Let me start by saying that this is a list of what I took, what I wish I had taken, and what I would have taken had I been allowed. This is all-inclusive and may include items that you’ll find you won’t need or already have. It is not in any particular order of importance (although, I would definitely put the MICH/ACH Helmet at the top of my own priority list). My list is more military oriented because I went over as an infantry soldier, but is probably quite relevant for PSD’s and civilian contractors. If you haven’t been issued these items, they can all be found at http://www.atstacticalgear.com unless noted otherwise.
-ACH Helmet (also called TC-2000 or MICH). If you have to wear a combat helmet for any period of time this one is probably the best available and will save you from fatigue and headaches. It is neutrally buoyant and adds no extra weight over the PASGT "K-Pot". The Oregon Aero pad system is a huge step forward in ergonomics and comfort over the old leather sweatband from helmets past. They use a unique and proprietary construction process to make them the best thing to happen to helmets since the steel pot. Previous helmets would literally wear you down the longer you had to wear them. If you can’t get your hands on an ACH helmet, then at least get the Oregon Aero BLU upgrade and the Specialty Defense 3-Point chinstrap for the K-Pot. This upgrade kit takes a couple of minutes to install and basically converts your K-pot suspension over to the same setup as the ACH helmet. Unfortunately, this won’t improve the helmet shape or ballistic protection that the ACH provides, but it will greatly increase the comfort level.
-Lightfighter RAID Pack. This is a medium sized assault pack that I designed along with the original owner of ATS Tactical Gear (back when it was called Lightfighter Tactical), SSG Brad Nelson. We developed it based off of our own experiences in the Army. It has all the features that were never available in an Assault Pack until this one. It has a full length zipper that allows unrestricted access to the contents of the pack. The RAID Pack is covered from top to bottom in modular PALS webbing that enables it to be used with any of the MOLLE style pockets currently issued by the Army and Marine Corps. You may not be doing much, if any, straight Infantry stuff, but it will make your life a lot easier for the day to day living. I lived out of mine for days and weeks at a time and it never let me down. In addition to being the best assault pack ever made, it is also a great day pack and carry-on bag. Make sure to take some extra pockets of varying sizes for the exterior. This will allow you to configure it as a larger pack if you need the additional space.
-Body armor and load carrying equipment. I’m going to assume that you’ll be wearing some kind of protective armor anytime that you’re not asleep or on the can (and sometimes even then!). If you can lay your hands on one, Eagle Industries’ CIRAS Releasable Armored Vest is a top preference and the vest that I use now. It comes in a maritime and land variant, but they both serve basically the same purpose (I prefer the Maritime variant for its slightly more streamlined design). I would also highly recommend the releasable or non-releasable versions of Paraclete’s RAV Armor. Point Blank’s FSBE armor is another good choice and it’s what I wore in the sandbox for OIF1. Lightfighter Tactical has just introduced the Warhammer vest (December 04) that looks like it will be the best choice for someone who doesn’t need releasable armor. It has 6 integral mag pockets, internal plate carriers, and is priced very reasonably. Use IIIA soft armor panels (or the SPEAR BALCS equivalent) and Level III or IV hard armor plates (the issued SAPI or BALCS plates are probably fine) depending on the known threats in your area of operations. Take extra pockets that you think you might need so that you can tailor your load to specific threats and missions. The Eagle MLCS/RLCS (my personal favorite) or the Paraclete LCS/Assaulter kit both have a variety of pockets, vests, and a deployment bag in which to carry all the pieces and parts. They are expensive ($1500 to $2500 for the complete set), but contain enough pouches to create an unlimited number of load carrying options. I kept my pouches and pockets attached directly to my vest and didn’t need a separate vest or chest rig. Make sure you try it both ways for long stretches of time before you rule one or the other out. I didn’t realize how uncomfortable the unpadded straps of my chest rig were, even over my armor, until I’d worn a full combat load in it for 5 days straight. That’s when I put all my kit directly onto my armor and ditched the chest harness. Don’t worry about taking to much kit. If nothing else, there will be guys over there that will need items that you have and aren’t using that you can barter with.
Here are some items you should consider carrying:
-M4 mags (depending on mission and anticipated threat the number could vary between 6 and 20 mags). I always carried one or two of these mags on my first line (in pockets or on trouser belt). We also carried an MRE box full of loaded mags, frags, and smokes in each vehicle. If the shit really hit the fan you had a stash to grab from. Keep the mags in their cloth bandoleers so that you can grab one and get away from the bullet magnet. I mean vehicle.
-3 to 6 sidearm mags (depending on caliber/magazine capacity)
-40mm grenades. If you have a 40mm grenade launcher carry as many golden eggs as you can. Then have twice that many more where you can get them quickly (vehicle, assault pack, etc.). These things are devastatingly effective for destroying enemy positions and breaking contact.
