CAMP NEW YORK, Kuwait — Had they seen stockings and a tree, Task Force 1-77
soldiers might have thought Santa had just arrived.
Hundreds of troops at Camp New York woke up before dawn last week, marched
through the sand to a giant warehouse tent near the front gate, and lined up to
grab their long-promised new gear.
They passed by table after table, picking up new shirts, long underwear,
summer and winter boots, fleece wear, knee and elbow pads, and vests.
"It was like Christmas," said 1st Lt. Jason Royston, 24, of Ada, Okla., an
officer with the 9th Engineer Battalion currently attached to Task Force 1-77.
The clothing came on top of a new assault bag, rifle scopes, battle-axes and
other essential soldier tools delivered to their tents the night before. And
more is to come: Each soldier is scheduled to receive up to 37 new items,
depending on his or her job, said Maj. Chad Ochs, 39, of Hamilton, Mont., the
1st Infantry Division's force management officer.
All are part of the Army's Rapid Fielding Initiative, giving soldiers the
latest in battle clothing and fighting gear. Ochs said the 1st ID is spending
about $28 million to equip two 2,000-man brigade combat teams it is sending to
Iraq, plus another $7 million on a smaller package of gear for support troops.
The initiative started two years ago, when troops in Afghanistan found much
of their equipment didn't stand up well under the rigors of a long, hard
deployment in harsh conditions. Flush with cash post-Sept. 11, 2001, the
Defense Department decided to spend some of it to better equip the forces
fighting the war on terror.
"The Army had gone along for a long time modernizing its big systems," Ochs
said, "but the individual soldier had kind of lagged behind. We're playing
Before leaving Germany, soldiers had received several items, such as their
Wiley X desert goggles, Sonic earplugs and Camelbak water-carrying backpacks.
Last week, they got fireproof Nomex gloves, Air Force boots that are both
lighter weight and more durable than what they were wearing, silk-like long
underwear and long-sleeved T-shirts that push moisture away from the body on
hot summer days, and new vests that carry gear comfortably in pouches instead
of on straps.
Soldiers with the 1st ID have been happily bewildered by the Army's
generosity. Many say they are used to receiving used or outdated equipment, if
anything, when they deploy.
"It's pretty unusual. You never get stuff like this," said Sgt. Brett Steen,
23, of Spring Hill, Fla., an infantryman from Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th
Infantry Regiment. "It's pretty up-to-date stuff."
Much of the gear had previously been issued only to elite troops.
"A lot of it, the SF [Special Forces] guys ran around with it, or the
Rangers," Royston said. "It's lighter than what we had, and it works better."
Soldiers had been told the gear was coming, but many were skeptical. As they
are accustomed to doing, they dipped into their own pockets to buy gear.
Royston said some of his men spent $150 to $800 on new rifle sights.
"If I'd known they were going to give it to us, I wouldn't have spent $200 on
gear," said Spc. Isaac McMillan, 23, of Oklahoma City, also with the 9th
The two most popular items were the boots and the vests.
"The boots are by far the best thing," said 1st Lt. Edgar Pulley, 25, of San
Gabriel, Calif., a platoon leader for Company C, 1-26 Infantry. "They feel like
tennis shoes. You can actually walk for miles in the desert."
Soldiers say the vests, with their custom pouches for items such as
ammunition and grenades, carry the soldiers' heavy load much better than the
old system of straps.
"It's well-balanced. It proportions the weight on your body," said Staff Sgt.
Kevin King, 24, of Royal Oak, Mich., also from Company C, 1-26 Infantry. "[The
gear] is up on your chest instead of around your sides."
"It even has little pockets where you can put your forceps," said Spc.
Michael Miranda, 21, of Roma, Texas, a medic with the 1st ID's 1st Battalion,
6th Field Artillery.
Christmas in the Middle East isn't over just yet. Still on order, Ochs said,
are new Kevlar helmets that are lighter, better-padded and reshaped so troops
can wear them when firing their weapons from the prone position. They are due
within the next few weeks.
"We'll be like James Bond in those Kevlars," Pulley said.
Steve Liewer is an embedded journalist with the 1st
Infantry Division, Task Force 1-77.
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