Michael's Dispatches

Amber of War


In modern times, Huey MEDEVAC helicopters risked skids becoming stuck in the mud and sometimes had to throttle hard to break free.  Blackhawks have tires.

image032-1000The Lost Generation, at Passchendaele.

Today, a paradox of armor is that it makes us need more armor.

Armor consigns us to routes at times when they are passable.  Horses and feet can destroy routes, while heavy vehicles can obliterate even solid roads, causing convoys to stretch.  Fuel trucks cannot move forward.

A logistics snake cannot escape its tail.  While the head might advance with haste, it destroys the route.  The snake begins to stretch.  The middle slows while the tail becomes stuck.

In some wars, this is an invitation for an enemy commander to roll up his artillery, and to conduct air strikes on the snake, whose own heavy guns can have difficulty firing from mud.

Forests are cut to make corduroy roads, with every tree giving its life for the cause of a few feet of advancement.  In the Burma campaign, Indian brick-makers set up shop at intervals along routes to create brick roads.

The United States researched the creation of mud by altering the weather.  Protests made climate warfare politically unfashionable.  Our enemies would not hesitate to seed clouds or use other low-tech means to bog us down.  They know we go with maximum armor.  As a defense, the enemy can flood routes to create mud, then pile pre-registered rocket fire onto our trapped formations.  We are lucky that Saddam apparently did not think of this.  He had opportunities to flood our routes.

Millions of streams, lakes and reservoirs exist around the world, many of which can easily be diverted to make routes impassable through flood and mud.  As you walk through deserts, forests and jungles, watch the streams and set your imagination free.  You will see how guerrillas and commanders sometimes create bogs with little effort.

Our heavy vehicles often get stuck in nothing but moon dust.  While driving through puddles of moon dust, it splashes across the windshield like water.  It blacks out the windshield for half a second, and then vanishes.

By appearance, the dust splashes from tires and boots like a fluid.  In particular, like water.  Though it splashes like water (not mud), it is not adhesive or have the surface tension of water.  It does not stick to your windshield or form drops.  The windshield and dust seem to repel each other.

The dust puddles as predictably as water.  It would come as no surprise to see moon dust shoot from a hose.  There is something odd about that dust, as if the particles repel each other, creating a fluid from solid.

Brownian motion creates issues for some gear, especially during summer heat.  Dust storms sometimes trap our helicopters during missions.  They must land to let it pass.

I sometimes wondered if any of our wounded troops drowned face down in the dust.  If you inhale enough, likely it would create mud in the nose, especially if there is blood, and in the lungs.  I never saw this.  It must have occurred.

The good news is that moon dust, like water, has little suction to trap our vehicles.  The bad news is that moon dust is dehydrated hell.  If you are travelling through moon dust when the rains begin, your problems have just begun.

We cannot expect to maneuver with our cumbersome armor against any but the most unsophisticated and unimaginative enemies.  A battalion of civil engineers armed only with shovels could wage decisive disruption.  Throw in dynamite, and the sky is the limit.

image034-1000Mud will pull those boots off of his feet. (Kabul, Afghanistan.)

On the personal level, footwear can be sucked from feet and lost.

Troops in Afghanistan call it peanut butter, though in reality it is more like goo and poo.  The closer you are to large population centers, the more poo and bacteria there likely is, waiting for any scratch to invade.

Our Afghanistan veterans have a love-hate relationship with the peanut butter.  Our fittest men are worn down quickly.  A man might be able to run a marathon, but be unable to run five steps in goo.

Peanut butter disrupts IEDs, often rendering bombs inert.  When they do explode, peanut butter muffles the blast.

The goo swallows bullets and reduces enemy ricochets.  When you get shot, mud flies into the body with the bacteria.  In some parts of the world, the bacteria types can be worse than others.

When our Apache helicopters fire their cannons using high-explosive rounds, mud absorbs the detonation of the shells.  Dry mud used in Afghan homes stops our 30mm cannon shots, while wet mud in the fields absorbs them with a splat.


Rains came this Afghan day that would have thwarted a military logistics convoy.  A few Americans and I were with Afghan police.

image038-1000Urozgan Province, Afghanistan

The Germans invaded Russia during World War II, got bogged down in the muddy season, and were trapped by winter.  The Russians call the season it rasputiza (time without roads), yet the Germans did not respect rasputiza until it was too late.


Our 4-wheel-drive vehicles on this Afghan day were far more mobile than military armored vehicles, but they were still consigned to restricted terrain.  This Afghan’s camels can go nearly anywhere.


The best footwear for warm weather mud might be the US Army jungle boot.

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