You don’t need a six-pack to be a soldier
ben macintyre

After another army training death we should acknowledge that modern wars are not won by superfit warriors

There’s people around here who know much more about this than I do.

And you certainly don’t need to be fit to hump stores and cook the meals – which is 90% of what any military does these days.

But the bloke at the front end, the bloke those other 9 are there to equip, feed and place in the right spot?

Yer average infantryman does need to be super fit, yes. Marines and on more so. Because, at the extreme, you want them to be able to yomp however many miles carrying all their kit and then still be able to fight when they get there. That’s actually rather the point of having them.

21 thoughts on “Hmm”

  1. While off base they must not look in any way military as they might attract unwanted attention from middle eastern looking men armed with a knife.

  2. The self explanatory motto is “train hard, fight easy”.

    The Yanks seem to try to bulk up a lot more than we do, whereas we tend to look to endurance (on average).

  3. “That’s actually rather the point of having them.”

    Surely not? I thought the point of having them was to further the fight against social justice. Or is it fight for social justice?

  4. “You don’t need a six-pack to be a soldier”

    Yes. Fortunately there will be other strong fit blokes around to carry the stuff you can’t manage.

  5. From my own admittedly limited TA experience many years ago, I’d say body type and relative youth are nearly as, if not more, important than fitness: 5’10”, a decent amount of body fat and the ability to keep your legs and arms moving was superior to my ex-competitive swimmer’s physique. I am not saying fitness is unimportant, but a barrel-chested bloke in a hurry is a force to be reckoned with. Power to weight, I suppose, is what it boils down to.

  6. I’m not quite sure what his point is. I don’t know the details of this soldier’s death but it can happen to anyone – I expect it will turn out to be either an underlying health condition or simply a failure of him, his mates and his commanders to spot he was in trouble. If it was heat related, as I suspect it was, carrying more flab would not really have helped. That said, we’ve all seen blokes who are bit overweight with astonishing powers of endurance, and others who look like they’ve walked off the set of Magic Mike who fold. A lot of life is mental, in the psychological sense.

    But yes, infantrymen no longer march to battle, they go in helicopters or armoured vehicles and increasingly (recently) patrols have been extremely slow affairs (1km per hour type stuff) as you stop, check for IEDs, walk, stop, check etc. For that you need fittish, strongish allrounders – the strength to carry body armour, day sacks stuffed with ammunition and other stuff, water and a 5kg rifle for 24/48 hrs/longer in the field is not given to all racing snakes. It is *extremely* hard on the knees, for starters. Can’t see how we’ll ever return to the old days – the Falklands was a military fuck-up fought (magnificently) at the other end of the earth, not a template. But equally, you do need to be able to get from A to B on Shanks’s Pony quite quickly sometimes.

    (There are special forces blokes with beer guts, plenty of them.)

  7. The argument for developed male strength and endurance is entirely undermined once they let lassies into the fighting end. Plenty of fat middle-aged blokes can equal the athletic performance of many of them.

  8. My aikido trainer had a big belly, which was hard as concrete and his core strength was just incredible.

    So 6 packs maybe not, but strength and stamina as a soldier is necessary. The more endurance you have, the clearer your mind stays under stress.

    You see it all the time in competitive sports.

  9. One look at Macintyre’s photo and you know you’re getting a self-serving screed against the benefits of good physique. He says himself that the death was on an endurance march, yet conflates it with fitness, using the Guardianesque logic of cart before horse viz military forms in civilian use. Endurance is a mental strength and physical training is used to inculcate it in the individual. Resembling Adonis isn’t much help covering the last few miles with boots slick with your own blood.

    Speaking from a naval perspective, there are no noncombatants on a warship. On a shore base I once had a messmate who was a massively overweight cabbage mechanic; he’d been sent their to lose weight before they’d let him reengage. Nothing to do with fitness, but ships have small escape hatches between decks as well as regular hatches; they’re about 18″ diameter, accessed by rope ladder and too small to even get shoulders through – you have to do a sort of reverse dive, getting arms through first. Now imagine the compartment’s flooding and you’re behind behemoth with his gut firmly wedged in the hatch; your curses wouldn’t be aesthetic. Good job everyone’s issued with a seaman’s knife on joining.

  10. You don’t need a six-pack to be a soldier …

    Although it helps, given that situps are part of the fitness tests.

    modern wars are not won by superfit warriors

    As noted above, infantry do need to be that bit fitter and, yes, it is endurance rather than power-lifting. Even I lost a couple of stone (that I could well afford to lose) merely walking a couple of miles each day wearing body armour and carrying my rifle and daysack around Camp Bastion.

