The Army ran with only a rough estimate of how much their foot soldiers carried in combat, doctors and hospitals concerned with this problem have learned. It wasn’t until 2003 that a colonel and military-equipment expert formed a seven-man team to study the effects of the weight soldiers carried while in the combat zones of eastern Afghanistan.
“What we were proposing was highly irregular, and my chain of command had to pass this all the way to the generals to get approved,” he told a group of interested citizens.
The colonel, now retired, had his team join a group of soldiers, so they would carry the same loads and face the same dangers from day to day. They went to Afghanistan, where they went on missions with the soldiers. This would usually start with a helicopter ride, followed by foot patrols that would extend for days at a time. The members of the research team would use a digital scale to weigh all the equipment, down to their ID cards and eating utensils.
The research team stayed in Afghanistan for three months, collecting data from over 750 soldiers during that period. They found that cervical spinal injury was more often than not a result from this kind of weight carrying.
“They were very interested in helping out,” the colonel told a doctor and officials from the hospital he was addressing. “If anyone could help ease the burden to them, that was great news.”
It turned out that soldiers on extended foot patrols carried between 87 and 127 pounds of weight. Even when they were under attack and dropped their rucksacks, their fighting loads were still more than 60 pounds. This has resulted in many spinal injuries.
Experts agreed with the colonel’s assessment – this was an alarming statistic. Many groups in The Bronx and Westchester where there are Veterans’ Hospitals are studying these reports and and trying to make the improvements permanent. They are using all the influence they can muster to influence the power that be in the armed forces.