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  1. #1
    Mike Barham's Avatar
    Mike Barham is offline Senior Member
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    Gear Queer Update Part II

    As my unit's deployment winds down, I've been reflecting on what I've learned about equipment - basically what works and what doesn't. Sometimes people PM or email me with questions about gear and such, because they're deploying or have a friend/relative who is. Maybe some of this will hep folks like that.

    Keep in mind that I am basically a logistics REMF/pogue most of the time, or at least as much of a pogue as exists in a war with no front lines. I work on a big base and only get "suited up" once or twice a week, though sometimes I travel to other places like Mehtar Lam or Kandahar. Stuff that works for me may not necessarily work for the guys who live on the side of a mountain for months at a time.

    I did my first Gear Queer review back in April, if anyone's interested: A GQ update from The Rockpile.. I'll try to follow up on some of the same topics, so you can get an idea about longer-term durability.

    Boots. I'm still wearing the Converse tactical boots. The boots with the side zippers aren't authorized for Army wear, so I wear the regular lace-ups. Converse apparently discontinued the original types I was wearing. I wore out one pair of those pretty quickly, and still have a second pair. I ordered a third pair from Ranger Joes back in August, and unexpectedly received a new design that looks just like the side-zipper design, minus the zipper. This pair has held up extremely well, much better than the previous no-zipper design. Comfort is superior across the board, by far the most comfortable boots I have ever worn. It's basically like wearing sneakers that look like Army boots.

    Uniforms. The ACU is comfortable, though a bit hotter in summer than the old hot weather BDUs/DCUs. The velcro wears quickly, and the uniform lasts about six months with continuous wear. I wore out three uniforms in six months, and it was mainly the velcro that failed. On the plus side, the pockets on the ACU are much better designed than on the BDU/DCU.

    Helmets. The new ACH is so much more comfortable than the previous PASGT "Kevlar" that comparisons aren't even worthwhile. This is a VERY excellent upgrade. No more temptations to take off the brain bucket every chance you can. The ACH can be worn comfortably for 8-10 hours at a time.

    Body armor. We got the new IOTV (Improved Outer Tactical Vest) in September. I like it better than the older IBA because the carrier for the hard-armor side plates are integrated and not tacked on like the IBA, and because it has a mesh lining that breathes much better than the IBA. It's more complicated to don and doff, but supposedly it is less likely to get blown off the body in an IED strike. I like it.

    Gloves. I haven't seen anything to beat plain old Nomex flight gloves for tactical use. They work fine and are cheap and available. For actual work - loading trucks, etc. - I have had excellent success with a pair of Mechanix work gloves from WalMart for a whopping $19. These have been better and more durable than a $30 pair of Hatch gloves that began to unravel after less than a month's hard use.

    Eye protection. Oakleys are practically unobtainable here, and when you can get them, they are more valuable as trade bait than eye protection (all the gear queers here love Oakleys). Not needing thermonuclear protection, I have used ESS ICE and UVEX with fine success. The Revision Sawfly works well also. None of these are as "fashion forward" as the Oakleys, but the Taliban do not care what we have on our eyes, and neither do I. The only real problem with the less-fashionable eye protection is that if you shoot with nose properly to charging handle on the M4, the very bottom of the lens gets scratched up pretty quickly. This is a minor annoyance.

    Rifles. Had a long conversation with one of the unit's snipers the other night. He reports that, in order of frequency of use, the snipers like the M4, the M24, the M107, and lastly the M14. The M4 continues to serve well and reliably in the real world, despite the fact that it works poorly in the minds of lots of internet commandos and the HK-obsessed gunwriters at Army Times and other rags.

    Pistols. The M9 continues to serve reliably and well, though it is carried far, far more than it is shot here. I have also seen American service members with SIG P226s and P228s, and one HK USP. Contractors carry Glocks and Berettas. I have seen a grand total of one 1911, on the hip of a contractor, despite rumors of its resurgence in the combat theater. Maybe all the vaporware 1911s are in Iraq. I have seen one broken down M9. The spring for the disassembly button broke. It actually still worked fine, you just couldn't break it down for cleaning.

