I’ve been issued a lot of gear in my time. Some of it was okay, a lot of it was absolute crap, but some of it really stood out. Not all issued gear is bad, but a lot of it misses the mark. Sometimes war moves faster than technology, so you fight the current war with the last war’s gear. I could write several articles on what gear sucked, from ECMs to massive 3-pound scopes, but let’s be positive and look at the best-issued gear I had my hands on.
The trouble with issued gear
The Marine Corps is superbly strict with the gear you are issued. It’s tough to use gear that isn’t issued in most cases. Heck, the Marine Corps only approves certain sets of boots for Marines. Bringing a lot of your own gear to the field is a great way to get chewed out. This means you’re often stuck with your issued gear, even though plenty of aftermarket options provide a better overall gear option.
Luckily, not all of it’s bad, and to this day, I still cling to some of my favorite pieces of issued gear. With that in mind, here are five pieces of gear I would have happily kept and used to this day.
1) The Streamlight Sidewinder
Yep, this little square-shaped flashlight and I have been around the block together. After two deployments and 13 years of use, I can say it’s one of my favorite pieces of gear. The Sidewinder is a simple flashlight and rather underpowered with only 55 lumens. It’s not a tactical light you’d use when searching for bad guys. Instead, it’s a light designed for admin use, for setting up camp, navigating the COP at night, and reading maps.
The Sidewinder packs a multitude of beam colors, including white, red, blue, and IR, for use with night vision. The Square shape allows you to set it down on the ground or on a window sill and provide hands-free light. Additionally, a clip allows you to attach it to your shirt and do the same, and a mounting system allows you to mount the light to a helmet or MOLLE mount.
This was one of my favorite pieces of issued gear, and for some reason, CIF didn’t want it back when I got out. Too bad for them, but great for me.
2) The Alice pack
When I entered the Marine Corps, we were issued the ILBE pack, which used a soft internal frame and was downright terrible for heavy loads. It was universally loathed. But before our Afghan deployment, we were issued Alice Packs at the battalion level. The metal frame, classic Alice pack provided way more support and made humping across Afghanistan bearable. It’s a weird piece of issued gear to get, but I loved it.
We used them on both deployments and in the various countries we were sent to. That they lasted so long although they were abused so much is a testament to the old-school design. The Alice packs might lack the MOLLE ladders and fancy crap, but it proves old school doesn’t mean irrelevant. Again, the Marine Corps didn’t want these back, so they are my go-to for camping and hiking.
3) Trijicon ACOG
The Trijicon ACOG got to me on my second day of training at the School of Infantry. Right away, I was blown away by how handy it was. I continued to use the ACOG on my M16A4, and later my M249 SAW to great efficiency. The ACOG is a 4X fixed optic that allowed Marines to greatly increase their efficiency in combat. Supposedly, Marines in Fallujah scored so many headshots on insurgents due to their ACOGs, and an investigation was launched.
The Trijicon ACOG allowed us to see farther, identify threats sooner, and find those threats when they hid in trees and behind cover. The Trijicons are powered by the sun and extremely easy to use. Plus, they are insanely durable. One stopped a round from an AK and saved a Marines’ life once. What’s not to love? It was easily my favorite part of weapon-based issued gear.
4) The M240 machine gun
Well, duh, I was a machine gunner, of course. I love machine guns. Specifically, I was a machine gunner in a line company, and the M240 was my baby. This near 30-pound machine gun fired the legendary 7.62, and in a line company, the M240 was the big guy in the gunfight, and everyone liked the big guy. As far as issued gear goes, this was easily the most fun item I had.
The M240, from my experience, was the most reliable weapon in the Marine Corps’ arsenal. In the midst of a sandstorm, it would keep working without issue. It could chug through thousands of rounds without needing to be cleaned. In fact, I’ve fired it so much that the barrel was hot enough to light paper on fire.
5) The Poncho liner
Finally, my favorite piece of issued gear of all time was the poncho liner. So much so that the first thing I did after I got out was head to Saigon Sams and buy one as I was leaving Jacksonville. If you’re a vet, you know what I’m talking about. If you aren’t, let me explain. The poncho liner is a very soft blanket, but it’s more than that.
It’s a shelter in the cold, a relief from the day-to-day struggle of a deployment. It embraces you softly in a world where things are hard. It grants warmth, protection, and serenity. The poncho liner helps you sleep, helps you wake up, and is always there to wrap around you when you need it most. The poncho liner is God’s gift to the infantry.
I want to leave you, folks, with some advice.
When people talk gear, it’s easy to get around the cool and sexy stuff. The plate carriers, the combat shirts, and 300-dollar Crye pants are fun to talk about. That’s cool and important, but don’t forget the gear that gets you to the fight, helps you sleep at night, and keeps you going beyond the gunfight and throughout the campaign.
Some of that issued gear makes a huge difference in your day-to-day life. If you think a piece of gear is bad, it might be, but do your best to learn how to use it and excel with it. If it still sucks, then it sucks. But let’s say it doesn’t suck, then it might be a piece of issued gear you can trust, rely on, and eventually fall in love with.