Tom Ricks's Inbox
Tom Ricks's Inbox

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Good gear is a major topic of conversation for soldiers (and war reporters).

In February 2003, I compiled a packing list for reporters heading to Iraq. (My collegue Dana Priest contributed a special section for female reporters). It was e-mailed from reporter to reporter for months.

I especially liked this other list, posted on a Web site by a sergeant in Afghanistan, because of its extreme specificity and occasional incomprehensibility, which made me think it must be really cool. I mean, Febreze? And who is "Uncle Mike" the holster maker and "Lula" the bullet holder?

But mega-dittoes on the sunblock and TP. And what could be clearer -- and starker -- than the simple two-word item no. 34, -- boot knife?

Note all the computer-related gear. This is America's fighting man at war, 2007.

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1. Any extra Class VIII you can bring from HS is good to have.

2. Wolfhook single point slings.

3. Desert Tan spray paint.

4. Space blanket(s).

5.100 mph tape, 550 cord, TP, other expendables you think would come in handy.

6. Drop Leg Holster (Blackhawk or SERPA) and Uncle Mike's Holster for wearing around every day (drop leg will wear a hole in ACUs over time). I also have one for my IBA so I can have my 9mm handy when in the gun hatch going through towns.

7. Weapons lube that DOESN'T ATTRACT SAND (MILTECH or Remington Dry Lube).

8. Two copies of addresses, phone numbers, account numbers, etc.

9. Two pairs of GOOD boot insoles.

10. A Good Tactical Flashlight (SureFire, even though you will get issued one with M4).

11. Red/White light headlamp.

12. Spare pair of running shoes.

13. MP3 player w/ x-tra pair of headphones.

14. Enough batteries to last you 30 days.

15. Chapstick.

16. Lotion.

17.30 SPF or higher sunblock.

18. Bar soap -- for some reason it's almost always in short supply.

19. Small, compact rolls of TP. A lot of places make travel size. Half the time you get to a port-a-potty and the jackA$s before you yanked the TP.

20. Baby wipes -- 30 days worth. Expect that the power and water will either go out, or the water will be contaminated, at least once a month.

21. Gold Bond Foot and Body Powder.

22. Small clip-on LED light. Clip it to your IBA. It will come in handy -- quite often.

23. Drink mix for 16/20 oz bottles of water.

24. Weightlifting supplies.

25. Small photo album with pics from home.

26. Hand sanitizer (small bottles to put in ankle pockets).

27. More books/magazines than you think you will need.

28. DVDs, for you and to loan out for swapping purposes.

29. Tactical gloves -- military gloves are sort of clumsy ( I love the $9.95 Whitewater brand gloves from the clothing sales). Also standard flight nomex are good.

30. Lens anti-fog agent. Shaving cream works in a pinch, but you have to apply it every other day or so.

31. Good pair of shower shoes/sandals. I recommend the black Adidas -- lasted me all year.

32. Small pillow (air inflatable).

33. Cheap digital camera (at least 2.1 mp).

34. Boot knife.

35. Gerber multi-tool.

36. Fabreze -- sometimes the laundry opportunities are few and far between.

37. Armor Fresh.

38. Extra boot laces.

39. Stainless steel coffee cup with screw-on lid.

40. Soccer shorts/normal t-shirt to sleep in, hang out in your room in.

41. Sweatshirts for winter times hanging around.

42. A couple of poncho liners for privacy, cover for nasty mattress, etc.

43. A set of twin sheets with pillow case.

44. Good regular-size pillow.

45. One or two good civilian bath towels.

46. Buy a good set (>$200) of winter desert boots. All they will give you is a regular summer set and a set of Goretex-lined for waterproof needs. Desert is a cold place at these altitudes in the winter time.

47. Bring a laptop. Also may want a PSP or some other handheld gaming device.

48. Get an external USB hard-drive (>60gb). You will need this to back up data to, and to store movies and MP3s that you will fall in on from previous teams.

49. Get a Skype account and download the software from This is how I talk to home 95% of the time. If you call computer-to-computer it is totally free. You can also Skype out from your computer to a regular phone for $0.021 a minute. There is nothing cheaper than that.

50. Decent headset with mic for computer (Skype).

51. Webcam for video calls back home.

52. Bring a min. of 18ea. M4 mags per person. 9 that are loaded and 9 that rest. Plan to do M4 mag changeover once per month.

53. Bring 8ea 9mm mags, for same reason above. Change these over every two weeks.

54. Order a LULA mag loader/unloader. It will be the best $14 piece of plastic you every bought. I have 12 mags loaded at all times and when I do change over it will do it in a fraction of the time, and save your hands, and save the ammo.

55. Try to get your state to get, or purchase yourself, one 12v DC-to-110 AC inverter per man for your trucks. They are crucial on mission for charging personal items, cell phone, ICOMs, and especially ANA radios (they only have re-chargeable batteries).

56. Dump the IBA tac vest you get issued. Get a Tactical Tailor MAV chest rig (does not matter if you get 1-piece or 2-piece, as you want to keep the front open for laying in the prone. You don't want mags pushing into your chest making it hard to breathe) . I wish I had bought mine at the start. It makes a HUGE difference on the back and shoulders when carrying a loaded rig.

57. Get a comfortable pair of desert boots. I wear only the Converse 8" assault boots (non-zipper ones). Oakley, Bates and several others are similar in style and comfort.

58. Bring some good snivel gear for the winter time. Extra poly-pro winter hat, gloves, neck gators, etc.

59. Lock de-icer for the winter time.

60. Disposable hand and feet warmers.

61. Canned air, lots of it for electronics, weapons, etc.

62. Lens wipes for optics.

63. Screen wipes for computers.

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Tom Ricks is The Post's military correspondent. This feature aims to give readers a snapshot of the conversations about Iraq, Afghanistan and other matters that play out in Ricks's e-mail inbox. Have an interesting document? Send it to

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