November 8th, 1965

Prepping for an Embed: Gear

So, you want to do an embed.  You have an outlet, are immunized, and have a passport.  You are getting ready to deal with the paperwork.  Now, you face a small bit of Catch-22.  To fill out the paperwork, you will need armor -- and really all the gear.  But, you might not want to spend the money on the gear until you have the embed confirmed.  After all, the application might be denied.  It does happen. 

Bite the bullet and get the gear.  You can always use it for camping, emergency preparedness, and other things.  Well, most of it. 

There are a number of lists floating around of what you need on an embed.  There was one in particular sent to me before my first embed that I found particularly helpful, and my gear today still uses that as a foundation.  DoD or whatever coalition you apply to may (or may not) have a list as well.  Here's some of what I recommend.

First, start with the armor.  One of the first things you will be asked is if you have armor.  You need to be able to honestly say yes.  On my first embed, a very kind person bought me my armor, as in the vest and helmet.  Armor is that, and a bit more. 

That first armor worked, and I am now and always will be grateful for it.  That said, there have been improvements to armor systems, and you want to take advantage of them.  Also, there were some lessons learned on my part, that I will share. 

What I call the vest is more than a vest.  It is a vest, neck, groin, and more.  You want to get the best you can, and you also want it to have a grab strap/drag strap, molle, and be as close to what the military has as possible.  The grab strap helps with carrying, and makes it easy to drag you at need.  Not having it is a pain, as otherwise you are trying to grab 50 lbs of bulk and move it with one hand; or, someone is trying to get you out of harm's way and can't get a good grip.  Both suck.  Molle/web/attachment points allow you to carry things at need, from first aid gear to camera gear.  It also makes it easy to attach other things at need, such as IR chemlights or things that ID you as friendly/not-the-enemy.  Not having that ability also sucks.  And can make life (too) exciting. 

The best is not always the most expensive, and you can find deals, make deals, etc.  Take your time, research sources, and get some expert advice.  I've been lucky and have had those with experience not only advise me on types of systems, but on tricks that can help take weight off shoulders and otherwise make moving around in full gear and load not quite as sucky as it might be. 

Keep in mind that the system is just that, a system.  The carrier/vest/whatever you call it will start out pretty much the same, being filled with aramid fibers that will stop some projectiles.  Where the real protection comes is with the plates.  Get the best you can as light as you can.  Get the front and back plates, and do get the side plates too.  You can always remove some or all at need; but, it is impossible to add them at need if you don't have them. 

You also need a helmet as part of your armor system.  There are options out there, and I am just going to tell you one thing -- don't go old.  Yes, the newer helmets cost more, but they offer better protection on several levels.  One important one is in terms of the pad/suspension system inside.  There is a whole post I could do on TBI, impact frequencies, and such, but the short version is that the newer interior systems much better than the old strap system on several levels.  Been there, done that, upgraded the interior as a result. 

Third part of the system is eye pro, or eye protection.  You need it, and not just to look cool in the photos.  You want and need the fragment and blast protection, and you also need it for wind, dust, dirt, and more.  My recommendation is to get eye pro where you can change out the lenses, not just for lighting conditions, but because in some regions the sand/dust/etc. will take its toll, sometimes very rapidly.  Spare lenses are good.  If, like me, you need glasses, you need prescription inserts to go with them.  Not all take them, so factor that into your shopping.  Yes, you may wear contacts here, but in the past DoD has said no, hell no, and otherwise discouraged them in the AOR.  You may find dust and sand limit the time you wear contacts, or even prevent you from wearing in some cases.  Whatever you decide to do, have glasses, have prescription inserts, and have options.  One option is to get good fragment goggles that will fit over your glasses at need. 

Now, the next thing can be stand-alone or considered part of your armor.  I treat it as part of the armor/protective gear that comes first.  That thing is flame resistant clothing.  Can't speak to now, but in the past the Marines really wanted you in a nomex flight suit to fly Marine Air.  They could be right insistent about it.  So, you may want to consider it. 

For me, I went a different route.  I have nomex flight gloves, a nomex balaclava, flame resistant shirt, and flame resistant pants.  I don't go flame resistant underwear (haven't needed it since the last Blackfive staff meeting), but if there is a real fire risk (flight, for example) I do go cotton on the underwear just to be safe.  This meets all the requirements and can be worn for general use at need.  Keep in mind that all clothing needs to do double or triple duty in the field. 

