Equipping The Combat Soldier
by Robert Bruce

All of us at SMALL ARMS REVIEW have been eagerly following the efforts of American and Coalition Forces who fought to victory in Operation Iraqi Freedom and are now struggling to maintain order during the transition to a legitimate civilian government.

For more than a year now, we have seen in the print and electronic news media countless images of the fighting. Ninety-nine percent of these are the work of civilian staffers and stringers and, all too often, their editors have deliberately chosen to feature only those pictures that reflect poorly on the military.

This is not only dishonest in presentation; it also willfully excludes the tremendous body of work being done by military cameramen.

All of the US Armed Forces and most of their allies have GI photographers - Combat Cameramen - right in the middle of things. Their primary job is to provide the Department of Defense with a visual record of the reality of warfare so that lessons can be learned and analyzed to improve current and future operations. A secondary but equally important use is illustrating the official briefings and news releases that provide factual balance to much of the very biased reporting by some well-known liberal media both in the US and foreign.

Combat Cameramen (and some women) are highly trained and equipped with the latest sophisticated digital cameras. The technical quality of their photos is not only on a par with their civilian counterparts, it is much more likely to have the “look and feel” that can best be achieved when the photographer is a muddy boots grunt just like those he is fighting right along side of.

Their daily output is often sent by satellite uplink to public affairs offices in higher headquarters for review and archiving. From these literally thousands of pictures each day the best are selected and sent back to the Pentagon for possible inclusion in online galleries that are accessible to legitimate news organizations. It is from this invaluable resource and similar sites maintained by our allies that Robert Bruce has compiled the powerful imagery of this series.

SAR’s mission is to examine and report on military weapons, ammunition, sights, and related gear both historical and current. As such, the photos we have chosen for publication are heavily weighted toward those showing men with guns and the best of each type.

Explanatory text in each of these five features does not need to be elaborate, as our readers tend to be highly knowledgeable in the subject of current military weaponry. So, much more space can be devoted to a maximum number of pictures.

The meat of the matter is contained in extensive photo captions that follow a strict format with information based on the GI photographer’s official log. This usually starts with the “Four Ws” of journalism school: who what, when, and where. Then, our notes and observations follow. In some cases where special emphasis is desired, technical specifications for the hardware shown are provided in a standardized format for further reference.

Our series begins in this issue with a look behind the scenes at the work of Program Manager Soldier, responsible for much of what is being used in Iraq, Afghanistan, Horn of Africa, and elsewhere in the War on Terror. Subsequent installments will zero in on the guns and gear of the US Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard. It will conclude with those of our Coalition partners as well as the military and police forces of the new Iraq.

The SAR Team
Equipping the Combat Soldier

“PEO Soldier’s mission is to arm and equip soldiers to dominate the full spectrum of peace and war, now and into the future.... All aspects of soldier equipment are developed to be integrated, modular, interoperable, and mission-tailorable... The result is ... increased effectiveness, decreased load, and improved mission flexibility.”

Program Executive Officer
Soldier Brochure

PEO Soldier is the Army’s coordinator for efforts by three main offices: Soldier Warrior, Soldier Equipment, and Soldier Weapons. While long-term efforts are underway toward fielding of “Future Warrior” in the next decade, more urgent business is right at hand in Iraq, Afghanistan and other battlegrounds in the War on Terror.

RFI (Rapid Fielding Initiative) is the Army’s response to complaints that “the system” was not fast enough in providing the right gear for a variety of missions in various parts of the world. Senior leadership got the message loud and clear from the field that individual soldiers shouldn’t have to spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars of their own money buying commercial items because standard issue didn’t measure up.

Troops fighting in Afghanistan early in 2002 were the first to benefit from on-the-spot interviews that identified shortcomings and suggested alternatives. Then, working with existing contractors to refine equipment and purchasing COTS (commercial off-the shelf) items, RFI dramatically reduced the time needed to acquire and issue critical gear.

This has resulted in large-scale issue of many of the new items now seen in recent combat photos. Prominent among these are the Advanced Combat Helmet, Interceptor Body Armor, various accessories for weapons, and even pads for knees and elbows.

Ballistic eye protectors including SWAT-type goggles and stylish Wiley-X sunglasses are widespread, as are night vision goggles and their companion weapon sights and laser pointers. From IFF reflectors atop helmets to new and improved boots, today’s American combat soldier is far and away the best equipped in the world.

The near future holds great promise for even more enhancements as the Army and its industry partners continue work on improved small arms such as the XM8 Modular Assault Weapon System, XM307 Advanced Crew Served Weapon, and XM29 Integrated Airburst Weapon System. Other initiatives are rolling fast toward better ammunition, sights, communications, toxic weapon protection, severe environment comfort, and other multipliers to the combat effectiveness of the American combat soldier.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V8N1 (October 2004)
and was posted online on July 12, 2013


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