Generals are unlikely to become concerned with regaining their forces' capabilities to win jungle wars until after our enemies in the oil-rich Middle East attain nuclear weapons and dependable delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction. This ominous development will make access to resources in tropical Latin America a vital national interest. Then powerful generals and top political leaders may conclude — especially after our armed forces have suffered defeats — that American foot soldiers will need the kinds of equipment that have enabled jungle infantrymen to be the most decisive forces in victorious jungle campaigns.

Those key decision makers then should learn what combat-proven footmobile equipment will be needed. This chapter summarizes ways of meeting 13 needs of well equipped jungle fighters.


(1) Generals responsible for preparing our troops for wartime operations in the humid tropics should try to provide our soldiers in peacetime with more of the personal items needed to conserve the health and improve the mobility of jungle fighters. Many of those frequently overlooked items are described in this book, and several are decidedly useful outside the tropics. High commanders should learn what our jungle infantrymen had in World War II and Vietnam, what combat-proven items are no longer in the system, and what will be needed in unexpected jungle confrontations. (Majors, colonels, and lower ranking generals usually originate the concepts and objectives that only high ranking generals have much chance of being able to push through to completion despite opposition from entrenched bureaucracies.)

(2) Generals should push harder to provide American foot soldiers with more effective backpackable weapons capable of killing enemies in foxholes and bunkers and destroying aircraft and tanks. Our enemies’ increasing capabilities to shoot down planes and helicopters and attack our tanks and other heavy weapons will reduce the supporting firepower that our infantrymen will receive.

(3) Very lightweight, inexpensive boats to enable American and allied infantrymen to get themselves quickly across rivers and canals without help from engineers should be produced again. This should be accomplished before increasingly available Stinger-like weapons have shot down many U.S. helicopters and made river-crossing boats obviously more needed by infantrymen, as described in Chapter 2.

Even after disastrous losses of helicopters have occurred, an innovative general will have difficulties getting test quantities of updated versions of breath-inflated, multi-bladdered boats similar to those used by tens of thousands of American and Chinese infantrymen to make surprise crossings of big Burmese rivers. No doubt the Army Materiel Command and the Army Engineers will be opposed to any organization’s even testing infantrymen’s boats, which threaten the Army Engineers’ river-crossing monopoly. (See Chapter 2.)

If a pressing military need for such very light, simple boats again arises, a few determined, able private citizens should have less difficulty producing test quantities than their counterparts experienced in World War II. That was before many hundreds of breath-inflated boats had been used by infantrymen in successful mass river crossings. But for such boats again to be manufactured in quantity and issued to infantry units, a powerful general first will have to be convinced of the need and then give production orders that are obeyed.

SEALS, Special Forces, and other relatively small organizations need modest numbers of very lightweight and dependable breath-inflated boats for seagoing and river crossing missions. But they will not be able to buy such boats direct from manufacturers at low cost until after the Army has ordered and received sizeable numbers. Advantages of very light breath-inflated boats for seagoing operations are described in Chapter 3.

(4) Updated nylon bandoleers and lightweight bags in which to carry loaded magazines and grenades again should be developed and made available to the troops. In recent wars, experienced soldiers have preferred bandoleers and bags over all other gear for carrying their heavy loads of cartridges and grenades.

(5) Soldiers who may be deployed in deserts, and especially in the humid tropics, should be given uniforms that have no sewn-on, skin-disease-promoting reinforcements. The desert combat uniforms that General Norman Schwarzkopf ordered produced during the Persian Gulf War had no reinforcements. Shortly after Iraq’s defeat, production of Desert BDUs with six reinforcements was resumed. John Simonsen, a specialist on uniforms in the Defense Personnel Support Center of the Department of Defense’s Defense Logistics Agency, told me on March 2, 1993 that the mil specs for Hot Weather BDUs had not been changed even temporarily during the Persian Gulf War.

With the exception of General Schwarzkopf’s desert uniforms, all Hot Weather BDUs manufactured since 1984 have had reinforcements sewn in the crotch, over the buttocks, and on elbows and knees. Jungle uniforms of combat-proven designs that are much lighter and cooler, and have fewer pockets, are needed. (See Chapter 12.)

(6) Good 2-oz. dust-and-sand-protective bags for M-16 rifles and other small weapons should be produced before another overseas confrontation arises. Hundreds of thousands of such 2-oz. bags should be stored where they will be readily accessible for prompt issue and for air shipment overseas. In peacetime many should be kept as organic equipment by combat units and used routinely in maneuvers.

Excellent Multi-Purpose M-16 Rifle Bags, made of even stronger 2-mil plastic film than the 600,000 M-16 rifle bags donated by an American Legion Post for our soldiers during the Persian Gulf War, and with instructions printed on each bag, would have cost a non-government buyer only about 20 cents a bag if purchased in quantity in 1995. These bags also serve as personal flotation devices and as containers for carrying several quarts of water. Low costs should make it easier for a determined general to get the rifle bags and magazine bags that his troops will need to prevent so many of their M-16s from jamming during combat. (See Chapter 7.)

(7) People who are fighting against communist and other tyrannical forces should be helped to help themselves. For example, by using excellent lightweight materials and combat-proven designs, the weight of a typical soldier’s load-carrying equipment and clothing can be reduced by five to eight pounds. I showed such a weight-saving assemblage to General Abrams in 1968 when briefing him on items needed to enable Vietnamese soldiers to fight more successfully against the communists. (See Chapter 19.) Whenever practical, improved equipment and clothing should be manufactured in the country needing them.

