A sword never jams

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

In Glory Road Robert Heinlein makes the case for his hero to carry a sword:

A properly balanced sword is the most versatile weapon for close quarters ever devised. Pistols and guns are all offense, no defense; close on him fast and a man with a gun can’t shoot, he has to stop you before you reach him. Close on a man carrying a blade and you’ll be spitted like a roast pigeon — unless you have a blade and can use it better than he can.

A sword never jams, never has to be reloaded, is always ready. Its worst shortcoming is that it takes great skill and patient, loving practice to gain that skill; it can’t be taught to raw recruits in weeks, nor even months.

Heinlein also reiterates S.L.A. Marshall’s famous point from Men Against Fire:

Do you know how many men in a platoon actually shoot in combat? Maybe six. More likely three. The rest freeze up.

Marshall infamously fabricated much of his research — but other sources do corroborate this.


  1. Kirk says:

    Sweet Jeebus… I don’t know how many times this has to be refuted, but there is apparently no damn way that this Marshall-based BS can be put down and killed.

    Point one: Heinlein was not a combat veteran. He was, I point out, an Annapolis grad who got medicaled out of the service during the inter-war years. Most of what he knows about combat is stuff he read or, at best, got second-hand. So, he is not a primary source, and he probably took Marshall at face value, believing everything he read of his, and failing to find the questionable bits.

    Point two: A platoon with only three to six men actually doing the fighting…? Really? Does anyone with a brain actually take that seriously, and think that those guys are either a.) going to put up with that BS, or b.) survive very long if they did?

    I will grant you that there are observably only a percentage that are going to fight effectively and enthusiastically in any one engagement, but that’s generally down to the fact that you’re often in a position where only a few guys have a clear view of the enemy and who can fight effectively. There’s also the fact that you’re dealing with a situation wherein there are a lot of variables–Even the bravest guys are going to have “off” days, and someone else is going to have to pick up the slack. There are also days when the “less enthused” are going to be pushed by circumstance to the point where they break and do incredibly brave and destructive things unto the enemy, when normally they’d just be hanging about in the background providing covering fire and humping ammo around.

    Combat is a team effort; the idea that you’d have teams where only a tiny fraction are doing all the fighting is ludicrous. For that to be true, then all the leadership we provide and the training that we do is entirely ineffective, and we’d be getting killed in job lots once the “3 to 6″ were killed or worn down. It may well be that that percentage is somewhat correct in that you may have that number of guys who can be effective in every engagement due to position and so forth, but the thing that people miss is that they’re probably going to be different guys in every engagement, because, again… Positioning and being able to spot the damn enemy.

    If it were the same “3 to 6″ in every engagement, then those “3 to 6″ are going to rapidly come to the conclusion that the rest of the platoon is useless dead weight, respond accordingly, and then you’re going to have platoons consisting of “3 to 6″ men by themselves. This does not happen, so the odds are pretty good that Marshall was full of shiite, and that Heinlein is guilty of believing a consummate bullshitter.

    I know that Heinlein read Marshall, too–Somewhere in his ephemera, I think Grumbles from the Grave or one of his other books/letters/biography, it’s mentioned. Put him down as another credulous believer that got cozened by a fraud, which isn’t exactly unusual. I know I took Marshall as gospel truth until actually talking to WWII vets and reading Hackworth’s book which described Marshall’s mentality in Vietnam. Dude had quite the little cottage industry going with his BS, and it’s amazing how deeply it has permeated the psyche of the nation–Despite the manifest unlikelihood of its entire premise.

  2. Altitude Zero says:

    My father served in WWII as a combat infantryman, and he pronounced Marshall’s work utter BS, except for possibly very green units/individuals undergoing their first combat experience. By the way, what did Hackworth say about Marshall ? I never read his book.

  3. LGC says:

    Hackworth’s book About Face is well worth a read. He’s (well was) an interesting guy with a great history. He was Marshall’s aide for a year (or more, I forget), and he showed that Marshall was just making stuff up.

  4. Goober says:

    I’m not sure how, out of a platoon of 30 men, that only 6 would be doing jack and not notice that they were carrying all the weight.

    As a CO, I would think that a trooper with a full load of ammunition in an after-action would catch my attention. And my ire.

    I think that everything Marshall points out: the multiple loaded muskets, the Prussian experiment showing 60% hits only to see that rate drop substantially in battle, etc are all much more easily explained by the fog of war.

    Multiple loaded muskets was poor training. Loading drills at the time didn’t call for capping and firing. Facing off against an enemy who’s trying to kill you, you go into autopilot and you just don’t cap your rifle. In the din of battle, poor training and not having fired your rifle much, you just don’t notice that it’s not actually firing. Or you think misfire and again, poor training results in reloading it instead of recapping and firing again.

    The Prussian experiment forgot one terrifically important thing: stress of battle, as well as visibility. Accounts of battles during the black powder era almost uniformly talk about literally having zero visibility because of the choking amounts of smoke. Add in explosions, screaming, bullets whizzing by, and yeah, I believe effectiveness would drop by an order of magnitude over shooting at a plywood target.

    I do not believe that men choosing not to engage the enemy in battle was common enough to explain the situations described. Nor do I think it plausible that leadership, or even other soldiers, would allow such a condition to continue for long. Men who were constitutionally incapable of effectively engaging the enemy would be removed in short order, or, depending on the army and time period, shot for cowardice.

    It just isn’t plausible.

  5. Goober says:

    Also, as for the sword argument…


    A ranged weapon is always superior. Keeping distance between you and the dude/dragon who is trying to kill you allows for a much more forgiving situation. A mistake at melee range almost invariably means you lose. A mistake in ranged combat can be recovered from, and doesn’t necessarily mean you die right away.

