Interview with a Marine

Calamity here, my little  brother, ahem, sorry, my younger brother has recently returned from his second deployment and I sat down with him to get a post-action report on gear and life in a war zone.   We’ll call him Sgt X, for the sake of OpSec, and as the post title suggests, he’s a Marine. His first deployment was in Iraq, and this latest one was in Afghanistan.  Not all of it is transferable to prepping, but I found a few gems, hopefully y’all will too.


Gear report – Being in full tactical all the time sucks. Here are some things he found that lessened the suckage.

A sleeping system is an investment that pays off as you carry it.  A good night sleep has no price.  Hammocks are fantastic! Keeps you off  the ground, away from bugs and increases air flow during hot weather.

Garmin GPS wrist things were not durable enough for real hard field use.  One tap against the side of something armored and they broke screens or worse.  GPS is awesome, but find the most hardened ones you can, or they won’t last more than 10 feet from your house.

Electric water boiler, it seems like a simple thing, plug it in and get clean hot water for drinking/eating.  But when all your food is dehydrated and you need boiling water for everything, these come in handy.   Yea, it needs a bit of juice, but they are way more efficient than trying to burn combustibles to boil your water.

Gerber has a new tactical knife that was well worth the price. It has an insulated handle, (electric insulation, not temperature insulation) the sheath has a sharpener. The handle has a ridge that would allow it to attach to a pole and convert to a spear.  And there’s a flat area on the hilt that can hammer small things. It’s a little big, but great.

550 cord – us civvies call it parachute cord. His clever roommate chimed in to inform us that the tensile strength of it is 550 and that’s where the name comes from.  Basically, he didn’t go anywhere without a length of this somewhere in his pack.

Extra shoelaces were a must, as well as shoe glue, it’s a gel in a tube. Because, “shoe failure is a major suckage.” The shoe glue can also be used for other things. He didn’t elaborate, but basically I’m betting anything you need to patch or temporarily hold together.

Zip ties – get the heavy duty kind, it can be used for handcuffs, or just to “secure crap.”

First aid kits, they routinely went through and stripped out the crap.  Weight is everything.

Weapons report – He carried an M16 A4 on both deployments, he was in an armored car for most of this deployment and they would return fire with the turret during most skirmishes, so he honestly didn’t get to fire it much in actual combat. The turret gun, the 240G turret gun to be more precise, was reliable in the sand, and had good stopping power.   The 50 cal wasn’t as reliable in the sand.

The 9 mill was useless weight, no range and no stopping power. Maybe useful in an urban war or something, but not in the desert.

Body armor was way too much weight that wasn’t that useful. At over 70 pounds, they caused back problems mostly. Plus, all of that extra weight in the dessert just slowed him down and made any distance over 20 feet impossible to cover in good time.  Supposedly a lighter weight system was being phased in, but he never saw it.

Miscellaneous –

OPsec required that they burn most paperwork.  They always needed to be careful about talking about engagements, when around contractors.  You never know where those contractors are coming from, or who they could end up talking to. With the IED threat, they traveled in a straight line, “stay in tracks” be it by car or by foot.  If the first few make it through, then it’s likely the rest of the convoy will too. “Make sure you can pull your butt out of wherever you want to go.”

I had an anthropology minor in college, so I couldn’t resist asking about the native population. An occupying force and battling insurgents seems like the worst kind of SHTF to me.  I was curious if he’d noticed any coping strategies that seemed successful. Basically he said the civilians seemed to just keep going. Things weren’t structured or peaceful before this conflict, so it’s nothing new.  The most successful strategy seemed to be finding excuses to complain to the American forces and getting payment for the grievance.  Compounds, multiple families in each, with farmland surrounding them was the other strategy employed by the populace.  Most of their time seemed to be spent keeping irrigation, motorcycles and cheap cars in working order.

So, there you have it. The best bits of my conversation with Sgt X, a front lines report from one of our finest, and perhaps some thoughts you can use in your prepping.   Thanks for chatting with me bro, glad to have you home again.

-Calamity Jane

8 comments… add one
  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. November 17, 2011, 8:41 am

    Thank you for this report, its always great to hear how things REALLY work in the field. And thank your brother for his service to our country.

    The electric water heater – are you talking about that 110V plug in coil that heats up? Those work great for hotel room meals like oatmeal, hot cereals and coffee – we use them extensively. Used to carry a single burner hot plate coil, but it got too bulky, carrying pots and pans, felt like the 20th century Jodes . . . :^)

    Barge shoe cement for shoes particularly, good stuff! Also keep a couple of glue sticks handy, a BIC lighter to melt and you have instant ‘sticky stuff’. Not really strong, but it won’t dry out like other liquid adhesives.

    Thanks again ma’am.

  • Jason November 17, 2011, 9:24 am

    Wow, excellent interview Jane – especially when you dug in a bit about their mindset. I thought getting to know the ways of the enemy was a great tip for survival.


    1. What brand of shoe glue?
    2. What model of Gerber knife did he have?

  • Jarhead Survivor November 17, 2011, 9:52 am

    Great interview, Calamity. Glad your brother made it back ok.

    70 lbs of body armor? Man, I’ve got to look up what they’re wearing these days. We had helmets and kevlar jackets back in the 80’s, which I thought were too heavy back then! Also, interesting note about the 50 cal not working well in the sand.

    Ask him if they’re still using 100 mile an hour tape when you get a chance.

  • Leon November 17, 2011, 10:03 am

    Great interview!
    I had the chance to debrief some members of the Idaho National Guard Public Affairs Detachment when they returned from Desert Storm. There are very similar gear recommendations between the two groups, though, of course, these were different situations and your brother had updated gear.
    The PAD members recommended taking a small Swiss Army knife, some duct tape, and it seems like you can’t carry enough paracord!
    Please thank your brother for his service!

  • Adam November 17, 2011, 12:13 pm

    I think the Gerber knife would be the Gerber LMF II Infantry Fighting Knife. It’s about $70. It was used to cut a live electrical cable in Afghanistan a while ago by a SpecOps guy.

    Jane, Can you ask him about boots? What boots were better for the desert as opposed to Afghanistan where it’s much more rocky and hilly?

  • Legion7 November 17, 2011, 3:02 pm

    Can’t say it enough. SHOE GOO!!!!! I have fixed the tailcap on a combat light to rips in my BDU’s with the stuff. I use the Fred Meyer brand, whatever it is. It holds up to fixing a radiator when the surface is dry! It’s best kept warm in a pocket before use. Don’t leave home without it… kind of weird but I’ve only fixed one shoe with it.

  • carl November 17, 2011, 5:32 pm

    Thanks for the interview and thank him for his service. Good intel.

  • john November 17, 2011, 10:44 pm

    Zip ties and duct tape are in one of my bug out bags, never thought of shoe glue. I carry cord for shoe laces, been there done that having them break, especially if they get wet and then cut by stepping into thick underbrush.

    I never buy boots with speed laces, because if the lace breaks in the middle, it forces you to stop for risk of losing the whole boot and there is no way to make a quick emergency tie at the breaks. Not a huge problem in summer, but, a major risk factor if walking through snow and you get snow in the boot because the top laces fell off.

    I agree on a good sleeping bag, I slept in a tent one night directly on the ground in fall, in Maine, and I was bone sore the next day because of the hard cold ground.


Leave a Comment