fieldcraft

Fieldcraft: Platoon Leader Planning Board

COA Sketch

You may recall a couple of years ago (sheesh!) I was posting ‘fieldcraft‘ articles pretty frequently. Well, the intervening year had me busy doing the King’s work, but now I’m back in the field and thus, a new fieldcraft post.

It was highly recommended to me by my commander that I develop a “planning board.” You may recall my post on building a plexiglass map board. It’s kind of like that, but a little more involved.

The purpose of the board is to provide the leader with a tool in the field for planning a mission. It is highly customizable, and I based mine off of my commander’s, though I added things that I thought I would find useful.

My board is made out of four pieces of 8 1/2″ x 10″ plexiglass (from Lowe’s Hardware), copious amounts of 100 MPH tape, some transparency sheets, dry erase markers, binder clips, plain pieces of white paper, excerpts from the Infantry Leader Card GTA, and an execution matrix that I created.

This isn’t hard or expensive to build. It just takes a little time.

After building the thing, I wasn’t really sure how useful it would be. I brought it with me to NTC, and I can confidently report that it was a great tool. Most useful was the blank space in which I could draw out simple COA sketches and the execution matrix which pretty much ran my scheme of maneuver. Often I had simple graphics that I could use for a given mission which helped me on the ground (yes, I brought this thing with me on missions).

This is definitely something I’ll take with me on deployment. I’d like to refine it, though. I actually didn’t use a lot of the weapons data – so I might modify what I put on that front piece – maybe planning info? I’d also like to find a way to stow this thing on my gear without needing an assault pack. I’m not sure what that would be – maybe a D-ring attached to it? I don’t know.

Anyway. It’s a good tool and I’m happy to share it with you.

Instructions:

1. Tape the edges of the plexiglass first.
2. Use a piece of 100 MPH tape to connect the pieces of plexiglass together, ensuring you leave enough space so that it will close on itself.
3. With the fourth piece of plexiglass, tape it to the top (or bottom) of the middle piece so that you have the ability to insert a map or graphics. You can also place extra pieces of transparency paper inside of this space to keep until you need to use it. Use a binder clip to keep it closed.
4. Place a piece of white paper on one of the boards and tape it down, and then place a piece of transparency paper over it and tape that down – this provides you a space to write/draw on.
5. Use one side to tape down relevant data – I chose weapon system information, engagement area development, and call for fire information.
6. On the backside, tape in a pouch to store markers, protractors, and whatever else you want to store.

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fieldcraft

Fieldcraft: Making knee pad inserts from a sleeping mat

In the days of BDUs/DCUs, crafty soldiers would sew pouches into the trousers and tops around the knees and elbows. Inside the pouches they would place cut out pieces of foam from the Army sleeping mat. These served as good knee pads and elbow pads in place of the often constricting and uncomfortable Army issue knee and elbow pads. These worked pretty well, but were sometimes discouraged because they came about from unauthorized modifications to the Army uniform.

When the Army introduced the Army Combat Uniform (ACU), they included slots for knee pad and elbow pad inserts. Great idea! And an example of bottom-up feedback being implemented.

The problem, though, is I’ve never seen anyone issued those inserts.

There are a number of aftermarket inserts you can buy online. I’ve seen some in the gear stores locally in Columbus. The one’s I’ve seen locally are too thin to be of any use, though. Some of the aftermarket inserts look pretty good. But I can’t help but think most of them are pretty much prettier versions of the same thing soldiers have been using for decades: cut out pieces of sleeping mat.

Here’s how you can make your own inserts:

1. Get an Army sleeping mat (new costs about $15. Used would be better and cheaper).

2. Measure the knee pad insert on a pair of ACU trousers. For a Medium/Regular the dimensions were approximately 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″.

3. Round out the edges to create an oval shape.

4. Insert into the knee pad slot.

5. Done.

They might work better doubled up. I haven’t tried it yet, so I’m not sure.

Enjoy.

fieldcraft, reflections

Fieldcraft: Short wave crank radio (and the greatest mission that never happened)

I was in the field last week for a detail, but I was determined not to miss the first Presidential debate. I wouldn’t have access to a television, and streaming audio or video through my iPhone was no sure bet considering I didn’t know if I would have power to keep the phone charged or enough cellular service to make it happen. So I dug into my gear box and pulled out my old short wave crank radio. My dad had given it to me as a gift a number of years back and it came in great use. The radio is powered by batteries, or crank power. Crank the handle for a minute and it will provide 30-60 minutes of listening time (depending on volume, age and condition of the rechargeable batteries, and other factors that are beyond my understanding). The radio can pick up local AM and FM radio stations, and more importantly, short wave radio stations. I was able to sit in a concrete room with a bunch of other young second lieutenants and listen to the debate.

This wasn’t the first experience I had with a short wave crank radio. My platoon sergeant brought one with him for OIF I. He was a veteran of the Gulf War, and that experience informed him that having a short wave radio might be helpful. He would turn the radio on first thing in the morning as we woke up in Kuwait. On most days the news discussed the ongoing diplomatic battles raging between Iraq, the US, and the UN, and the buildup of forces in the Gulf. Once the war began, the information became much more relevant, discussing significant battles, casualties, and troop movements.