    Also, fatigue becomes less of an issue. Fatigue at melee range cannot be dealt with by finding cover and resting for a second. Fatigue at melee ranges means you die.

  6. Kirk says:


    Excellent points, and your mention of fatigue with regards to melee weapons is spot on. A sword is only really going to be useful so long as the enemy cooperates by coming at you one-by-one, or one-on-one in a melee. There’s a solid reason why the Romans won most of their battles where they were able to utilize their superior discipline and doctrine, not the least of which is that their enemies were facing a constantly rotating front line of fresh troops, which when opposed by “warriors” usually meant that the fatigue and adrenaline exhaustion were suffered mostly by the idiots taking on the Romans.

    Swords are, I am afraid, a mugs game. Suitable for idiot nobles with delusions of chivalry and “codes of honor”. Give me polearms and a bunch of friends, every single time. And, a few “dishonorable” types lurking in the background with slim knives, hammers, and other can-opening tools with which to crack open the noble lobsters with, in order to get at that sweet noble flesh within. Or, as an alternative, with some nice, hot fires and/or cauldrons nearby.

    Deadliest melee weapon ever was, I think, the weird-looking little billhook-looking Dacian two-handed falx, which was efficient enough that the Romans had to pause in mid-campaign and then modify tactics/equipment accordingly.

  7. Harry Jones says:


    I saw a Youtube video where a guy with a spear repeatedly bested a guy with a sword. I’m thinking there has to be more to it or swords would never have caught on in the first place. Maybe it’s the training.

    If insist I go into battle with a ranged weapon I’m going to insist on a dagger in hip scabbard for backup.

  8. VXXC says:

    Unless that sword is knife sized and you get into an unexpected wrestling match at close quarters [it does happen, not to me yet] then the sword is well…nice paperweight.

  9. VXXC says:

    Marshall will be refuted when people experience combat for themselves, nothing can be refuted without that experience.

    Marshall? Dude try telling ANYONE anything at all if they haven’t been in combat, especially leadership.

    1/1000 will listen to you.

    There’s a reason we don’t talk. It’s worse than useless, it makes you a target of resentment and office BS politics.

    And yes Marshall is science fiction, like most of the crap our leaders and elites believe.

    3-6 guys out of 30 shoot LOL LOLZ LMAO

    If anything it’s at MOST 3 who fuckup or freeze, and boy they’ll regret that. More like 1-2 at most.

    Marshall science is impervious to logic. It’s not science, it’s !SCIENCE! I fucking love marshall lolz.

  10. ATP says:

    Guys, a sword is a SIDEARM, a backup weapon you can wear at your side, without it getting in the way too much of either your primary weapon in war, or whatever else you’re doing at the time (working, traveling, drinking in a tavern, whatever). The sword was usually not the primary weapon of choice in war, much as a pistol is almost never the primary weapon of choice in war now. But you can wear a pistol much more easily than carrying a rifle. THAT’S why the sword was important, as the number one sidearm, the best weapon you could actually be reasonably likely to have with you anytime you might need it.

  11. Altitude Zero says:

    I always wondered what Marshall’s motivation was in lying about this? Slandering Our Brave Boys as f*ckups immediately after the Good War would not seem to be an obvious career-enhancer, but I guess it worked for him. Anyone have any insight on this?

  12. Kirk says:

    The majority of his work wasn’t in the same vein as “Men Against Fire”. There was an awful lot of “color” he wrote up besides that, and while it was of questionable sourcing, it was popular.

    He had a really good reputation up until about the mid-1980s, when some real historians went back to look at what he’d written, some encouraged by Hackworth’s account of what he experienced as Marshall’s escort officer. What they found was revealing, and when you look at it with clearer eyes, the whole self-aggrandizing nature of much of his work comes clear. He liked to make two basic claims; one, that he was the reason the Army went to Trainfire, and that two, he was the guy who pioneered the post-combat interview technique of historical research.

    Reality? You go looking for it, and there’s just about zero mention of Marshall or his ideas lurking about in the background of Trainfire. That stemmed from work done completely independent of Marshall, conducted by Army Research Laboratories. Back when I was researching a bunch of stuff relating to the Combat Leader’s Guide for my unit, I had the great good fortune to talk to one of the researchers there who’d been involved in the periphery of the work behind Trainfire when he was first starting out at the lab; per his testimony, there was zero input from Marshall or the historical branch of the Army, and when Marshall started making that claim in the 1960s, a whole bunch of people at ARL went ballistic over the idea. For one thing, Marshall’s “data” was essentially non-existent; he made it all up. There was no “there” there, and the men who supposedly served as his informants don’t even remember the issue coming up in the discussions they had with him.

    The other issue, about how he supposedly “pioneered” the whole post-combat thing for Army historians is so much equivalent bullshit, so far as I can tell. Marshall was hired specifically to do the work; which presupposes that someone else had come up with the idea ahead of him. He was a field researcher, basically.

    Hackworth describes Marshall as being gleeful at all the names he’d harvested from his Vietnam interviews, commenting that each one was probably worth ten books being sold by his publishers. He had a mercenary attitude, and one of the things that Hackworth didn’t like about him was that Marshall was “captured” by the establishment, and basically echoed the Army party line rather than point out where they were going off the rails–Which Hackworth well knew.

    You want a good insight into why Marshall is no longer as respected as he once was, you really need to read Hackworth’s “About Face. Marshall was not interested in the truth or historical accuracy, really–He was all about selling his books. Which, for a guy who was supposedly an “Army Historian”, is suspicious on the face of it.

