A Grunt's Load - Clothing, Accessories & Weapons

Someone asked me a few weeks ago what a grunt carried into the bush. I started naming a few of the typical items, M-16, grenades, etc., and quickly realized the person asking would probably become bored by the time I finished. This was particularly true as I began to qualify the load depending on the nature or duration of the mission. He was really interested in knowing, so I promised to email him some detail. I used Wikipedia, the free-content encyclopedia on the internet, and a great Vietnam – Equipment & Uniform website (http://david.brubakers.us/Vietnam/index.html ) to verify a few technical aspects. The content of my email looked like the following:
Clothing, Accessories, Food, etc.

Starting at the top, we only wore an M-1 “Steel Pot” helmet when we knew an LZ would be “hot” or we intended to make contact with the enemy. Otherwise, most of the time, we wore “boonie hats”. The steel pot, complete with liner, weighed approximately three pounds. It was virtually impossible to secure the helmet on your head without cutting off blood circulation to your chin or parts of your brain. It was heavy and hot and interfered with hearing -- not a good choice for reconnaissance missions. It did, however, provide good protection against shrapnel and bullets and often was used as a chair, cook pot, or even "butt armor" during helicopter transport. Helmets also protected valuables such as cigarettes, matches and personal letters from frequent downpours. The steel pot was rated to resist penetration by a 230-grain caliber .45 bullet with a velocity of 800 f.p.s. The steel pot was covered by camouflage cloth. The steel pot also contained small slots for inserting natural foliage. The camouflage helmet band was designed to hold foliage in order to blend the helmet shape and color into the surrounding terrain. In Vietnam, the band more commonly held cigarettes, insect repellent, or an extra rifle magazine.

The preferred boonie hat was first worn by U.S. Army Green Berets, along with Australian and ARVN units. The tiger stripe boonie hats were originally locally purchased. The tiger stripe camo cloth would be salvaged from other uniform items or made up by a local tailor. The boonie hat was liked by troops in the field but scorned as slovenly by spit and polish officers. The Army authorized formal use of the boonie hat in 1968. The hats were labeled, "Hat, Camouflage (Tropical Combat) Type II".

We wore camouflage fatigues, right down to and including the boots. Troop designations, insignia, and rank were done in muted camouflage colors. The camouflaged jungle boots included cooler nylon-mesh uppers, and drain holes that allowed water to escape. The boots also had reinforced soles to protect against sharpened bamboo stakes, or "punji spikes," used as booby traps by enemy soldiers.
If we knew an LZ would be “hot”, or expected heavy contact with the enemy, we sometimes wore an M1969 Fragmentation Vest. The vest weighed about 8.5 pounds. It contained a filler of semi-flexible layers of ballistic nylon cloth (12 layers in the front and upper back, two in the lower back, and an additional two down the length of the spine) with a quarter inch layer of sponge rubber over the ribs and shoulders. The vest closed with a full length zipper and could be adjusted by laced closures at both sides. It had two chest pockets, shoulder straps and two rows of web hangers for grenades etc.

We would occasionally be required to carry M17A1 gas masks. This rubberized mask protected the face, eyes and respiratory tract against chemical biological agents, in the form of gases or aerosols and from splashes and liquid drops of the agents. The entire kit contained the mask, a carrier and a personal decontamination kit. It also contained a drinking tube that could attach to the 1 QT Canteen with modified cap. We were never called to actually use these.

Web gear was worn over our fatigues and frag vest. The gear consisted of a belt, suspenders, two ammo pouches, two canteens with covers, butt pack, compass pouch, E-tool (entrenching tool/shovel) and cover.

We usually carried at least 2 canteens of water, despite the extra weight. Food in the field consisted primarily of c-rations. Each ration was contained in a small box weighing about five pounds, consisting of six cans including three M-Units containing a canned entrée, three B-units containing cheese, crackers and candy, a canned dessert, and an accessory pack. The accessory pack contained a mix for a hot beverage, salt and sugar packets, plastic spoon, chewing gum, a pack of four cigarettes and several sheets of toilet paper. Each complete meal provided approximately 1,200 calories (1200 kcal or 5,000 kJ). P-38 can openers were provided loose in each case of 12 meals at a rate of 3 or 4 openers per box. The can openers were often worn on the GI's dog tag chain to facilitate opening the next meal's cans. Many soldiers complained about the extra weight that food added, and often carried the minimum amount they needed until the next scheduled resupply drop. They often came up short. Since we were short-range reconnaissance and usually came back to base camp each night, we rarely carried our food. If necessary, it was air-dropped to us when we could not be extracted before nightfall.
Weapons, etc.