-Couple of frags
-Couple of smokes (the A.L.S. Tactical Coverage Pocket Smokes are a great option in a small package)
-Couple of bangs
-NOD (Night Observation Device). I’ll talk more about these later.
-A handful of visible and IR chem-lights
-2 or 3 Liter hydration bladder.
-Very small first aid kit for everyday cuts and boo-boo’s (band-aids, Neosporin, Tylenol, etc.). Make sure this is separated in some way from your trauma kit. Other wise you could inadvertently use up or otherwise misplace a potentially life saving piece of med kit.
-Small to medium trauma kit (with things like IV and starter kit, Quick Clot ACS [Advanced Clotting Sponge], tourniquet, and several blow out bandages). The Marine Corps and Army issued IFAK is a good starting point that you can build on. A more advanced kit or any specialty items should be carried in your RAID Pack.
- Dump pouch. It’s not absolutely necessary, but can be useful for when you need a convenient place to secure different items that are not part of your normal kit. Prisoner searches, demo charges, and empty magazines come to mind. I like the style made by Eagle Industries or Recce Gear that fold up compactly on your belt until it is needed.
-GPS. Make sure to play with it a lot before you need it. These are an excellent navigation tool, but if you are not totally confident in their use they can be confusing. They can also be deadly if used incorrectly during “Call for Fire” missions.
-Compass and map. Once again, make sure you’re confident with these before you need them. You don’t need a huge military style compass. One of the simple, lightweight hiking versions will do just fine for most situations.
-Day/Night signaling devices (9 volt strobe, whistle, orange signal panel, mirror, etc.). It might be a good idea to keep these on your first line too.
-Administrative pouch or pocket containing waterproof notepad, pen, and pencil. Always have these handy for note taking.
-“Leatherman” style multi-tool. This should probably be at the top of the list after your mags. I have no idea how soldiers got by before these were invented. They must have carried around a tool box or broken a lot of pocket knife blades. I like the Gerber Multi-tool. It’s fairly inexpensive (I’ve seen the standard model at Walmart before for less than $30) and I like that you can deploy the pliers one handed.
-Very small flashlight. (i.e. Inova Microlight).
-Cigarette lighter (a Bic is fine. The Zippo lighters are nearly worthless except to barter with.)
-Handful of lickies and chewies. Besides the fact that everybody loves a good piece of candy when their chips are down, they can be perfect when you develop a hacking cough right in the middle of a night time patrol.
It’s a lot of stuff and it gets heavy when you wear it all day, but this kind of work isn’t for the weak or feint of heart. You’ll get used to it. The flip side of that is that you want to remain mobile in case you have to move around quickly. Work very carefully to establish a balance between too much gear and not enough. Use your RAID Pack as a carry all for bulky, heavy, or “extra” items and just leave it in your vehicle where it is still accessible and easily retrieved. Distribute squad items amongst your men so that everybody carries an equitable load.
-Rucksack. I like the MOLLE II Rucksack. Specifically, I like the MOLLE II Large with the Generation III frame (to differentiate it from the older style, the latest GenIII frame is molded in either OD or Khaki instead of Black). It is economically priced, comfortable, and durable. I took the issued MOLLE II ruck to Iraq with me and it never let me down. The MOLLE II Large was born from comments that came directly from the field and is basically the next iteration of the original MOLLE design. The Generation III frame is also the latest evolution of the MOLLE design and is much, MUCH more durable than the previous variants. If money is no object, then I highly recommend the Kifaru MMR, http://www.kifaru.net. It is covered from top to bottom in PALS webbing for use with any of the current MOLLE compatible pockets. The Kifaru MMR also has a huge edge in long term comfort. It is an internal frame design and rides extremely well regardless of the amount of weight it carries. The load will be heavy and it will suck, don’t get me wrong, but the Kifaru frames are excellent at properly distributing the weight. You may be limited to what you are allowed to use because of uniformity, but if you are issued MOLLE then the MOLLE Large will work fine. If you are still issued the ALICE Pack, then I highly recommend sending it off to http://www.tacticaltailor.com to have it strengthened and improved. If you are a PSD or civilian contractor consider investing in a nondescript, heavy-duty set of luggage. Stay away from all black travel items. It screams security team. Try a nice paisley set…
-If you’re doing any low visibility protection or security work where you can only wear concealed soft armor, you should consider taking a plate carrier. This will allow you to instantly upgrade your armor level to protect against rifle threats by just throwing it on over your soft armor. Just leave it in the vehicle until it is needed. They’re all about the same, but Eagle Industries makes a good one at a good price.