    Crew-served weapons. Now the big guys, the weapons that produce the most casualties on our enemies. The M2 continues to soldier on, and generally works well as long as the timing is set properly. These guns do seem to come in for repairs more than any other, but I suspect this is because it is the weapon of choice in many engagements here, so it get fired more than the others. We certainly burn through a lot of .50 ammo! The 240B 7.62mm machinegun is not in as widespread use as I'd like to see. It's an excellent weapon, being both very reliable and durable. The Mk19 40mm grenade launcher is a lightly constructed and fragile weapon that I'd like to see replaced. It is constantly out of whack and needs lots of attention and special lubrication.

    Sights. The M68 CCO/Aimpoint works very well in fights. Battery life is more than adequate. It is very durable. The only weakness in the design seems to be the power knob, which can break off with a sharp blow from the side. I have seen four broken off like this, and it deadlines the sight. Still, four out of 600 isn't too bad. ACOGs are universally sought after, and the relatively few we have are robust and extremely durable. No issues at all with them. The Matech BUIS works fine and holds zero very well. No issues with those, either.

    NVGs. Our night vision gives us decisive superiority over the enemy in low-light fights. The AN/PVS-7 seems to work better for most guys than the AN/PVS-14 monocular, but either is far better than no night vision. The PVS-7 is hard to get, though, so mainly we rely on the -14s. No major durability issues with these. We had to send one -14 back to the States for warranty repair. Battery life is an issue, though, and we go through lots and lots of NVG batteries.

    Flashlights. Most everyone here uses a Surefire of some kind, with the G2 being the most common. I have two Surefires, an E2e and a G2, and both have worked fine, though I did break the pocket clip on the E2e bailing out of a truck. My great good friend Bob at Galco sent me repair parts post haste and I was back in business. Battery life is an issue, but the 123 lithium batteries are easily available in theater. I have also been using a Pelican copy of the 6P the last couple of months. So far so good - it's very bright and seems durable. Streamlights are few and far between.

    Holsters. I started with a Blackhawk SERPA thigh rig. I was quickly disabused of any cool-guy notions I had about thigh holsters. If you have to walk very far, they utterly suck. They also take up way too much space when seated in a HMMWV or helicopter. No more thigh holsters for me. Ever. I ordered a MOLLE mount for my IBA and mounted the SERPA there. This works very well. Galco had no competitive product when I bought the SERPA, but the forthcoming Galco AutoLock holster, which I played with while on leave, shows a lot of promise. When REMFing around the base, I wear a Galco shoulder holster (my experiences with that are chronicled here: Confessions of a shoulder-holster convert.), and it has been outstanding. I may even switch to one when I get back home.

    Slings. None of the slings I tried here were perfect. The issue three-point SpecOps sling sucks, getting tangled with everything. The Tactical Tailor MOLLE single point is good, but if you mount it near the shoulder, the rifle's butt slips in rapid fire. The SpecOps Wolfhook is good, but only works on body armor. So I designed a sling that works, at least for me: http://www.usgalco.com/HolsterP3.asp...&CatalogID=441. It probably isn't great for civilian use, but for military applications it should work very well.

    Knives. Any good folder that can be opened one-handed works fine. Giant fighting knives are heavy and mostly useless. I use Spyderco, but any good maker's knife will do fine. Everyone should have a spare knife with their gear. I have "almost" lost my knife at least a dozen times. I have a Delica to back up my Centofante.

    Tactical vests. I brought a privately-owned Specter tac vest. I never used it. The IBA/IOTV has plenty of PALS webbing to attach pouches, and I never felt like I needed a special vest. This one - practically unused - will be for sale when I get home.

    MOLLE pouches. My Specter double M9 mag pouch has worked fine, no issues. I also have a Specter "miscellaneous" pouch. One of the zipper pulls broke off early in the deployment, but it still works. Slight durability issue there.

    That's about it, I guess. No experience with the MRAPs vehicles that are slowly filtering in. If I missed something and you have a question, ask away.

    Oh, and everyone please congratulate our D Company. They are in the battalion lead with approximately 120 dead bad guys to their credit.
    Last edited by Mike Barham; 02-03-2008 at 08:26 AM.
    Employed by Galco Gunleather - www.galcogunleather.com / Veteran OEF VIII

    Donate to the Christian and Stephanie Nielson Recovery fund: http://www.nierecovery.com/.

    All opinions, particularly those involving politics and Glocks, are mine and not Galco's.