    Marshall is one of those people you read with a cocked eyebrow, attempting to figure out what angle he was writing that particular piece from, and what his agenda was. Sort of like Fehrenbach, himself–There’s solid ground truth beneath it all, but… Man, winnowing out the grain from the chaff is some work. Not as much with Fehrenbach, because I think he meant well, but with Marshall…? Yikes. I’ve talked to guys who were at some of the better-known combat actions he describes from Vietnam, and their take on it was “Who the hell did he talk to? I sure as hell didn’t see that…”. At least one guy was livid because a survivor that Marshall painted as a heroic figure was actually a guy who was attempting to evade combat, and who’d gotten a couple of his buddies killed because of his actions. And, apparently, because Marshall wrote him up that way in the after-action stuff he submitted, the prosecution of the shirker got sidelined because nobody wanted to go against Marshall’s reputation, which was by then invested in making a hero out of the shirker.

    That came out of the mouth of a Vietnam vet I knew in Illinois, and I kinda wish I’d taken notes. We got onto the conversation because I was reading the book Marshall wrote about that action at the time, he saw it, and just went ballistic. It was around then that I was starting to really question a lot of the “received wisdom” I’d gotten over the years from reading guys like Marshall, and I was beginning to think that maybe he was full of shit.

  13. Bruce says:

    In a couple thousand years of history, what they called a ‘sword’ was sometimes what we’d call a bowie knife or a dagger. A Saxon’s Sax might mean what we’d call a machete, might mean what Dungeons and Dragons called a falchion, might mean what they called a hunting hanger in 1800, might mean what Jim Bowie called a Bowie knife, might mean what hardware stores started calling a bowie since 1950, might mean what Vietnam guys bought as a Randall knife (but with lower carbon steel, or maybe the smith put so much work in it it was what we’d call Damascus steel).

    In the middle ages the swords to cut armor or flesh and bone got bigger and tougher, and maybe they called the same thing an ‘anlace’ or maybe they didn’t. In the Renaissance Sir Philip Sidney telling you to remember his honor or he would thrust his dagger in you probably meant a foot-long thin dagger he could carry without trouble, but it was a bet. By 1800 a Midshipman’s issue dirk was maybe what Sidney meant. Since the remorseless revolver stopped being flimsy clockwork and started being something like what we call a revolver, ‘swords’ were ceremonial or personal decisions even if they were issue.

  14. Paul from Canada says:

    Matt Easton at the youtube channel Scholagladiatoria recently did an episode about why British officers stopped carrying swords in WWI.

    He pointed out that not only did they stop carrying them in WWI, they had stopped carrying them during the Boer War as well.

    His thesis was that a sword is actually a pretty good individual self defense weapon for use in an emergency. When you are overrun and you have shot your pistol dry, and there is still a guy left coming at you with a bayonet, the sword works quite well. However, it is militarily speaking, NOT a combat weapon. The Platoon Commander’s weapon is not his sword and pistol, it is his Platoon. His job is to direct and lead his men, not fight himself. If he is actually fighting, things have gone very, very, wrong.

    The reason British Officers stopped carrying swords in these circumstances, was that there were very, very few times when a sword was useful, but that the rest of the time it just made you conspicuous and got you killed. “Shoot the guy waving the sword around” made simple sense not just to snipers, but to regular riflemen as well.

    Similarly, as a military pilot, I was issued a pistol, but given very little training with it. The military would rather not waste a week training me to be a good combat pistol shot. They would rather give me half a day (most of which was how not to accidentally shoot myself), and use the rest of the week to train me to do my proper job. I was far more militarily useful as a well trained pilot, and almost militarily irrelevant as a good combat pistol shot.

    If I ended up needing my pistol, it would be because I had been shot down, and was now militarily useless anyway. My pistol was really meant to be a symbol of military identity, that a soldier carries a weapon, and and as a security blanket to clutch and make me feel better while I hid under a bush waiting for the CSAR to come and get me. Outside of movies, no shot down pilot ever takes on an enemy platoon armed with AKs.

  15. Paul from Canada says:

    Also, the whole edged weapons in the military thing is kind of silly. Military combat is a team sport, not an individual one.

    Look at fencing, and even more practical sword fighting treatises. The emphasis is on dueling or tournament use. Military sword techniques are very boiled down, particularly where they were actually used, like cavalry combat.

    Look at the late 19th century British manuals, the eight cuts and wards for same, and nothing else. Charge home, reform and charge again, DON”T GET IN MELEES. Being a spectacular swordsman avails you nothing when while you are engaged with one opponent, another rides up behind you and stabs you in the back.

    By the end of the 19th century, and the early 20th, it was even simpler. You had a combined hanging guard and thrust presentation, and charge home. The position you held your sword made it offensive, and in the unlikely event your opponent didn’t break, a pretty good guard position. You charged though and reformed.

    Militaries still taught bayonet fighting and fencing, but it was for training, not fighting. We still do bayonet training, but it is for mindset and aggressiveness training, not really for actual use. Bayonets are psychological weapons, and have been pretty much exclusively that for a very long time.

    Similarly knife fighting. The famous WWII Fairbairn-Sykes “fighting knife”, wasn’t for fighting, it was for killing. You used it for removing sentries or killing more quietly that with gunfire if you didn’t have a silenced firearm handy. You were never meant to fight knife on knife with one, that was a fools game. Better to use a rifle as a club, or a rifle and bayonet, or a trench club, assuming you didn’t have a loaded firearm available. If you had to fight with a blade in close combat, Fairbairn recommended his other desigh, the “Smatchet”.

    Even mort unarmed combat training is more about mindset and giving troops something “cool” to do. Actual combat aplication is almost non-existant, and if it gets that far, things have gone very, very wrong,

  16. ATP says:

    Paul, regarding your commment, “Actual combat aplication [of unarmed combat training] is almost non-existant”. In one sense you’re correct, but note carefully that Jocko Willink, retired Navy Seal officer, directly contradicts you. When asked, did you ever use Jiu-Jitsu in combat, he answered, “All the time.”

