This week we worked hard to wrap up as much pre-deployment training (PTP) as possible. On Tuesday, this meant a two and a half hour class on some new gear we would be issued. I will pause here for a moment. Please allow me to introduce you to a term with which I am very familiar, but may be new to many of you – “Marine-proof”. At first glance, the meaning of this phrase may seem obvious. Marine-proof generally means: 1) that a Marine can understand and employ a tool or concept with little or no additional information or explanation (think of an I-Phone); 2) that a Marine cannot destroy or damage permanently a piece of gear or mode of transportation (ok, not an I-Phone here, but perhaps a 5-ton truck); 3) that the item in question was specifically designed with Marines in mind, who are generally very hard on pretty much anything they come in contact with.
With this in mind, let’s return to our class. The Marine Corps (and the Army) have developed some amazing gear in the past ten years. Much of this gear has significantly improved survivability on the battlefield, and ensured that more of our Marines come home safely. The gear has also become much more comfortable. If you would like to learn more about the new body armor, check out this link: IMTV Video
However, this really great gear is the anti-thesis of Marine-proof. The gear may be designed to be indestructible (quite literally), but it requires more instruction than I thought was possible.
Our class covered several topics. First, we talked about the new sleeping system (yes, it’s a sleeping “system”, not just a sleeping “bag”). The bag itself has a zipper down the front, can be pulled apart from the inside, in case you need to exit quickly, and has anti-microbial components (just in case you don’t get the chance to wash your sleeping bag that often – a common problem). The sleeping bag comes with a waterproof “bivvy sack” (best piece of gear in the Marine Corps inventory, personal opinion only). There is nothing better in the world than being DRY in the field.
Next, we covered the pack. Also a complex piece of gear, it comes with a Camelback, numerous pouches and waterproof compression bags. I won’t go into more detail on that here. There are all sorts of ways to organize and to optimize the pack, to put it mildly. Oh, and all of this comes with individual instruction manuals, neatly tucked away in a pocket somewhere. Why do we need an instruction manual for a pack?? Or a sleeping “system”??
But, I want to get to the real focus of the class – the flak jacket (body armor). Now, when I came into the Marine Corps (I can’t believe I’m actually old enough to say that, by the way), we had very simple flak jackets. They were literally jackets: you put one arm in, then another, and there was a Velcro line all the way down the front that held it together. It epitomized the term “Marine-proof”.
When the gentleman giving the class started with pieces, and started telling us how they fit together, I was shocked. There is now a front piece, and a back piece, and a cummerbund (not, I’m not kidding). There are buckles and Velcro and side-pieces and straps and pockets. And there is a purpose to all of them. There is even a quick-release, just in case you need to get out of this contraption quickly. It is not an easy, or a quick process, to put it on, or to take it off.
The gentleman proceeded to show us each piece, and then guide us through the process of putting our body armor together. He assured us that there was a YouTube video that would show us how to do this. Instructional Video His primary purpose was to show us the things that the video did not show us. I was flabbergasted. Was I really going to be issued my body armor in pieces, and expected to put it together? Yes, I was. When I went later that week to draw my gear, they gave me body armor in pieces. Our instructor recommended putting it together and taking it apart several times, so we would get the hang of it. Oh my, this could take hours. I’ll let you know how that process goes next week. J
The rest of the week went well. The Marines are on leave, and enjoying some time with their friends and families before we go forward. I admit that I’m looking forward to the pace slowing a bit. The last four weeks have been amazing. I have enjoyed leading Marines again, and I could not be happier. But the last few weeks have also been exhausting, occasionally frustrating. I will enjoy this respite.