Saturday, April 30, 2016

Living out of Your Ruck: What I took to the Invasion

It is truly stunning the amount of text that is devoted to the Bug Out Bag.  This is not one of those posts.  What I would like to do is give a perspective of things that may not be considered when you are on the move for an extended period of time and completely away from your normal supply chain.    
Being in the military assumes that you have an unending supply of ammunition, fuel, food, and friends. There exist some times that either the military will not provide or the supply chain will not keep up with.  Of course the unit has a detailed list of what people are required to take. In some cases, to assure uniformity, they make it known where you should put the item or how you should wear it.  The reasoning behind it is, if you are in need of an item in an emergency, you will not need to look around for it if you have to get it off of someone else’s kit.  This especially applies to things like first aid gear.   What the unit cannot tell you are items that you will NEED to take.

Prior to the start of the invasion, I tried to bend the ear of every single Gulf War vet I could find.  “What the hell do you take on an invasion?”, I would ask.  So they gave me the following list in no particular order:

Baby wipes-This has been said many times before but needs repeating.  You can never have too many. They are a lifesaver when you want to clean yourself but do not have the time or ability to do so.  When you are on the run, things like water are a premium commodity and will not be wasted on cleaning.

Batteries – It seems obvious, but batteries are essential.  Having your flashlight, electronic optic, or night vision device go down will be a significant emotional event when you really need it.  This is another item of considerable weight.  I have not looked into alternative power sources like the reportedly very fine one from Goal Zero, but it would be something to look into.

Socks – Lots and lots of socks.  I am a bit of a heretic to conventional military wisdom when it comes to how I wear socks in the field.  I believe in using plain white athletic socks and changing them often.  My feet tend to perspire more than most so keeping them clean and refreshed is the best way for me to maintain them.  Of course your mileage may vary with how your foot is conditioned.  Whatever kind you wear be sure and bring a lot of them.  You will need every pair eventually and they are not that heavy.

Tobacco – You will not be able to run to the corner store and I assure you, you will not find any battlefield pickups.  When I reached Iskandariyah on the outskirts of Baghdad, we were able to find come cartons of the Iraqi government brand cigarettes but they were used only as a last resort.  Beside from being truly revolting to each of the five senses, they ended up being forbidden due the high formaldehyde content.  Of course, you can skip the whole thing and quit now.  I did after 14 years and it has been one of the best things I have done for my health and my wallet.

Music/books – Entertainment items are superfluous but essential if you do not want to talk to yourself a lot and struggle to remember song lyrics.  Even during the initial mad dash to Baghdad and beyond we would still have times of boredom.  I have seen many articles floating around facebook about the utility of having a survival tablet.  I could not agree more.  Had I the chance to have an ereader back in 2003, my quality of life would have been much better.  Charging the battery is, of course, a problem, but it is manageable with current advances in solar cell products.  For the security conscious but not necessarily tech savvy, (and you are security conscious, right?), I would recommend the Libertas tablet as an alternative to the off-the-shelf version.

Laundry soap – You will get your clothes dirty and you will have to was them yourself.  A clothesline can be made from 550 cord, but you will want a smallish container of Dreft, Woolite, or other powder.  The key is that is must wash away clean with as little effort as possible (hence the baby or hand wash only detergents).  All Free does not have optical whiteners, so if you do not want to shine like a Christmas tree when being viewed by an enemies Night Vision Device, you will want to go with that brand.  I tried to use a device that was shaped like a ball that was supposed to build up pressure on the inside as you rotated with a crank but it did not work.  I think that the technology has caught up a bit, so if you can find a labor saving device to keep your undies nice and fresh whilst on the move, more power to you.

Toilet paper- Another item you can never have enough of.  However long you plan to be out, assume that it will be longer.  MRE toilet paper is woefully inadequate on many fronts.  Baby wipes shine in this department but you may want your foe other things.  I would recommend a full roll that has been relatively waterproofed in a ziplock baggie as enough for a month.  The fairer gendered among us may want to consider a bit more.

Caffeine or other stimulants – This, for obvious litigious reasons, you will have to be careful.  When on the run, you will have to be sharp and focused to do what you have to do.  The first 36 hours of the race into Baghdad we were driving the entire time.  When you are in continuous active combat operations you will not always have the luxury of taking a power nap.  The effects of sleep deprivation (among others)are a lowered immune system, weight gain (from using food to fuel your body to keep it awake), and eventual organ failure.  The harsh reality is, sometimes, it just cannot be helped if the mission or situation requires you to be awake.  So by having something on hand that can keep you focused for a longer amount of time until you can reach that nap, you will be better off.  