    You’re not precisely wrong, because the two of you are talking about two different things. But the fact that those two different things exist, and are both part of real-world “combat”, is pretty important. When did Jocko use Jiu-Jitsu in combat “all the time”? As he explained it, never because he ran out of ammo, often on the 95+% of people he encountered who it DIDN’T make sense to just shoot! When someone’s unarmed wife or child grabs onto you crying, passively impeding your actions and thus putting you in danger, do you just shoot her? No? Well, it sure would be nice to have other options, wouldn’t it? Stuff like that. According to him, the list of stuff like that was pretty long.

    Self-defense trainers make similar points, because real life is always messier than theory. Both the “drunk uncle” and “entangled fight” scenarios call for grappling skills.

    Of course you’re quite right that the primary reason a modern military has any unarmed combat instruction at all, is for moral and mindset training, not utility. In that regard it probably has similar training advantages to contact sports like American Football, but with a residue of more practical skills, and less head injury.

  17. Paul from Canada says:

    As you pointed out, he was a SEAL, and they are so few and so specialized that my comments don’t pertain to them. Likewise what I said about pistols. SF, particularly anti-terrorist forces use pistols “offensively” and very, very well..

    But you are quite right, unarmed combat does have certain limited application, particularly by SF in unconventional war. Even more broadly, British soldiers going to Northern Ireland at a certain time were given very specific training for weapons retention and certain scenarios in crowds i.e. controlling a prisoner in a crowd (riot).

    Interestingly, I read somewhere that the modern combatives taught to the US military (outside of SF), are based on BJJ/MMA, because it is popular and lots of soldiers are interested in it or practice it outside of work. Also, being now somewhat sports based, it is relatively safe to practice, even by troops informally screwing around in the barracks.

    Old school combatives are likely just as, or even more effective, but more likely to cause injury in training, and liability if used outside combat.

  18. Kirk says:

    I’m of two minds with regards to the utility of “combatives” training. Firstly, it’s faddish, and every time I encounter a fad, it has proven to be a waste of time and a detractor from what’s really important. So, there is that.

    On the other hand… It is also a necessity, and not just because of the mindset it inculcates. Same with the bayonet–Yeah, a lot of the training is overblown, faddish, and an utter waste of time, but… You also have to do it.

    My take on it is, do it, but do it right. Part of the issue is that the general run of people we have running things are delusional at best, and entirely other-worldly at worst, when it comes to understanding what is really necessary and vital in combat. Witness the long American nightmare fascination with the “individual rifleman” for example… Totally nutso, and completely in denial of how modern combat works from WWI on down.

    You need unarmed combat training, but you also need a damn sensible system to it all, one that actually works. An unfortunate amount of what we’ve done in this realm actually doesn’t, and serves mostly as another avenue for the “hoo-ah-er than thou” crowd to feed their egos.

    What I’d like to see would be a cross between something like Krav Maga, the WWII-era schools of fighting, and the Japanese tendency to make everything a damn martial art. They even had a specific martial art devoted towards enabling a fully-armored Samurai to swim, which is a useful skill set to have once your Congressman mandates everyone go into full-shell turtleback body armor, rather than take educated risks based on threat scenario.

    Needs to be done, all of it, but the hyped and faddish nature of the manner in which we’ve gone about it leaves me highly dubious of the entire proposition.

    Likewise, a lot of the pistol technique. There’s “Delta Operator” good, and then there’s what you’re actually going to be able to attain with a slightly pudgy female Major who’s main claim to fame is that she’s a highly proficient logistician or other specialist. You need her to be capable with a pistol such that she can defend herself, but you’re not likely to get her to the point where you can expect her to waltz into an airplane cabin and kill seven terrorists while leaving ten hostages alive.

    It’s a question of limitations, and most of those limitations revolve around the fact that most soldiers don’t kill, and likely never will. The majority of our armed forces are men and women who’re more bureaucrats in funny green clothes than they are actual combatant soldiers. I would prefer that they were all real soldiers, but the cultural zeitgeist is against me, and I’m told “We can’t afford that…”. Well, my take is that we really can’t afford the bullshit we’re doing now, and I’d much rather have a situation where all the logistics jobs are predominantly held by hired civilians with a leavening of physically-damaged yet still somewhat serviceable former combat soldiers. This BS where we have nine-tenths of our force that is essentially uniformed dead weight is something we really need to stop supporting. Logistically, it’s a damn nightmare to support, because every one of those uniformed bureaucrats and technicians has to be supported and paid as though they were combat soldiers, when the reality is that the vast majority of them will never leave the wire to go do their jobs. Replace them with civilians, and go with a logistically lighter force that doesn’t need all that crap. You hire a kid to go fight, let him fight–Don’t stick him in some FOB somewhere to sort mail and/or do laundry.

    Of course, you’d need a totally different mindset than the one we have right now–Nation-building and all that other touchy-feely crap is right out. I’d support a system where there is no plan to ever do crap like that with the military, and just go to a straight “kill people and break their shit” military model, with another service entirely doing the post-combat reconstruction and garrisoning job. Put those guys under the State Department, and make them actually do it right–It’s their damn job in the first place, doctrinally speaking.

    Do that and you could always keep the actual military hanging in the background like Damocle’s Sword… “You don’t behave, and we’ll just have to call the Army back in… You want that? Do you really want that?”.

    Of course, you’d have to have that predicated on the theory that the Army was gonna do whatever the hell it felt like was necessary, up to and including precisely zero ROE. Just sheer slaughter of anything even resembling resistance, with no regards for collateral damage or restraint. No war crimes tolerated, but strict by-the-letter-and-spirit-of-the-law enforcement of existing international standards. Like, “No uniform? Fighting from amongst civilians? No legitimate government backing? Automatic drum-head court-martial to establish fact, then summary execution.”.

