The Army's Program Executive Office Soldier launched the Rapid Fielding Initiative in 2002 in response to the discovery that soldiers weren't getting adequate equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan and were therefore buying commercial items to supplement what the service was providing.

The RFI, instead of focusing on what "stuff" needs to be provided to a soldier when deployed, put the soldier as the central part of a capable warfighting system. And the program ensured equitable distribution of capabilities and modernized soldiers in a "systematic and integrated manner," the program office has said.

The initiative has also improved the massive logistics trail to keep all units properly equipped when deployed. The effort can be considered the largest equipping effort since World War II.

The RFI's list of equipment that is provided to soldiers is updated regularly by the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and is organized by the type of equipment each individual soldier needs, such as helmets and clothing, and by gear fielded to units.

According to retired Army Lt. Gen. William Phillips, who last served in the Pentagon as the military deputy to the acquisition chief, the Army "has fielded RFI equipment to every deploying soldier regardless of component since its inception."

Phillips added the program "greatly enhanced soldier confidence in their equipment and their capability to fight and win on the battlefield."

And the program has significantly ramped up investment in soldiers. Prior to the initiative, the Army spent less than $3,000 to outfit a soldier going into combat. The service now spends $10,000 per soldier on average when they deploy. This means soldiers are getting the best personal equipment, sensors, protective body armor, radios and whatever else they need to go into a fight with serious overmatch, according to Phillips.

But even more importantly, Phillips added, the program has "saved many lives."

This article is part of a larger Defense News 30-year anniversary project, showcasing the people, programs and innovations from the last three decades that most shaped the global security arena. Go to to see all of our coverage.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.

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