit," Dean said, "with soldiers who were in extremely
fine shape and very disciplined with the loads they were carrying."
The researchers picked a highly capable unit because they wanted a "best
case" baseline for the study: experienced, physically fit soldiers carrying the
least possible gear to get the job done, instead of a less experienced group
that might have packed extra gear.
As a result, the combat load data Dean's group would present in its report
would represent "absolute reality," instead of poundage that Army officials
could argue included unnecessary add-ons, Dean said.
"The guys need that all that stuff, I'm convinced of that," Dean said. "Now
the question [for Future Warrior] is, how do you take some of [the weight] off
The fact that even the most disciplined troops have to hump very heavy loads
was a foregone conclusion — but the Army still needed precise data that spelled
out those loads, Dean said.
"We didn't go over there to re-split the atom," Dean said. "We went there to
catalog the realities … so we can help that reality change."
The combat load report has struck a chord in the Army since Dean presented
the group's findings Nov. 20 at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick,
In the two weeks that the study has been posted on the Army's "Army Knowledge
Online" portal, 17,000 soldiers have "hit" the site, Dean said.
Moreover, the study's goal of helping the Army to improve its gear today, not
just 10 years down the road, has also borne fruit, in the form of modifications
to the Army's new "MOLLE" assault combat pack.
In Afghanistan, the troops had noted that the zippers on the packs were
bursting open when the bags were stuffed full, Dean said. And the straps
weren't long enough to be easily adjusted over body armor.
So the bag was changed; it now has locking zippers and longer shoulder
And the changes happened quickly. By the time Task Force Devil was sent back
to Iraq in January, "one of the company officers e-mailed me and said 'Hey, we
got our new MOLLE packs,'" Dean said.
"The Army listened."
The combat load study is available at the following site, which is open only
to active-duty and Reserve component Army soldiers and Army civilians and
requires registration and a password: https://www.us.army.mil/portal/jhtml/FileLoader.jhtml?foid=706876
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