    Precisely as provided by the actual international law.

  19. VXXC says:

    Not a POG or a fan Kirk…but…be careful. We don’t want to gut logistics based on 20 years of colonial warfare.

    It’s bad enough we’ve forgotten how to do actual wartime logistics of large scale maneuver combat*, to get rid of the logisticians is the big mistake Stalin made and it cost them dearly in 1941, and after.

    *and yes we have. it’s ‘contracted’ now.

    We have 1sg’s who’ve never done a logpac, never mind S-4s. Beware of contractors, they don’t do anything without money first.

    In fact it’s at the point where real TLP’s would start with: [Troop leading Procedures]

    1. Receive the mission.
    2. Cut the Contracts.

    Because NOTHING not even ORDERS happen until the contracts are cut. The $$$ got their hooks into command and the Contractors run the show. And the lawyers. Our CSM’s are nothing now, as sad as our Generals.

    You should have seen DC in January. What a shitshow, and I’m not proud, I just couldn’t leave the boys to face danger in the beginning.

    But I could damn well leave and did shortly after Jan 20th State Funeral for the Republic.

  20. VXXC says:

    I must alibi above:

    The boys and the leadership are very sharp TACTICALLY.

    The problem is once wartime logistics ever hits it’s going to be a bigger shock then the British got in the Falklands [whoops, can't go back to base like we can in Rhineland] but the British adapted well and fast. Then again the British hadn’t spent 20 years being infantilized by MOBE/DEMOBE process and FOB contractor logistics. And yes an entire generation is infantilized once the ammo they took runs out.

    We’ll learn at cost.

    And no, they don’t know how to do log. You’d have to be my age. No one has done log since 2003 invasion of Iraq, maybe Afghanistan. But this FOBBIT crap has made us not just soft but stupid.

  21. Kirk says:

    They’ve never known how to do log.


    Ask me how I know.

    No, wait, I’ll tell you. In 1993 I was a young promotable Staff Sergeant running a line platoon in the last Active Duty Corps Wheeled Engineer unit. Did reasonably well at that, and for some reason the CSM and Battalion Commander thought I’d be a good fit running the battalion support platoon, which as you know is supposed to be the slot for your senior platoon sergeant in the battalion so that they can learn how logistics works before becoming a First Sergeant. I didn’t want the job, and said so–It was completely against what I thought were my strengths, which were training and systems. I was overruled, and went over to support platoon as the junior-most platoon sergeant in the battalion, which was ‘effing idiotic. Found out later that the reason for this was that everyone else in the battalion had taken a look at the company commander (reputedly the first woman, ever, to command a combat engineer company, even if it was just an HHC…) and her chosen First Sergeant (who was an affirmative action type that couldn’t actually do anything more complicated than put on a uniform and look good at standing in front of a formation), and told the CSM and battalion commander that they’d submit retirement paperwork before working for those two. So, I got the shaft.

    Going in, I knew nothing about running logistics or doing LOGPAC operations. Turned out, nobody did, really–They had never, ever done it for realsies. Which was pretty fucking obvious when you looked at the MTOE, because it gave me exactly one radio to conduct convoy operations with, a HMMWV, four fuel HEMTTs, seven cargo HEMTTS, a five ton truck for the battalion mess section, a Vietnam-era forklift that hadn’t actually, y’know, run in over 15 years, and only enough men to drive the trucks around the motor pool. No co-drivers, and even my NCOs and I had to drive–By default, I was the guy in the HMMWV, driving the LT around. Nobody else to do it–They were all driving HEMTTS by themselves.

    On. The. MTOE. How the hell was that supposed to work, given that our footprint for logistics required operating over a division-sized area of a given battlespace? If you sat down and looked at it, we had more ground to cover than any other organization type in the Army, and no security assets to do it with. Oh, and did I mention that much of our real combat power, out in the Heavy Equipment sections actually consisted of unique stuff that a division of any type wasn’t going to be able to support? So, zero chance of leaching off of their logistics network…?

    Let’s not get into the fact that along with zero internal comms, I had the small arms complement of a line squad spread across all my vehicles, with no real firepower above a couple of M249s and some M203s. There was a .50 cal, but the ring mount was meant for the old 5-ton trucks, and they wouldn’t order me the parts to convert it, and even if they did, that went on the mess truck which wouldn’t be doing LOGPAC operations ‘cos it had to be running around the BSA doing mess section things in order for everyone to eat…

    I sat down and looked it all over, and realized that a.) I was gonna be on my own, b.) I didn’t have the necessary bits and bobs to do the job, and that c.) nobody cared. My LT and I did voluminous research about what we’d likely have to do, looking at the typical Corps OPORDS and tasking our battalion would probably be getting, realized how big our fucking job was, and tried to prepare/train for it all. We actually did the first “real” LOGPAC our battalion had done in living memory, and it was a cluster-fuck of truly epic proportions. Even just training internally, and without the battalion being spread all over hell’s creation, it was a disaster. We couldn’t even convoy effectively as an element–No radios. You had to take the HMMWV out in front, passing everyone on the highway, stop, and then count trucks to make sure you still had everyone, then drive like a fucking maniac to get out ahead again. We wound up buying those little Motorola handhelds at the PX out of pocket, just so we could talk to people without making them stop.

