Submitted by Eric Daniel
A couple years back, I was sitting in on a training meeting at NTC with an active duty 1SG and his subordinates. The topic of the meeting was the First Sergeant's concern over troop dependency on technology for mission accomplishment, specifically navigation and communication. He was worried that the joes were becoming too dependent on gadgets to figure out where they were and communicating between teams on the ground, as well as with supporting aircraft (helicopters mostly) in the air, and that they were losing core soldier skills. At one point, seeing as how I was the only guardsman in attendance, he asked me, since we lacked all the modern high speed gear that the AC had, how we managed to get from point A to point B. I replied, "With a sextant and a rutter, just like everyone else..."
Seriously though, this got me to thinking about non-verbal communication. One of the stock tools we used extensively in the forest service for communicating, or at least getting the attention of, aircraft was a signal mirror. It wasn't so much an issue that we couldn't communicate with the aircraft, generally we could, it was just that it was usually pretty difficult to rapidly orient them and get them to our location ("Yeah, look for the guy next to the tree...") By using a signal mirror, we could flash them from ten miles out and steer them right to us with little fuss or cluttering up the net with useless traffic.
The mirror I've had and used for the last 20 years is a laminate mil-spec glass mirror. I've had several additional mirrors over the years, mostly plastic or metal, but these have never stood the test of time and abuse that my glass one has (to be fair, I view the plastic ones as truly emergency use. The mirror itself is covered by a protective sticker which you peel off to use the mirror. Once the sticker comes off, the plastic is really easy to scratch and dull, so the mirror ought to be replaced with a new "covered" one as soon as possible.)
In looking up a source for my 20 year old mirror online, I discovered there's quite the controversy going on about these mirrors. The one I have is a Vector 1 style, manufactured in Japan. Another style available is made by the S.I. Howard glass company. Both of these mirrors are made from tempered laminate glass, and feature a "retro-reflective" sighting hole in the center of the glass. This retro-reflective sight provides you with a "fireball" aiming point to help you accurately flash your target (if you put the spot on the target, then the sun is being reflected properly.) Other glass signaling mirrors may resemble the Vector and Howard mirrors, but only these two have the retro reflective finish in the center for aiming.
Having a signal mirror goes way beyond martial and firefighting applications. There's no reason what so ever for someone going abroad out of doors to not carry one of these for emergency purposes (for you maritime adventurers, either get a USCG approved lexan mirror that floats, or get a glass one and run a float through the lanyard loop.) They don't take up a lot of space, they'll last you forever, and it might just save your life some day.