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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

Scripps Howard News Service September 11, 2003

American troops forced to buy own wartime gear


Last Christmas, Mike Corcoran sent his mother an unusual Christmas list: He wanted night-vision goggles, a global positioning system and a short-wave radio. Corcoran, then a Marine sergeant in Afghanistan, wanted the goggles so he could see on patrols. They cost about $2,000 each.

According to an Army internal report released earlier this summer, many ground troops like Corcoran decided to dip into their own pockets to get the equipment they needed to fight in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

"There were a lot of reports of that prior to the war, people would go out and buy their own gear," said Patrick Garrett, a defense analyst with GlobalSecurity.org. "The Army ran out of desert camo boots, and a lot of soldiers were being issued regular black combat boots. Soldiers decided that wasn't for them, so they paid for new boots with their own money."

According to the Pentagon's "Operation Iraqi Freedom Lessons Learned" draft report, soldiers spent their own money to get better field radios, extra ammunition carriers to help them fight better and commercial backpacks because their own rucksacks were too small.

Senior Airman Joe Harvey, based at McGuire AFB in New Jersey, said his clothing allowance is $200 a year from the Air Force, and that most aspects of the uniform, including four sets of combat and dress uniforms are provided.

"But of course with all the wear and tear they don't always last that long," said Harvey, who deployed to Iraq for the war. "Now with some of the units if you rip a pair of bdu's (battle dress uniform) they will give you a new pair. But for the most part you are responsible for buying any new uniform you need except for boots. Your unit will always supply with a free pair of boots."

Harvey said the costs stack up during promotions, when each airman has to purchase new stripes and get them tailored on.

Corcoran, who has since left the Marines, purchased a bunch of items before he deployed. One necessity: baby wipes, because as he said, "a lot of the places you'll go, you won't be taking a shower."

Corcoran also bought his own rucksack, and modified a sling for his M-16 so he was better prepared for patrols. He bought an electric shaver to remove stubble that would keep his gas mask from sealing correctly.

Corcoran got all the items on his Christmas list, including the $2,000 goggles. The short wave radio was meant for entertainment, but he ended up hearing messages urging jihad, and he picked up intelligence from enemy fighters.

And there is one item many soldiers purchased and carried into the desert that wasn't part of the regular equipment.

"Another cool thing to bring with you is an American flag," Corcoran said. "Just in case you plan on conquering anything."

Copyright 2003 Scripps Howard