An incident in Sean Parnell’s new book Outlaw Platoon, chronicling his tour in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain division, reinforced something I have always felt about infantry combat. Murphy rules! Anything you think could never happen to you almost certainly will. Starting out on a patrol, he makes a point of checking that every man in his platoon was carrying the full, “by the book,” load of ammunition. I quickly noticed that basic load-out hasn’t changed much since Vietnam, around 180 rounds of 5.56mm. The first law of real combat is the guy that wrote the manual was never in a firefight, I carried around 500 rounds and I knew guys that were packing closer to 700 or 800 rounds. Parnell’s platoon was soon in a gun battle with a numerically superior force of Taliban and one by one their belt-fed weapons went dry. Far quicker than they expected they were down to a magazine or two per rifleman and Lieutenant Parnell was watching enemy troops with “8-inch knives on their belts” closing in on his position. He then mentally thought “I should order everyone to fix bayonets now!” The only problem was they weren’t carrying bayonets—too much weight, don’t you know, and no one ever uses them in modern combat, right?
Surprise, the next time they got into a similar firefight their ammunition load was very close to what I was carrying in Vietnam. The Lieutenant never mentioned if they went that one step farther and added cold steel to their battle rattle. While I certainly understand the need to keep your load manageable, there is no way I would go up against that kind of adversary without a serious combat knife by my side. Which brings us the new Spartan/Harsey II. Though the original Harsey was a well-designed combat blade, at 7.63 inches in blade length it was probably larger and heavier than many would be willing to hump over the hills of the Hindu Kush. The knife was also a very limited edition and the run sold out soon after it was introduced.
In contrast, the new Spartan/Harsey II is a more manageable 6.25 inches in blade length and 0.72 pounds in weight. As I’ve stated before, I’m not convinced anything much under 6 inches is suitable for military close-combat because the rules are much different than in a civilian self-defense situation. There is also the reality that an enemy soldier will probably be protected by several layers of heavy clothing, webgear, and possibly, soft body armor that must be penetrated to reach a vital target. Seven inches is about the upper end of what can conveniently serve as a utility knife for everyday field chores but something around 6 inches offers a better balance of performance.