Our first unit was a part of the 25th Infantry Division, back in the mid 1980s. The 25th ID was a “Light” division. Light meant that the division had fewer vehicles than a regular infantry division (to say nothing of a mechanized infantry division). The goal was to make the division as deployable as possible, preferably on as few as 500 sorties by C-141 aircraft. That meant all the people, guns, trucks, and other equipment. So the Army made very deep cuts in the size of units. More importantly, they sacrificed tactical agility for strategic mobility.
There heart of the division were the three infantry brigades, each with three infantry battalions (each brigade also had an artillery battalion in direct support). The infantry companies had no organic transport. That is, they didn’t have any vehicles. Everyone, from the CO down to the lowliest private, walked. That restricted the speed of the company to a maximum of about 4 miles per hour. It also imposed a very real limit on how much equipment and ammunition the company could carry. In training, troops would routinely carry loads anywhere from 70 to 120 pounds. That’s without having to carry heavy ammo like mortar rounds, 40mm grenades, and anti-tank missiles. And it’s without having to wear the heavy body armor all troops wear today. The fact of the matter is, with a combat load, a light infantry company would be lucky to move two miles per hour. And that’s on level terrain. In complex terrain (like, say, Afghanistan), a company would be so burdened that it would be virtually immobile. To move the companies more than a few miles would require trucking support. But there were no trucks larger than a humvee in the battalion. A company would require support all the way from the division’s support battalion. These trucks weren’t often available, since they were busy moving all the divisional logistics, such as food, water, fuel and ammo.
And in rough terrain, there were real limits on where a truck or even a humvee could go. Something else was needed, but until the purse strings were loosened by the immediacy of the needs on the war on terror, nothing was in the pipeline. But once the shooting started, commanders suddenly had some discretionary funds to buy supplies “off-the-shelf” that weren’t ordinarily available. I wasn’t terribly surprised to see that several units had bought 4-wheel ATVs to haul trailers full of the heaviest items the companies would have to take with them, specifically, ammo.
And it wasn’t long before ATVs and its slightly larger cousin, the John Deere Gator started popping up all over the place.
And John Deere, knowing a good thing when they see it, started making models tailored for the military.
The even come with gun mounts (though they aren’t really fighting vehicles).
Now, while many companies have access to a Gator or other ATV, many of the handy little trucks are found on the many FOBs and other installations for routine “administrative” logistics- the mundane, day to day movement of small stuff that seems to occupy an inordinate amount of the Army’s time. Relatively cheap, handy, easy to operate and maintain, they are just the thing for hauling a load quickly and easily. In fact, they are such a no-brainer, I’m still surprised the Army uses them!
H/T to: The Mudville Gazette