Now, your second thing to take care of is footwear, specifically boots.  You are not going to a parade, on safari, or to a fashion show.  What you need are good, solid, dependable, and functional boots.  I highly recommend combat boots if you are doing a real embed and not just a photo op.  Before my first embed, a pair of very nice combat boots showed up on my doorstep.  I will say that they were some of the most comfortable and functional boots I've ever owned.  Don't know who was responsible for them showing up, as they are not generally available, but thank you!  They were perfect for summer and terrain conditions in Iraq.  And beyond. 

When getting boots, take a look at where you are going and when you are going.  Summer is going to be hot, and hot feet are not happy feet.  Winter can get freaking cold, especially in a desert much less in mountains, and frozen feet are not happy feet either.  Pick good boots for the conditions likely to be faced, get them early, and break them in.  If you show up with brand new boots that you've never worn before, they will laugh at you.  Heck, I'm going to call you Chester and laugh at you too.  Consider socks part of the boot, and get good ones.  I use a padded combat boot sock and love them. 

Now, you would expect me to say that third should be clothing, but it's not.  Third on the list is a sleeping bag/sleep system.  If you are going to be doing a long embed, or a series of them, get a system that allows you to add or subtract for comfort.  You also need it to be the lightest and take up the least room possible.  You can get a pad or air mattress along with it, but my own take is that was space and weight that I didn't need to carry.  I like my snivel gear, but I would rather have other such gear than the pad or mattress.  If expense is an issue, get the basics and build over time.  One thing I have learned is that having a bivy sack as part of the system comes in handy not just on embeds. 

Now, you have a protective system, you are set to travel shanks mare, and you have a place to sleep.  What's next?  Carry gear. 

The old adage was keep it one bag.  For the modern soldier, much less someone on embed, that is difficult if not impossible.  That said, keep it to the minimum.  My preferred mode is an assault pack, a tactical briefcase, and a carry bag.  You can check my gear geek posts for some specifics for this embed, and I will be writing more on that soon.  Meantime, here are my suggestions in general.

Everything needs multiple ways to be carried.  The tactical briefcase has a regular handle, a shoulder strap, and can be attached to a pack at need.  The assault pack also has a grab strap, a briefcase strap, and regular should straps, as well as the ability to be attached to a larger bag.  My carry bag has a basic handle, a shoulder strap, and pack straps.  So, I have the ability at need to wear my carry bag as a pack, put the assault pack on in front, and either carry the briefcase by the handle or secure it to one of the other bags so my hands are free. 

Keep in mind that the troops are not there to be your porter, and that you need to be able to physically carry everything you have at need.  Keep in mind that military transport is used to handling certain things, and if you gear matches that to some extent, it makes things easier on all.  Keep in mind that you are not going to the mall and need gear appropriate to the conditions.  Please, don't be that guy in loafers trying to drag a wheeled suitcase through the sand and rocks to the helicopter.  Yes, I really did see someone doing that (not sure if he was wearing loafers, but...) in Iraq.  Sad doesn't begin to describe it.

Which brings us to clothing, and another not-to-do.  Do not buy a uniform.  If you show up in ACUs or BDUs or other uniform or camouflage, they will laugh at you and you will be named Dou-Che of House Ashhol in the language of troops and the Fremen.  The PAO shall smite thee, and turn their backs upon you and you shall be sent forth on the short C-130 to the place where the special people go. 

For pants, I made use of cotton cargo pants in Iraq and will use my favorites again this time.  I also do have a pair of EMT trousers for dress occasions (cough, choke), and will try some tactical pants this time.  The cargo pants worked great in the heat, and the pockets were close to the old BDUs and allowed me to carry water bottles so that the Top did not smite and chide me. 

For shirts, I used tactical shirts and fell in love with them.  Pockets upon pockets, oh joy.  Just be sure not to load much or anything in those pockets when in armor, as not only can't you not get to those items when out, you will have funny indentations in your body afterwards.  Not a form of body modification I will recommend. 

For underwear, went cotton and t-shirts.  Doing so again this time.  As I noted before, RangerUp has set me up with some good t-shirts for this trip. 

Final essential is a heavy-duty mesh laundry bag.  When you are an embed, you do your laundry in their system, and their system likes the mesh laundry bags. 

The rest is snivel gear and cutting back.  Like the troops, you are likely going to be wearing the same stuff many days.  So, look at what you might normally carry on a trip, and try cutting by two thirds (or more).  I will detail more on what I am taking in a gear geek post soon. 

One thing that is and isn't gear are medicines.  Prescriptions, supplements, OTC:  whatever you take on a regular basis needs to come along.  Plan and pack accordingly, and take more than you think you will need. 

Also, when packing, I highly commend vacuum seal bags of various types.  Just keep in mind that even though you cut the bulk, you still have the weight/mass.  It may all fit in the bag, but if you can't lift the bag, or two of you have trouble lifting the bag, you need to cut back. 


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