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Afghanistan: Lessons Learned (merged)

Bruce Monkhouse

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Piper, my post was in reference to already deleted stuff about growing new body parts.

Taking care of oneself is a Lesson Learned, IMO.
 

RHFC_piper

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Bruce Monkhouse said:
Piper, my post was in reference to already deleted stuff about growing new body parts.

Taking care of oneself is a Lesson Learned, IMO.

Ah... seen.

Good stuff.
 
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RHFC_piper said:
I think this all still relates to the topic at hand...  In fact, I believe this train of thought is very important for troops about to deploy; take care of you body.

This should be a huge factor in deciding which kit you're going to employ.  The RSM of my Regiment (who is currently deployed) makes a very good point in regards to kit; You choose to be uncomfortable.   This could also be modified to; you choose to put yourself at risk of injury.  When selecting which kit you believe will best suit your task in theater, I believe it is essential to consider your personal safety... even if hearing seems minor.

As I've said before, the "suck it up" mentality can only go so far in operations.  PPE should be considered as essential to the soldiers individual mission as their weapon system... why? because PPE ensures that minor injuries do not prevent the individual soldier from fulfilling their task within the overall mission.  Failing to complete a mission because Pte. Bloggins can't see to shoot due to a bit of dust in the eye, or because Cpl. Junk can't hear the word of command due partial deafness from firing an M72 is definitely a good enough reason, in my book, to wear PPE.

Part of this logic is selecting the PPE which will protect you while allowing you to do your job.  We have no choice when it comes to Ballistic Armour (and after some research, ours isn't all that bad) or helmet, and some tours have been picky about BEWs, but no one has said much about hearing protection, as far as I know... Since it's optional, perhaps it's a good idea to try some different types out, during training, and see what works best for you... If you find hearing protection to be a hindrance, then, by all means, do what will best suit you in doing your job/task...  Just don't jeopardize the mission or your peers lives over something as minor as hearing protection.

Anyway... just a little rant... sorry.


Back to the lesson learned.   

On the topic of body armor......

As anyone in the combat arms knows, the ballistic plates we get issued are junk.  but check this guys stuff out

www.inventortroy.com

now that stuff would be very helpfull in the sand box, and im sure would save alot of lives.
 

Teflon

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As anyone in the combat arms knows, the ballistic plates we get issued are junk.

I havn`t done any research on it, but I`m combat arms and I know of one fellow from my tour (1-06) that might argue this point as his performed as advertised against an AK round. There might be better or lighter or whatever-er plates out there but I wouldn`t go so far as to say our`s are junk as that would indicate they don`t do as they are suppose to which I have seen that they do.

IMHO - far from the best possible but not junk
 
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Teflon said:
I havn`t done any research on it, but I`m combat arms and I know of one fellow from my tour (1-06) that might argue this point as his performed as advertised against an AK round. There might be better or lighter or whatever-er plates out there but I wouldn`t go so far as to say our`s are junk as that would indicate they don`t do as they are suppose to which I have seen that they do.

IMHO - far from the best possible but not junk

by me saying "junk" i mean one round and the structural integrity has been sacrificed and the plate will no longer stop rounds.  Compare our plates to the plate demos on the link i previously posted.
 

Garett

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I'm pretty sure it was our plates they used at the demo at CFSAC this year where they shot it over and over with a Lee Enfield .303 without any penetrations. There are plates that are lighter, thinner and a have a higher protection level though. More then better plates we need a vest that is cut to move with our body and ventilate better. Its only a matter of time before we're wearing side SAPI plates, hopefully they don't just bastardize the current vest to make it work.
 

daftandbarmy

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Some relevant beta from the Jar Heads... bless 'em

Marines Lighten Up On Protection

January 5, 2009: U.S. Marine Corps has ordered that it's standard MTV protective vests be made lighter and more flexible. This came after growing complaints from the troops, who have flooded message boards with bad-news stories of how their heavy and restrictive "flak jackets" have put them in danger during combat, A year ago, in an initial response to those complaints, the Marine Corps gave combat commanders the authority to allow their troops to go into action without some, or all, of their protective equipment. The marines tend to be more innovative, and use more initiative, in matters like this. Even so, senior marine officers had been putting off making this decision. That is a form of good news to the junior officers, who actually get shot at, because it meant the brass were finally willing to put their careers on the line, and give the combat commanders the authority to have troops shed armor when the situation calls for it.

