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An Army special forces guy once told me the key to winning a gunfight: speed, surprise and violence of action. My ex-military amigo walked the talk; he could do a combat reload on a Kel-Tec KSG shotgun. Running. And shooting. Fast. Mind you, he wasn’t manipulating the 15-round bullpup scattergun whilst schlepping 138 pounds of kit. I’m not saying he couldn’t. Nor do I believe that our soldiers should copy our Islamic adversaries and travel incognito with a gun and some ammo. Necessarily. But I am saying that our fighting forces have reached a tipping point. Literally. I reckon they should shed some stuff, sacrificing a little violence of action for speed and a more user-friendly countenance for the locals. In the same sense that OFWGs would be well advised to lose a little of that F. Am I wrong?

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    • The average reader of this fine blog is infinitely more likely to die of the complications of excess body weight than a bullet. It never ceases to amaze me the obsession with the minutea of gaining the slightest edge in some future hypothetical gunfight while one pounds cheeseburgers, fries and large chocolate shakes.

      I certainly recognize that many fellow readers here are in shape, but there is a reason for the term “OFWG”.

        • You guys seem to be deliberately missing the point here. It’s about soldiers, who are paid to possibly get in gunfights with a fair amount of regularity depending on their military occupational specialty.
          I don’t think we need to shed our body armor cocoons in order to become beautiful PR butterflies and win hearts and minds. We need to have a more effective and coherent effort to improve the infrastructure of Iraq and teach the people of that country how to maintain that. Compromise is the lesson we need to inculcate into our Afghan and Iraqi allies, but to do that we need to help them improve their infrastructure and quality of life to the point where the average Iraqi has something they’re willing to compromise to protect.
          Body armor helps us stay alive long enough to enact that plan if we’re told to.

      • Or a lot of other things as well. Our soldiers shouldn’t have to carry so much weight. You’d think that with all of the advances in materials now our military could get lighter more effective equipment into the supply chain. Also, unfat yourselves America! We can do better than this…..

        • Well as a soldier I’ll tell you that carrying all that weight sucks. But also that it’s my job. So RTFU, drink water, take a knee repeat as necessary.
          Another important point is that we are an all volunteer army comprised of .45 percent of this country’s population. I may bitch and moan after a 25k with full kit but I’ll be damned if I don’t revel in the knowledge that I CAN do that.
          “Unfat yourself America.” Rude. Also has no bearing on the question at hand, which pretains to soldiers, we are specifically paid NOT to be fat… there are tests and everything.

      • I hear the OFWG thing, that’s me. That being said, I was 21 in VN in 1967, pretty good shape, and there’s no way I could have carried half of what the guys carry now, they must be frigging giants. It was enough to lug an M14 and a hundred rounds of ammo, plus helmet and web gear. Heck, lots of people eschewed the flak vest, due to weight and heat.

        • Not giants. Back in ’05, I was 130 even, and hauled that again, minimum, in gear just about every day. Hell, just body armor, helmet, weapon, ammo and water is 65 lb. Add the ruck, radio, batteries, food, extra water (we drink between 3 and 6 liters per day, so figure your mission length by that). Also, any time we save weight by getting, for instance, a smaller radio, command immediately gives us something else we “have” to carry to make up the difference. “Rucking” up takes several minutes for a team, because you can’t just stand up with it, you have to sit down, strap up, roll over, and push up off the ground to get up. Oh, and then we go walk ten or twenty miles. Manchu anyone?

    • The IDF is a good example, they carry about half of what the US forces do. But then again we are never to far away from the nearest kiosk where we can get coffee and cigarettes.

      • I almost forgot, I never carry less than two cans of Copenhagen for every day I think I’ll be out. I made the mistake when we got alerted for Desert Shield/Storm of only having 20 cans in my A Bag. I went through that in about two weeks and had to resort to dipping cigarettes. That was as we like to say, sub-optimal.

        • Geez LTC F: Google “Verrucous Carcinoma” images. Dip is an even quicker way to the coffin that cheeseburgers/heart disease.

        • I know. I even quit for four years once. The sad part is I dip more in an office environment than in the field. I have to quit when I retire next year. I plan on teaching high school math and I understand that even in Texas teachers aren’t allowed to keep a spit bottle on the desk or spit in the trashcan.