-E&E Kit (Escape and Evasion kit). This is something that you will probably have to put together yourself, but the guys at http://www.prosurvivalkit.com also make some really good ones. It should include just the essentials you would need to survive if on your own for a unknown period of time in a given setting. Meaning, it should be specifically tailored to your environment and mission. Some suggestions are: small supply of high energy food (MRE, sport bars, and the like), means to collect food locally (fishing line, hooks, snares, etc.), cash in local currency and/or American money, signaling devices (strobe, whistle, mirror, etc.), small medical kit, small amount of water or means to collect water (purifying tablets, solar still, etc.), solar blanket, etc. Some neat items I’ve just heard about are the Hydration Tech Forward Osmosis pouches found at http://www.hydrationtech.com. They can turn muddy, bacteria ridden swamp water into drinkable water in a few hours with no mixing, pumping, or moving parts. Some people will say a full-blown E&E kit is essential, but depending on your mission you may not need a duffel bag full of survival kit. Think Bravo Two Zero compared to Blackhawk Down; A week of surviving on your own as opposed to 18 hours of surviving on your own. Your mission and environment will dictate what you need to carry. Me personally? I kept one stripped down MRE, $300 in American currency (small bills; $1's, $10’s, and $20’s), very small medical kit, 9 volt IR strobe, orange lightweight SERE panel, and a small lightweight solar blanket (mirrored on one side, brownish-tan on the other) on me at all times. After I stripped down the MRE, I put the other items back into the MRE pouch, re-sealed it with 100-mile-an-hour tape, and kept it in one of my cargo pockets. Since then, I have found out about the Regular and Large versions of CSM Gear’s Fanny Pack http://www.csmgear.com They are a great way to carry an E&E kit or other miscellaneous items. The Kifaru E&E Pack is also a pretty good choice for a larger kit and, through the use of side release buckles, can be clipped (or “Dock and Lock”-ed as Kifaru calls it) to the outside of your pack for quick access and easy removal.
-PVS-14 Night Vision Monocular. I don’t know how you will be outfitted, but I would put this item at the top of my own packing list. Their use will give you such a huge advantage at night that you will wonder how you got along without them. Don’t forget all the equipment to attach it to your helmet and to wear it as a stand-alone unit. The compass attachment for the lens is a neat extra. It allows the wearer to instantly get a direction reading without having to lift up the NOD and dig out a compass. It is especially important for land navigation or patrolling at night, but it can also be useful for calling and directing fire on a distant target or observation/surveillance work. Consider getting a small protective case for them that attaches directly to your vest or assault pack. The PVS-7/14 cases from http://www.supplycaptain.com are great and provide maximum protection with minimal bulk. Blade-tech also makes a fairly good one, but loctite all the screws and mounting hardware before you use it.
-Sand and sun goggles. Anything by Oakley is probably the best choice. Although I’ve heard some bad things about them, I found that in the dry heat the Wiley-X SG-1’s also worked well and the lenses didn’t fog very much. I usually sweat pretty badly too. I liked them because they were much less bulky than a standard set of goggles, but still offered excellent protection from sun, sand, and wind. I also like the Bolle T-800 Tactical Goggles, but any quality set of goggles that you’re comfortable with will do just fine. At a minimum, the goggles you choose should be well vented and offer the ability to replace lenses should they become scratched or damaged. For protecting and covering the lens, I recommend the cut off sock technique over a flap cover. The flap cover only protects the goggles against damage. They allow sand and crud to enter and the goggles will be useless when you need them. ESS brand goggles come with a spandex “tube” that works even better than the time tested cut off sock.
-Sunglasses. Same deal as the goggles. I like the Oakley XX’s. They offer wrap around ballistic protection and to be honest, they just look really cool. Whatever style you decide on, they should be “ballistic” glasses. It only takes one little tiny shell fragment or bullet fragment to ruin your eyesight forever. All of the Oakley line offers this protection. The Oakley’s are a little more expensive than most, but when you consider the ramifications of losing your vision in the middle of combat they really are worth every penny.
-A couple of good scarves or shemaghs. You’ll find a hundred uses for them, but mostly they keep the sand from going down your shirt during sandstorms and while driving or flying around. The Army issued brown cotton scarf will work fine. A shemagh purchased on the local economy may help you blend in better with the natives. They can be used as a towel, emergency toilet paper, bandages, sling, cleaning patches, musket wadding, or a dozen other uses.
-“Boonie” style hat. Helps keep your face, ears, and neck from getting burnt. Also keeps the sun out of your eyes. A lot of guys consider the brim to wide on the issued boonie hat, but I never had a problem with it. If it doesn’t suit your fancy it would be an easy fix for pretty much any alterations shop.
-Comfortable, light-colored, loose fitting uniform or clothing. Whether you wear 5.11’s, DCU’s, flightsuits, or whatever, make sure that they are durable and loose fitting. Just because you wore a Medium Regular set of BDU’s when you graduated basic training doesn’t mean that you still do. If the clothing you wear is too tight you will be hot and uncomfortable. Make sure you take some warm stuff too. Depending on your AO, the nights will start getting cool sometime in September. The sleeves of your blouse should probably have pockets on them if you’re going to be wearing armor outside the gates as the chest pockets will be covered and fairly useless. I wear mostly the Royal Robbins 5.11 stuff now. They continually expand their line of clothing and offer some great products at fair prices. The 5.11 line is pretty standard “gun guy” clothing these days which basically means that it is a rugged line of daily wear that looks inconspicuous and non-military to the casual observer. The Crye Precision combat/field uniforms also look very promising and their proprietary Multicam pattern is extremely effective over a variety of terrain. They are also going to offer the Field Uniform in Khaki and OD. These might also do very well as a non-descript PSD uniform, but because they made in America they are much more expensive than the 5.11 stuff.
