March 22, 2012

Book Review: The Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation

Cpl. Jakob Schulz
Courtesy photo by

In this extended essay, The Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation, Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall attacks the tendency of the U.S. Army to overload its infantry soldiers with gear, typically far more than they need for immediate use in combat.

Marshall ties this complaint to the observation that even fit troops are quickly exhausted by the nervous strain of combat. In simple terms, the less gear soldiers carry, the more energy they have for combat. This would seem to be a simple lesson, but one we keep relearning. Marshall cites examples from World War II, but they could just as easily be plucked from our more recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The lessons it contains, learned the hard way by men who fought and led troops through the first two World Wars, are just as valuable today as they were then. It examines what some might consider a mundane subject, what a soldier carries, and should and should not be expected to carry into battle, in a way that says a lot about our culture and the American way of war.

This book is an interesting study on what soldiers have carried into battle and why. It emphasizes the point of what the soldier has carried to war as war evolves. Often through the course of history, the soldiers’ load has become heavier and not lighter. This is interesting considering the logistics mechanisms for the military have improved through each step of warfare evolution. The book also says one must remember that it is an officer who decides the soldier’s load and often an officer who is not on the frontlines.

The second half of the essay speaks to the more general topic of increasing the Army’s mobility by reducing its load. Marshall’s point here is the U.S. Army overloads itself with non-essentials, wasting transport and energy needed for more important tasks.

This timeless essay continues to be relevant to infantry commanders and staff officers, whose discipline and common sense in lightening the load improves the life and effectiveness of the combat soldier. I would recommend this book to anyone going into combat as a quick reference to how much gear should be carried.

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