        • i think you have bigger things to worry about when it comes to cancer in a war zone.

          alertness is a far more pressing priority.

          statistically, smoking is far worse for you than dipping. no tobacco use is safe however.

  1. No, you’re not wrong.

    As I talk to many young vets, I cannot believe the loads that the “leadership” and political mouth-breathers are heaping on our guys. Our infantrymen have back injuries, blown out knees, broken ankles, etc.

    Now, what’s hilarious is the idea that they’re going to put women into the infantry MOS… and use them for packing around the same 90 to 120 lb. loads the guys are carrying. The number of women I’ve met in my entire life who could pack 100 lbs of stuff on their backs for a whole day, humping said load up and down hills… I can count on one hand.

    And I could count that number even if I had a pretty bad industrial accident with a sheet metal shear, too.

    • Sigh, true. I just retired from the Army and I know for a fact that even the smallest guy can physically carry more than the strong majority of females. I do just mean physically carry as in rucking or marching. Can females do it? Some, but generalizing, no. I only know of one, ONE, who would put 99% of dudes to shame physical fit wise.

    • women dont belong in the infantry. scientifically, they are generally weaker than men, which is a no go for infantry.

      people say there are weak/fat male soldiers. yes there are and why dont you throw another red herring while youre at it!? LOL. anybody that has ever served in a light infantry unit knows that the standards are indeed there to discriminate against the weak. lives depend on it. leave the social experiments for corporate america.

  2. As long as I’ve been in the Army (since July 1, 1985…crap I’m old) we’ve all been in agreement, the Soldiers’ load is too heavy. I did my first assignment in the 82d Airborne. It was not unusual for me to have my 80 lbs give or take of parachute and reserve, M16, M9, two radios, two spare radio batteries, two KY 57s (the encryption devices for the radios), two spare KY 57 batteries, my PVS 7 NVGs (with spare batteries), cleaning kit, extra uniform, poncho liner, sweater, and a couple pairs of socks. My 165 lb (man I wish I still weighed 165 lbs) scrawny butt was carrying at least another 140 lbs of equipment and ammunition.

    The Army has done a great job of making things lighter. My new high speed MOLLE rucksack weighs half of what the old one did, radios are half the size and weight and have encryption built in. What hasn’t gotten lighter is ammunition. 210 rounds of 5.56 and six hand grenades weigh just as much in 2012 as they did in 1985, as do the 60mm mortar rounds, AT-4 rockets, and all the other Class V the poor grunt has to lug around. Plus now he has to wear 40 lbs of body armor and plates.

    To me thats the argument for building a rifle (lighter than the M4 please) that uses a combustible or telescoping case ammunition that weighs half of what current ammo does.

    • I’m sure this has occurred to approximately everybody, but lightening armor also sounds like a place to explore. Go go Gadget Material Scientists!

      Telescoping case? Haven’t heard of that concept before. How does it work?

    • @ LTCF
      Are you familiar with LRSC/D and their MTOE?? Our average weight before a jump was around 340 to 360 w/combat load out !!!!
      Spent 15 yrs as an 11B10-11B30(P), 8/1981-9/1996. When we were certifying the DZ/LZ for LRS at Ft.Hood it could go anywhere from(for me, body weight + gear), 255 to 300 lbs depending on what we had to do and take along. My body weight stayed 175 to 185 lbs the whole time I was in!!
      Have had 3 knee surgeries and have a fractured vertebrae in my back and in my neck.
      Would I do it again if called back again?? Hell Yes!!! 🙂

  3. My friend is a Marine combat veteran who served two tours in Iraq in ’04 and ’08 respectively. He has lingering back problems because of the massive amounts of crap they had to carry around even on routine patrols. It’s a bit ridiculous.

    • Every time I read about a superior piece of gear that has less weight (and I’m not on an ultralight backpacking blog), I read comments from the guys that never shoot or make camp more than a few feet from their pickup truck: “what’s a few more ounces per item, you pussy?” This attitude comes from ignorance that is typically shattered when one actually spends time in the field and learns that all those extra ounces add up to a huge, encumbering load. For a soldier, it’s a huge liability in combat, hindering mobility. If the soldier immediately drops their rucksack upon contact with the enemy in order to be more mobile, then they’re dropping capabilities.

