MIL Inventory Lessons Learned

Way back in 2004 I wrote two articles about warrior "inventories". One was what the police should have on their person or available to them and the other applied to soldiers. Looking back I realized that there are lessons to be learned in what today's soldiers wear or carry and it's changed since 2004 as the mission and environments have changed. This week I wanted to take a look at some of what our contemporary soldiers either wear or carry and the applicability of those items to the law enforcement or ready civilian communities.

First we should all recognize that today's soldiers, Marines, airmen, sailors and coast guardsmen all have to maintain a decent physical readiness level. I know many of you probably get tired of reading this and me harping about it - and I have to work at it just as hard as the next guy - but we do ourselves a serious disservice if we fail to maintain a reasonable weight, a healthy cardio-vascular system, sufficient strength and enough flexibility. Failing to pay attention to any one of those areas can be detrimental in any crisis situation. The approach to such maintenance is very straight forward:

  • You should maintain a weight proportionate to your height
  • You should perform at least 30 minutes of cardio-oriented exercise at least four times each week
  • You should perform strength training exercise at least three times each week
  • You should stretch DAILY

Now I've had a few of my associates argue the need to stretch daily. No, it won't hurt you if you miss a day here or there. That said, I've known plenty of people who have "old back injuries" who suffered if they didn't stretch and felt great if they did. I know time is tight for everyone but it only requires ten minutes of your day to stretch from head to toe.

All of those maintenance items should be viewed as marathons and not sprints. I've known far too many people who "need to lose ten pounds" so they go on some crash fad diet and lose it in a week or two. A month later they've gained it all back - often plus a few more. The most beneficial and easily maintained weight maintenance method is to monitor what you take in, exercise sufficiently (stay active) and pay attention. I don't know many soldiers who actually count calories but they exercise so often and do so much throughout each day that few of them have weight problems. I didn't know a SINGLE soldier in my Basic Training Unit that had any weight control issues by the end of the training. A very few came into the training over-weight and had lost quite a bit during the training. A few (like me) went in too skinny and came out with a healthier weight and lower body fat levels.

The first item on any readiness inventory is YOUR BODY. Take care of it in an on-going consistent fashion.

Next item is clothing. Today's soldiers have specially designed and treated uniforms to suit all types of environments and defeat some technologies. Of course I'm talking about battle uniforms and not barracks uniforms. If you want to dress up, put on a suit. The things the battle uniforms have in common that we can learn from are:

  • They virtually all have "layers"
  • The outer garments are rugged materials
  • Pockets are placed strategically and ergonomically

I know that during the hot summer months it seems ridiculous to have to worry about "layering". After all, it's hot all day, right? The challenge we face with this thinking is that under crisis conditions - that which we prepare for - we might not just be out during the day. What's comfortable at two in the afternoon at the peak of the heat may not provide enough insulation at two in the morning in the chill of the darkness. Yes, if you're going to prepare then you need to do so from the 24/7 perspective.

Obviously we don't all want to wear clothing made from the most rugged materials out there. They'd chafe and be darned uncomfortable pretty quick. That said, if you're preparing for a crisis situation, cotton and silk aren't going to be your best choices. Canvas and denim still top the charts in field use and abuse. Polyesters designed for different temperature ranges may do well too and ripstop nylon works fine in moderate temps as well. Usually I'm quite happy to trade off a small bit of comfort to gain extra longevity from anything I'm wearing in an emergency situation.

Ergonomics - or the study of them - have been around a long time. Very few clothing designs I'm familiar with have incorporated ergonomic concerns. Our arms, wrists and hands all move a particular way and moving them "outside the normal range of motion" is uncomfortable. Yet on many garments the pockets are placed so that you are forced to move in an unnatural fashion simply to access the pocket. If you can, as you select your clothing for any type of crisis, choose those items that have been designed to work most efficiently with your body's natural function.

