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This Marine captain figured out exactly how many pounds equal pain in combat
That seems to be what separates a high-performing Marine from eventually becoming a combat casualty, according to new research carried out by a Marine captain at the Naval Postgraduate School.
In her award-winning master's thesis, titled Paying For Weight In Blood: An Analysis of Weight and Protection Level of a Combat Load During Tactical Operations, Capt. Courtney Thompson argues that being able to move faster is more important against near-peer enemies in combat, and the all-too-common trend of burdening troops with heavier loads can lead to an increase in casualties.
"I was pretty shocked that 15 pounds of gear on top of 43 pounds of gear was already enough," said Thompson, referencing the typical 43-pound fighting load of flak jacket, kevlar helmet, and other personal protective gear.
Thompson, a combat engineer, based her research off a variety of data, including an Australian study that looked into the effects of combat loads on physical mobility, historical research, and a Government Accountability Office report, which found that the average ground combat soldier or Marine in 2016 was typically carrying a staggering 120 pounds of gear.
She also plugged data into a computer simulation pitting a 13-Marine rifle squad against a small insurgent force armed with AK-47 rifles. After factoring in individual weapons, physical fitness levels, marksmanship, and the squad member's billet, she found that troops fighting under heavier loads were more likely to become casualties, while Marines that were able to move faster — and thus, were harder to hit — brought about a 60% reduction in casualties.
To put it in grunt-speak: ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain. And Thompson, for her part, figured out just how much pain can come as leaders add more gear to the packing list.
"It's a problem that we've had for a long time, and the trend that we're seeing is getting worse, not better," Thompson told Task & Purpose.
Historically, the recommended weight for ground combat troops hasn't changed all that much since the 19th century. A study in the late 1800s recommended a fighting load of 48 pounds. By 2007 the U.S. Naval Research Advisory Committee said it should be 50.
But those weights have been brushed aside in favor of more protective equipment, weaponry, and other gear. Nowadays, a typical Marine or Army rifleman can carry anywhere from 90 pounds in combat while machine gunners and javelin gunners are sometimes saddled with nearly 160 pounds.
"If we keep going on this trend, you're going to get to a point where people just can't lift the weight," Thompson said.
Although Thompson doesn't expect the Marine Corps to suddenly tell all its grunts to drop their packs and rejoice, she does think that offering up hard data on how weight can influence combat effectiveness will give senior leaders more information to make better decisions.
For example, if intelligence reporting shows a small force of enemy fighters have AK-47s and the chances for explosive devices are low, the data shows it's better to have troops outfitted with Level III armor, instead of outfitting them with the additional weight that comes with Level IV.
"What these results are showing is that a balance of weight and protection is best," Thompson said. "It's not going to give you any more protection, and those extra pounds you don't need to carry."
Her analysis found that most Marines would perform best with a fighting load of 50 pounds or less and an assault load of 75 pounds or less. Percentage-wise, most can effectively carry 30% of their body weight as a fighting load, or 45% for the assault load. Additional weight, Thompson argues, is where the data shows a "statistically significant detriment" to combat effectiveness.
"Simulations are never perfect, but even the most basic simulations can provide really important insights," Thompson told Task & Purpose. "If we're slow against a peer adversary, we have a much higher probability of getting hit. If we're lighter and we can be exposed to enemy fire the least amount of time possible, we have a better probability of not getting hit."
You can view the PowerPoint presentation on her thesis below:
A Minnesota Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with three Guardsmen aboard crashed south of St. Cloud on Thursday, said National Guard spokeswoman Army Master Sgt. Blair Heusdens.
At this time, the National Guard is not releasing any information about the status of the three people aboard the helicopter, Heusdens told Task & Purpose on Thursday.
The Pentagon's latest attempt to twist itself in knots to deny that it is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East has a big caveat.
Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said there are no plans to send that many troops to the region "at this time."
Farah's statement does not rule out the possibility that the Defense Department could initially announce a smaller deployment to the region and subsequently announce that more troops are headed downrange.
The Navy could deploy a second carrier to the Middle East if Trump orders an Iran surge, top admiral says
The Navy could send a second aircraft carrier to the Middle East if President Donald Trump orders a surge of forces to the region, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said on Thursday.
Gordon Lubold and Nancy Youssef of the Wall Street Journal first reported the United States is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East to deter Iran from attacking U.S. forces and regional allies. The surge forces could include several ships.
I didn't think a movie about World War I would, or even could, remind me of Afghanistan.
Somehow 1917 did, and that's probably the highest praise I can give Sam Mendes' newest war drama: It took a century-old conflict and made it relatable.
An internal investigation spurred by a nude photo scandal shows just how deep sexism runs in the Marine Corps
"I will still have to work harder to get the perception away from peers and seniors that women can't do the job."
Some years ago, a 20-year-old female Marine, a military police officer, was working at a guard shack screening service members and civilians before they entered the base. As a lance corporal, she was new to the job and the duty station, her first in the Marine Corps.
At some point during her shift, a male sergeant on duty drove up. Get in the car, he said, the platoon sergeant needs to see you. She opened the door and got in, believing she was headed to see the enlisted supervisor of her platoon.
Instead, the sergeant drove her to a dark, wooded area on base. It was deserted, no other Marines were around. "Hey, I want a blowjob," the sergeant told her.
"What am I supposed, what do you do as a lance corporal?" she would later recall. "I'm 20 years old ... I'm new at this. You're the only leadership I've ever known, and this is what happens."
She looked at him, then got out of the car and walked away. The sergeant drove up next to her and tried to play it off as a prank. "I'm just fucking with you," he said. "It's not a big deal."
It was one story among hundreds of others shared by Marines for a study initiated in July 2017 by the Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL). Finalized in March 2018, the center's report was quietly published to its website in September 2019 with little fanfare.
The culture of the Marine Corps is ripe for analysis. A 2015 Rand Corporation study found that women felt far more isolated among men in the Corps, while the Pentagon's Office of People Analytics noted in 2018 that female Marines rated hostility toward them as "significantly higher" than their male counterparts.
But the center's report, Marines' Perspectives on Various Aspects of Marine Corps Organizational Culture, offers a proverbial wakeup call to leaders, particularly when paired alongside previous studies, since it was commissioned by the Marine Corps itself in the wake of a nude photo sharing scandal that rocked the service in 2017.
The scandal, researchers found, was merely a symptom of a much larger problem.