      We have the technology to go to telescopic cased or caseless ammo and have much lighter weapons. Polymers, carbon fiber and magnesium-alloys, please. At the very least our soldiers should be given state-of-the-art body armor. Midwest Armor makes a 2.2lb (0.98kg) 1″ thick 10×12″ buoyant Level III rifle plate, the Venture FM3.

  4. These soldiers cant do simple math. They said the guy weighed 175lbs naked. He was 308lbs, with the day bag, which they said added 138lbs to his load. 308 – 175 = 133. As Ive said before, welfare queens, because they cant get better jobs in the private sector. What would happen to that guy if he was working retail and had to give someone change?

  5. This is the history of the foot slogger from Marius’s mules to the present Light Infantry. The poor soldier has always been overburdend.

    The difference appears to be in the modern soldiers. We ditched anything that we felt was worthless in the field. Food, water, ammo and a poncho along with our weapons and the clothes on our backs was our routine load.

    • You can’t do that with a chain of command that is up your behind micromanaging you every second. Dump gear = article 15.

      I know guys who have had to fight statements of charges for gear that was BLOWN UP.

      The new military bureaucracy has to be experienced to be believed.

      • There have always been plenty of Courtney Massengales up the chain of command, and not enough Sam Damons.

    • “We ditched anything that we felt was worthless in the field. ”

      we certainly left useless shit at the firebase under orders of our platoon dad. he was adamant about lightening the load and was well versed in the art of light infantry.

      the only thing we carried for 2-3 day ops were all of our extra munitions, food, and water with a compacted hygiene kit, extra pair of socks and t-shirt, and goretex/polypro in winter (which was kept stowed away until you stopped). Our equipment weighed anywhere from 30-60 lbs. We could actually fire and maneuver when we took contact or position ourselves in overwatch without burning precious moon hours (which is beneficial because the tali dont have night vision and its cold as fuck at night).

      • LOL!! Ahhh what memories. Our LRS teams were 6 men. We carried 3(minimum) 5 gallon water jugs(in ruck), change of socks and drawers, 1 piece of food per day(6 oatmeal bars for a 6 day patrol), 3-4 2qt canteens, as many ammo pouches as you could fit( M16 & .45 ammo), field surg kit( every team member was combat lifesaver certified), radio and backup comms, SatCom and gear for it, grenades and claymores out the wazoo,Headsets, M16A2, 1911, plus a bunch of stuff not mentionable here, and last but not least, every ruck had 2 thermite grenades rigged inside so that if you got ambushed and had to drop your ruck the very last thing you did before you moved away from your ruck was yank the piece of 550 cord tied to the flap, this pulled the pins and spoons on the thermite so the ruck would burn up along with any classified materials and equipment! Once you light off thermite or willy Pete it burns like a champ.

  6. I participated in the Invasion of Panama. What really stunned me on my most recent deployment (Iraq 09-10) is that you weigh so much that you can no longer run and jump over a ditch. This is not rucksack weight. I am talking about walking around and talking to locals weight. I wore a helmet, carried a Mossberg 500 with about 45 rounds, 3 Magpul mags for an M4, an M9 with 45 rounds, a MBITR radio, strap cutter, IFAC, gloves, eye pro, uniform, and that God damn armor. You don’t even hop down from a vehicle without hurting your ankles. You cannot simply dump your rucksack in an assault position while you have a gun battle. In walking around weight, you weigh too much.

    The premise is that we have given up attack speed for protection. Wrong. We have given up attack. We ride around hoping the enemy is dumb enough to attack. If you dismount, then you have to be within walking distance of vehicles. No ruck humping. High elevations and heavy weights bring rangers to their knees.

    We are going to have to balance risk versus reward on body armor. I told my soldiers I would not begin to argue about the versatility of ACU camp pattern as long as we were 100 ft away from a 58000 lb vehicle. If you are riding around in a bank vault, your uniform choice is of little concern.

    If we want to attack, then it has to be short duration and close walking. And soldiers are paying for it with their knees and backs and ankles.