We had been in Kuwait for over a month, training daily for the greatest mission that never happened. For a whole week we felt like we were sitting on the sideline, waiting for the coach to put us in the game. The war was moving fast, and our greatest fear was that the whole thing might end without us ever leaving Kuwait. Then, a week after the war began, on March 26, I rolled out of my cot and sat up, rubbing the sleep and sand out of my eyes and adjusting to the bright lights which were hastily turned on at 0600. The platoon sergeant turned on the radio just in time to catch the opening of the BBC World Service. In a charming British accent, we heard:

“Paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade parachuted into Northern Iraq today, seizing a military airfield and opening the northern front of the war.”

The tent erupted in groans and expletives. “BULLSHIT” was the most commonly heard word for a couple of minutes. Soldiers were flipping cots. We were angry, but mostly jealous.

A combat jump is the ultimate prize for a paratrooper, and as the greatest mission that never happened slowly faded away in likelihood, it was dawning on us that those paratroopers from the 173rd would be sporting mustard stains for what seemed to be a relatively safe operation. Adding to this is the spirit of competition between airborne units. Paratroopers in the 82nd like to think of themselves as the premier airborne unit, while paratroopers in the 173rd have an air of superiority about them because they’re a smaller unit and they’re in Vicenza, not Fayetteville.

Later, during the invasion in 2003, the unit I was with was moving rapidly north towards Baghdad, but we were behind the lead elements of the 3rd Infantry Division and the Marines. We were hopping from town to town working our way north, staying nowhere for longer than a couple of days. Starved for information with no one providing us any updates on the war, our platoon huddled around the platoon sergeant and his little radio whenever we had some down time. I remember the whole platoon slumming around on the cool floor in a school in Rumayhtah, listening to the BBC World Service describe the latest news on the war and the reaction back home. We’d listen to the descriptions of battles we had just fought and grumble at battles we missed out on. It was strange, and somewhat disconcerting to get the most accurate news about what we were doing from an international broadcast from thousands of miles away. But it was the reality of the time, and that cheap crank radio provided us with the information we desperately desired.

I wonder what a war in the image of Iraq would look like today. Many of the emerging technologies we have today did not exist back then. There’s a part of me that would like to think that we are so advanced now that you shouldn’t need to bring a short wave crank radio with you to war to get information. But I also thought that in 2003, the American Army wouldn’t run out of MREs during the push to Baghdad.

I’ll keep the radio in my rucksack.

fieldcraft

Fieldcraft: Removing the toe cups from Army boots

In the old days, before we were allowed to wear non-issue boots, there were very few modifications that were allowed (tolerated is more accurate). The only boots soldiers could wear were the standard issue black leather combat boots, jungle boots (black or green), jump boots (which were pretty much dress boots), and cold weather boots. I’m sure there are others, but these were the main ones.

My desert boots with a flat sole modification. Baghdad, 2003.

In terms of modifications, you could drive off post and find a boot shop that would remove the standard sole and replace it with something else. Everyone had a preference and swore by this sole or that. On my first deployment, I had my newly issued desert boots resoled with a soft, flat sole on the advice of a buddy who had served in Kuwait. He said the flat sole works better when walking on sand.

The other thing you could do is have the toe and heel cups removed. There is a piece of hard material in the boot that protects the toes and provides support for the heel. To make a pair of boots softer and more efficient for running, some soldiers would have these removed. Young infantrymen heading to Ranger School would often have this modification done to help with the running all over the place during RAP Week.

Removing the cups makes the boots a little lighter and definitely more floppy, like running shoes. The drawback is you lose vital ankle support and the toes can now be crushed if you were to drop something on your foot.

For whatever reason, you may want to remove the toe cups. I have a pair of boots that were damaged on the toe cups resulting in a hard crease forming which pressed down on my toes. To remedy this, I decided to remove the toe cups myself (it usually costs around $60 or so at a boot shop). I tried looking around on the internet for instructions, but couldn’t find any, so I decided I’d give it a shot myself.

The following is one way to do it. If you know a better way, please let me know.

What You’ll Need:
• A razor blade or sharp knife
• Needle nose pliers
Shoe GOO

Instructions:

1. Make an incision on the front of the toe cup near the sole of the boot about 3″ long. Cut through the leather and the cardboard inside.

2. Work the knife or pliers between the cardboard and the leather, separating them from each other.

3. Grip the cardboard with the pliers as deep as you can. Begin turning the pliers clockwise or counter-clockwise (I had to go back and forth). This will tear the cardboard from the boot. You’ll heard ripping sounds. Continue to do this until you’ve removed all of the cardboard.

The junk inside.

4. Slather the incision point with Shoe Goo and allow it to dry overnight.

5. Once the Shoe Goo has dried, remove the excess ensuring you don’t reopen the incision.

The results aren’t pretty, but this is a functional enhancement. Still, if there is a better way to do it, I’d love to hear it.

Finished product with a cameo from my reflective belt. You can remove more of the Shoe GOO than I did if you want.

fieldcraft

Fieldcraft: Building a plexiglass map case

In preparation for another land navigation course, I pulled out my old plexiglass map case from my days in the 82nd. I like this style of map case because it provides my a hard surface to plot points, it protects the map, and it’s easy to carry.

It is easy to build. Here’s how.

What you need:

• Two pieces of equally cut plexiglass – mine was 10″ x 8″ (you can get this at Home Depot or Loews)
• 100mph tape or duct tape
• A couple of binder clips

How to build it:

1. Once you have the plexiglass, use the tape to tape the edges. This is to protect the edges from getting damaged and to protect you from getting cut.

2. Then, tape one of the long sides of the plexiglass to the other, forming a swinging opening. Use as much tape as needed.

3. Attach a binder clip to the bottom to keep the case closed. I like to have a second binder clip on the case to hold on to protractors or anything else.