by Tom Hain
Whenever a grunt goes out to the field he has to carry whatever he needs for a day with him. The unit's needs are dispersed within the unit. For that reason every man is assigned a "basic load". This consists of his personal weapon and ammo, hand grenades, and ammo for the machine gun. Weapons like Claymores and M72s were assigned to one guy per fire team. Each squad also had to carry a grappling hook, an extra barrel for the machine gun, a radio, an extra battery for the radio, rope, and explosives. One guy in each platoon got a Starlight scope and another guy got a shotgun to carry too. Everybody got something.
The rest of the load consisted of food, water, cleaning equipment for your weapon, knives, machetes, poncho, etc. It also included the ruck sack and web gear to carry it all on, and that damn steel helmet too!
The area of operation determined some of the load too. For example, if it was in a known booby trapped area, a flak jacket would be necessary. If there were big rivers, each squad would bring an air mattress or two to float our equipment across on. Just more stuff to carry with us.
The basic load of ammunition for an M16 was 20 magazines at about a pound apiece, and 200 rounds on stripper clips, about 25 pounds total. The basic load for an M79 grenade launcher was 20 rounds of HE and 5 beehive rounds. He also carried a 45 Cal. pistol with 4 magazines. That added up to about 35 pounds. The M60 machine gunner carried two 100 round belts of ammo, a 25 round belt of tracers, and a 25 round belt in the gun. The M60 was the heaviest weapon and its firepower was important enough that everyone carried ammo for it.
There was a simple way to figure out how much weight to assign a guy. Just keep piling it on untill you couldn't move any more. It took some time to determine the best load and the best way to carry it for each individual. I had more than I could carry at first. With the help of some of the older guys we found the best weight for me and the best way to carry it. I was a skinny white boy who, although in the best shape of my life, couldn't carry as much as some of the other guys.
This is what my load consisted of:
But as time went on I was able to manage the load better. I added a net hammock, a poncho liner and a pair of dry socks, they added an M72 LAW. After a while I used the M72 and got a Starlight scope. Then I got rid of the grappling hook to a new guy and got a claymore mine. With a few other changes here and there, that was my load for my first 5 months in country. Then I became a radio operator. Subtract claymore and Starlight scope from the above list, add radio.
The PRC-25 radio was built to survive. It had to be. It was a box about the same size as a baby AT computer case and it weighed 25 pounds. It was used by Army & Navy. It could be mounted in a vehicle or set on a desk in an operations center. Or it could be carried on a ruck sack. It was a good load by itself but add to it most of the stuff from the list above and you have more load than a pack mule should have to carry.
Radio operators were a preferred target so most of us made attempts to camouflage it. We bent the flexible antenna down through a ring on the front of the shoulder strap so it wouldn't stick up like a flag pole. I liked to break up the outline by hanging a machete on the right side and C-rations rolled up in a poncho on the back. On the left side I strapped a segmented long whip antenna wrapped in an olive drab towel and a sock filled with rice for cooking. It was a good, tightly strapped, well positioned arrangement. It was a heavier load than before but it was more manageable than the old collection of stuff.
Carrying that load through mud and mangrove swamp, jumping canals and crossing rivers, can leave you with raw shoulders and an aching back. But that's what the job required. That's why when I see a war movie, and they're only wearing a pistol belt with a canteen on it, I laugh. Can't they get actors to carry some weight?