British soldiers suffer injuries from too-heavy weights
By Marco Giannangeli, Defence Correspondent, Daily Express
Sunday July 25,2010
BRITISH soldiers are suffering from an unprecedented number of ankle and spinal injuries because of the incredible weights they have to carry, a new report has warned.
Since last year infantry soldiers, Paras and Royal Marines have had to haul equipment weighing about 10 stone, nearly twice as heavy as the packs yomped by soldiers in the Falklands 28 years ago, according to a report in Jane’s Defence.
An Army Physical Training Instructor told Jane’s: “One of the real killers in Afghanistan is stopping every few yards, going down on to one knee, bringing your weapon up for a look around, and then standing up again, all with a full load. We’re not physically prepared for that and it’s hurting a lot of guys”.
The troops’ misery of the front line is worsened by the searing Afghanistan heat, which tops 122F (50C) in July and August. According to the Ministry of Defence, infantry soldiers carry around 145lb, 20Ib more than their US counterparts.
The report, however, stated: “By early 2009, British soldiers were routinely carrying more than twice the 80lb load carried by the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment on their march across the Falklands in 1982.” Apart from basic sustainment and survivability kit, which weighs around 57Ib, the typical rifleman carries 57lb of “lethality” equipment, including ammunition, hand grenades and two mortar bombs.
Kit introduced as Urgent Operational Requirements (UOR) including thermal weapon sights and other surveillance and target acquisition equipment raises this by 5.5lb. On top of that is the Osprey body armour system, which weighs 20Ib, and helmet, and the load increases for company commanders, because of extra communication equipment, and light machine gunners.
The hostile climate and challenging supply chain in Afghanistan means that soldiers must prepare for every eventuality, carrying as much as 5 litres of water and even cans of oil. In addition, the Taliban use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) has seen British troops adopt the unique position of carrying heavy jamming devices, aimed at blocking all mobile signals and preventing the remote controlled detonation of roadside bombs, in every patrol.
Although the Ministry of Defence does not collate figures regarding skeletal and ankle injuries, Unites States forces have seen a marked increase in “load bearing” injuries. According to the US Armed Forces Health Surveillance Monthly Report, published in April, 7.516 soldiers visited field hospitals for injuries associated with skeletal injuries in 2009 alone. Most of these were categorised as “intervertebral disc disorders”.
“You can’t hump a rucksack at 8.000 feet for 15 months and not have an effect,” said Gen Peter Chiarelli, the US Army’s vice chief of staff. Danish Army figures reveal that 15 per cent of its 750-strong contingent in Afghanistan returned home with long-term injuries. Half of those were caused by heavy equipment, made worse by the addiction to painkillers needed to cope with the load.
Patrick Mercer MP, a former colonel with the Sherwood Forresters who was forced recently to undergo back surgery, ten years after leaving the army, said: “The heavy weight of kit carried by British soldiers has always been a cause for lower limb injury, and I speak as a victim myself. This has always been part of the infantryman’s life.
“Even in Northern Ireland, troops used to carry heavy jamming equipment, and they did not have the hostile climate of Afghanistan to contend with. The MoD must do everything in its power to lessen this weight.”
Last month the MoD announced new measures which will see the average weight of kit reduced by 27.5Ib when fully implemented in October. The efforts are being led by a newly formed Integrated Soldier System Executive, based at Defence, Equipment and Support in Bristol.
“When you add up all of the grammes and kilograms saved across the kit then you will find that we shed around 27.5ib in weight which will make a noticeable difference, both physically and mentally, to these troops who often work in very hot and austere conditions,” said Chief of Defence Materiel General Sir Kevin O’Donoghue.
In his book Attack State Red, Col Richard Kemp describes a soldier preparing his kit on the even of battle. The list includes a rifle with grenade launcher, 540 rounds of ammunition, a Claymore off-route anti-personnel mine, twelve UGL high explosive grenades, two L109 high explosive grenades, a full first aid kit complete with extra morphine syrettes, softee jacket, five litres of water, lightweight stretcher, infrared cyalume night sticks, minflares, and camera.
“Carrying even 80 lbs is asking a lot of a solder, but it has to be done,” said Col Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan. “You can be sure that, if he can shed even a pair of socks to lessen the weight, a soldier will, but there is only so much he can do. The rest just has to be carried. Plans for lighter kit is great, but let’s not forget, it all costs money and that’s one thing the MoD is very short of right now.”