Infantry Marching Endurance

By Stringer, Kevin D. | Military Review, November/December 2000 | Go to article overview

Infantry Marching Endurance


Stringer, Kevin D., Military Review


When considering warfare's future, many military thinkers concentrate on technological solutions to combat's many difficulties. Increased mechanization, digitization, smart weapons, information warfare, space operations and other computerized push-button gadgets touted as panaceas for future warfighting inundate today's professional military literature. The human factors of tenacity, willpower and physical endurance, which ultimately contribute to battlefield success, are often overlooked.

Although information technology, advanced combat vehicles and digitization eventually will have their place, a primary attribute for future success will be human proficiency and endurance in basic cross-country marching-a traditional hallmark of infantry excellence. This requirement goes beyond normal physical fitness into the realm of combat stamina. Throughout the coming decades, this aspect of ground operations should be emphasized in combat training for the US Marine Corps and the US Army infantry.

The highly electronic, technologically advanced vision of future warfare ignores much of 21 st-century combat, which will still be characterized by intensive infantry-focused military operations in the low- to midintensity conflict range. Such conflicts will often be conducted in heavily urbanized areas or in austere and low-tech operational theaters in the developing world. They will be expeditionary and conducted at the end of the logistic chain. Regardless of the tactical situation, a premium will be placed on light infantry forces and their inherent physical capabilities and stamina.

Future opponents will be highly motivated, brutally fearless ethnic nationalists, narco-criminals, religiously motivated guerrillas or urban terrorists. Or they could be hardened regulars from outcast regional powers. They will be ready and able to close with and destroy US soldiers, preferably under terrain and geographical conditions that will hamper the US military's advantages in conventional firepower, mobility, high technology and resources.

US warriors must be more technically proficient and physically fit than their opponents. Armored personnel carriers, aircraft and helicopters might not be usable in some situations. Therefore, the infantry soldier on the distant, austere battlefield must be able to move over rough terrain under heavy loads, reach the objective and accomplish the mission. Infantry foot mobility might be the only way to achieve tactical, operational or strategic success. The enemy might decide to fight in urban, mountainous or heavily wooded terrain to nullify modern US military transportation advantages.

The following vignettes provide historical perspective on the criticality of infantry competence and its relevance to 21st-century conflict. The vignettes fit the operational profile in which the US military might find itself- infantry forces conducting expeditionary operations and campaigns in distant or remote areas to maintain the Pax Americana.

Asia Minor

Fourth Century BC

In the Persian Expedition, Greek commander Xenephon relates the saga of his Greek infantry force that conducted a fighting withdrawal from Central Asia to Greece in the 4th century BC.1 Xenephon's historical classic is one of the first written accounts of military operations and illustrates the importance of marching stamina.

Pretender to the Persian throne Cyrus the Younger hired 10,000 Greek mercenaries, the hoplites, to help overthrow his brother King Artax-erxes II. Unfortunately, the campaign collapsed because of treachery and tactical failure among the Persians allied to Cyrus. Xenephon and his subordinates were stranded deep in enemy territory with the daunting task of marching from Babylon to the Black Sea.

Xenephon's force lacked cavalry and had few pack horses. Each soldier carried from 50 to 60 pounds in armor and weapons plus food and water. In a five-month period, Xenephon led his force over 1,500 miles to the Bosphorus, sporatically fighting numerically superior Persian forces. …

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