The Soldier’s load and Mobility of a Nation Essay Sample

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It is well-known that the mobility of the soldier is one of the most important components in military area. SLA Marshall’s “The Soldier `s load and Mobility of a nation” is not just the notes for required reading but a wonderful manual which gives efficient instructions based on military experience of many years. This book has been required reading by Marines for over 20 years. Contrary to some negative comments the Marines have taken into consideration the instructions submitted by SLA Marshall. While crossing into Iraq from Kuwait in March 2003, the Marine Commander MGen Mattis stripped down his force to only the bare essentials. The Marines were light, fast, and needed little logistics pause causing some issues between Marines and Army commanders. Marshall was right and his book is the essential primer to mobility at the foundation level, and is completely applicable today as it was in 1950. It’s a must read for any military.  Unfortunately, too many officers refuse to put into practice the common sense lessons that abound in this book. Instead of thinking about a mission, making some assumptions, taking some risks, and refusing to overburden a soldier with gear, many militaries adopted the principle: “better to have it than not need it…” mentality and try to bring everything.

But no amount of gear in the world can save in a furious battle. It’s only a matter of time. This book should be required reading for not only those in the military, but those who are concerned about the state of America’s armed forces. S.L.A. Marshall’s “The Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation,” examines a man’s physical load-bearing limitations and ways of overcoming them.  Marshall noted that the infantryman is “a beast of burden” but that his chief function in war does not begin until he delivers that burden to the appointed place.  His load should therefore be light enough to enable him to fight unimpaired when he arrives at the field of battle.  In the past this has not always happened.  Marshall contended, for example, that during the assault on Normandy, the troops were slow coming off the beaches because they were exhausted from their heavy loads. John English, in “Perspectives on Infantry”, agreed: “Most infantry in the leading waves were, in fact, criminally overloaded. The American soldier carried more than 80 pounds, and any careful examination of photographs of British and Canadian troops waddling ashore on that day will reveal that they, too, were weighted down with roughly the same load.”

S.L.A. Marshall’s “The Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation” was one of the first studies to identify how combat performance deteriorates when soldiers are exposed to combat stress. Marshall concluded that we must reject the superstition that under danger men can be expected to have more than their normal powers, and that they will outdo their best efforts simply because their lives are in danger. Indeed, in many ways the reality is just the opposite, and individuals under stress are far less capable of doing anything other than blindly running from or charging toward a threat. Humans have three primary survival systems: vision, cognitive processing, and motor skill performance. So, it is necessary to choose the right burden for soldiers that wouldn’t bother these three main systems.

Leaders need to remember that weight often must be sacrificed in the interest of speed.  A soldier must not only arrive at the battlefield capable of fighting but must also arrive early enough to influence the action.  Any extra equipment he carries will be useless if it arrives too late.  Leaders throughout history have demonstrated the advantages of fast-moving forces carrying as little equipment as possible. The following example shows the importance of right soldier’s load choice:  -the distance marched in six hours decreases by one mile for every 10 pounds a soldier carries over 40 pounds.  -the time of an assault course increases by 15 percent for every 10 pounds over 40 pounds.  -the distances travelled are reduced by half when moving over average gradients of ten percent.

Marshall said that the Army must “break away from the stubborn idea, dating from the Medes and the Perians, that what a soldier can carry on a hard road march during training is a fair measure of the load that he can manage efficiently when under fire (Marshall 1980).”  Interestingly, he had observed during World War I that troops could hardly carry their loads when marching to the front but had no trouble with the same loads when marching to the rear.  Another important consideration during combat operations is that fear burns the same energy stores as physical work. To reduce the load on a soldier’s back, leaders must use their available transportation effectively and must develop a unit’s ability to carry what it must through load planning and training.

Although load planning is a critical task for all leaders, senior commanders should limit their guidance and allow the sub-unit commander who must carry out a mission to decide what his soldiers will carry for each operation. Load planning consists of tailoring the load to the mission and then dividing it into echelons (combat load, sustenance load, and contingency load), calculating its weight, and arranging for its transport. The first step in this process is analyzing the mission to determine the packing list.  A leader should base his list on guidance from higher headquarters and on the minimum-load concept, which lays out certain items that are common to all missions. Any additions to or deletions from this minimum load configuration will be rebased on the estimate of the situation. A leader can examine the factors on this list and then tailor his soldiers’ loads for each specific mission.  Once the leader has determined what the soldier needs for his mission, he can begin to divide the load into the three echelons.

Providing transportation for the combat load is the responsibility of the company, and this load is split into the fighting load and the approach march load.  The items that go into each of these loads depend upon where in the operation the items will be needed.  Both of these loads should be kept as light as possible.The fighting load includes weapon, load-bearing equipment (LBE), helmet, and a reduced amount of ammunition. Clothing worn is not considered part of the load because the body is accustomed to carrying that weight.  If heavy items such as radios, crew-served weapon ammunition, and mortar rounds are carried, they must be cross-loaded.  This cross-loading will make the fighting load too heavy for quick manoeuvre during combat, and the items not essential to the immediate operation should be dropped before, or upon, enemy contact. Once the pack is dropped, it should be cached or otherwise secured during the fight.

As many items as possible should be put in the sustenance load instead of being carried in the combat load. It contains spare clothing and equipment, protective items for specific threats, limited personal effects, and anything the commander deems necessary for extended operations.  This load should be stored in a forward operations base or field trains to be delivered by the S-4 as the commander requests.Another echelon of the load is the contingency load, which contains items that will not be needed immediately – personal effects and items for threats that are not imminent.  This load, stored and maintained at division level, allows a unit to change its mission once it has been deployed.

The above mentioned instructions regarding the mobility of the soldiers are rather a general description of Marshall’s work. His book must be taken into consideration by the militaries in all the details.   Having passed many years since the first edition of Marshall’s   “The Soldier` s load and Mobility of a nation” still is considered to be a brilliant example of military reading. All people have to know exactly burden they are able to bear in their lives. As to the war case – Marshall’s book is the best guide for that. He managed to distinguish the main components of soldier’s load and estimate the actuality and importance of each of them proving that mobility is not less important than the supplies on the balance of humans’ lives.


  1. Marshall S.L.A. The Soldier` s Load and Mobility of a Nation. Marine Corp Assn Bookstore, 1980

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