For a soldier, there's no greater comfort than having a nice, thick wall between you and the enemy. However, building fortifications takes time and materials that an army in the field often doesn't have. Building materials like concrete are costly and difficult to bring in, while the traditional standby of sandbags is laborious and time consuming - and it doesn't help that someone might be shooting at you while you're shoveling dirt into bags.
The answer to this problem for Coalition forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan came in the form of the Hesco Bastion. Invented by British ex-coal miner Jim Heslden and marketed by his company Hesco Bastion Ltd., it was one of those ideas so simple that it's a wonder nobody thought of it decades before.
The Bastion, also known as the Concertainer, is a three-foot square (.28 sq.m.) wire-mesh steel basket, hinged together with a helical coil system and lined with non-mesh geotextile cloth that folds up like flat-pack furniture. In the field, it's unfolded and filled by a standard front loader or backhoe, with any dirt or rubble that's locally available and tamped down hard. By lining these baskets up and stacking them like building blocks, army engineers can build a wall ten times faster than sandbagging, with fewer people. The result is an earthen wall thick enough to shrug off a rocket propelled grenade.
Though it was originally designed for flood control, the Bastion has proven popular with armed forces around the world since the British Army started using them in Bosnia in the 1990s, but they do have one drawback: They are very easy to put up, but very hard to tear down. That's a real problem when a combat unit is moved from one area to another in some place like Afghanistan, where the Taliban are more than happy to take possession of a ready-made fortress that they can claim they "liberated."
The answer to this problem was surprisingly low tech and as simple as the Bastion itself. Hesco incorporated a pin into the wire mesh that can be pulled out. When that happens, the Bastion unzips and all the earth pours out, leaving the enemy with a mound of dirt.
This innovation was recently unveiled by McQueen at the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army. He pointed out that not only does this improvement mean that military assets can be denied to the enemy, but the Bastion components can be reused, which means a considerable savings in fuel and logistical support. "We wanted to reduce the logistics problems for the guys," he said. "They've got enough going on fighting the war."
Let's just hope that the soldiers remember to keep the pins on the inside of the fort where the Taliban can't get at them, or there could be some embarrassing reports back to HQ.