We someties neglect - or go "cheap" - where our bodies contact our environment the most: our feet. Proper footwear is absolutely necessary to our survivability in crisis situations. The shoes or boots you choose should:

  • Provide proper support for your foot and ankle
  • Be as light as they can be without sacrificing function
  • Already be broken in

It's often easiest to simply select a boot that was designed for the military but that's just as often a mistake. Even different parts of the military are issued differently designed boots because various units work in different environments and on different terrain. The boots for the 10th Mountain Division are not the same as for SEAL Team 2. As you select your footwear you have to look around to determine the environment you are most likely going to be operating in and then make your selection based on your needs. As an example: I live in a fairly wooded area with plenty of water around. My boots need to offer me protection and support for slightly hilly terrain and should wick sweat away from my feet. However, they must also either be waterproof or allow for good quick drainage if water gets in them. I want them to be as light as possible, but I prefer a solid shank (composite or metal) in the sole because you just never know what's under forest debris when you're stepping down with all your weight.

Every soldier I know is issued either a hat and sometimes also a helmet. A hat serves many purposes from protecting your scalp from sunburn to keeping rain off your head. I recommend you select one that protects your ears as well as your face and neck. Gloves are also issued and are a necessity. That said, you don't need 100% leather "fencing" gloves if all you're doing is protecting your hands from a hot black steering-wheel in your Jeep. How thick and how well insulated your gloves need to be is, again, a function of your needs - what environment you're working / living in and what you expect to encounter. Almost any glove is better than no glove when you encounter rough conditions that can scratch or damage your hands. Think of gloves as a surrounding layer of hardened skin - because that's essentially what they are.

Now, just like their law enforcement counterparts, soldiers have tools of the trade. Those tools include:

  • hydration support systems
  • firearms: long and short
  • illumination devices
  • personal protective devices
  • shelter materials

I listed hydration first because it is so high in importance. We can live for a pretty long time without food but we can die in less than three days without water. Whether you choose to carry canteens - such as those manufactured from Nalgene by BLACKHAWK! or if you use a hydration bladder system or if you simply put a bunch of collapsible 5-gallon water jugs in your vehicle - you'll need to insure a clean water supply for drinking. At the most personal level I've found that a 100 ounce hydration bladder system with an inline filter is most efficient. If you have a surplus store around you anywhere and can get the old canteen carriers that the Army used for decades (and still does in some places) throw away the aluminum / steel / plastic 1-quart canteens that come with the carriers and replace them with modern Nalgene canteens. They are more durable especially where temperature extremes are concerned and they don't hold the flavor of anything you put in them.

Let's face it: a soldier's most basic job is to fight and kill to defend our country. Yes, I know some people will argue with me. I'll stand and argue. I've got four older brothers who are Marines; a son who is a Marine; a daughter-in-law who is a Marine; a son-in-law who is a soldier; a daughter who is an Army veteran - and I'm an Army veteran myself. The soldier's most basic function is to fight and kill to protect and defend our nation. To do so requires weapons. Having listed the value of health and fitness above I'd like to add that every human being - if they have the guts to use them - is born with nine personal weapons:

  • Your head - ever given someone a head-butt? It hurts!
  • Both elbows. I was once told that the elbow, when bent, is the hardest bone in the human body. Therefore it makes a good weapon to use to attack with.
  • Both hands / fists - the most commonly used weapons.
  • Both knees. Given the strength of our legs and the amount of energy we can create, the knee is obviously a very dangerous weapon when applied properly.
  • Both feet. I'd venture to guess that kicking is the second most common form of attack.

After you get past those nine personal weapons though, we fall to tools and technology to increase our lethality. Rifles are the most common personal technology weapons (except for knives which we'll discuss in a moment). While soldiers are often assigned other weapons such as machine guns, mortars, precision rifles, etc, the common every day garden variety select-fire (burst capable) box fed rifle is the most prevelant. It can be very effective if maintained and used properly. If you think you'll need to defend yourself and/or hunt in a crisis situation, I highly recommend you acquire a rifle; learn it; train with it; practice with it; maintain it. If that evil looking "assault rifle" (AR-style rifle) isn't to your taste, perhaps a nice lever action rifle will do?