The standard issue for grunts was the M-16 rifle. It fired .223 caliber/5.56mm bullets at a rate of 600 rounds per minute on automatic setting, or as fast as you could pull the trigger on semiautomatic. The rifle had an effective range of over 400 yards. There were times when the M-16 responded poorly to wet, dirty field conditions, and could jam during combat. Some troops wished for the old M-14. Having trained on both an M-14 and M-16, I would readily choose the M-16. Although the M-14 would virtually never jam or misfire, the M-16 was more compact, much lighter, and more deadly. The ammunition was lighter as well. On recon, we would generally carry two to four bandoliers, each containing seven magazines, called clips. We would load the clips with 19 rounds even though it held twenty, placing a tracer round every fifth position. For some reason, the M-16 would jam if you put twenty rounds in the clip. Although the clips added weight, the danger of running out of ammunition during a firefight caused many grunts to carry as many clips as they could stand when they went into the field.

Generally, one or two squad members would carry an M79 grenade launcher. It was a single-shot, shoulder-fired, break open launcher that fired a 40 x 46 mm grenade. It was called a "Thumper", "Thump-Gun" or "Blooper" among American soldiers because of its distinctive sound. Australian units referred to it as the "Wombat Gun". It could fire different 40 mm rounds, including explosive, anti-personnel, smoke, buckshot, flechette, and illumination. The M79 did have a severe limitation, however, as it was useless in close-in situations. The grenade rounds needed thirty meters to arm themselves.

Each squad would have also someone (usually the biggest guy) carry an M60 machine gun. It was light enough to be carried on patrol and deadly in a firefight. The M60 fired high-velocity 7.62x51mm NATO cartridges from a gas-powered disintegrating belt of M13 links. It could be fired from a bipod, a tripod, or from the hip. Its limitation, however, was the weight of its cartridge belts, which limited the amount of ammunition that could be carried into the field. The M60 was considered effective up to 1,100 meters when mounted on a tripod; up to 800 meters when using the integrated bipod; and, up to 600 meters when firing at a point target. The M60 was capable of suppressive fire out to 1,500 meters if the gunner was sufficiently skilled. The gun's weight, approximately 21 pounds, and the amount of ammunition it consumed, made it difficult for a single soldier to both carry and operate. The gunner would carry the weapon and, depending on his strength and stamina, anywhere from 200 to 1000 rounds of ammunition. An assistant would carry a spare barrel and extra ammunition. The basic ammunition load was 600 to 900 rounds and, theoretically, allowed approximately two minutes of continuous firing at the maximum rate of fire. Almost all squads carried more than the basic load and oftentimes other members of the squad would carry an additional 200 linked rounds of ammunition, a spare barrel, or both, in addition to his personal weapon and equipment. M60 ammunition came in a cloth bandoleer containing a cardboard box of 100 pre-linked rounds. The gunner would sometimes adapt his M60 using B3A cans from C-rations packs locked into the ammunition box attachment system to roll the ammunition belts over for a straighter and smoother feed to the loading port to enhance reliability of feed.

Generally, every squad member would arm themselves with 3-5 high-explosive hand grenades, or more. The casualty radius of a hand grenade was up to 50 feet and potentially lethal at 15 feet. The M61/M26A1 grenade weighed 21 ounces and its body was smooth cast iron. It had an olive drab body with a single yellow band at the top and yellow markings, which indicated a high-explosive filler. It was armed by "pulling the pin". This was accomplished by holding down the handle and yanking on a metal ring attached to the pin. The grenade would detonate four to five seconds after the release of the handle.