-Take a pair of comfortable, well broken in boots. The Wellco Desert Tuffkushion Boots are awesome. They feel like a set of broken in boots right out of the box. I’ve been wearing these boots, though not the same pair, for years now and they're great. I tend to replace them about every 6 to 9 months depending on use. Not because they're falling apart, but because the cushioning starts to lose its spring or the tread pattern gets worn down. Considering I wear them just about every day that's pretty good. It doesn’t really matter which color you choose. Even black boots will be sand colored by the end of the first week. I would take a pair of Hot Weather style boots for every 2 or 3 months you’re going to be over there. A lot of different manufacturers are making “Assault Boots” these days that supposedly feel like you’re wearing running shoes. You may want to give one of those a try. For cooler weather, just take some thicker socks. Speaking of socks, for lots of hiking or walking, only wool or synthetic socks will do. Blisterguard and Smartwool brands come to mind. Cotton socks will eat your feet up and they will look and feel like raw hamburger meat by the end of the first long movement. Then after they have chewed up and blistered your feet, the cotton socks themselves will fall apart and become even more useless.
-Take a set of amplified hearing devices like the Peltor Comtac II or the Sordin Supreme PRO. Amplified hearing devices are great at what they do, but they really shine when the bullets start flying. I went without when I was there and just used the Army issued orange plugs, but since communication is one of the most important aspects of combat I’d definitely give mine a try if I went back. If you’re going to be using a team radio on missions or when you’re outside your firebase, then consider getting the model with the integrated communications package (like the TCI Liberator II Headset). They work with your personal radio and offer you amplified hearing protection all in one package.
-I would take an M9 bayonet (if you have an M4/M16). They can be very intimidating when you’re not allowed to just shoot people. A lot of the people you will meet are used to having guns shoved in their faces, but a bayonet is almost supernatural. People will acknowledge it. It’s not much of a field knife, but it’s great for crowd control. For that matter I would probably take all the typical crowd/prisoner control stuff. Baton, mace, flex/hand cuffs, Taser, etc.
-I’d take a chemical protective mask to be on the safe side, but I doubt it will ever come out of the duffel bag. It may be useful if you find yourself using CS or tear gas on a regular basis. You may want to consider taking or “requisitioning” a chemical protective suit like the military issued JSLIST (Joint Service Light-weight Integrated Suit Technology; commercially referred to as the Saratoga Suit). There are still a lot of chemical weapons unaccounted for and recent reports suggest that the insurgents in Iraq are trying hard to acquire the WMD’s left over from Saddam’s regime. I know the M40A1 protective mask inside and out so that’s what I use, but whatever you take, I would recommend that it be compatible with military replacement parts as they are easier to locate in country. Take an extra filter or two.
-Don’t worry too much about rain gear, but you may want to consider something along the lines of a lightweight Gore-Tex jacket. When combined with layered clothing this could also be used as your cold weather jacket. It didn’t rain on us much, but when it did it was cold and there was lots of it.
-Wristwatch. The Casio G-shock is an excellent choice. It is a good, inexpensive, durable watch. It has a stopwatch feature, a countdown timer, an alarm, and is waterproof down to 200 Meters (not that you’ll ever use that feature in Iraq/Afghanistan/Kuwait). I’m still looking for one of the tan colored G-Shocks that are rumored to exist, but CDI black will do just fine.
-Lip balm, sunscreen, and insect repellent. The air is… um, a little dry. Unless you grew up in the desert South West you WILL need the lip balm/chap stick. I don’t think I used any of the sunscreen that was included in every single one of the care packages I got, but you never know. The mosquitoes over there can be pretty bad depending on your location and the flies are really, REALLY bad no matter where you’re at. You might want to take some fly strips or poison.
-Medication. If you are on any form of medication, OTC or prescription, then you need to take your own stash with you. Don’t count on haji-mart or the PX to carry your favorite brand of cough drops. This includes vitamins, allergy medication, etc. I took plenty of Tylenol and Imodium just in case.
-Hammock. The $10 kind they sell at Military Clothing Sales packaged by Brigade Quartermaster works great. I think it holds 500 pounds as a hammock and can be used for a dozen different uses (hammock, cast net, hide site, etc.). They are super comfy, pack down real small, and help to keep you cool while you try to sleep. They keep your feet elevated giving them a much-needed rest. Be wary of using a hammock when it starts getting cold at night. It will keep you a little too cool.
