The March

I don’t usually link Craig’s blog here, mostly because his is a far more scholarly work than mine. For some good reasons, his isn’t as snark-friendly as mine. I try to be educational, of course, but I think it would be inaccurate for me to say I’m building an archive for future historians.

Having said that, Craig’s blog IS fascinating. Today he talks about foot marches and mounted marches (that is, mounted on horses, not vehicles~**waves to Esli**)

My first tour in the Army was in a light infantry unit. The paucity of vehicles there meant a large number of troop movements were of necessity going to be foot marches. And nothing in the intervening 150 years has made foot marches any more pleasant. Easier, yes. Improved boots, socks, clothing and equipment. But in the end, it’s still a heavy ruck on your back and uphill both ways.

In the Army a march is a movement of a unit not in contact with the enemy. It can be either a foot march, or mounted.  Mounted today obviously means vehicles.  These can be either a units own vehicles, such as in a mechanized unit, or it can be in trucks supplied by a supporting unit. Whichever march order is used, planning is important.  The end goal of any march is to get to a certain location at a certain time, ready to conduct further operations.

Leaders have to plan the route, the load (if possible, as much of a soldier’s load will be carried on support vehicles), the departure time, the order of march (that is, the order in which sub-units will march, i.e. 2nd Platoon, 1st Platoon, Company HQ, with 3rd Platoon bringing up the rear), plan for security, navigation (will guides be posted at critical intersections to make sure the column doesn’t take a wrong turn?), and deconfliction with other units. If every unit tries to stage a march along the same route at the same time, you get a traffic jam just as you would at rush hour on the Eisenhower Expressway. Leaders have to plan for straggler control. What happens to folks who twist an ankle or otherwise drop out of the march? You can’t just leave them by the side of the road.

As a young stud on my first assignment with the light infantry, my planning perspective was a bit narrower. Were my boots properly broken in? [1] Was my rucksack properly packed? Did I have enough water?

Like Craig, my unit did an awful lot of practice marches.  Instead of doing PT at 0630, we’d show up with rucksacks and weapons, and jaunt off on a march (always uphill toward Kole Kole Pass) of from anywhere from 12 to 15 miles.

The manual on marches specified that the first segment of march should be 45 minutes, followed by a 15 minute break, to give troops time to make adjustments, treat any incipient blisters, and what not. After that, we marched for 50 minutes, followed by a 10 minute break, maintaining that interval until the march was complete.

Generally a 12 mile march was expected to take right around 3 hours. We usually came in a bit under that, around 2 hours, 45 minutes. 12 miles in 3 hours would indicate a rate of movement of 4 miles per hour. But if you factor in the breaks, it ups the speed a good bit. And coming in even faster ups the speed even more.  Walking along level ground at a little over 4 miles per hour isn’t a big challenge. Doing it over rolling terrain, wearing a helmet, carrying a rifle, with a heavy rucksack on a humid morning, well, that was a bit more challenging. Not impossible. Just uncomfortable. Real effort was required.  Still, the worst part wasn’t the physical exertion. It was the sheer boredom.  Chit chat and socializing wasn’t encouraged. Looking at the back of the guy 5 meters ahead of you for 3 hours was… dull. 

Once in a while, just it make it interesting (ha!) we’d move out with our load bearing equipment and our weapons, but leave the rucksacks behind. Being so lightly loaded, we were, of course, expected to move at a slightly higher pace. The fasted march I can remember was 12 miles in 2 hours and 6 minutes. I may have been a touch sore the next day.

My last 12 miler foot march was in Colorado for the Expert Infantry Badge qualification.  The rucksack was pretty light, the terrain, while not flat, wasn’t too arduous, but the elevation was an oxygen depriving 6000’. I really smoked myself finishing in just about 2-1/2 hours. But you have to perform a test as soon as you cross the finish line.  Clear, disassemble, reassemble and perform a function check on the M16. Now, I can normally do that in my sleep. No problem. But why risk having a momentary brain lapse after a long march?  If you failed the test, you got one more shot at it. The problem was, you had to do the entire march over again as well. See, the march and the rifle test were considered one even. Fail either portion, do it all over.

Instead, I stopped just short of the finish line, took a break, got some water, had a smoke, and rested up a bit. And practiced the test a couple times. Finally, with about 5 minutes to spare, I stepped across the line, went to a testing station (a field desk with a young Specialist on a folding chair) and went through the steps of clearing, disassembling, reassembling and performing a function check. Piece of cake.

Embracing the suck. Also, take note- it ain’t every day you see an armor company moving without its tanks. You can bet there was a whole lot of bitching about having to move by foot.

1. I made the mistake once of going on a two week trip to Molokai with a pair of new jungle boots that I thought were sufficiently broken in. They weren’t. Within a couple days, my feet had gone from blisters to having huge chunks of skin torn off, and badly bloodied feet. I could wring the blood out of my socks at every break. Pretty much the only thing the medic could do for me was clean my feet with povidone/iodine, slap some moleskin on them, and help me rustle up some extra clean socks.  It took months for my feet to fully heal. But I made damn sure my boots really were broken in after that.

3 thoughts on “The March”

  1. My years as an infantryman cured me of my “love” of backbacking!

    When I was a Scoutmaster I would always remind myself on whether to do a backpacking or truck camping trip….”Well, there is a reason that I was an enlisted light Infantryman and a commissioned mechnized Infantryman. Okay boys, load the trailer!!!”

    1. I pretty often used to refer to my Bradley as a “Winnebago.”

      It was fairly comfy to sleep in once you’d kicked the dismounts out to sleep in the dirt.

  2. Ahh, the classic: get a no-go on the M16 and re-do the road march. That’ll prove whether you want your EIB or not. We did mine in NOV and my hands were freezing. Not enough time to warm them up, and parts went flying from numb hands in a couple of cases. luckily I had partially thawed mine by by stuffing them in my pants for the last part of the roadmarch.

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