Most of the problems came about when marines began receiving a new protective vest, the Scalable Plate Carrier (SPC), in 2007. This one was a little lighter, but a lot less bulky, one (MTV, or Modular Tactical vest)  introduced in 2004. First it went to Afghanistan , where moving up and down hills is a lot more strenuous than the generally flat terrain of Iraq . But marines still complained about the 80,000 MTV  vests that had been issued, which are considered  too heavy and restrictive. Only about 5,000 SPC vests have been issued.

All this is the result of a six year old debate in the infantry community over how much body armor is actually needed. There are times when the troops have to move fast (as when chasing down a sniper). But the senior commanders are under a lot of pressure to keep friendly casualties down, so they tend to insist that the troops wear all their armor all the time. Despite this, some subordinate commanders look the other way when troops shed their armor, or parts of it, to temporarily to get some needed speed. Over the last few years, pressure from the media and politicians has caused several additional items to be added to the standard protective vest. This was welcomed by reservists doing a lot of convoy duty, but not by infantry running around after the enemy. The latest protective vests have a quick release feature, that makes it easier to get the vest off, and back on again.

Many soldiers and marines point out that the SOCOM operators (Special Forces and SEALs) will sometimes go into action without their protective vests. Again, that is done because completion of the mission is more important than covering your ass when a reporter goes after you for "unnecessary casualties."

Many of the troops are willing to take the risk, because they believe, for example, that taking down a sniper when you have the chance, is worth it. If you don't catch the guy, he will be back in action the next day, kill American troops. All this is another example of the fact that "victory" is defined differently, depending on what your rank is.

http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htinf/articles/20090105.aspx
 

geo

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goes to show.... we're not the only ones griping about the vests....
 

leroi

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This vignette by Graeme Wood caught my attention for its realism--could almost taste the grit of the sand and feel the soldier's frustration when I read it. Features Captain Sean Wilson of the Royal Canadian Regiment:

Lessons Learned: Graeme Wood, The Walrus Magazine, November 2009


FOB_Miscellany_ART-01.jpg

The Afghan called Teacher is deep in Taliban country, crouching halfway up a mountainside at dawn, listening for the approach of a US Army Kiowa attack helicopter. Teacher has huddled with his AK-47, pressed against a rock and keeping lookout, many times before. But he has never done so while eating cheese tortellini and trail mix.

Teacher has picked out one of the halal rations offered by his employer, the Canadian military. A jihadi never ate so well. Back in the 1980s, when the helicopters that zoomed overhead aimed their guns at him, Teacher ate little other than bread, fruit, and on special occasions a pot of rice. Now he translates Dari and Pashto for a small Canadian battle unit that trains the ragtag Afghan National Army. The US helicopters fly overhead in support. As an interpreter and counterinsurgency sherpa, Teacher advises Sean Wilson, a wiry captain from the Royal Canadian Regiment, and shadows him on raids, searches of suspected Taliban hideouts, and patrols through mined and booby-trapped defiles.

Today Teacher and Wilson are leading an Afghan-Canadian patrol up the tight switchbacks above Darvishan village, just northwest of Kandahar. Taliban hide and use mountain compounds here as bases for attacks on the relatively government-friendly district centre below. Wilson’s Afghan counterpart, on this day Captain Faizullah, leads his men from the rear, and like them he seems frustrated by the strain of the summer morning hike.

Not a shot has been fired. It is thirty-nine degrees, and the Canadians are wheezing under their packs and weapons. Teacher is in his late forties, so he wheezes a little, too. But he still scampers, goatlike, nearly as spryly as soldiers half his age. This is in part because he carries only slightly more than he ever did: a Kalashnikov, a radio, and nowadays a self-heating ration, body armour, and a fancy Camelbak hydration system.

Unlike Wilson, whose French and English earn him blank glares from Afghans, Teacher speaks the languages and can extract tips about where bombs and booby traps lie. Moreover, he has an uncanny eye of his own. “He just has a sense,” Wilson says. “He knows where the Taliban are going to set an IED. He’ll just stop and point at a spot on the ground and say, ‘That doesn’t look right.’ ” Wilson says that sense has saved the group’s lives many times over... continued on link

 

Kirkhill

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Lazarus strikes again.

British army report in the Telegraph

Too much kit, too much heat.....bad decisions, bad outcomes.