    • Your assessment is spot on, but the problem is that the majority of us these days aren’t actually fulfilling anything resembling an infantryman’s role. We’re just super tooled-up police on patrol. Any time we actually need to go after a target we roll out in force dismount just out of sight and walk in with our weapons/ammo assault pack and IBA. The dudes that actually go in and pull off ninja stuff on the enemy don’t gear up the same way that we do, they are loaded out as light as possible, no unecessary TA-50 or other bullshit.
      Any time that I hear people bitching about their combat load though… well RTFU. I mean it sucks as hard as possible sure, but that’s the military. We’re being asked to do our job then we’re being told how to do it by people who won’t actually have to do what they are asking of us. It’s just the same dumbass leadership getting thier orders from the good idea fairy as it’s always been. Institutional stupidity is the summarized history of warfare.
      But if you asked me to actually go out on a foot patrol without my IBA I would tell you to FOAD. Bottom line.

  7. LTC F is right, but the weight also comes from all the “mission specific” gear these guys have to lug around. In the past all a soldier had to worry about was their rations, their weapon, their individual protective gear (helmet, gas mask, body armor) and one or two “squad” items, like belted ammo or a tripod for a light machine gun, a stretcher, etc.

    Now, in addition to all of the above, there is assault/breaching equipment, additional commo equipment, etc. Sometimes, technology just adds weight. For example most squads have some kind of GPS in addition to a map and a compass. Batteries are becoming more of the load as technology filters down to the squad level.

    Data suggests that combat effectiveness drops significantly when fighters are required to carry loads greater than 60lbs, but most infantrymen carry twice that much. It’s normal for an infantryman on patrol to be carrying a load of greater than 100lbs.

  8. 130 lbs of battle rattle is a bit much. Mind you, you typically are not expected to fight with a three day pack. But even an “assault” load is still at least 50 lbs.

    It seems to me that most of the trash in my old pack could easily go on an agv with no loss of mission capability on the part of my unit. (It would just suck if the AGV ate a RPG.)

  9. I knew a couple of Vietnam era veteran Marines, and they carried a lot less than they were supposed to, mostly the M-16 and lots of ammo, and ate off the land. Real hard to do long range patrols that might last a week or two carrying 80 pounds of stuff on your back. I realize that the old saying, “Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.” has merit, but 100 pounds on a soldier’s back? Doesn’t make sense to me. As to my own personal physique? I’m 6′-3″ and weigh in a svelt 295, so I don’t move fast, nor am I able to hide well. But I suppose I provide cover and/or shade for those behind me. So yeah, at 56, I am definitely and old, fat, slow, tired, and somewhat crippled white guy. If I was a buffalo, I’d be the one that the lion would pick out of the herd as an easy dinner, thank goodness I have opposable thumbs.

  10. I can’t speak for Army or Marine personnel. I can tell you that walking around in body armor, Kevlar helmet, while carrying an M-16 sucks. It gave me a whole new appreciation for my comrades in those services (retired USAF).

    I appreciate LTC F for his comments. Thank you for your service!.

  11. Is any part of this overloading a reaction to the Battle of Mogudishu? The troops going in light because it was supposed to be a quick snatch-and-grab biting them in the ass when they got pinned down in the city?

    • Yes. One of the big failures on that mission was the chain of command’s failure to conduct appropriate pre-combat inspections (PCIs). In the military’s risk averse leadership climate, the reaction quickly became over-reaction.

      • So it’s become a case of “every patrol must be equipped for any contingency, except running”?

        I wonder if the relatively low number of our troops involved in these fights has been a factor. Assigning a platoon or two to patrol a town of 50k+(my numbers might be off some, memory ain’t perfect) doesn’t leave much flexibility or many options for spreading different capabilities around, so the units that do go out have to be able to “handle” everything.

        As usual, speaking as a civilian who medically cannot serve, but I read a lot. Armchair officer, blah blah blah.

  12. A lot of great comments in this article. I’ve never had the honor of serving, but I have a good buddy who served in the Army and another friend who served as an MP in the Air Force. Air Force friend used to make fun of Army friend, laughing at all the gear the Army grunts have to lug, while he gets to walk base security with just light armor, rifle, and a sidearm.

    The Seattle Times did a story about the issue here:

    The trend both of my buddies noticed during their service was that as certain things “got lighter”, command would just order them to carry MORE gear, basically eliminating the weight savings.