-Sleeping bag. I actually got away with using just my woobie the whole time I was in the box, but in the winter months you will definitely need something warmer. I like the two season bags that pack down real small like the Artkis Halo 3 or the Snugpak Merlin. The Wiggy’s bags are really well made and work really well, but don’t pack down as small as some similar bags. You can add a waterproof outside “Bivy Sack” to these and they are usually good as long as you are dressed appropriately and the air temperature stays above freezing. A good sleeping pad is almost as important as the bag. Besides making sleeping on the ground slightly more tolerable, it will provide an insulating cushion of air that will help keep you from getting too hot or too cold. You can find these at any good hiking and camping store. If you get the inflatable kind be sure to buy and bring a patch and repair kit.
-Snivel gear. The Infantry axiom, “Pack light, freeze at night,” is as old as it is true. I froze my ass off the first few weeks in country until our “comfort items” caught up with us. I would recommend at least a few lightweight, compressible layers that you can take with you if needed. The Arktis Stowaway Shirt saved my ass on several nights. It packs down smaller than a baseball and really works well as an intermediate layer of clothing. The Stowaway Shirt and the issued Polar Fleece watch cap; these two items will bottle the heat in enough to let you sleep comfortably during the spring and fall nights. During winter you will need true cold weather gear at night.
-Knee Pads. I only used one on my right knee, because that’s the one I drop to when “taking a knee.” I wore both though and just kept the left pad pushed down around my ankle. It’s there if you need it, but won’t aggravate your leg where the straps rub. I can’t wait till someone invents a comfortable kneepad. But until they do, the Alta brand kneepads with the buckle closure are probably the best. The can be had in a very good shade of Flat Dark Earth or the Army’s Universal Pattern. Avoid the issued Bijans knee and elbow pads. They’re hot, uncomfortable, expensive, and the knee cap is made of a hard, easily cracked plastic. Several uniform companies are making jackets and trousers with slot pockets for foam padding (tool box liner works well) already built into the knees and elbows. BDU’s can also be fairly easily modified in this manner at home or by your local seamstress. The downside is that continual use will wear a hole through your not-so-easily-replaced trousers. The upside is that you're always wearing some knee and elbow protection.
-Batteries. You will probably be supplied with these in country, but go ahead and take extras for every item you have that requires them. If you have something that takes an odd battery like the M68 Close Combat Optic (CCO) or the N size batteries in the EOTech Holosight, then make sure you will be able to resupply. If not, take your own stash.
-Tie-downs. We used these unfailingly for all of our high-dollar/sensitive items. Just use a little bit of gutted 550 cord (formed by removing the 7 inner strands from a length of 550 cord). If you don’t “gut” the 550 cord first the knots will have a tendency to come undone if not regularly tightened. This can save you a lot of heartache as some items will be very difficult or impossible to replace in theater. I’ve seen several Joes with laser aiming devices or red dot sights dangling off their weapon by their tie-down that otherwise would have been damaged or lost. Use no more 550 cord than is needed to tie the item down or you could create a snag hazard. I’d take a couple hundred feet of 550 cord and a bag of heavy-duty zip-ties to be used for all kinds of field repairs and tie-downs. The really heavy duty zip-ties can also be used as prisoner restraints. 550 cord has a lot of other uses too. It can be used to replace boot laces, hang heavy items, and the inner strands can even be used for heavy duty sewing and emergency sutures.
-Gloves. I like the aviator style gloves that have become popular for tactical work (military pilots have been wearing them since the Vietnam era). They are relatively inexpensive, easy to find (you can get them through the military supply system), and offer good dexterity and protection. They are a lightweight glove and tend to wear out quicker than something like a work glove. The Hatch Operator CQB gloves are also nice. They are more expensive, but have nicer features. Wiley-X also has a set of gloves similar in overall design to the Hatch CQB’s, but with heavy duty protection on the knuckles and other advanced features. These CAG Gloves are a bit more expensive than typical gloves, but offer a lot of state-of-the-art features (if there is such a thing with gloves) not to be found elsewhere at this time. I would find what you like and take a pair for every 2 or 3 months you’ll be deployed.
-100 mile-an-hour tape (or duct tape). This stuff holds the world together. You will never stop finding uses for it. A tip I learned from my Dad while hunting, hiking, and camping was to put a dozen wraps or so around each of my canteens so that I’d always have some on me without having to carry the weight and bulk of a full roll.
-Pocket knife. The tactical folders are nice, but even something like a Swiss Army knife will work well. You may even find the Swiss Army knife to be more useful. If you go with a tactical folder, I’ve had excellent luck with Benchmade, Spyderco and CRKT knives. My current favorite tactical folder is the Strider-Buck 889. They are reasonably priced, hold an edge well, and require minimal maintenance. Along those lines, make sure you take a knife sharpener. This may seem obvious, but I could have made a fortune renting out the sharpener I took with me. For a non-serrated knife blade, my favorite sharpeners are the kind you find at Wal-mart for sharpening kitchen knives. You just pull the blade through the notch a half dozen times and it will quickly put the edge back on your blade. It will not work on thicker blades, but seems to be fine for pocket folders.
