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Rapid Fielding Initiative equips post troops for Operation Iraqi Freedom III
Initiative gives Soldiers comfort, survival items

Story and photo by Sgt. Kim Dooley/The Bayonet

FORT BENNING, Ga. (TRADOC News Service, Sept. 17, 2004) – The Rapid Fielding Initiative became a tangible reality for Fort Benning Soldiers this week as units from around post cycled through a warehouse to collect a variety of newly fielded items for deployment during Operation Iraqi Freedom’s third rotation of troops.

RFI provides troops with improved protective and lethality equipment and commercial off-the-shelf “comfort” items that will ultimately improve Soldiers’ capabilities once in theater, said David Barton, a senior program analyst with Soldier-as-a-System, a division of Fort Benning’s Directorate of Combat Development.

The initiative was developed in late 2002 as a result of lessons-learned from combat units in Afghanistan, one of which was that Soldiers and units required field equipment they could not attain through normal supply channels, Barton said. In some cases, Soldiers were buying the items they needed with their own money.

Program Executive Office-Soldier conducted visits with Soldiers and leaders from 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.; 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.; and 101st Air Assault Division, Fort Campbell, Ky. The visits helped produce a list of “required items” — everything from creature comforts to improved body armor and optics.

Currently, three PEO-Soldier teams are traveling the United States, stopping by each installation to issue active-duty, National Guard and Reserve Soldiers their RFI items, said Chuck Cooley, team leader for PEO-Soldier Team 3. There are also teams in Kuwait and Iraq.

So far, the teams have completed issue at Fort Drum, Fort Bragg, Fort Lewis, Wash.; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; Fort Carson, Colo., Fort Hood, Texas; and Fort Bliss, Texas.

The teams will continue to hit each continental United States installation during the next few years, with the goal of completing Army-wide RFI by 2007.

RFI fielding is based on deployment timelines.

Team 3 arrived at Fort Benning Sept. 13 and began its first RFI issue the morning of Sept. 14 to Soldiers from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, which is scheduled to deploy between November and February.

Several other units around post will pick up their issues through Wednesday, including units from 36th Engineer Group, 209th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment and 789th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment.

Fort Benning Soldiers picked up around 35 items, including:

  • The advanced combat helmet. The ACH provides a better, more stable fit and allows for better hearing. The helmet also features pads lining the inside of the helmet in place of the sweatbands in old helmets.

  • Improved desert boots. The improved 390 Desert Boot features a thicker sole than the boots Soldiers are currently wearing and “feels like wearing a pair of Nikes,” Cooley said. Meanwhile, the AF 790 Gortex boots feature improved comfort and a fire-resistant sole.

  • Assault pack. Part of the MOLLE system, the assault packs have enough room for Soldiers to put one or two Camelbak hydration systems in, along with other gear.

“We won’t be issuing these to everyone,” Cooley said. “These are more for the guys on the front line.”

  • New clothing items. The list includes moisture-wicking T-shirts, socks and underwear, as well as cold-weather gear, like gloves and fleece jackets and pants.

“These are definitely things I wish I’d had when I was in the Army,” Cooley said.

Although Cooley won’t be able to reap the benefits of the new issue, Soldiers on the receiving end of RFI are more than pleased.

Spc. Ryan Labar, a radiotelephone operator in Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, has shelled out more than a few dollars to purchase cold-weather gear and comfort items during his deployments to Kosovo and Kuwait and Iraq. The 22-year-old California native was spending $50 to $60 a pop on personal gear just to keep warm.

“When you compare the cold-weather gear we got for Kosovo — just basic cold-weather boots and polypro — to the new fleece system ... it works a lot better and it’s a lot more comfortable,” Labar said. “And you can actually shoot in the gloves they gave us.”

Overall, he said, the RFI items are more comfortable and durable than what he’s been issued in the past.

During the RFI issue, noncommissioned officers from each unit were selected for “train-the-trainer” sessions detailing proper use of the new equipment.

“As we rotate the units through the stations, we’ll take around 12 men in for these classes so the units will walk away with the equipment and Soldiers who are subject-matter experts on the new equipment,” said Terry Boddie, team leader for the new-equipment-training team.

The trainers will ensure the troops in their units know how to properly fit, wear and use their new equipment. The NET team also provides the trainers with lesson plans “so they can give proper, military standard instruction,” Boddie said.

The RFI item list will continue to be modified as the Army refines its operational requirements and integrates current RFI items into Soldiers’ initial equipment issue, Barton said.

Soldier-as-a-System’s integrated-concepts team, which is chaired by the Infantry Center and School’s commanding general, Brig. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, reviews and provides recommendations regarding items on the list.

Photograph of Rapid Fielding Initiative protective equipment

The Rapid Fielding Initiative brings protective equipment and several ‘creature comfort’ clothing items to Fort Benning’s deploying troops.

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Photograph of the advanced combat helmet

A Soldier models the advanced combat helmet, which provides a better, more stable fit and allows for better hearing. The helmet also features pads lining the inside of the helmet in place of the sweatbands in old helmets. (U.S. Army photo)

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