We sometimes carried concussion grenades. They didn’t use fragments but instead used explosive force with a small radius for close quarters combat. Circumstances hardly ever warranted our use of these grenades. Other than floating some fish in a stream, we never used them.
A couple of squad members would also carry M15 white phosphorus (“willie pete”) grenades. They were quite versatile. They could produce smoke that would be used for screening and signaling and also had anti-personnel and incendiary applications. The smoke and fumes produced by burning phosphorus is acrid and an irritant so could be used to drive an enemy from enclosed spaces or reduce his combat effectiveness. The grenade weighed about 31 ounces, so wasn’t exactly light or easy to carry. It had a burst radius of about 25 yards and burned for 50 to 60 seconds.

The platoon and squad leader RTOs would also carry M18 smoke grenades of various colors. These grenades weighed about a pound each. Yellow, green, and violet were the most common for identifying locations and relied upon by helicopter pilots to gauge wind velocity and direction. Red was generally used to indicate either a “hot” LZ or enemy contact in the vicinity.

Various squad members would also carry M18A1 Claymore Anti-Personnel Mines. These mines weighed about 3.5 pounds. They were portable tripod-mounted mines and used as an anti-infiltration device, usually as a perimeter around a night encampment. The case had the words "Front Toward Enemy" embossed on the front surface of the mine. Two pairs of scissor legs were attached to the mine and allowed it to be aimed vertically. Fuse wells were on either side of the mine and set at 45 degrees to the vertical. Internally, the mine contained a layer of C-4 explosive on top of a matrix of approximately seven hundred 1/8 inch diameter steel balls (about as big as #4 birdshot) set into an epoxy resin. The mine was triggered by a tripwire or a manually-operated lanyard.

A couple of squad members would also carry an M72 Light Anti-Tank Weapon (LAW), a one-shot 66mm unguided anti-tank weapon. The weapon consisted of a rocket packed inside of a launcher made up of two tubes, one inside the other. While closed, the outer assembly acts as a watertight container for the rocket and the percussion cap-type firing mechanism that activates the rocket. The outer tube contained the trigger, the arming handle, front and rear sights, and the rear cover. The inner tube contained the channel assembly which houses the firing pin assembly, including the detent lever. When extended, the inner tube telescoped outward toward the rear, guided by the channel assembly which rode in an alignment slot in the outer tube's trigger housing assembly. This caused the detent lever to move under the trigger assembly in the outer tube, both locking the inner tube in the extended position and cocking the weapon. Once armed, the weapon was no longer watertight even if the launcher was collapsed into its original configuration. When fired, the propellant in the rocket motor completely combusted before leaving the tip of the launcher, producing gases around 1,400 °F (760 °C). The rocket propelled the 66 mm warhead forward without significant recoil. As the warhead emerged from the launcher, six fins spring out from the base of the rocket tube, stabilizing the warhead's flight. Once fired the launcher was no longer useful and was discarded. We would usually bury them because, if found, they became good homemade rpg launchers and mortar tubes for the enemy.

A radio, PRC-25, would be carried by RTOs (Radio Teletype Operators) for each squad leader and platoon leader. It weighed about 20 pounds and had a range with the flexible antenna of about 3-4 miles on flat land, but we were seldom on flat land. We used it primarily for communication within our platoon or squad and with overhead air command. All the controls were mounted on the top and the battery was contained in a compartment on the bottom. There were two places to attach handsets and two knobs to set the frequency and knobs for both volume and squelch. The antenna attached to the top too. There were handles at each side. An extra battery would be carried on overnight reconnaissance, adding another six pounds to the RTO’s load. The radio was water proof but the handset was not. We usually covered it with a plastic bag and it had to be held up when crossing streams. Normally it would hang on a ring high on the shoulder strap. With the volume turned up the sound could carry far enough for someone a few feet away to hear. The coiled cord was long enough so that a man walking behind you could use it.

A couple of squad members would also carry machetes. These would be used for clearing heavy vegetation, a “must” for those engaged in reconnaissance. Their weighed about 23 ounces and were 17 inches long.
Everyone carried rappelling gear, a short rope to make a harness and a D-ring. The harness would be prepared and worn if we knew that insertion would involve rappelling. Otherwise, the rope was simply carried in case we were picked up and required to be inserted again by rappelling.

Last, but not least, everyone carried some sort of knife. Most opted for the standard M7 bayonet. It weighed about 2 pounds and could, if necessary, attach to the M16. The most common use for the bayonet was to be used as a c-ration can opener.