-Several Bic lighters. Even if you don’t smoke they are light weight insurance.
-Entertainment. You won’t be busy every second and it’s nice to have something to pass the time; Books, Game Boy, Laptop with DVD player and wireless capability, pictures from home, etc.
-Carabineers/D-rings. Take a handful of the locking and non-locking styles. They are almost as useful as 100 mile-an-hour tape or 550 cord. Make sure you get the ones rated for climbing or rappelling and not the crappy, multi-colored key-chain style like the ones found by the checkout at Wal-Mart. That way, you can use them for actual load-bearing applications if needed.
-Digital Camera. You will see things that defy description and live through things that will be a blur after time has gone by. I wouldn’t suggest snapping away in the middle of a drama, but it will be nice to have a record of your experience. Take plenty of film or memory “sticks.”
-ID Tags. Have a set of “Dog tags” made up and wear them all day, every day. I would put these at the top of my own list right after the ACH Helmet. If the worst happens it will make things easier on everybody. Make sure they have the correct blood type on them. If you don’t know yours, go donate some blood to the Red Cross and they will type your blood for you. In addition, we wrote our blood type on everything we wore; boots, helmet, t-shirt, etc. The seconds it shaves off of your triage time could save your life. I have found out since my time in the box that the blood type on the uniform sleeves is mostly a "Hollywood" thing. The CASH is going to type and cross your blood before giving or taking any from you, but who knows. It certainly doesn't hurt. Once again, cheap insurance.
-I’m assuming you’ll have an M4 or something similar. First, clean your weapon every day. I think that the M4 is an excellent, reliable weapon, but the day you skip weapons maintenance is the day you’ll need it most. I cleaned mine everyday before anything else and after every time I had to fire it. If you ride on helicopters as much as we did this becomes especially important. Those birds will find a way to get dirt and grit into every crevice (yours and your weapon’s). Riding around in vehicles is just as bad about coating you in dust. The Army issued cleaning kit is a good start. I would add a bottle of Strike Hold weapons lube. It goes on like any other oil, but then evaporates leaving a Teflon-like coating that doesn’t attract dust or dirt like oil will. The little shaving brushes used to apply shaving cream are also good for brushing off your weapon in the sandy environment. Keep a muzzle cap on the end, a magazine in the well, and the dust cover closed when you’re not cleaning it or shooting it.
-Obviously, red dot sight, BUIS (Back-Up Iron Sight), and high output Surefire style tactical light are a must. I still see the occasional magazine article where an author without any practical experience downplays the effectiveness of the red-dot, collimator style sights. Iron sights are great and all, and they are necessary for backup purposes, but if you really want to make hits, under stress, at a variety of ranges, under any lighting condition, I believe that a CCO is essential. Give the Aimpoint 3X Magnifier a try too. It can quickly turn your CCO into a mid-range optic. Along those lines, the Trijicon TA31F ACOG is a good choice for short to medium range engagements. The TA31F model has a graduated reticle that compensates for bullet drop over different ranges. The reticle is also illuminated for low light shooting and the chevron shape is excellent for precise shooting.
-If you’re able to take PVS-14’s or any sort of night vision devices then I think your primary weapon should have an IR laser-aiming device. Once again, huge advantage at night to be able to bear down on your enemy without him even knowing he is being targeted. The military models are a good yard stick for performance, but most of the respectable “light and laser” companies like Surefire and Laser Devices make IR aiming devices. I like the VITAL2 from NVEC. It's got a lot of great features in a small, well priced package. These devices can be tough to get as they are restricted items controlled by the FDA. Yes, Food and Drug Administration. It is not illegal to own them, but some manufacturers closely control the distribution.
-While the IR lasers can be tough to find, it is very easy to get an IR filter for your tactical light that will allow you to conduct covert searches inside darkened buildings and under heavy cloud cover when there isn’t enough ambient light for the PVS-14’s to be effective. Another good addition for operations under reduced light is the Surefire M1 IR Illuminator. It is a handheld unit a little smaller than their 6P that I keep Velcro'd to the side of my helmet. When switched on, it allows me to place a flood of IR compatible light wherever I happen to be looking.
-If I could have taken any weapon over there it would have been the M4 I carried with the addition of a sound suppressor. If not that, then a similarly configured M4 chambered for 6.8mm SPC to give my hits a little more oomph. Long-story-short, excessive loud noises are very distracting and disorienting when you’re trying to shoot, move, and communicate. Some of that can be mitigated with training, but if you can get a “can” for your weapon, do it. Once you’re out of contact and still alive, you want your hearing to be in good shape too. A sound suppressor will also greatly mitigate the effects of your muzzle blast on you and your mates when firing in enclosed spaces such as from a vehicle or during house-to-house fighting.