When equipping guerrillas who must live among their fellow countrymen while fighting a prolonged war, the means provided usually should not advertise even partial dependence on the United States. Most of the Contras whom we armed and supported to fight the Soviet-supplied Sandinista forces in Nicaragua were glad to be given U.S. Army jungle uniforms. But many Nicaraguans disliked seeing their fellow countrymen looking like gringo invaders. In contrast, Afghan Freedom Fighters dressed like the tribesmen they are, proud defenders of their hard land against all foreigners. Their use of U.S.-made Stingers and other excellent foreign weapons did not brand them as subservient to anybody.

To enable fighters to wear their ordinary civilian clothes or their nation’s uniform, yet be protected against mosquitoes, ticks, and other biting pests, they should be supplied with 40% permethrin concentrate and instructions for totally impregnating their clothing, insect nets, etc. without having to use the more costly special sprayers or permethrin-impregnation kits. The instructions given in the Appendix to Chapter 13 are the best expedient way to totally impregnate fabrics with permethrin, thus making them lethally repellent for months.

(8) Open hammocks like the prototype which I made and donated, and that Army tests proved best, designed to be used with an Army poncho attached for a rain canopy, again should be produced and issued. (See Chapter 15.) Materials should be updated. No hammocks of any kind have been issued to American soldiers since 1992. Our friends in humid tropical countries of the Americas will have difficulty believing that the United States is prepared and willing to help them fight prolonged jungle conflicts if they see members of our elite units sleeping on the ground during jungle maneuvers or while searching for a crashed plane.

(9) Generals responsible for equipping American soldiers who may have to fight in jungles should see to it that their troops' jungle boots have Panama Soles of the self-cleaning, traction-improving design produced during the Vietnam War, and that boots worn in humid heat again are issued with excellent ventilating insoles. (See Chapter 11.)

(10) Updated Individual Jungle Medical Kits should be developed and rigorously jungle tested by infantrymen observed by medical officers, and then be produced and issued. In World War II such kits, weighing only about one pound, were issued accompanied by verbal and written instructions. (See Chapter 18.) Once again each jungle fighter should have means to treat his bites and scratches before they become infected. Because virulent strains of malaria parasites are mutating into more drug-resistant forms, especially in the humid tropics footmobile infantrymen have increasing need for DEET and for permethrin insecticides/repellents, and for the best available medicines to prevent and treat malarial infections.

(11) Expediting systems similar to ENSURE (Expedient Non-Standard Urgent Requirement for Equipment) and ACTIV (Army Concept Team In Vietnam), which served well during and after the worst fighting in the Vietnam War, should be reestablished. Mr. J. Marcus, an experienced civil servant at Edgewood Arsenal, was one of the procurement specialists who told me in 1968 that the ENSURE procedure applied widely would save years and millions of dollars. He said that it normally took eight years between receiving a statement of requirements and the fielding of equipment. In the 1980s through the mid-1990s the process still took several years — unless a high commander was given extraordinary powers such as President Bush gave General Schwarzkopf during the Gulf War.

(12) A procedure should be redeveloped to assure that items urgently needed by troops deployed overseas during a confrontation promptly reach the units for which they are intended. One of the lessons that the Army learned in Vietnam, and then forgot, was that such a system can be made to work to the benefit of all concerned.

Two of the Army’s logistical snafus which occurred in the Persian Gulf War are indications that similar foul-ups probably will occur in future jungle confrontations. The 500,000 dust-protective M-16 rifle bags, which were belatedly manufactured for Defense Logistic Agency after the deployment of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia had begun and M-16 jamming once again had become a recognized problem, were shipped by sea and then misplaced in warehouses for the duration. The same fate befell hundreds of thousands of permethrin aerosol spray cans, in both cases because neither item fitted into a priority-shipment category, and because no officer in Saudi Arabia had been charged with the responsibility of meeting the ships.

In contrast, the Marines improvised coordinated air shipments to Saudi Arabia of tens of thousands of the M-16 rifle bags that were privately produced and donated by The American Legion. Colonel B. D. Lynch at Riyadh and designated officers working under him met the planes and saw to it that the M-16 bags got to several Marine units needing them. (See Chapter 7 and its Appendix.)

Planners can’t anticipate all of the items that will be needed by U.S. forces deployed overseas during future confrontations, especially in jungle countries. In jungle conflicts more new items will be needed unexpectedly than in desert wars. A system for satisfying unanticipated needs should be made part of deployment plans and practiced in peacetime maneuvers.

(13) Whenever time permits, commanding generals should order and participate in rigorous jungle training before their troops are committed to jungle combat. Realistic training in Panama during World War II helped many thousands of infantrymen fresh from the States to overcome their fears of the unknown and fight more effectively after they were shipped across the Pacific to wipe out jungle-wise Japanese invaders. In contrast, American soldiers without jungle experience suffered excessive casualties while learning to master their fears of the jungle. “The fact is, we weren’t afraid of the Japs. We were afraid of the jungle,” Major Meredith M. Higgins is quoted as saying in “Welcome to the Jungle,” an article featured in the September 1992 issue of The American Legion magazine. Major Higgins commanded the 32nd Infantry Division’s 3rd Battalion, which suffered 75% casualties, largely from tropical diseases, while holding for 28 days the most critical roadblock preventing Japanese forces from continuing their advance from Buna toward Port Moresby, New Guinea.

(Excerpts “reprinted by permission, THE AMERICAN LEGION MAGAZINE, © September 1992.”)

If no jungle training area is available, multi-week footmobile maneuvers in forested and swampy parts of Louisiana and Florida, conducted during the hottest, most humid months of the year, will help prepare soldiers for jungle combat.