  2. #2
    neophyte is offline Member
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    day to day

    Mike Barham: Sir; I enjoyed this read.
    It would seem; with all this equiptment; you'd need a wheelbarrow to carry it around I had no idea

    Sir; do a thing about the base; i.e.; food, shower, interactions, storms, base sirens, wake up music, not able to spell 'revelerly', off base "walk abouts", fluids,i.e. water, beer, gatoraide type, if you can.

    You are getting 'short' now. Keep your A$$ out-a the sling

    Thanks

  3. #3
    Charlie's Avatar
    Charlie is offline Senior Member
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    Informative and interesting write-up. Thanks. How many milliseconds do you have left over there?

  4. #4
    Mike Barham's Avatar
    Mike Barham is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by neophyte View Post
    It would seem; with all this equiptment; you'd need a wheelbarrow to carry it around.
    Well, most patrols are mounted, so the wheelbarrow is a HMMWV!

    Sir; do a thing about the base; i.e.; food, shower, interactions, storms, base sirens, wake up music, not able to spell 'revelerly', off base "walk abouts", fluids,i.e. water, beer, gatoraide type, if you can.
    I am usually at Bagram, which is the biggest American base in Afghanistan. This is good and bad, since life here is more regimented than at the FOBs, but we have more amenities (like reliable internet service!). I have also spent time at Mehtar Lam (One Night at the FOB) and Kandahar (Kandahar - another world!).

    The food here at Bagram is pretty damn good by Army standards. It's mainly prepared by contractor KBR, and they do a fine job. There's a pretty good variety, we get a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, and only a few people have gotten sick. The food at the FOBs varies a lot. Some of the remote, primitive FOBs are pretty much living on MREs, while the larger FOBs have decent chow halls.

    Showers are good at most places, including the FOBs. We have hot water most of the time. You obviously try to keep your showers short so the other guys get hot water, too, unless you are in the Air Force. Then you take a long, luxurious shower and spend an hour primping in front of the mirror with the water running.

    Interactions fall into a few general categories. Mostly the services mix well, with the usual good-natured rivalries. Around Bagram we have good relations with the locals, who are overwhelmingly anti-Taliban, and many of the locals in the surrounding towns work on the base. They are mostly friendly and easy-going. Relations with the allied nations aren't strong on a personal level. They are friendly, but kind of distant. The New Zealand soldiers are the friendliest by far (and their female soldiers the best looking!), while the French and Germans are sort of standoffish. The guys from the UAE are our neighbors, and they are friendly and generous, though their mosque blasts out haji calls day and night.

    We've had a couple of snowstorms (we're up in the mountains), and in the late spring/early summer we had the "100 Days of Wind" which was no joke. It was a sandstorm practically every day. Glad that's over.

    The base sirens and the "Giant Voice" sounds for several occasions: an attack, when the aerial gunnery range is in use (all hours of the night), when EOD is going to detonate something, and on the sad occasion of a Fallen Comrade ceremony. One of my less fun days here was when I heard the sirens go off when I was outside the wire on foot with only one other guy. There was an indirect fire attack, the gates were all locked down, and my buddy and I were stuck outside the gate for 90 minutes. Bad day.

    There's no reveille or retreat. The different units pretty much set their own schedules based on mission requirements. The flags are raised and lowered on time, of course, but there's no music like on a Stateside post.

    I used to go outside the wire on "walk abouts" a lot more often than I do these days. I'm okay with that, though I don't get nearly as much chance to interact with the locals as I did earlier in the deployment. Now if I am moving about it is mainly by helicopter.

    Fluids...well, we mainly live off bottled water, since the parasites in the Afghan water would probably come close to killing an American. We have Gatorade powder we can mix in the water, and the chow hall has the typical American soda/pops - Coke, Dr. Pepper, 7Up, etc. Sometimes we can get real bottled Gatorade, which is a somewhat rare treat. The base PX sells fake (non-alcoholic) beer, but General Order #1 strictly forbids consumption of alcoholic beverages in theater by Americans. The Canadians have a nice bar in Kandahar, but of course Americans are banned. Supposedly the French have a bar here on Bagram, but its location is apparently a closely-guarded secret. And of course the Army is fueled by coffee! I have a coffeemaker in my little plywood room, and I think every office on the base has a coffeemaker in it.

