Army to Equip 1 Millionth Soldier With Mission-Essential Gear
September 27, 2007
By Debi Dawson
The Army celebrates a major milestone on Sept. 25 when a Soldier from the 10th Mountain Division becomes the 1 millionth individual to receive a Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI) kit, which provides the best, most current Soldier equipment available. Members of the media are invited to witness this achievement, which will take place at 2:30 p.m. at Fort Polk, La.
"This is a tremendous accomplishment for the Army acquisition work force and for the Soldiers receiving the equipment," said Col. Mark Conley, program director for RFI.
The idea for RFI was born in 2002 as Soldiers in Afghanistan pressed for improved equipment to fight the Global War on Terrorism. The landscape of war had changed and was continuing to change, and Soldiers needed gear that could stand up to the demands of desert, mountain, and urban fighting. Soldiers identified the need for better survivability equipment, lighter gear, and more efficient ways to carry large supplies of ammunition and water.
The Army responded by establishing RFI to deliver the most up-to-date equipment to Soldiers as quickly as possible, gear that enhances Soldiers' combat effectiveness, saves Soldiers' lives, and improves their overall quality of life in the field. Based on lessons learned in Afghanistan, Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier, which oversees RFI, came up with a list of 15 items, including some that Soldiers were purchasing on their own, and these items were fielded to members of the 82nd Airborne in late 2002. The list of standard essential equipment was expanded and refined, and the first full-scale fielding of 49 RFI items took place in December 2003, when members of the 81st Enhanced Separate Brigade of the Army National Guard received their gear at Fort Lewis, Wash.
In 2004, the Army determined that all Soldiers deploying in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom would receive an RFI kit, and RFI now equips more than 24,000 Soldiers a month, well in advance of deployment so they can train with the equipment before entering the fight.
"The 1 millionth Soldier and all of those before and after him or her represent the best fighting force in history," said Brig. Gen. R. Mark Brown. "They are the best young men and women the country has to offer, and we owe it to them to make their jobs as easy as possible."
In reaching this milestone, Brig. Gen. Brown said, "It would be easy to declare victory, but we're not going to do that. This will continue as a normal way of business in the Army so that when our Soldiers go into harm's way they have the best."
RFI's success in meeting the technological and logistical challenges involved was the result of an unusually high degree of cooperation among government agencies and from industry, as well as the Army's willingness to go to unprecedented lengths to quickly get the improved gear to the front lines. What used to take months or even years has been reduced to as little as days or weeks.
The 1 millionth Soldier, who won't be identified until the morning of the fielding, will receive his or her gear in Building 3620 at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La., a key location in preparing American Soldiers for combat. The 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division is stationed at Fort Polk.
The RFI kit currently contains 58 individual and small unit equipment items, including:
- Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment (MOLLE), which makes it possible for Soldiers to adjust equipment loads to suit the mission. It consists of removable compartments and components, and a fighting load vest with removable pockets.
- The Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH), which fits better than the old Kevlar helmet, enhancing survivability and combat effectiveness. The ACH is lighter than the old helmet and doesn't interfere with hearing.
- Ballistic eyewear for prescription and non-prescription wearers that provides fragmentation protection without obstructing field of vision.
- Combat ear protection, which reduces hearing loss.
- A strap cutter for emergency egress from vehicles.
- Cold weather clothing, which provides insulation and warmth at the varying temperatures of desert and mountain environments encountered in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Members of the media wishing to attend the fielding of the 1 millionth Soldier should contact Debi Dawson, strategic communications officer with PEO Soldier, at 703-704-2802.
PEO Soldier, which is based at Fort Belvoir, Va., is responsible for virtually everything Soldiers wear or carry. Additional information on PEO Soldier and the Rapid Fielding Initiative can be found at www.peosoldier.army.mil.