Britain's 'donkey' soldiers are losing the war in Afghanistan
A senior Army officer has warned that Britain risks losing the war in Afghanistan because commanders are more concerned with protecting soldiers than defeating the Taliban.

The officer claims that by the end of a routine patrol soldiers struggle to make basic tactical judgements because they are physically and mentally exhausted Photo: JANE MINGAY  By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent 9:00PM BST 16 Apr 2011
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Attacking the British strategy in Helmand, the officer claims that soldiers are now so laden with equipment they are unable to launch effective attacks against insurgents.

The controversial account of situation in Afghanistan appears in the latest issue British Army Review, a restricted military publication designed to provoke debate within the Army.

Writing anonymously, the author reveals that the Taliban have dubbed British soldiers "donkeys" who move in a tactical "waddle" because they now carry an average weight of 110lbs worth of equipment into battle.

The consequences of the strategy, he says, is that "our infantry find it almost impossible to close with the enemy because the bad guys are twice as mobile".

The officer claims that by the end of a routine four hour patrol, soldiers struggle to make basic tactical judgements because they are physically and mentally exhausted.

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"We're getting to a point where we are losing as many men making mistakes because they are exhausted from carrying armour (and the things that go with it) than are saved by it," he warns.

Britain's military's command structure in Afghanistan also comes in for criticism and is described as a "bloated over complex system that sucks the life out of operations" and where "decision and action get lost in Chinese whispers and Chinese parliaments that turn most of operational staff 'work' into operational staff waste".

In Helmand, a quarter of the 9,500 British troops deployed are involved in management or management support roles in various headquarters, according to the report's author. In Kabul, the combined strength of the US and Nato headquarters amount to more than 4,000 personnel.

The report is entitled "Donkeys Led by Lions", with combat troops likened to pack animals and headquarters staff to "fat, lazy" lions.

The author states that while researching the article he discovered that in the early 1900s, New Zealand loggers limited mule and pony loads to 128lbs, a sixth of their body weight while working in temperatures of 25C.

Even seaside donkeys, the author states, carry just over a quarter of their body weight and rarely work in temperatures above 30C. By contrast, British soldiers are expected to fight in temperatures of over 40C carrying 65 per cent of their body weight.

As the threat facing British soldiers has changed so has the composition of body armour, which now consists of front, rear and side plates designed to protect soldiers from small arms fire and IED blasts but weighs around 40lbs.

In addition to body armour, a typical soldier on patrol in Afghanistan will carry: a weapon (10 to 20lbs); radio, batteries electronic equipment (40lbs); water (10lbs); ammunition (20lbs); Javelin missile (25lbs). Soldiers will also be required to wear eye, groin, ear and knee protection as well as gloves and a helmet.

The officer adds: "A straw poll of three multi-tour companies found only two platoons that had successfully closed with an ambushing enemy. Our unscientific poll might be showing exceptions but rumour control suggests that the lack of closure is common. Some soldiers only do firefights because they know manoeuvre is a waste of effort when they're carrying so much weight.

"The result is that apart from a few big operations where we have used machines to encircle the enemy there are so few uninjured insurgents captured in contact that it's simply not worth recording."

But some of the most stinging criticism was saved for the headquarters running the campaign.

The author wrote: "Lions, contrary to Victorian opinion, aren't brave or noble; they are fat, lazy creatures that lie around all day licking themselves.

"They get others to do the dirty work and they have a penchant for infanticide. We are not saying our commanders are fat, lazy child killers, far from it, but it has reached a point where their headquarters are."

The larger that headquarters become the more the staff there force soldiers into wasteful activity which results in lots of people "who aren't doing anything about the enemy; they aren't even thinking about the enemy; they're thinking about how to make a pretty picture of how they think someone else ought to think about the enemy."

The article also states that British headquarters deployed in Afghanistan now produced a terabyte of written orders and reports every month – equivalent to hundreds of thousands of documents.

The report continues: "In one Afghan headquarters, it took a man nine days to read one day's worth of email exchanges – and he didn't have to open any attachments.

"The further we get back from the patrol base the worse the problem becomes. By the time we get back to the UK there are more people managing the operation than are actually deployed."

The article concludes by reminding readers of past conflicts and asking whether soldiers of a previous generation would have been able to march across the Falklands carrying "all the extra kit we have now?"

The officer writes: "Consider what the logistical and tactical impact of that extra 45lbs for Burma, Dunkirk or Normandy. How would these operations have played out if it took weeks to plan minor operations.

