For a month last winter, I had the chance to work with a group of Canadian paratroopers from Petawawa in Ontario, Canada, who trained at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with the 3d Brigade Combat Team, 82d Airborne Division.
The two Canadian soldiers who were responsible for ammunition were Corporal Ian Hamilton, an ammunition manager for the 3d Royal Canadian Regiment, and Sergeant Luc Sevigny, an ammunition technician for the 2d Service Battalion. During our month together, we exchanged much information with the Canadians. We taught them the procedures for storing and transporting ammunition at Fort Bragg, and they taught us how ammunition operations are run in Canada. Two things they showed us that were models of efficiency and cost effectiveness were the use of fraction tags and the use of a plastic fibrous strapping system called Caristrap.
|Canadian ammunition handlers count and repack opened ammunition
after a live-fire training exercise with the 3d Brigade Combat Team, 82d
Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The Canadian forces use small 1½-inch by 3-inch orange stickers called fraction tags. These stickers are like small spreadsheets that go on light ammunition cans. The stickers list the date, the quantity of ammunition, and the initials of the people who counted the ammunition. These fluorescent tags are bright and easy to see both in day and at night.
They also have several advantages over traditional orange spray paint. They are more environmentally friendly than spray paint, which sends hazardous chemicals into the air. They are neater to use so Soldiers do not have paint all over their hands and uniforms. Fraction tags are also easier to transport than spray paint, and the container in which the tags are transported does not require a hazardous material certification.
U.S. Soldiers seemed to like using the tags a lot better than using paint. The Canadians still use paint, but in much smaller quantities. They obliterate any markings on a container and then add a white sticker that is about the size of a large index card, which identifies what is in the container and what the quantity is. Again, these tags are clearly marked and can be read easily in poorly lit areas.
The Caristrap System
The Canadians also use a fibrous strapping system that is almost as strong as our steel banding but has many advantages over the product we use. The Caristrap system, made by Caristrap International, Inc., in Quebec, Canada, is specially made for the Canadian Army. Each kit comes with a 330-foot roll of strapping, a stretcher/cutter, and 100 clips. The strapping is wrapped around a pallet like metal strapping and attached to a clip. Soldiers use the stretcher to pull all of the slack out of the strapping, then use the cutter to cut the strapping from the roll. A small 1-inch tail is all that remains.
|This chart compares the Caristrap System with current metal strapping used by U.S. forces.
This method seems much more efficient than pulling out some steel banding, guessing how much is needed, tightening it down until it cuts into boxes and bends cans, and cutting off sharp excess pieces. Another advantage of the Caristrap system is that once the banding is cut away from the pallet, it can be wadded up and placed in a trash bag. The clips are reusable once the strapping is cut. Instead of ending up with a dumpster full of scrap metal that has to be taken to the landfill or recycled, Soldiers can easily throw Caristrap bands into the trash.
A key advantage that the Canadians have found is that the Caristrap system is cheaper than using steel banding. The company quoted the strapping at $36.55 per 330-foot roll, with 8 rolls per box. A pallet of strapping has 216 rolls on it. The stretcher starts at $272 for the basic model and $668 for a higher-end model. Each model does the job that the Canadians need, so they go with the basic model. Each box of 100 clips costs $49.65.
A box containing steel strapping comes with the strapping, a stretcher, crimpers, band cutters, and clips. The set costs about $455, and replacement strapping costs $160. A pallet of banding usually comes with six boxes.
While the initial investment into the Caristrap system—216 rolls (a full pallet), a stretcher, and 5 boxes of clips—would be over $8,000, you also get 71,280 feet of strapping compared to 600 feet of steel banding. One pallet could last a brigade-sized ammunition transfer and holding point section through all of its predeployment training and a 12-month deployment.
The Canadian soldiers proved to be a very efficient and professional fighting force, intelligent and well disciplined when it comes to ammunition. They went out of their way to make sure that the ammunition that they had opened was repackaged and properly counted before handing it over to the ammunition technician.
Sergeant Sevigny, who works in an ammunition supply point in Petawawa, would go through every container of ammunition when he got it back and inspect every round. He would make sure that all ammunition was packed back in its container just the way it came from the factory.
During our time together, both U.S. and Canadian ammunition handlers suggested that an exchange between our two countries be developed so that we could get a more indepth look at how the other country did business. The Canadians liked this idea very much because they were really enjoying our weather in the middle of January. For the United States, it would be an opportunity to see how a professional fighting force about as large as all the units on Fort Bragg conducts business and trains to help its allies.
Both groups also saw a disadvantage of working with each other. The U.S. Soldiers were not sure if they could handle harsh Canadian winters, and Corporal Hamilton was afraid that the U.S. airborne Soldiers would want to toss him out of a high-performance aircraft at their first opportunity. However, I suspect that an exchange would result in a better understanding of each other's ammunition operations and a greater appreciation of the professionalism of both armies.