-Make sure all your magazines are clean, serviceable, and run well through your weapon. This includes dropping free of the magazine well when the release button is pressed. If you’re using USGI magazines, the Enhanced Self Leveling Follower from Magpul Industries Corporation is a good way to increase the reliability and function of the standard magazine. I also like their Ranger Plates which makes it easier to extract the magazine from its pouch and protect the magazine base plate when it is dropped from the mag well while reloading. Both are “drop-in” parts and require no tools or modification of the magazine. You can also buy magazines with these features already installed. Some of the best I’ve seen are the Teflon coated mags from DSG Arms. If you can get your hands on them, take some Heckler and Koch M4 mags. With a steel body and a metal follower, they are the bee’s knees. They are very tough, but almost double the weight of standard aluminum body magazine. Decisions, decisions. Magazines are the heart of a reliable weapon. Keep them clean and very well maintained at all times!
The magazines should be carried with the open end in the bottom of the pouch. This simplifies reloading and helps prevent intrusion of water and foreign debris into the magazine body. The tips of the bullets should be pointed towards your dominant side. This also helps alignment with the magazine well when they are removed from the pouch. As the magazine is removed from the pouch for insertion into the mag well align the index finger with the front edge of the mag itself. This allows a bit of natural indexing as the mag will go wherever the finger gets pointed and it positions the palm of the hand on the base of the magazine to firmly seat it in the well. After you believe the mag to be seated give it a tug to make sure. Practice this technique until your comfortable with it. It won't happen overnight or by reading magazines/books about it. Even better; take a Tactical Carbine course from a professional shooting school. Even if you are on the pointy end of the spear it won't hurt to get a fresh perspective from a new instructor. Practice, Practice, Practice!
-I would recommend either a Tango Down pistol grip, a VLTOR ModStock (or the Crane NSW stock if you can find or afford one), or both. They allow you to carry a variety of extra batteries or spare parts on your weapon and improve the cheek-to-stock weld for the M4 carbine. The Tango Down pistol grip also eliminates the pinching effect that is occasionally experienced with the trigger guard. If you’ve got a foregrip mounted, I like and recommend the Tango Down foregrip. It has a hollowed out storage compartment for batteries, extra bolt group, cleaning oil, etc. There is also a slot that will accept a pressure pad if you use one for your light or laser. Any or all of these would be a good addition. Magpul industries has a pistol grip called the MIAD grip. It is a modular design that allows you to configure the grip so that it fits your hand exactly the way you want it. It also has a waterproof storage compartment in the grip with different modules to precisely carry the contents without rattle or leaks (i.e. batteries, bolt, ammo, etc.). It may be worth checking out especially if you have very large or very small hands.
-Slings. I found that while wearing armor a traditional 3-point tactical sling just wasn’t working well. It was hard to get on and off and for some reason it didn’t really work quite right. The buckles and connections would get caught on the little protuberances all over my armor and I couldn’t always bring it to bear as quickly as I expected. So, after some experimentation and tinkering around I just kept my M4 clipped to my Armor with a 1-inch side release buckle and some extra webbing I had (I believe it was one of the lashing straps out of the MOLLE repair kit). This method kept the carbine on my person, the buttstock in the pocket of my shoulder, and it was convenient. I also kept a simple 3-point sling on it so that while not out and about I could still carry it tactically without my armor on. I don’t do it that way anymore. Ashley Burnsed of Blue Force Gear offers a revolutionary new sling called the SOC-C sling that can be used in single point, two point, three point, or directly attached to your armor. It can be switched between these different configurations very quickly and easily. Now, I have a buckle on my vest or armor and can very quickly switch back and forth between vest/armor mount or 3 Point sling as the situation dictates. He also offers the Contractor Pack for PSD’s and operators that will modify the sling to work with most NATO and former Warsaw Pact weapons just by changing out the modular adapters. Plus, the sling can be had in a very cool shade of Coyote Brown or Foliage Green webbing. Together, we’ve also developed the SOC-C-RVS or Releasable Vest Sling. It was designed to integrate into Eagle’s CIRAS vest and still be fully compatible with all of Blue Force Gear’s modular buckle adapters. It helps distribute the weight of the weapon without affecting the proper wear of the vest and doesn’t interfere with the release of the vest when the cut-away mechanism is pulled. There is also a version designed to work with plate carriers and vests other than the Eagle CIRAS which is called the Modular Vest Strap (MVS). BFG's latest offering is the Vicker's Combat Assault Sling (VCAS). It is a two point sling designed in conjunction with Larry Vickers that combines the best features of a one point and three point sling. It is my new favorite and has been added to all my weapons. They also have a SAW/M240 sling that is quite nice. I can't say enough good things BFG or Ashley Burnsed. He is a great person, an ingenious designer, and a close friend.