    I had a three-ring binder full of crap that we needed to get or implement if we ever went off to war. We could gain no headway with the assholes writing the MTOE, either–They told us we didn’t need more than one driver per vehicle, as if we could just shit licensed HEMTT operators at will, when needed, or as though those guys we snaffled up from elsewhere when we moved didn’t have jobs and official roles elsewhere in the HHC already. The radios? LOL… The weapons…? Again, LOL. Forget up-armor kits–We provided volumes of data about how necessary they were going to be, but, again, nobody cared. I had white papers from South Africa, talking about what they’d had to do going into Angola, and all of that crap. Nobody cared. We got in a new company commander who’d spent two tours in Somalia, and he was completely on-board with the whole thing, joining in on all the fun of trying to force some sanity on the whole thing. Two years later, he wrote off his military career in frustration, because absolutely nothing got done to fix the issues, and again, nobody cared. We were lone voices in the wilderness.

    Hell, we wrote off to the idiots running the FMTV program, and told them “Hey, dumbasses… Cabover design BAD. That puts the crew right over the front axle, which is gonna be the first thing blown up through the crew compartment when they hit a mine or IED… South Africa learned this the hard way; that’s why all of the South African logistics vehicles are conventional engine-forward designs with armored capsules for the engines and crews…”.

    That got us nowhere–The reply was that a.) the logistics concerns of a shorter wheelbase for loading into ships took priority, and that b.) we didn’t need to do that sort of ridiculous thing because we were smarter than South Africans and wouldn’t be taking our wheeled logistics vehicles into combat situations…

    Our pleas that they design uparmor kits concurrently with the trucks went nowhere, for similar reasons. “No identified need”. ‘Cos, you see, unless a commander demanded it, they weren’t doing it. Nobody cared that this shit was plain as the nose on your face, if only you looked around the world at how other conflicts were fought, and at how the Soviets had been preaching “rear area battle” since the beginning of Barbarossa.

    The cherry on top of the ice-cream sundae of fuck-uppedness, though? Come 2003, some ten years after all this, we’re alerted to deploy as slice to 4ID. Against, I might add, the promises of all and sundry, up to and including the FORSCOM commander. See, we’d been doing ash and trash on Fort Lewis rather than training, ‘cos someone had to be the “bill payer” to allow the Stryker Brigades to stand up. So, we got no training time allotted to us–All of it was “post support”, when you got down to it, aside from two weeks a year we were “allowed” to go to the field as a battalion. By this time, I’d left the battalion, gone to the NTC, and come back by way of Korea. The assholes dropped me right back into my old support platoon, which was… Interesting. Nothing had really changed, just the faces. Ten years on, nothing fixed. I was able to pull my old notes out and start all over again with the MTOE fight, but since there hadn’t been any realistic battalion-level training since I’d left, well… It was same shit, different day.

    Did that thankless job for a year, and then with retirement looming, they shifted me up to brigade in order to make room for another POS affirmative action hire that not only spent his time as First Sergeant sexually harassing all the female soldiers in my old platoon, but who also actually refused to deploy with us to OIF, demanding that he got back the status he’d given up as “sole surviving son”. Convenient, no?

    What was the most fun, though? Watching the cluster-fuck as they tried to get ready to deploy with that support platoon. All of a sudden, the horrified realization that they’d have to do real LOGPAC operations hit, and the money tree got shaken. Weapons, ring mounts, radios… All sorts of goodies came showering down, and a bunch of off-MTOE permanently assigned soldiers who could be licensed as HEMTT operators showed up. I handed my three-ring binder of “Shit we need to do before war she is fought” to the new platoon sergeant, wished him and his LT well, and then went off to do staff things while snidely pointing out to the CSM that’d moved me out of the line battalion that his “chosen man” was a piece of shifty shirking shit. He didn’t like that, not one bit, but the bastard deserved it–He’d basically promoted a uniform, not a real soldier. Stupid fuck couldn’t even run a range, but he’d been taken in by the pretty-pretty, and didn’t pay attention to the incredible drop in morale in the HHC of that battalion. Ah, well… Water under the bridge. I’m sure he’s successful, somewhere.

    Yeah. So… Don’t try to make a case that we ever knew how to do logistics down at the tactical level. We did not. I spent a considerable chunk of my time as an Observer/Controller at the NTC playing O/C for the support platoons of the Engineer battalions. They weren’t any better or any more prepared out in the line units we saw, and their MTOEs made even less sense. There was also the minor issue that the NTC did not see “logistics” as something they should have been training, because every time I pointed out that there was essentially no “friction” in the LOGPAC process, I was told that if there were, then it would detract from training the maneuver guys, which was the point of NTC in the first damn place… My point, which wasn’t ever paid attention to, was that it wasn’t exactly realistic to train as though every LOGPAC convoy was going to get through, every time. That mentality inculcated bad habits, just like the failure to include Corps-level slice elements led directly to things like the 507th Maintenance Company fiasco, ‘cos nobody ever bothered to train those people, or to train the divisions that the slice elements weren’t getting training at all on basic combat operations… When the 507th happened, it was literally the blind leading the blind, because those poor fucks had no idea what they needed to do, never having trained at the NTC, and the 3rd ID guys had no idea that the rest of the Army was basically budget triaged into not doing any kind of realistic training whatsoever–The 507th’s idea of a realistic training exercise was setting up their tents in their motor pool, and then doing garrison ops from those tents with the troops locked down as though they were in the field. Convoy operations…? LOL… We ain’t got time or money for that bullshit. And, that’s the way Big Army wanted it. Deliberately, and with malice aforethought.

    Do note that instead of institutionalizing and making permanent the PSD elements we all had to set up out of hide while deployed, they are studiously looking the other way and humming, instead of adding men and equipment to the MTOE, which means that the next time around, we’ll have to throw together ad-hoc little elements all over again, stripping line units that are already denuded of necessary manpower.

    The system is fucked. Always has been, and likely always will be until the whole shoddy enterprise collapses. They told us all about how to go about “fixing” MTOE and doctrine issues in schooling, but the thing they never taught us was how to fix idiots running things above us that would ignore all of our documentation and requirements.

