This entry addresses a fairly sensitive topic in the military- the loads soldiers carry, specifically the armor they wear. It's an unwritten rule that no one in authority talks about this, because the logical approach to it does not mesh with what mothers think is best for their sons. Everything I say below is my opinion alone, and does not represent the views or policies of the US Army.
Today, five hundred and and eighty-nine years ago, the English army under King Henry broke the back of the French at a small town named Agincourt. Widely credited with securing the victory for the outnumbered English were the longbowmen,who fought nearly unarmored against heavily armored knights on a muddy field. The pricks of the arrows were nearly useless on plate armor, but they could kill the horses, and thus the mobility of the knights, leaving them open to attack by skirmishers. The archers did just that: breaking through the lines swinging hatchets and other light weapons, they killed hundreds of French men-at-arms and dismounted knights.
Contrast this scene to the present day: American soldiers patrol in heavy and restrictive body armor, trusting their safety to heavily armored vehicles. The pricks of an AK or RPG are easily turned, but IEDs have defeated even the holy grail of American armor: the M1 Abrams tank. Once a vehicle is hit, the occupants have no choice but to move from the vehicle (and often need assistance in doing so). Movement, of course, is easier spoken of than accomplished. The average soldier's load weighs some 60 pounds just in armor, ammunition, and essential equipment. The typical medieval knight wore a suit of armor that weighed in at 60-70 pounds, and had the added advantages of a more even weight distribution and more flexibility in the shoulder (somewhat important for carrying people or equipment, or firing a weapon).
Don't get me wrong- I have no problem with the Interceptor Body Armor that we wear. The kevlar vest and the armor plates it holds have saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives, including the lives of at least two of my friends. The problem is that the military takes the basic vest and adds little bits and peices of kevlar everywhere, covering the lower neck, throat, upper arm, under arm, and groin. Each of these pieces adds a little weight and restricts movement a little more. Outside of a vehicle, removing these components is a calculated risk, where a leader must weight maneuverability against extra protection. Inside a vehicle, all the extra material offers little more than another surface to hang up on safety belts, hatches, weapons and any other protruding objects. The sensible thing to do is allow individual leaders to analyze the threat facing them in their environment and make a decision on the most sensible combination of protection versus freedom. The problem is that no one wants to be the one who has a soldier die under his or her command, while wearing less than the maximum amount of armor. That situation has the potential to ignite an outcry blaming the military for not doing enough to make sure America's little boys don't get hurt. It's a war, for crying out loud! I feel that some civilian activists think they are helping troops by their posturing, but in reality they are doing us a disservice. I'm sure you've heard the saying that the best defense is a good offense. I worry that we soldiers are being restricted too much by our equipment to mount an active offense, and that the only route left to us will be a passive defense.