Zip Ties/Duct Tape - Hundreds of uses.  Maybe it was my lousy Supply Sergeant, but I never saw enough of these and would always have to buy it on my own.  Having a small bunch of various sized zipties that are fastened arond a rubber band are essential to every packing list.  If you are careful with your supplies,  you can even reuse them.  Duct tape can be either rolled around an old plastic credit card or pencil (the latter being my favorite).


skybill said...

Hi Sgt, Matt,
Just a thought about the "Baby Wipes." Every time I go to "HOOTERS" and get food...I get a hand full of those little, square, packets of after dinner hand wipes...aka "baby wipes" I always save them and have a gazillion of them in the house, in the car, in the shop!! Man they sure come in handy!!!

Chiu ChunLing said...

It's always well-worth having things that make your life that much easier and give you a performance edge when combat is potentially imminent. But it's also worth considering ways you can reduce your dependence on various kinds of supplies.

For instance, if you have access to wind-drifted, sun-drenched, dry sand (or clear flowing water, of course), you can save a lot of wet-wipes (and TP). It's not exactly comfortable, but it does work for basic sanitation. Fine sand even makes a pretty good detergent (the main purpose of which is to bond with oils and thus allow them to be rinsed away with water).

That particular tip may not be one you've ever heard before, but other basic skills of doing without things like battery-powered devices (and too many different skills to list are included in that) or manufactured fasteners are an important part of what it means to "Be Prepared". We may not be aiming to become Boy Scouts (and that organization isn't what it once was), but abilities to improvise various alternatives to manufactured goods were a highlight of their literature.

Of course, getting a feel for how to do something without the factory-made solution in hand often will give you a far greater appreciation for how much more cost-effective the ready-made solution is if you have access to it. Don't go relying on sand for your hygiene needs until you've actually tried using the stuff, same for knots (and expedient rope-making using found/natural materials) you've never practiced. And seriously, never try to rely on plants for pharmacology unless you really know what you're doing.

Every crucial supply you know how to replace with expedient materials in a pinch (and not just in theory, but by practice) gives you that much more latitude to go ahead and risk running out of something if keeping an ample supply is too costly (in weight/bulk/'s rarely going to be more costly in monetary/effort terms than the expedient version).

John Otis Comeau said...

lots of good suggestions in there, thanks. I might add from my Burning Man excursions and urban bivouacking trips:

roasted coffee beans can be eaten directly, saving the bother of grinding them and boiling water.

cheap, effective, and nasty-chemical-free baby wipes can be made with a cut-in-two roll of paper towels soaked in your own choice of mold-inhibiting solution. 50-50 vinegar and water is probably the cheapest but I haven't tried it yet. I have a small silicone bottle of Dr. Bronner's concentrated soap with me to add to it. don't know if that shows up on night vision or not; if not it can be used as laundry soap. it is my one universal wash-it-all. can't use much in a laundromat though, or it will bubble over onto the floor.

tobacco grows wild in many parts of the world. I've tried tree tobacco leaves, Nicotania glauca, in the Baja desert, in a corncob pipe, and it tasted sure enough like tobacco but I didn't get a nicotine buzz. maybe I just didn't smoke enough; I'm not a big fan of the drug but I like to experiment. southern Baja actually has *two* native Nicotania species.

in the desert, dust makes a "good enough" toilet paper. in your army circumstances though, I can see how crowding could have a deleterious effect on that. the sun's ultraviolet rays kill bacteria fast, but not instantaneous. and sometimes alkalinity of the dust is high enough to cause burning of sensitive skin.

Sean said...

Don't forget to bring a little Pogie Bait. Candy,Slim Jims, similar things. One, it can help keep your morale up, and you can share it with a buddy to keep his morale up too. I carried a little battery powered FM/AM radio around in VN in the bush, and I seemed to get pretty good reception no matter where I was. With an earphone, you keep it quiet, and it helps keep you connected back with the World. Also, a good thing to share with a buddy, for the same purpose. For OPSEC, I always turned it all the way down when I was done listening to it, so that when I turned it on, if the jack wasn't all the way plugged in (I always checked, first) it wouldn't blast out in the quiet of the jungle, and give your position (or the platoons) away. You are right on the money about the socks, Matt. We wore them out pretty quick, and were always hunting for new ones. Turning your boots upside down at night (if you take them off, and oh brother did we need to!) on a stake or something will probably save you from critters getting into them at night. We didn't leave helmets on the ground at night for the same reason. I would add, to check very carefully before it is dark, how you arrange your sleeping spot, in regards to your perimeter, where the MGs are placed, and the nearest high speed avenue of approach. I always slept on my stomach (to prevent snoring) with an arm on my rifle, and all my equipment within an arms reach. Any tobacco that is wet and rubbed on your exposed flesh will keep the mosquitos away.