    Shit’s always been broke, yo…

  22. VXXC says:

    “So… Don’t try to make a case that we ever knew how to do logistics down at the tactical level.”

    Wait thar a minute pardner…put that shovel down…

    We did it routinely in my units in the 90s. Mind you that was 3d ACR after, yes AFTER desert storm, and then in Europe 1AD in the 90s, again after, AFTER DSS. So it was learned. Hard.

    Tactically meaning line units is the only place we can do anything Kirk. Learned hard or not.

    As for the MTOE, you’re a very stubborn person to not give that up quick. It’s ok, I might have thought about it too once or twice. I mean yes, it’s nonsense for anyone not bringing Bezoes money to the Generals to consider it.

    I think you’re a systems guy from the sound of it, maybe even a real engineer. That must drive you crazy.

    But at the tactical level of squadron, BN, BDE I’ve seen LOG done routinely.

    Now if you respond, I will have to retort with the tales of MOBE/DEMOBE from Bldg 500, Ft Bliss…hint, colored arrows painted on all 4 floors for the infantilized units to be henpecked through by fat women who couldn’t cut it at the DMV, infantilizing a generation of soldiers and leaders, entire units.

    ^which is why learning as adults on the battlefield may be a bridge too far ^

  23. VXXC says:

    The actual good news is all the convoys getting blown up in Iraq have left us with many of the necessary skills and certainly lots of convoy and CLP/combat logistics patrols knowledge…and we have lots of gun trucks and radios.

    I am wondering how that gets put together as the pieces weren’t quite for the same puzzle, and it’s not FOB to FOB, but there is the base knowledge about.

  24. Kirk says:

    Any of the ACR are crappy examples to use when arguing that the Army knows how to do logistics right at the tactical level; those were the only units that did things properly, in my experience, down at the NTC. Everybody else was utter shiite.

    Part of that was that the ACR mentality was that “We’re self-contained, all alone, and ain’t nobody else out there to help…”. Brigades belonging to divisions were usually utterly apathetic, and acted like support was someone else’s problem, not theirs.

    Which was why 507th happened, TBH. I think that if that company had been attached to an ACR, the ACR mentality would have probably handled the whole thing differently, and we might have had a much different outcome.

    The Army largely had its head up its ass from the time I enlisted back in the early 1980s up until I retired. It wasn’t 100% across the board, but the things I witnessed and experienced? Yeesh. Most of which were entirely avoidable, and things that the “higher powers” were made well aware of–It was just that they didn’t have the gumption or the care to do anything about the issues. I’m not kidding when I say that all of the issues experienced by our unit in 2003 were things we’d foreseen ten years earlier.

    We were sitting in Kuwait before going north, after all the debarking and other stuff was done, and our S3 basically gave everyone a quick briefing on how he foresaw the way things were going to go. He made no bones about the fact that we weren’t leaving Iraq any time soon, that it was a 50-plus year commitment if anything meaningful was to be accomplished (in direct contravention to what the politicians and other higher-ups were saying…), and he laid out how he foresaw the whole thing going.

    The only thing he got wrong for the course of the next 24 months was that it took about six months longer than he projected for the Iranians to get EFP munitions into widespread use in Iraq.

    Why wasn’t he in charge? No damn idea. Dude was brilliant, but not a politician. The political hacks were the ones they made full colonels and put in charge of everything, and I’ll be brutally honest: Most of them were utterly useless time-serving jackasses more concerned about their next OER than actually doing well at the mission.

    Trust me on this–No matter whether it’s Kodak missing the boat on digital imaging or the Army being unprepared for the IED campaign, there’s someone inside the hierarchy who was likely railing against the stupidity of it all as they watched the “leadership” ignore all warnings and any common sense.

    That’s simultaneously the biggest comfort and most frightening thing to realize: The people in charge are mostly so incompetent that they can’t possibly get themselves off the railroad tracks before the oncoming train hits, and that’s both beneficial and a disadvantage at the same time. Imagine, if you will, today’s politically correct and “diverse” military tackling a widespread internal insurrection. About the only thing they’re going to be able to do is threaten nukes, and that’s a.) not going to fly very far, and b.) given the crap we’ve seen coming out of the former SAC and other nuclear forces, not likely to actually work if they did try it.

    I’m pretty sure I understand what it must have been like to have watched all the idiots during the Year of Five Emperors. Not sure I’m really all that happy to live through such times, but, hey… What the hell, it’s entertaining.

    In a “WTF will they try next…?” sense.

  25. ATP says:

    “Old school combatives are likely just as, or even more effective”

    Paul, no. If you can’t practice it full speed against an actively resisting opponent, then you can’t really get any good at it, and therefore in practice it’s NOT effective, period.

    That’s the hard-learned lesson of modern MMA since UFC 1 in 1993. In the old days (pre-UFC), a minority knew it perfectly well, including no doubt some of those “combatives” instructors, but now it’s very widespread knowledge. This is a huge improvement over the days of strip-mall karate schools. BJJ, Judo, wrestling, Sambo, boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai each have their limitations, but they all WORK (in their contexts), because they are trained for real, for real application. Not just for pretend. AFAICT, most of what Americans called “martial arts” back in the 1980s didn’t work, and probably never did. It was largely pretend.

    Kirk, as an institution, I doubt the Army really knows shit about unarmed fighting, nor should it be expected to. That expertise is 95% on the civilian side. So just copy what the more clueful civilians are doing, tweak it slightly for the military context, and call it good enough. For the ordinary guy, civilian or military, BJJ is probably the right choice. Ideally, also offer MMA, Judo, boxing, and other martial sports as optional add-ons for the hard-core. Plus some context on how one-on-one duels are exactly the opposite of what you should be trying to achieve as a military unit, which I understand the Marines already teach.

