Hey Slick…how ya doin? We’ve all heard the colloquial variations of what slick means, some for good, others for bad, and most because people aren’t sure what to call you; chief, boss, guy, buddy, whatever! But that’s not what this article is all about. By now most of you have heard the word on the street is the push for slick operations, light and fast, with as little gear as possible. Yeah…they call that “slick” too. But what does that really mean? And how does it benefit you, the warfighter? And why would you ditch all that great kit for lighter gear…well let me give you one operators view of what slick is and why it’s the future.
For years, our officers, doctrine writers, and military historians have always quoted Sun-Tzu and the essence of IPB, JOPP, and all sorts of complexities that consider the strategic vision of warfare rather than the tactical vantage point we operate in. You’re here reading this, so do I have your attention now? No, well don’t take it from me, listen to industry and decide for yourself.
Since 2001, the nature of warfare has grown into this asymmetric amalgamation of doctrinal theory versus actual boots on the ground practices. I’m of the old school, if it works for you then stick with it, but technology has made me a reformed man. As a special operations veteran of OIF and OEF I can tell you I have witnessed a massive change in warfare theory and for once it was organic, from the bottom up, and I love it. Long gone are the days of the knuckle dragging ground pounder, the new Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airmen, Coasty, are a new breed of thinkers. You guys are smarter, more in touch with technology, and aware of the latest improvements that make your lives more effective and comfortable while on objective. It’s time for a change in military theory and you my friends are leading the charge, the charge to be faster, lighter, better prepared…OH HELL YEAH we’re going slick son!
The question is no longer how much gear you need to lug into combat, the paradigm shift is real, and it’s spreading like wildfire. The warfighter is more in tune with their needs to ensure mission success. Now when you opt for a lofted garment or seam sealed jacket, you know exactly what you’re looking for, because the difference could be costly to your mission success and ultimately your livelihood. If you choose correctly not only are you more agile and protected, but your fatigue is greatly reduced and your endurance greatly increased.
Let’s take your average Joe’s load out; IOTV – 35 to 45 pounds depending on a combat load and whatever shit you decide to MOLLE on to your vest. Let me digress for a moment, this is a good example; imagine a building with a weak foundation and a top-heavy upper deck, what happens is obvious, it’s a half ass game of Jenga and the balance ratio is distorted ultimately leading the structure to crumble under its own weight. Your body-build, when sporting all the kit, is very similar to that building, balance is incredibly important when it comes to stabilizing your load and enhancing your endurance. There have been countless studies about spinal compression and knee injuries on the rise due to overloading…too much shit for the wrong type of situation. This is where the military fails; they give us all the great tools for survival but fail to pursue continuous education on said tools.
Now I know that’s not always the case, but in the past 5-7 years there has been a wide range of great research published by Natick to help the modern warrior in todays active environment. Where the failure lies is with the command structure by not pushing that information further down the chain. Again, I’m not throwing out a blanket blame, but it happens more times than not.
So now that we’ve unearthed the issues, let’s focus on being light, agile, durable, and confident. But before we do that, let’s establish what gear is by establishing what it is not. Gear is not something that can be purchased at a big box wholesaler- yeah the price is right, but rest assured the protection isn’t. Gear isn’t something the elements can manipulate easily, meaning if a gust comes in and the face fabric absorbs the brunt of the force by saturating quickly resulting in failure because it’s made out of cotton, well that’s not gear, that’s just a bad buy. Lastly gear isn’t something that fails when you push yourself to the limit, gear should be that wingman right by your side, and always has your back. In its purest form gear should feel apart of you, organic, dynamic, adaptive, and comfortable. The key to going slick is just that, being as light and as capable as possible.
In my decade plus of experience I’ve witnessed the transition from hefty “pack-in” garment to “pack-light” durable pieces of gear, but not everybody got the memo. So here I am to try and spread the word. In an environment where we constantly have a target on our back, it’s hard to hit the element of surprise without the entire village knowing we’re coming in. Therefore the infill/extraction scenarios have turned into mini marathons of endurance and speed; hence light (and protective) is the only right answer when we’re talking about administering dick punches to the bad guy. Therefore I recommend the following pieces of guidance to help you in your pursuit of being the slickest badass out there;
Dynamic textiles: by definition is a fabric produced for non-aesthetic purposes, where function is the primary criterion. In the realm of classification regarding technical textiles I’d like to focus on “Sport-technology.” The mountaineering and athletic industry have contributed so much to textile advancements in sheer science that we’re able to trek mountains and run marathons without being hindered by our clothing. These textiles are force multipliers; they allow the operator to endure longer and harder conditions without the worry of failure, keeping your mind focused on the objective. In short, research what you buy, know your AOR, consider the elements, and consider your physical output when do your research. Textiles are so advanced now that it’s important to know yourself but moreover study your needs in order to mitigate risk so that you can increase you operational success in the worlds most demanding situations.
