FORWARD OPERATING BASE MEHTAR Lam, Afghanistan, Oct. 14, 2011 -- It all began during an intense 2 1/2-hour firefight with the enemy earlier this year in Afghanistan.
As members of the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Iowa National Guard, sat around later at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam and discussed the engagement, they talked about how three-man teams manning crew-served weapons struggled to stay together over difficult terrain in fluid battles.
Someone mentioned actor Jesse Ventura in the movie "Predator." His character brandished an M-134 Mini-gun fed by an ammo box on his back. After the Soldiers had a good laugh over that thought, Staff Sgt. Vincent Winkowski asked why a gunner couldn't carry a combat load of ammo. He decided to pursue the idea.
"When we first arrived in theater in late October (2010), we were issued the Mk 48 7.62 mm machine guns," Winkowski said. "This was a new piece of equipment for us, and we struggled to come up with a solution for carrying and employing ammunition for it due to our small size and the inability to have a designated ammo bearer, as is common doctrine with the M240B.
"The ammunition sacks that came with it made it too cumbersome and heavy to carry over long, dismounted patrols and especially when climbing mountains. Initially, we came up with using 50-round belts and just reloading constantly, which led to lulls of fire and inefficiency."
So Winkowski grabbed an old ALICE (all-purpose lightweight individual carrying equipment) frame, welded two ammunition cans together -- one atop the other after cutting the bottom out of the top can -- and strapped the fused cans to the frame. To that he added a MOLLE (modular, lightweight load-carrying equipment) pouch to carry other equipment.
"We wondered why there wasn't some type of dismounted (Common Remote Operating Weapons Station) that fed our machine guns instead of a mini-gun as portrayed in the movie," Winkowski said. "So, I decided to try it using the feed chute assembly off of the vehicle CROWS. We glued a piece of wood from an ammo crate inside the ammo cans to create the decreased space necessary so the rounds would not fall in on each other.
"My Mark 48 gunners, Spc. Derick Morgan and Spc. Aaron McNew, who also had input to the design and evaluation, took it to the range and tested it, and even with its initial shortcomings, it was much better than the current TTP (tactics, techniques and procedures) we employed. On Feb. 26, 2011, our prototype 'Ironman' pack even saw its first combat use by Spc. McNew when our squad was ambushed by up to 50 fighters in a river valley, and it worked great!"
After attaching pictures of the prototype to a request for information, Winkowski gave it to forward-deployed science advisers from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.
The request landed on the desk of Dave Roy, a current operations analyst in the Quick Reaction Cell of the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, military deputy's office.
"We looked at it," Roy recalled. "My first reaction was, 'Wow, that's cool.' I thought it was great."
In his 21 years as a Soldier, he had seen his share of ingenious solutions to problems.
"Our doctrine encourages Soldiers to think for themselves," Roy said. "That's why we're so effective on the battlefield. One of the things that makes us so effective against our opponents throughout history is the fact that we recognize the value of the doctrine, but we are not slaves to it."