Civil War fitness

My recent Buskirk-based poke at the Army mocked the service's current physical standards with reference to this distinguished ACW combat veteran. I asked rhetorically, "How many sit-ups could he [Van Buskirk] do in a minute?" To which Chris Cross replied, rhetorically, at 6'8" and 380 pounds, as many as he felt like.

Chris posts that he is soon starting some kind of experimental Army officer training course - which reminds me of PT and MG David Grange (the elder, not the younger son who sometimes comments on news shows).

I was on the general staff of the Second Infantry Division in Korea winding down my active duty when Grange arrived to take over from his predecessor, a Machiavellian micromanager. That gentleman, on his way back to the Pentagon whence he came, a trend surfer par excellence, and had just promulgated the latest wisdom on running gear. I forget if it was the no running in sneakers rule or the no running in boots rule, as these might alternate according to the phase of the moon. They would be further modified by variations involving no running on hard surfaces and always run on hard surfaces. A further twist was provided by always take your salt tablets when exercising and avoid salt and drink lots of water when exercising.

Grange had parachuted into Normandy, arrived near Pyongyang as a replacement company commander during the UN retreat from the Yalu, and he had done seven consecutive tours with the infantry in Vietnam. Seven combat tours. He knew something about boots and hard surfaces and sweat. He was, in short, a creature of the pre-MacNamara army, the likes of which we will never see again. (MacNamara instituted rules to prevent another David Grange - or a Buskirk - from happening again.)

One project Grange had me do was to develop a walking tour of his Korean battlefield experiences - this was for VIPs and UN command colleagues - it also served a training purpose for TEWTS. We spent time flying his helicopter here and there and I got to drink up some excellent war stories. The stories told were never Grange-centered, they were entirely centered on an event pointing to some remarkable lesson.

Grange was probably about 6'5" though well under Buskirk's 380 pounds. He had a calm self-assurance, relaxed manner and good humor that I like to think came from being at the apex of combat veteranhood rather than from his Stewart Granger looks and his Philadelphia society background. He had a combat veteran's obsession: applying what he learned in his commands.

Grange felt that Army physical training was misdirected. He couldn't change the regulations but he could make men march. And march they did, at least once per month with their units and then again with the entire division en masse, with rifles and 50 pound backpacks, every soldier in his command walking 25 miles of mountain roads together, no exceptions for anyone, not cooks, not drivers, not one-star deputies.

Grange told me more than once that the thing that "got him" in the Korean War was that the army simply could not march, and it was a war where everything hinged on marching well. He used to tell his command bluntly that long-distance running develops nothing that an infantry soldier needs physically for combat.

Now, today's infantryman is laughing at my reference to 50-lb packs, being burdened with body armor and tons of other nonsense. I say to such, you have been saddled with that crap because your high command has abandoned any scenario in which you move 25 miles at a time using your legs only. You are taxicab infantry.

I hope Cross's experimental training does not have a "How much more can they carry?" component. I hope that those exercise fads du jour are history. When the brass can put on their own gear and march like David C. Van Buskirk - battlefield distances, campaign distances, in summer heat, in wool clothing, across Tennessee and Maryland hills, we'll be approaching a sane limit of mandated fitness and endurance.

Maybe some re-enactors can show the Army how.