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Ingenuity triggers invention

Troutdale's Derick Morgan and his platoonmates create a continuous reload pack for machine guns
by: Jim Clark Troutdale resident Derick Morgan explains the device that he and a friend invented while stationed in Afganistan. The invention allows soldiers using hand-held machine guns to continuously fire hundreds of rounds without reloading.

Soldiers in combat positions often find that necessity is the mother of invention.

Specialist E-4 Derick Morgan and fellow members of his Iowa National Guard platoon found the 50-round military-issue ammunition pouch to be ineffective during fire fights. It posed problems for quick reloads and was too small to hold enough ammunition. Utilizing spare parts, obsolete load carriage frames and some ingenuity, Morgan and his mates designed and fabricated a more efficient system for carrying and dispensing ammunition in the field.

'Basically, we stripped a rucksack down to the frame, attached two stacked ammo cans and made a continuous feed ammo pack,' Morgan said. 'There was a huge problem with jamming with the ammo pouch. The canvas would collapse on the ammunition and the ammo got caught in the canvas. It was nice to have continuous reload for the machine guns.'

The Army refers to the invention as the High-Capacity Ammunition Carriage System. In the field, it's called the Ironman Pack, in honor of Morgan and fellow soldiers in Task Force Ironman, who created the prototype. The invention actually changed small infantry tactics and resulted in an Army Achievement Award for Morgan and his fellow soldiers at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., in October.

Morgan, 28, is a Troutdale resident who was on his second tour of duty with the National Guard when he helped develop the Ironman Pack. With a long family history of military service, he joined the Oregon National Guard in 2006 and served a year in Iraq. But he felt compelled to do more and volunteered to go to Afghanistan.

'They weren't taking volunteers through the Oregon Guard,' Morgan said, 'so I requested an inter-state transfer to the Iowa National Guard so I could go. I wanted to serve my country. Our family lineage with military service goes back to the Civil War.'

Morgan shipped out for the second time in 2010, assigned to an Infantry Regiment near Mehtar Lam, Afghanistan. He served as a scout in a reconnaissance platoon, 'humping the hills,' where his unit encountered plenty of combat. Loading the .762 caliber Mark 48 gun faster and more efficiently became a matter of life and death.

An admitted 'tinkerer,' Morgan and his fellow soldiers reduced a military backpack to nothing more than a steel frame. They linked 100-round belts of ammunition together, forming a continuous line of 500 rounds that snakes inside the backpack. They devised a clip to connect the ammunition to the side of the machine gun and took it to the desert for testing.

'When we used it the first time, it worked perfectly,' Morgan said. 'Then we just started tinkering with it to make it better. I've battle tested it, too. We've gotten into huge fire fights with it, and it worked perfectly.'

Morgan's squad leader learned of the device and submitted the idea to an Army website for field inventions. The group had produced two Ironman Packs, one of which was sent back to the United States, where it was overhauled and returned to Morgan's unit for further field testing.

When Morgan learned the Army supported use of the pack, he was surprised.

'When I found out they had approved it and would use it, I was ecstatic,' he said. 'So now, when they rewrite the technical manuals for machine guns, (the Ironman Pack) will be an authorized item.'

Morgan returned home in July to his wife, Jamie, and daughters Sydnie, almost 3, and Serena, 18 months. Despite undergoing post-combat medical evaluations, he holds down the homefront with his daughters and continues to tinker around the house.

'I'm a crafty little fellow,' he said. 'I tinker with mechanics a little, but I like making things work that don't work. And hopefully, more than the kitchen sink.'