As a secondary or "back up" weapon to the rifle, or if you're not empowered to carry that rifle at all, a handgun is your next option. (Yes, a shotgun is another option but I'm assuming that if one long-gun is ruled out then so is another). It's imperative that you understand a handgun is not as easily lethal or disabling as a rifle is. It certainly CAN be lethal but shot placement and repetitive shots matter. If the handgun is your only source of self-defense then amount of available ammunition matters as well. Research; study; try out different handguns and figure out what works best for you. Purchase one, get plenty of practice ammo for it; and find the holster that will suit your intended needs best. Most of our soldiers today aren't issued handguns. They have their rifle. However, if they are issued a handgun, the handgun's purpose is to give them an immediate functioning option if their rifle goes out of service for any reason or to fight their way back to their rifle if they drop it for any reason. Bottom line: the rifle is far preferred for hunting - animals or men - and is a much better self-defense tool if you can carry it.

Now let's talk for a few minutes about probably the oldest self-defense tool / weapon known to man - with the exception of clubs and rocks: The knife. A good quality knife - such as the Mil-Tac MMM1 - can perform a variety of utility functions in the field. Obviously you can cut with it, but it can also be used for digging, as an anchor point, food preparation, hammering and more. The versatility of a knife is often limited by our own imagination. There are many different points of view about the necessary length of the blade (6.5" minimum for combat?), whether or not you need a serrated edge or portion, sheath material, etc. My perspective is this:

  • Get a knife that has at least a 5" blade if you're planning to use it as a field tool in a crisis situation.
  • Get a knife that has a portion of the blade - or the blade's spine - serrated or kerf cut (saw teeth).
  • Get a knife that has an ergonomically shaped grip that fits your hand.
  • Get a knife that has synthetic grip slabs that provide good traction even when wet, sweaty or bloody.
  • Make sure the knife's sheath holds it securely in every position and condition you can think of.
  • Make sure you have a method (stone or diamond stick) for maintaining your knife's edge.

Next in our list is illumination devices. In some instances this is a simple flashlight. Contemporary lights using LED lamps are the most durable. Unfortunately, it's hard to find such that produce good amounts of light (60+ lumens) using common AA batteries. If you find such, pick it up quick. It's near invaluable. Have extra batteries for your light no matter what kind of batteries it takes. Obviously our military forces have other illumination devices such as infra-red, night vision, laser illumination / targeting, etc. Being realistic, none of us will need those capabilities in the kind of survival situations we shoudl expect to face. Those technologies have their place in the combat arena but we shouldn't be facing that kind of targeted combat.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) includes everything from a "gas mask" to protective eye wear and body armor. Kevlar lined gloves can be considered PPE. Which levels / items of PPE you choose are entirely dependent on the conditions you expect to encounter or want to be prepared for. I always and highly recommend protective eyewear. If you don't wear glasses - or even if you do - clear protective eyewear is imperative. Under crisis conditions there are far too many circumstances that exist which can present a threat to your vision. Today's market has quite a few protective eyewear manufacturers such as Revision Eyewear - the eyewear issued to our U.S. Army soldiers. Good protective eyewear, like Revision's, offers full wrap-around protection manufactured from materials that offer resistance to ballistic penetration.

The last item on our list is shelter material. As a trainee in basic training I was given half of a tent (commonly called a "shelter half") and told to find someone with the other half. That was my tent partner. In the infantry I was issued two ponchos and told one of them was for making my "hooch". Even in the desert it becomes necessary to have a place of shade and that poncho can be worth its weight in gold.

A tarp can serve the same purpose. Whatever you do, don't just neglect or forget about your shelter needs. Don't assume that your vehicle will be all the shelter you need or that you can make shelter out of whatever you find. Proper shelter is mandatory and should protect you from the sun and rain. If it insulates your space providing warmth or coolness as necessary, all the better - but that's only comfort. That's not survival.

Stay Safe!