-If you’re a contractor and get “stuck” with an AK47 it’s not the end of the world. Indeed, some consider them a better choice over the M16/M4 series of weapons especially in that part of the world where ammo, magazines, and spare parts are plentiful. There are many options for good tactical slings, the mounting of CCO’s, and other improvements to form and function. The best advice I can give is to try and get one that hasn’t been beaten or abused. I’ve heard good things about rifles made in any of the former Warsaw Pact countries (i.e. Poland, East Germany, USSR, etc.), but as long as they aren’t worn-out, AK’s seem to run pretty well in general. Whatever you wind up with, keep it maintained well and shoot it plenty before you trust your life to it. If you know for a fact that you’re getting issued an AK I would recommend trying to take some of the 75 or 100 round drums along with you. I understand they are difficult to get “in-country” and they could make all the difference when breaking contact.
-If you are issued or allowed a sidearm, I would carry it in a Drop Leg style holster. This kind of holster will allow the weapon to be worn with armor and keeps it on your person even if you aren’t wearing your other gear. Ideally, this holster should drop down to just below your belt line. A lot of guys wear these too far down on their leg, just above their knee. This is incorrect and will slow your draw as you contort your body to try and reach your sidearm. It may also make it uncomfortable to wear and allow the holster to slide and flop around on your leg. Depending on what kind of work you’re doing, my favorites are London Bridge Trading Company’s NSW Holster or the Safariland 6004, but Eagle and SOE make great holsters too. I probably like the Safariland 6004 the best as you can easily and securely re-holster with one hand and without looking down at the holster. Because it is made of a thermo-molded plastic called Kydex, it is rigid and will protect the pistol better than a sewn together nylon holster. For this same reason though, it can become uncomfortable when worn for long periods or when you’re doing a lot of walking. I would also take a belt style concealment holster just in case.
-You will need a thick sturdy belt off of which to hang your holster and other Line One gear. The Specter Gear Rigger Belt is my favorite, but most of them are basically the same. I would just go with what is available from one of the reliable manufacturer (like Eagle, TAG, or Specter). Make sure it will fit through the loops on your trousers. Also, choose a model that is either double layered or stiffened with a plastic insert so that it won’t sag. Just a quick note about Rigger’s Belts; if you use them to go repelling you will wind up with your trousers up around your armpits and/or all your belt loops blown out. If you prefer it, you can wear a holster attached directly to your armor (Tactical Tailor and Paraclete make good ones), but for a quick, efficient fix you can also just use a standard M4 magazine pouch. If you aren’t wearing your vest then you will have to have a separate holster on your belt in which to move your pistol.
-On the subject of sidearms you may want to consider a lanyard for your pistol. A lanyard is a lot like a rifle sling, but for a pistol. If for some reason your pistol were to come loose from its holster the lanyard would prevent the loss of the pistol. There are some negatives. The lanyard can be a snag hazard as it hangs loosely from the back of the pistol. The absolute best lanyard available is the TRL made by a suppressor manufacturer called Gemtech. It has a large synthetic coil and a side release buckle to attach it to your duty belt or gear. It has a built in break away strength of 100 pounds. This could prevent a snag that may cost you life or limb like if you had to evacuate a burning vehicle or a helicopter that has gone down in water. A lanyard won’t work for you in every situation (i.e. concealed carry and possibly if you mounted your holster to your vest) so carefully consider the positives and negatives before you add one to your kit.
-“Rambo” knives. For the weight of a big survival style knife, you could carry an extra M4 mag or a couple of extra sidearm mags. You’re not going to be sneaking up behind sentries or making a survival shelter out of bamboo so leave the giant knives at home. A small, multi-purpose pocket knife will be infinitely more useful and practical. If you have to have a fixed blade knife then a medium sized utility knife will probably work well. My favorite in that size range is the MT Mod 10 from Strider Knives. I’ve found the MT Mod 10 to be an excellent compromise between size, strength, and usefulness. It is a mid-sized general purpose field knife and while there are other knives in this class, the MT Mod 10 is the toughest one that I have tried. I was given one by Strider Knives to try and destroy, and I failed. It is a tough SOB and it can be kept on your gear all day long without adding to much weight or bulk. I also like the Benchmade Nimravus and while it is half the price, it is not nearly as tough as the Strider. If you have to take one of the giant “Rambo” knives with you, leave it in your RAID Pack or in your vehicle. This goes for the bayonet too.
Some of this may be old hat for you, but like I said it is all-inclusive. A lot of this stuff can be expensive, but remember these 2 things: You can’t put a value on your own life and you should be making a good salary while you’re deployed. Consider it an investment. Most of all I will leave you with this; don’t trust anybody but your buddy beside you in the foxhole. It’s tough to be the asshole (well, for some of us), but that is what will keep you alive. Of all the training I had, I wish I’d had a better grasp on dealing with people who are hostile, but don’t need to be shot just yet.
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