For most of its institutional life, the Marine Corps has prided itself on being the poor bastard child of the US military. For decades, its equipment was the Army’s castoffs. Marines were still using bolt-action Springfield 1903s into 1942, and still using the M1 Garand after the Army had adopted the M14. Marine helicopters are still Vietnam-era designs, albeit mostly improved over the years; one crew chief liked to boast that the last CH-46 had been built in 1967.
The GWOT has changed a lot of this. The gear that Marines get is now mostly top-of-the-line; Marine grunts are using M4s, the same MRAPs and remote turret systems are found in Marine units as Army units. Marine TOCs have access to Predator feeds, and Marines are wearing much of the same armor as the Army.
But as the quality of the gear has gone up, the Marine Corps appears to have fallen into the trap of thinking that gear makes all the difference. It has gotten to the point of regular infantrymen carrying the better part of 2/3 their body weight on patrol. Time and again, it has been found that, for soldiers to be effective, the fighting load needs to be kept less than 48 pounds, with the approach march load at 72 pounds or less. Yet recent research has shown that the average fighting load is now over 63 pounds, and the average approach march load is 101 pounds. A lot of this is because of the obsession with body armor and an increasing focus on gear over fighting ability.
It is easy to see the price that is being paid. Just go and watch some of the combat footage from Afghanistan. Infantry techniques that were second nature to our predecessors have been abandoned. Men loaded down with over half their body weight are crossing open fields, upright, in daylight. Maneuver is next to non-existent. Even cover and concealment have become nearly foreign, as microterrain can no longer be used effectively as cover when a man’s size is nearly doubled by the bulk of the gear he’s carrying.