The Foot Soldiers Life-Support System
by Lt. Bill Johnson (Australian Army Reserve)
Back in jump school, the was no way you'd consider stepping off the C-130
ramp at 1,000 feet without that trusty T-10 strapped to your back. Nor
would your buddies in underwater demolition be too excited about leaving
their air tanks back at base.
Isn't it funny, though? After two or three days on foot patrol, it's
damned easy to curse that 50 or 60 pounds of field equipment slowly
breaking your back. But it's there for the same reason: to keep you alive
and help you do your job.
Ever thought about how you'd make it out if you didn't have it? or lost
Maybe it's time to give some more thought to all that gear and how you
pack it. After all, it might be all that stands between you and disaster
for weeks on end.
Let's start with a quick recap on a few of the operational factors
ultimately determine how much you'll need to carry on any mission. Things
1. Time in the field. The planned duration of your patrol of mission.
2. Local resources. Availability of food, water, shelter, etc. in your
area of operations. This may be acheived by foraging or by pre-arranged
3. ReSupply. Air drops or other forms of resupply may be available to
extend the mission or to reduce individual loads.
4. Type of mission. This may dictate additional or specialized ordnance
such as explosives, electronic equipment, or special weapons.
5. Operational pressures. When operational are low or absent, there's a
tendency to leave certain items behind or to take along superfluous
With these factors in mind, you should be in a position to work out what
to take and how much of it.
Next comes the most important consideration of all: packing it in such a
way that if you happen to lose anything, you will still be able to survive
and retain some degree of tactical capability.
This means, then, that each 'level' of distribution of your field
equipment must contain the essential elements of both survival and
defense. These levels are:
1. Equipment carried on the man.
2. Equipment in the basic webbing (i.e., harness assembly)
3. Equipment in the backpack.
ON THE MAN
Here's where all those pockets come in handy; considering trousers and
shirt or jacket, you'll probably have several to play with. Try to develop
a set routine as to what goes in which pocket, to avoid a lengthy search
every time you need something. In fact, taken a stage further, in a patrol
group the location of any essential, one-of item(like radio codes) should
be known to all members in the event that the soldier carrying it bacomes
The rule of thumb for the sort of gear that should be carried on the man
is: any item critical to survival. Generally, this could include:
Field fatigues (camouflage pattern if neccessary) Primay weapon (e.g.,
rifle/shotgun) with full mag.
Map (in plastic)
Watch (with cam. cover)
First aid kit
Survival kit (include. water purifiers) Notebook and pencil
Pocket torch (flashlight)
String (or nylon twine) ((PARACORD))Ed.
Can opener (combination spoon-type)
Sweat cloth/ cam. net (a sniper scarf is pictured) Ed.
Editor's note (2): The picture in the article showed the primary weapon to
be a Winchester 1200 pump-action, with basic camo. added. The spare ammo
consisted of 10 rounds of shotgun shells taped together (2 groups of 5
shells). The first aid and survival kits were homemade jobs packed in
plastic soap containers (nice and small). The water purifiers were the
common tablet type, not some bulky filter. (That's included below) The
pencil is included over a pen because it will write reasonably well on a
wet surface and still functions after it's been broken.
If all that seems like a tall order, keep this in mind: If you become
seperated from the rest of your gear, you'll still have sufficient
supplies to keep going if you're carrying everything listed above. (The
only problem you may have to face is the availability of water.)
Depending on operational circumstances, personal camouflague should be
applied and maintained as normal. In particular, shiny metal watchbands,
spectacle rims, jewelry and the like must be avoided or covered by
painting or taping.
IN THE BASIC WEBBING
It's hard to beat the versatility of standard-issue, basic webbing: pistol
belt, harness, two or three canteens, and two or three ammo pouches. get
it all properly adjusted to a snug fit. Once again, keep everything
organized; establish a routine in laying it out.
For example: the left-hand ammo pouch might always be for full magazines,
while empties are carried elsewhere (until they can be transfered to the
backpack). Similarly the bayonet or field knife should always be carried
on the same side, and so on. Needless to say, all pouches and clips should
be kept done up.
If you need to attach anything to the harness straps--field dressing,
torch, or survival knife--secure it carefully, using additional cam. tape
if neccessary. But ensure that it's position will not prevent effective
use of your weapon and won't dig into your ribs or neck in a cramped O.P.
Another point: any bent or broken clips, buckles or other items must be
replaced (or repaired until you get back). A field repair kit of pliers,
wire, tape, string, etc. could prove very useful.
Here's what you should have in or on your basic webbing:
Ammo (at least one full pouch)
Secondary weapon (i.e., handgun) with full mag
Water canteens (two or three) Water sterilizing kit
Weapon cleaning kit
Rations (three meals minimum)
Nylon rope (20 -30 feet)
Solid fuel (e.g., Hexamine)
Sheet of waterproof material
Sharpening stone (pocket type)
Flares (pencil type)
Entrenching tool (optional)
Camouflage cream (optional)
Strobe light (optional)
All this gear, added to what you already have stuffed in your pockets,
will obviously extend your range and operational effectiveness
considerably--even if you did lose your field pack during the last river
Getting back to that sheet of waterproof material listed.
This can be used in a variety of ways: ground-sheet, shelter, poncho, or
even as a rain catcher to supplement water supplies. In the absence of
your main hootch or poncho, this one item could save your life in some
Your basic webbing is so important that many hard core schools of thought
suggest that it should never be removed while you are on a mission--not
even if you get the chance to sleep. At best, it might be unbuckled at the
belt during stops. Worth considering.
IN THE BACKPACK
Finally, we get to all those extras and backup supplies that you'll need
to keep you going--in relative comfort-- for the duration of the mission.
And its amazing just how much a standard field pack will hold if you pack
it neatly, with everything in it's place. Naturally, the most essential
items should be more easily accessible.
One point to watch is hanging odds and ends on the outside of the pack.
They tend to rattle, fall off, or snag on passing scenery.
These are the items to consider carrying in you backpack:
Spare clothing (include. socks and wool sweater)
Extra ammo (for both weapons)
Toiletries (including Toilet paper)((This item should be carried on the
man, if you ask me.))Ed.
Bedding and groundsheet
Spare boot laces
Sewing/ Repair kit
Plasitc bags and rubber bands (include. litter bag) Knife,
fork, and spoon (optional)
Specialized stores (e.g. radio, claymore, smoke grenades)
Each time you stop for a meal break or an overnight bivouac, take the
opportunity to use backpack stocks to replenish items in your basic
webbing--food, water, or ammo--that way, you'll gradually lighten the
backpack while maintaining your best odds should you be left with basic
It's a good idea to pack non-waterproof items in plastice bags, while any
classified documents, briefing notes, coordinates must be desroyed before
Once all your gear is sorted and packed, there's one important check to
conduct before insertion: testing for rattles. Put it all on, make any
final adjustments, then jump up and down. Any noises must be eliminated.
Finally, do a last-minute check on serviceability of weapons, magazines,
radio and other equipment, leaving metal edges lightly oiled. And if
you've camouflaged your weapon, make sure you can still get a clear sight
Even considering our increasingly sophisticated methods of insertion and
extraction, the old foot/leg combo is still the most reliable. But every
grunt is painfully aware of the catch; that life-support system strapped
to his back.
But in most situations, it's essential to both survival and operational
To achieve both of these aims is not always easy. Given those hairy
insertions--parachute, small boats, or a hot LZ--the possibilty of
becoming seperated from all or a portion of your field equipment is pretty
good. What then?