  13. That is very true , we were always overloaded , you might have a belt 7.62 machine ammo, 2 to 4 mortar , 60 or 80 mm, 2 claymore mines, a pound of C4, etc. up to 72 pounds , this was not your own personal fighting gear, like your loaded ammo mags, four canteens, map , compass , first aid kit, pack and 2 meals, poncho, knife,flank vest, helmet, easy to get 100 pounds, that was why i liked walking point then i carried only ammo, and canteens and map& compass , boots only lasted about 2 to 4 weeks . like i said you could get better results with a 7.62 rifle and 6 mags. in firefights i had to dump the extra gear (OMG) , but i could move and fight…

  14. My father served in the U.S. military. I remember very clearly how he described the unnecessary bulk and weight of their standard issue equipment. His only three priorities were his rifle, several spare magazines of ammunition, and mosquito repellant. Next priority was a canteen (including water purification tablets). Beyond that, they didn’t want to shlep around anything else because it slowed you down.

    Of course the movie Forrest Gump was fictional … nevertheless the segment where Forrest had to run quickly to retreat from an attack illustrates the point. Can you imagine trying to run like that with a full pack?

    • The assault pack gets dropped at first contact. The bitch is that you’re so tired for carrying all that crap to where you make contact that you’re not in any shape to fight when you get there.

      • Oh, I had not thought of that … very good point.

        Since all of this is so obvious, why is it that our military chain of command still wants our service men/women to carry all this stuff around? What good is it if you are not mobile? After all, everyone respects the dangers of being a “sitting duck”.

      • dropping assault packs is also bad in someplace like afghanistan. the possibility of your own gear getting booby trapped always exists.

        of course, that is something you dont think about when youre taking lead and need to fire and maneuver in the mountains.

  15. Sorry but some solders are being wimpy. Looks at a Machine Gunner in WW2 carried a M-1919A4 and sever belts of 30 cal ammo that weigh more than a M-249 with 5.56mm belt. Time to lose some dead weight of LBE gear and over sized back packs.

    • Lance,

      The flaw in your logic is very large. Not taking anything away from the WW2 soldiers at all. But a comparison of one weapon vs another does not address the simple premise of this article. The gear that US service members are required to wear is unbelievably burdensome. The body armor alone weighs more than the entire pack that D-Day paratroopers carried.

      The conditions of warfare have changed. The US counts casualties as indicators of a missions value. We can’t lose one soldier. Everyone wears body armor. Small units fight sustained battles and must live off the ammo carried. The WW2 soldiers were wearing out just like the modern day soldiers are. Backs, knees, ankles are going bad.

      • I politely disagree

        Fact is body armor is over rated and in alot of case overemphasis. being agile and fast to get cover is better than walking around getting shot at because your so slow due to you over sized armor which cover almost all your body. My WW2 comparison shows that men 60+ years ago carried heavier items and had to smart in fight not tactic cool dumb army brass wants. Fact too is that older ALICE gear in face is more reliable and is lighter than the over weight over sized grey crap front line solders carry now.

        Hate to say you have a trade off that wont go away. Either go heavy and you will wear you back hips and knees out or ditch body armor and lousy MOLLE gear and go light and agile. Seems SOCOM has done it this way in case and pries it.

        • SOCOM fights a very different battle than we lowly conventional (or General Purpose as they like to call us) troops. I have seen literally dozens of Soldiers still alive because of IBA (Improved Body Armor). It’s heavy, it’s uncomfortable, I hope the dudes at Natick are working hard (and fast) to make something lighter, but the stuff works.

          Look at Sal Guinta. He took three rounds to the chest and didn’t know it thanks to IBA. I do like to see some lightening of the load like some units are doing in Afghanistan by using just plate carriers instead of the outer vest when small arms fire is the primary threat (vs. IEDs).

        • Good point LTC F

          I argue that the armor is needed for the chest but other areas make it too heave and slow for solder. Be better to keep a older fashion chest plate for front and back leave the other crap behind too heavy.

    • It’s a good thing that you have had the experience of carrying a. 30 Cal into battle with belts of ammo, otherwise this comment would just make you sound like a douchebag. Oh hey.

  16. Powered Exo’s/Power “Armor” is coming

    Already in develipment; another 10 or 20 years I could see many front line units having some kind of a powered exo suit to let them lug around all of the required gear.