"If we don't work out now how we are going to lose that weight we will do the old trick of starting the next war by repeating the mistakes of this one."

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: "The issue of weight carried by soldiers on operations is well recognised and work is constantly under way to reduce the amount carried by soldiers.

"Since June 2010 a number of weight savings measures have reduced the weight carried by soldiers by up to 26lbs."
 

daftandbarmy

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Kirkhill said:
Lazarus strikes again.

British army report in the Telegraph

Too much kit, too much heat.....bad decisions, bad outcomes.

Basic load of a British infantryman in Belfast ca. 1986: Beret, flak vest, belt, water bottle, 5 mags, rifle, notebook (plus radio or ECM as required). Troops had a bergen packed that we would deliver to them if they got stuck on a longer term cordon or some other op. Flak vest was worn in urban areas due to higher likelihood of bricks and bottles, sniper attack and concentrated effects of blast channeled down streets etc. Wet weather plan? Get wet.... the flak vest kept you warm-ish. 'Mobile, agile and hostile' was the motto.

Basic load for same period in South Armagh: Beret (no flak vest) 5 mags, patrol day pack (rain gear, scoff for the day, jumper), water bottle, rifle/GPMG/M203, radio/ECM. For multi-day ops in the cuds add bergen with basha, doss bag, 2 - 3 days scoff & batteries, some extra ammo, surveillance gear. Longer ops requiring resupply would be supported from the base through covert vehicle DOP, heli DOP, or dead/live letter boxes. I remember being asked if we wanted to trial flak vests in S. Armagh and politely telling Bn HQ to eff off as it was ridiculous expecting troops to wear it while clambering through the Irish 'bocage'. Patrol dress in urban areas like Crossmaglem was similar to the Belfast example.

I've talked to guys who fought in Rhodesia & South Africa and they weren't much different.

And now it seems that the troops are being loaded down like Xmas trees as part of an elaborate butt covering exercise. But I would suggest there's a difference in the level of political risk countries are willing to take when fighting a COIN campaign in their own country vs. doing someone else a favour.

 

Infanteer

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I went through my gear with my NCOs and we tried to figure out what was "useless stuff" we were forced to carry.  To be honest, there really wasn't much useless stuff.

I went through my gear and I had:

- batteries
- ammo (not an excessive amount, either - 7 mags and a belt of 7.62 link or an M72)
- 1 frag and 3 smoke (Comd needs smoke)
- water
- emergency ration
- MBitr
- AN/PVS-14 MNVG
- Rifle
- First aid kit
- Lightweight blanket (found out the hard way to always have one)
- Map and small notebook for order, etc.

I was still extremely burdened on patrols.  My signaller, weapons guys and engineers had even more weight.  None of these guys were carrying useless gear.  For all the critics chanting "we are too burdened down", what do I get rid of - the batteries for the radio?  Water?  Support weapon ammo?

When we looked at it, we realized that there was no getting away from the weight - if you are going to reduce the soldier's load, you need to re-engineer the essentials, not eliminate them.  The three heaviest things for a soldier in Afghanistan are:

1.  Body armour - no doubt about it, this is by far the heaviest and most cumbersome piece.  This is a tough one, because there are political aspects to it as well (no commander wants to send a soldier home - and no government wants a casualty - who would have been alive with a kevlar insert somewhere).  Still, it is bulky, restrictive and fatiguing.  The single greatest improvement to reducing loads on soldiers is to develop new lighter protective technologies;

2.  Water - There is no getting around this one either.  Take a hot environment like Afghanistan and add body armour and you need lots of water.  Water is heavy.  Using local stuff is a serious risk, especially in the greenzones where the humans dump everything into the ground.  Reduce the armour load, reduce the water requirement.

3.  Batteries - Nothing like carrying a brick for a radio that is the same size as the ones carried into Normandy that was designed in the 70s, built in the 80s and fielded in the 90s.  MBITRs were generally as effective, if not more effective than 522s, but were in short supply.  As a result, soldiers carried big radios and big bulky batteries.
 

Sythen

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Infanteer said:
The three heaviest things for a soldier in Afghanistan are:

1.  Body armour - no doubt about it, this is by far the heaviest and most cumbersome piece.  This is a tough one, because there are political aspects to it as well (no commander wants to send a soldier home - and no government wants a casualty - who would have been alive with a kevlar insert somewhere).  Still, it is bulky, restrictive and fatiguing.  The single greatest improvement to reducing loads on soldiers is to develop new lighter protective technologies;

2.  Water - There is no getting around this one either.  Take a hot environment like Afghanistan and add body armour and you need lots of water.  Water is heavy.  Using local stuff is a serious risk, especially in the greenzones where the humans dump everything into the ground.  Reduce the armour load, reduce the water requirement.