Weight is a huge factor. Let’s take a look at one factor (of many): synthetic insulation briefly. With the introduction of PrimaLoft Fusion or One, the operator has the ability to pack in a highly compressible garment capable of protecting them against the bitter elements of the AOR. Yes, waterproof down is a fantastic option as well, but one must consider the factors of down, if you’re always stuffing it away, down has the ability to lose its loft, migrate, and ultimately fail. With the non-migratory principles of synthetic insulation the end user is always assured warmth is a priority keeping you focused on the task at hand. Moreover, these synthetics can take on water and still retain their CLO/R value thereby keeping the end user warm, protected, and operational. Zing!
The last element to consider when going slick, is your operational gear. The cut of a garment can make or break your stride. So, yeah, you go out and buy a $500,000 Ferrari, do you really know how to drive it (?). Maybe, but it’s better to do your research and see if the Ferrari is even what you really need for your transformational needs. The same takes hold with operational clothing, so maybe you need speed but not standoff, then perhaps a jacket with 6ozs of insulation is too much due to it’s performance factors, it’s essentially too much “car” or in this case “garment.” Therefore, it’s imperative to consider your MOS, AFSC, NEC or operational requirements of your job. If you’re an assaulter why would you want tons of insulation? You’re moving, significant heat is generated, perspiration builds up, you’ll need a garment that wicks that moisture away from your body as quickly as possible in order to prevent your base layers from saturating…I think you see where I’m going with this. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve been there. I was operating up in Northern Iraq, near the Turkish border, in upper Kurdistan. There I was faced with a slew of environmental variations I wasn’t prepared for. My first tour was my segue into my obsession of packing light, but right. After being faced with sub-freezing conditions in the morning and blistering hot by afternoon, I needed to change how I thought about my operational load out. It all started with a simple web search, “clothing that doesn’t suck!” I read through the climbing blogs, military forums, and militant adventurer posts to figure out what I was doing wrong.
After two weeks of intensive research I jumped onto REI, and placed an order for 6 items. The first was a functional base layer, something that wicked moisture away from the body, but also served as a functional piece when it got too hot- but it had to be light. In this case it was silk weight Capilene top and bottom, it fit under my gear perfect and it was tan, so no asshole CSM could call me out, although that never happened, I just didn’t want to risk being the new guy seconded to a SF team to be called out…oh yeah I’m Navy too, so I had that going against me. Now I had to figure out the BDU, it was NYCO, it held moisture like a mofo and was the least productive piece of my kit. I looked to a senior member of the team and he passed on a great piece of advice “if it looks like a uniform, nobody will say shit to you.” So I found a company (no longer around) that made an ACU soft shell system, it was fleece bonded to Nylon, lightweight and functional, providing me the necessary warmth and comfort for the mornings and easily ventable for the hot afternoon and evenings. The last layer was a hard shell set, something to protect me from the elements in the highlands, and it served its purpose well. Long story short, the goal of was to have the least amount of equipment and still function as if I had a 7-layer system. It worked beyond my wildest dreams. Not only did it work it made my load significantly lighter and allowed me a greater operational endurance and boosted my confidence (I wasn’t miserable anymore, well maybe a little, but that had to do with being homesick). At this time I was working as forward RECCE observer, so I’d spend a prolonged period forward, MQ-1s were just being rolled out, so eyes on, were actual eyes on!
So if you take anything from this article it’s to be smart, do your research, and know what you’re getting into. The difference between mission success and failure has a lot to do with what you bring to the fight. I’m not advocating for body armor being left at home, nor am I saying that one piece of protective operational clothing will be your answer. The focal point of this article is to empower you, the end user, I’m asking you to think about what you pack in, in order to make your experience smarter and more productive. The right clothing, footwear, pack, weapon all make a difference, but if you’re weighed down your agility is near non-existent, we all have to run, it’s the nature of the beast. When you run, and you will, will you be able to?
Stay safe, stay slick, stay WILD!