    Another 10 or 20 years beyond that I see no reason who we couldn’t have Sci-Fi movie style “power armor”.

  17. a lot of gear has regressed in my opinion. ALICE gear was relatively lightweight and units that actually take patrolling seriously in afghanistan have dropped camelbaks for canteens and only carry the bare essentials amounting to some 30-60 lbs. I have heard of some units patrolling with hundreds of pounds of gear, reducing them to a slow slog of 1 mph or less. Of course there is the IOTV, which reduces lung capacity, and inadequate footwear (units are starting to field hiking boots…after being there for 10 years. WTF!?)

    if you need a reference on the lost art of the light infantry patrolling paradigm, just research merrills marauders. hell, even horses and mules are far more useful in afghanistan than wheeled vehicles. our troops can complete their missions with lighter loads, its just the army that is reluctant to admit in any way that it is wrong.

      • lance, here’s a link that i recommend you read

        yeah I dont like MOLLE gear. Its pretty convenient if you have just a plate carrier with no more than eight magazines but it gets ridiculous on a whole new level.

        With the ALICE gear, i used to take the padded shoulder straps from the LBV (which was atrocious too) and attach them to the predecessor LCE until the brass started bitching that everybody needed to wear LBVs.

        I could carry eight magazines, two canteens, a poncho/liner in a buttpack (which could hold those high speed Ecotat poncho/sleeping bag/shelters), medical pouch, compass, and frags. All in a lightweight package. shit was pretty simple back then. Then OIF happened and millions of different designs started coming out. hell, they even make tactical khakis with MOLLE on them now.

  18. May not be the place for this but I’m a little tired of the OFWG slur. No one gets to choose to be or not to be caucasion or male. Getting old only happens if you live long enough. The fat part is somewhat relative depending on whether you’re talking slightly overweight as tends to happen with age or morbid obesity which is obviously a serious, life-threatening condition. I used to be a fit, trim, young white guy but that changed and I never did have the option of being an afro-hispanic, female diva. Not my fault.

  19. As an 0311, I completely agree. The modern soldier or Marine carries too much weight. As an LEO, I carry a little about 25-28 pounds of gear (when I’m without a long gun, and not dressed for a riot), and it was / is much lighter than a USMC combat load. I can still jump, climb fences, and run with decent speed.

  20. The weight is a symptom of the kind of war we are fighting. We don’t intend to seek out and destroy the enemy with fire and maneuver. We don’t really expect to do anything except waddle around until someone shoots at us and then we get on the radio and call in an air strike, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in missile and aircraft fuel to take out one poorly trained sniper in the middle of a desert.

    I’ve been to Iraq in 2005 and Afghanistan in 2011 and in both places we’ve carried about the same type of load. It’s absurd. I don’t want armor, I want to be able to run so I can run to where I need to go, preferrably towards the enemy while he is cringing in fear.

    It won’t change until we get a mindset that we need to win by destroying our enemy, not “winning hearts and minds,” as though that could ever happen. They laugh at us behind our backs while presenting demands for more money and equipment.

  21. My son was in 3-4 Cav, 25th Inf. Div. Iraq 06-07. He said he finally ditched all the extra shit and only wore body armor and carried water and as much ammo as possible. He is 5’7″ and about 150 and he too has back problems from carrying all the other stuff.

  22. I don’t have the item at hand, so I can’t quote specifics, but in the late 1950s (?) Samuel Griffith ( did a study that examined the combat load carried by soldiers in WW2 and Korea. He concluded that commanders always overprepare for “what if?” scenarios (however improbable), and therefore keep adding all kinds of unnecessary gear and supplies to what a grunt has to carry into action.

    Left to themselves soldiers, he found, packed along too much ammo, but he acknowledged that was understandable and probably harmless, so long as the other items didn’t get out of control.

    If I recall rightly, his recommendation was that troops facing action should be carrying only 50 lbs at maximum, excluding the rifle (the M1 Garand at that time, of course).

  23. Sorry, got details wrong in the above post. The person doing the study was S.L.A. Marshall (, and the work was titled The Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation (1950) and it’s even available (though not particularly cheap) from Amazon:

    Marshall’s a controversial figure (see the wiki entry), but I don’t think that bears on the combat load issue.

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