    Cpl Hoole was getting ready for what is known as “Senior Brecon”, which is one of the standard Army’s toughest and courses. He died after doing the standard Army Fitness Test – we’ve got 49 year old reservists who have to do that, albeit carrying the “Corps” weight of 15kg, rather than the Infantry 25kg. And, he will have been checked as having sufficient water as part of the checklist the PTI will have done before starting them off.

    Clearly, his death (as with nearly all others) is a tragedy. Whether it was mere accident or utterly avoidable, I’ll wait for the inquiry (although, being the MoD, I won’t hold my breath to see if they get to a reasonable and rational conclusion. Im suggesting incompetence rather than malice, btw.)

    On a shore base I once had a messmate who was a massively overweight cabbage mechanic

    When I was on my first ship, HMS Glamorgan, one of the officers was, frankly, obese. He had been made the Action Damage Control Officer by the Captain on the grounds that if he burned to death because he couldn’t fit through a kidney hatch, it would be his fault and nobody else’s, both personally and in role. I’m not sure how that would stand up to a modern Human Rights challenge, but this was in the days of Crown Immunity.

  11. A retired Royal Marine colonel I work with, was always of the opinion that while soldiers needed to be seriously fit, it was in terms of endurance under load rather than track’n’field work: he reckoned the rugby players with a bit of padding around the waist did better than the racing snakes and marathoners, if only because they had some reserves to burn through.

    On a personal level, one lesson I noticed from Dartmouth is to observe how everyone’s performance drops and tempers start flashing, as fatigue, hunger and exhaustion build up (four days of leadership assessments interspersed with long moves carrying all required kit, very little sleep and not many chances to eat properly).

    Fitness, experience and conditioning buy you more time before that degradation sinks in: which is why on the Dartmouth exercise you each do three leadership tasks, the first as a learning exercise and the second and third for score. You need one pass plus a “holistic assessment” (of not being a total space cadet) – in theory, you only need to pass one of them so if you fail #2 you could pull it out of the bag for #3. In practice, by the time you’re at the third PLT everyone’s hanging off their chinstraps; the adequate candidates pass the second and fail the third, if you pass all three you’re doing very well indeed. (We had both in my syndicate, but I was one of the merely adequate).

  12. Ben Macintyre is an “author, historian, columnist”, etc., etc., etc.

    One look at him and you’ve glimpsed the sort of Beta Male that couldn’t have done more than a half dozen push-ups on the best day of his life. Just another pussy pretending he’s what tough men need to keep them safe.


  13. The six-pack doesn’t help arm or leg strength but I doubt whether mcintyre is capable of understanding that.
    Stamina is not quite the same as strength or a good power/weight ratio but I should be astonished to learn that any of those three is unnecessary.

  14. Isn’t that why we make the distinction between teeth (e.g. infantry, artillery, &c.) and non-teeth regiments? The former having to pass a Combat Fitness Test, the latter only needing the Basic FT?

  15. (There are special forces blokes with beer guts, plenty of them.)

    There’s at least one other who is as skinny as a rake and looks about as much like a soldier as Shaggy from Scooby Doo. He won the Iron Major at staff college at a canter.

  16. I missed the crack and re-enlisted in the TA. However, then being in my late 20s, I quickly realised I wasn’t the man I was at age 18 – at least not in fitness terms.

  17. Bloke in Costa Rica

    I thought the whole point of maintaining military fitness was so you could drink eight pints every day in the NAAFI without dying.

  18. An AFT (“tab”) is an aggressive walk interspersed with little trotty runs with a few hills and grassy bits thrown in. It’s uncomfortable but not hard, in the cardio-fitness sense (it isn’t like a run, which you need to be fit to do. Determination alone will get you through an AFT). There are a few 5 minute rests in which you are required to drink, the pace is limited (if the squad finishes early it doesn’t count), you are supervised by instructors (minimum two, I believe), you march as a squad and everyone looks out for each other, you’re not carrying anything like a combat load (15kg for REMFs, 25kg for infantry – this is nothing like the full weight of your kit).

    Tabbing is a basic test of whether or not you can walk quickly from A to B carrying a bit of your shit on your back. It’s not a lickout. At all.

    Without meaning to disparage the chap who died, the only reasons you’d die on a tab are:

    1) your admin was shit (not drinking enough water and not spotting the signs of exhaustion that you’re trained to spot);
    2) your mates’ admin was shit (not noticing that you’re not drinking enough water and are clearly in trouble);
    3) your instructors are incompetent (not noticing that you’re not drinking enough water and are clearly in trouble).

    Probably all three but the onus really is on the individual soldier to know when he’s reached his limit. Not that he should reach his limit on a tab. Even if he is obese/lame/a midget/female etc.

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