Ingenuity, Common Sense, and Individual Kit

I got the idea to write this article when I read Nate Morrison’s piece on “Has Gear Evolved? Or Did It Just Change?” ( )  He made some very good points that I grumbled about for the better part of six years in the Marine Recon community, especially involving the impact of kit on combat performance.

I didn’t go into a great deal of detail on individual kit in Task Force Desperate, aside from guns and optics, largely because it would have been tedious.  In an outfit like Praetorian, no two operators would likely have the exact same gear, so describing everybody’s different vests and chest rigs would have eaten up page space.  So I left it be.

In the real world, however, gear can have a huge impact.  That impact can, under certain circumstances, mean life and death.

My first deployment I didn’t do a lot as far as gear went.  I tried a few different configurations during the workup, but I was woefully inexperienced, and largely ended up going with something as close as possible to my Team Leader’s kit.  We all did.  We didn’t have a lot more than regular grunts did at that point.

The next time around, we started off with the issue FSBE kit, but as we’d all had issues with its bulk, as soon as we got to Iraq, we visited the tailor’s shop on Camp Fallujah and had pouches sewed on the Second Chance vests, to hold plates.  We now had all of our required armor in a much more streamlined package than the FSBE carrier.

This meant we had to use either chest rigs or vests to carry our ammo, comm, water, med gear, etc.  There was as wide a variety as there were Recon Marines in the platoon.  I took to using a BDS patrol vest over my armor.  I still have it, it’s in the cover photo above.  It’s a great piece of kit, for a long-distance patrol with a ruck and no armor.

The problem was, over body armor it became too bulky.  It was a constant pain to climb in and out of the Humvee turret, or any other opening.  It had become what I began calling “The Fat Boy School of Combat Equipment.”

I started to try to figure out what I could do to streamline things with the extra gear I’d taken.  The end result was a gunbelt with six mags, three 40mm grenades, one frag, one smoke, MBITR, medical pouch, “possibles” pouch, and drop bag.  I used tubular nylon and dental floss to make suspenders.  When I was finished, my platoon sergeant looked at me with a grin, and said, “We’ve got all this space-age gear, and Pete goes back to 1960.”

But the fact was it worked.  It was light, streamlined, and didn’t hinder my movement at all.  I could carry everything I needed, with far less bulk.  Several other Marines voiced jealousy that I could move as easily as I could in that rig.  Unfortunately, looking through my deployment photos, I don’t have any of that setup.

The following platoon was not nearly as open-minded.  Platoon SOP was established for what would be carried and how.  I had to ditch my belt rig for first a Rhodesian chest rig, then, when we actually deployed to Afghanistan, the issued Scalable Plate Carrier.

It was there that I really observed the impact of gear that wasn’t just heavy, but bulky.  I thank God that we didn’t take contact during some of those foot movements in rural Helmand, with all of our kit on, as the combination of my pack straps and my plate carrier was actually cutting off the circulation in my arms.  Some companies have come up with innovative solutions to this, such as the Mystery Ranch pack cinch.  However, it wasn’t a solution we had available at the time.

I could go into the ordered dropping of on-kit magazines to five, while keeping the side-SAPI plates in place, but the rant about firepower vs. armor will have to wait for another day.

There is a tendency on both ends of the spectrum to select and set up gear based on appearance.  The inexperienced soldier or Marine wants to set up his kit so it “looks cool,” but the higher command is often guilty of the same sin, wanting all their troops to look uniform and squared-away.  Neither attitude has any place in a combat situation.

When setting up your kit, practicality and common sense have to prevail.  “What do I need, and how can I carry it with as little bulk and weight as possible, while making sure everything is also accessible without taking the gear off?”  That’s all there is to it.  Not only does a lack of mobility, brought on by both bulk and weight, put you at a disadvantage in a fight, it also wears on you physically, no matter how fit you are.  The faster you get worn down, the sooner you start to go into survival mode, and you start to miss details.

And the devil, as they say, is in the details.  They can mean the difference between coming home with everybody intact, and having funerals to attend.


2 thoughts on “Ingenuity, Common Sense, and Individual Kit

  1. “The inexperienced soldier or Marine wants to set up his kit so it “looks cool,” but the higher command is often guilty of the same sin, wanting all their troops to look uniform and squared-away. Neither attitude has any place in a combat situation.”

    Couldn’t agree more.

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