I sat down with the new commander of Program Executive Soldier, Brig. Gen. Brian Cummings recently. It was a refreshing change since the last two heads of the organization responsible for soldier equipment were shy about talking to the press.
Cummings assumed command of PEO Soldier in October. One of his top priorities will be to launch a new focus on the weight of soldier equipment.
"I would like to take that one on," Cummings said Tuesday.
Cummings gained experience in soldier gear and load issues with his work on Land Warrior and Nett Warrior programs – wearable, computerized kit that designed to give soldiers improved navigation and communications capabilities.
He was the assistant product manager for the Land Warrior Program at PEO Soldier from 2001 to 2003. Cummings also served as product manager for Ground Soldier System from 2005 to 2009.
The U.S. Army has made measurable progress on lightening individual soldier loads, especially when U.S. forces transitioned out of Iraq to focus on Afghanistan.
Body armor made up great deal of the weight soldiers carried in Iraq between 2003 and 2010. Combat units moved around a lot in vehicles, making heavy loads a little more bearable.
But combat in Afghanistan has been quite different. Soldiers struggled under similar loads, patrolling on foot in the mountainous country. The Improved Outer Tactical Vest offered good protection, but it slowed soldiers down and made them more vulnerable to enemy fire.
Since then, soldier protection has gotten lighter. An extensive soldier load study in 2008 and 2009 led to the adoption of the Soldier Plate Carrier. The lightweight armor reduced the average soldier’s load by approximately 10 pounds when compared to an IOTV which weighs an average of 30 pounds.
Despite the advancement, the sheer amount of individual equipment items available to soldiers continues to create more weight burdens for them.
“You can’t just look at one item,” Cumming said. “You’ve got to look at everything.”