    Logistics snafus… Interesting, and probably very important. But I know nothing about that; thus my minor contributions above on stuff I actually know a little bit about.

  26. Kirk says:


    I was never SF or an MP… My feeling on combatives was pretty simple: If I needed to grapple someone, I’d fundamentally screwed up somewhere along the line. Valuable skill, yes, but… Better not to make the mistake in the first place, y’know?

    The entire idea behind combatives and bayonet drill these days is really psychological; to a degree, you don’t want the troops really good or lethal at it, because they are most likely going to be using that crap on each other, instead of the enemy. Or, so I surmise the thinking going… Could be wrong; maybe they really do want to have it work, and are just utterly inept.

    It’s kinda like the physical fitness test crap they’re going through–The political constraints are way more of a deal than the actual testing criteria, which if we were honest, would likely put 80-90% of the females in the force on civvy street, as the Brits put it.

    The reality as I see it is that the luvvies want to leapfrog reality as it existed for all of prior history to some ideal that we’re only going to reach in a span of time measured in generations. You are not going to overcome the sexual dimorphism we have until the advent of powered armor and artificial wombs, but everyone wants to behave as though those were real things, today.

    And, hell, given the plumbing issues, we may never succeed in making conditions for the girls such that they’re as effective as the boys–Consider the fact that you’d have to have freakin’ catheters in every suit you built for women, and ohbytheway, the health implications of that for those women. Imagine how much longer it would take to get into the armor, if you had to stick in a catheter, vs. putting little Willie into a sock…?

    Reality is what it is. You’d best be looking at it with clear eyes, and see what is actually there to be seen, vs. what you wish was there. Women in combat arms is one of those things that ain’t really there, but because we want it to be, we’re ignoring everything else to make it happen for the benefit of their almighty “careers”, which are likely to end in a POW/rape camp once reality intrudes into their little fantasies.

  27. The White King says:

    (regarding riflemen who won’t shoot)

    “Marshall infamously fabricated much of his research — but other sources do corroborate this.”

    I’ve seen some discussion of claimed research that, while this was historically true, it is not turning out to be true for video game generations, because they’ve already mentally trained themselves past the reflex hesitation and into BLAM!BLAM!BLAM! without having to think about it.

    I have no sources or citations available for this. I merely note that I find it believable.

  28. Kirk says:

    I think that it would be virtually impossible for anyone to actually corroborate the BS that Marshall came up with. Actual WWII vets, some of whom were actually there when Marshall was doing all the interviews this idea was based on, have flatly stated that he never asked them the questions and that they would not have answered them the way he claimed they did.

    Marshall was a fabulist who pulled those numbers out of his ass, pure and simple. I’m not even sure that you could make a case for them being accurate if he had actually gotten them, because it was based on purely subjective self-reporting that he kept precisely zero records of, and for which nobody has ever been able to find actual data records of.

    And, to be honest, I’m not sure I believe anyone about any of this crap, basically because it’s all entirely unknowable and totally subjective. Who the hell really knows what goes on out of your sight, in combat? You think you’re doing a good job as a leader, ‘cos you’re checking the ammo pouches to see who was shooting, but maybe PFC Jones is a secret coward/traitor/enemy sympathizer, and he’s been burying his ammo instead of shooting it, and you’ve just assumed that the fires you heard from where he and his buddies were at were them… Ya don’t know what you don’t know.

    I’ve always been a big advocate for getting hard data on this crap, but I’ve really got no idea of how you’d go about doing it, other than wiring a unit for sound, and then monitoring it during an action, with full overhead tracking and forensics follow-up. I’m pretty damn sure that if we were to do that, there’d be some significant surprises for the guys doing the data analysis, just like there were with the initial run-throughs at the National Training Center once they had that placed wired up. You want to know what really goes on in combat, you need to do some serious research. Setting up for even doing the very least possible would be highly controversial, and likely get some people put on the hot seat. But, it needs to be done.

    Most of the numbers on all this crap are bullshit. Nobody really knows what the actual stats are, or how effective the weapons are. It’s all purely subjective; “I shot at him, he quit shooting back…”. You don’t know if the reason they quit shooting at you was that they ran out of ammo, you killed them, or there was an enemy blue-on-blue that took out the people who were engaging you. The whole thing exists in a haze of confusion and self-delusion.

    I’d love to be able to say “Yeah, you’re better off with weapon X than Y…”, but the fact is, Weapon Z is actually doing most of the killing, while Weapon Q is what scares the crap out of the enemy because their culture has a deeply-rooted fear of mutilation… None of which are things that we can quantify or even really “know” in an effective way in order to rationally discuss what we’re issuing the troops.

    I’d be up for some serious real-world investigation, but doing it ain’t going to happen under the current reign of fantasists. They’re all about the “overmatch”, which I can’t even find a good definition of…

  29. Paul from Canada says:

    ATP: “but they all WORK (in their contexts)”

    That is the problem, the context. Modern MMA seems to be mostly about grappling, which is useful in a way, but if you are grappling and go to ground in a mass combat situation, you are dead meat, as the enemy has friends. So while you are getting your mount and planning your ground and pound, you are getting shot/stabbed/but-stroked to death.

    See my previous comments about cavalry combat, and combative pistol use. The flowery dojo techniques are exactly that.

    What Fairbairn and Sykes taught was a boiled down, can be learned in a couple of days method of beating an untrained opponent (and most opponents would have been untrained).

    And, to re-iterate, from a purely military perspective, the actual military tactical, let alone strategic value of pistol shooting, combatives, fencing etc. is essentially zero, other than for the psychological and conditioning benefits.

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