    The Army guys here and on most of the FOBs live in plywood shacks called "B-huts." These huts are subdivided into eight little cells, one for each soldier. They beat the heck out of living in tents, but they are cold in winter and hot in summer. The Air Force, naturally, is living in the brand-new hardstand buildings just constructed here. I guess they aren't used to living in the field or being in a real war.
    Employed by Galco Gunleather - www.galcogunleather.com / Veteran OEF VIII

    Donate to the Christian and Stephanie Nielson Recovery fund: http://www.nierecovery.com/.

    All opinions, particularly those involving politics and Glocks, are mine and not Galco's.

  5. #5
    neophyte is offline Member
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    getting short

    Mike Barham: Sir; thanks. What about your group getting "short" or has the acronym faded from the vocabulary.

  6. #6
    hideit's Avatar
    hideit is offline Senior Member
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    good reading
    thanks for the info
    which Centofante knife do you have?

    My son is presently in Ranger school - mtn phase

  7. #7
    hideit's Avatar
    hideit is offline Senior Member
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    i got on google earth and found Bagram.
    are you near on on that base with the large airplane runway base?

  8. #8
    Snowman's Avatar
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    Great writeup Mike. I really enjoyed it.

  9. #9
    Old Padawan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Barham View Post
    When REMFing around the base, I wear a Galco shoulder holster (my experiences with that are chronicled here: Confessions of a shoulder-holster convert.), and it has been outstanding. I may even switch to one when I get back home.
    OMG. I will fall over when i see it.
    "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." -Mark Twain

  10. #10
    Mike Barham's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hideit View Post
    which Centofante knife do you have?
    Just the Spyderco Centofante II.

    My son is presently in Ranger school - mtn phase
    I was twice offered Ranger school, and twice I declined it. A man has to know his limitations, as Dirty Harry liked to say. Good on your son for stepping up!

    I'm usually on Bagram, the big airfield. It's the biggest American post in Afghanistan. Unfortunately close to various brigade flagpoles, but like I said, more amenities than most of the FOBs. I can't complain. I have it easy compared to a lot of guys.

    As far as us being short, yeah, we have about six more weeks, then it's back to the Promised Land. Yee-ha!
    Employed by Galco Gunleather - www.galcogunleather.com / Veteran OEF VIII

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    All opinions, particularly those involving politics and Glocks, are mine and not Galco's.

  11. #11
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    Many thanks to all the men/women of your outfit Mike and a special thanks to D company for a job well done. A special thanks to you to Mike for keeping us in formed on what's happening. Stay safe.

    Best Regards,Baldy.

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    Best of luck to you and your men as you finish things out! I will add that a pair of APC leather driving gloves are the best gloves I've ever owned. I can easily break down and clean my gun with them, work on my car, fish, use the credit card swiper at Kroger, etc...literally anything. They mold to your hair, are super comfortable (leather palm with suede/mesh top), and last FOREVER. They may look tacky (especially to you, Mike), but they are great gloves for anything when you need protection, durability, comfort, ergonomics, and grip. They're originally meant for ricers trying to handle turns in their Honda Civics, but they are the ultimate glove. They even keep your hands warm in temps down to 40 degrees or so, and are very breathable for hot days.


  13. #13
    Mike Barham's Avatar
    Mike Barham is offline Senior Member
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    Thanks for the tip on the APC gloves. I'm very satisfied with the Mechanix gloves for general work like loading cargo, and the issue (free!) Nomex gloves work fine for "tactical" stuff. Having one pair that can do both would be superior, but we have to wear Nomex on ops because of the fire/burn hazards associated with IEDs.

    The black APCs look fine, certainly no worse than Mechanix. Not sure what I'd do with them back in Phoenix, though, since I don't race cars, fish, or wear gloves in the grocery store. It's a bit late in the deployment to be testing new gear - by the time I got them it would be time to leave.

    Anyhow, I have a very basic and unmodified Honda Fit, so l don't think I qualify for the rice rocket gloves.
    Employed by Galco Gunleather - www.galcogunleather.com / Veteran OEF VIII

    Donate to the Christian and Stephanie Nielson Recovery fund: http://www.nierecovery.com/.

    All opinions, particularly those involving politics and Glocks, are mine and not Galco's.

  14. #14
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    Well, maybe one of these days you'll turn to the dark side and get a pair. They're even machine washable! That's right, I attempted to wear them while making cheese dip one night and got cheese all over them, so I washed/dried them the next day and they fit even better! Don't ask why I wore them while making cheese dip...I took an ambien to help me sleep that night and got hungry after it kicked in.

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