3.  Batteries - Nothing like carrying a brick for a radio that is the same size as the ones carried into Normandy that was designed in the 70s, built in the 80s and fielded in the 90s.  MBITRs were generally as effective, if not more effective than 522s, but were in short supply.  As a result, soldiers carried big radios and big bulky batteries.

Need to add PCM to this list. I carried it for the second half on my tour basically, and it sucks. Not only is it more heavy than a radio, it generates heat like no tomorrow. Plus, someone else needs to carry spare batteries (10lbs each).. And don't even get me started on the manpack it has to be carried in.. Thing was a nightmare to get comfortable..

Edit to add: Also, while carrying the PCM, you can't carry your own backpack so everyone else is stuck carrying your water as well as the extra ammo you would normally carry. Best I was able to do was strap a camel back to the top, cause anywhere else and it will block the exhaust fans causing it to melt the bladder.. (seen it happen twice)

I disagree with you about the flak vest. I didn't find it that bad. Might just be me, but I never really heard anyone complain about it either and we had days when we patrolled for upwards of 14 hours in the summer.. The issued tac vests are where my biggest complaint was, and due to a gong show before tour everyone put off getting one of their own.. So I did my first month with that thing.. Try carrying 8 mags and 8 M203 rounds in that thing.. Its just foolish.
 

PuckChaser

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Infanteer said:
3.  Batteries - Nothing like carrying a brick for a radio that is the same size as the ones carried into Normandy that was designed in the 70s, built in the 80s and fielded in the 90s.  MBITRs were generally as effective, if not more effective than 522s, but were in short supply.  As a result, soldiers carried big radios and big bulky batteries.

I think this is one area we can get the most effective and quickest change, as there are lighter/longer lasting batteries out there. I hope you guys at least had the lithium batteries if you were using 177F or 522, probably about 1/3 the weight and last far longer in higher temps. I can't imagine having to carry a 522 with 6x BB-390 (newer, heavier batteries) and then start handing out more batteries to guys in a section who are already carrying ammo/water.
 

Infanteer

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Sythen said:
Need to add PCM to this list. I carried it for the second half on my tour basically, and it sucks. Not only is it more heavy than a radio, it generates heat like no tomorrow. Plus, someone else needs to carry spare batteries (10lbs each).. And don't even get me started on the manpack it has to be carried in.. Thing was a nightmare to get comfortable.

That was to me a Comd's decision - I only took it out if we were deliberately seeking a suspected or known IED.  Other than that, it was too much to take for just 1-2 men to have coverage.

I disagree with you about the flak vest. I didn't find it that bad. Might just be me, but I never really heard anyone complain about it either and we had days when we patrolled for upwards of 14 hours in the summer.. The issued tac vests are where my biggest complaint was, and due to a gong show before tour everyone put off getting one of their own.. So I did my first month with that thing.. Try carrying 8 mags and 8 M203 rounds in that thing.. Its just foolish.

Well, I didn't hear anyone say it was light.  It is the single heaviest piece of equipment we carry.  If you cut the 30+ pounds down by 10-15 with new technology, you are making significant weight gains.

As for the tacvest, none of my soldiers wore it.
 

Sythen

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Infanteer said:
That was to me a Comd's decision - I only took it out if we were deliberately seeking a suspected or known IED.  Other than that, it was too much to take for just 1-2 men to have coverage.

Unfortunately, the area we were in had an extremely high concentration of IED's. We found/were hit by too many not to bring it every time, so its sort of a ground dictates on this one I guess.. Regardless, talking about improved technology some of the guys were saying the Brits and Americans had a much smaller version that weighed like 5lbs.. They just had more of them like one per fire team.. Would've been nice!

On a slightly different note than combat loads, one thing our section commander had us start doing was bringing a ladder with us on patrols.. It made traversing grape rows so much easier, and in urban settings we could put a fire team on a roof, or avoid the main paths completely. We only stopped carrying it because the ANA and AUP were worried we would use it to watch some women in the compounds.. But until then it was weight I didn't mind carrying at all cause in the long run it saved so much energy and effort.
 
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