CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq — I've heard the comment "you sure carry a lot of knives" numerous times in the years since I've retired my crossed rifles. The fact of the matter is Soldiers and outdoorsmen have been using the three-knife system for generations. I just take it a step, or two, further.
The basic three-knife system is a simple concept. It's comprised of one fixed blade, one folder and one multi-tool. Each knife serves its own purpose.
In the case of the outdoorsman, the system usually includes one fixed-blade hunting knife, a medium duty folder and a multi-tool, such as a Swiss army knife. With these three knives, any task the outdoorsman may need to accomplish should be possible. He can hunt and kill game, skin his catch, cut firewood and even start a fire.
Like the outdoorsman, Soldiers have used, and even been issued, a three-knife system. Take for example the bayonet, switchblade and multi-tool. These knives are rarely issued together anymore, much to my disappointment, but we tend to fill in the blanks.
The most important factors in any system are that you have the right equipment and you employ it properly. Do the terms technically a tactically proficient ring any bells? Let's start with the fixed blade.
Your choice in a fixed-blade combat knife, if you're not issued a bayonet, should be based on two primary factors. How much abuse can it take and how much damage can it inflict. This knife will be used to cut, pry and chop. However, if the enemy ever gets past your muzzle it will be used to kill.
A well made fixed-blade combat knife will be heat treated in a unique way so that the edge of the blade is harder than the blade itself. This is so that the blade does not snap when being used to pry, yet the knife will hold a sufficient edge for chopping and cutting.
Now you may be thinking this will dull the knife and make it less effective in a last ditch combat situation. This is not so. The fixed blade knife is not intended to be razor sharp. The damage is caused by the sheer size and weight of the knife. Do you remember the instructions that came with the bayonet? They said the attached sharpening stone was to remove burs only, and not to sharpen the knife.
The most important reason not to sharpen your combat fixed blade is that heavy, sharp knives tend to cut into bone when used for thrusting, and therefore "stick to ribs". A slightly less sharp knife will deflect off of bones and into soft tissue where it will do the most damage. Your knife does you no good if it's stuck in the guy on the ground.
The tactical folder is used if your fixed blade is lost, broken or stuck. This knife should be kept razor sharp, as it does not have the size or weight of the fixed-blade, and will be used primarily for slashing. This knife serves only one purpose in the world and should never be used for common, everyday tasks. Its sole purpose for existence is to end the life of your enemy.
When choosing a tactical folder you will want something that is low maintenance, can be opened with one hand and has hard enough steel to hold an edge. A very solid locking system will also be imperative. Many tactical folders now come with features including secondary locking systems, assisted or automatic opening and glass breakers. Keep in mind that with every additional feature there will be additional cost. This knife, however, is not something you want to scrimp on. Decide what features are important to you, keeping in mind the blade is the most important feature, and be prepared to spend a few bucks.
The multi-tool is just that; it is a tool that can be used for a multitude of tasks. The multi-tool used for military application differs from your typical Swiss army knife in the uses it is designed for. For example, not many Swiss army knives come with heavy-duty wire cutters. Like the folder, it is your job to determine what tools are most used in your military occupational specialty.
This is where I stray from, or I should say expand upon, the three-knife system. I carry two additional knives; a pocket knife and a back-up.
Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn't ask me, "have you got a knife". The pocket knife is the one I hand them. This is by no means a cheap or disposable knife. That would just be embarrassing. On the other hand, this is a knife specifically intended for common tasks such as cutting 550-cord, hundred mile-an-hour tape or opening mail. The only mail I'll open with my tactical blade is spelled M.A.L.E and caries an AK47.
The back-up, or last-ditch knife, is usually small and carried in the boot or around the neck on a chain. Whatever you do, don't carry anything around your neck on 550-cord, and only carry a knife around your neck specifically designed for that purpose. This knife is meant to save your life, not end it by strangulation or accidently impaling yourself; and, yes this knife goes to the shower with me.
So, now you know the three (plus) knife system. I haven't found much use for a machete in Iraq yet, but if I do...
This work, The three (plus) knife system, by SSG David Lankford, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.