The gear, equipment, and animals used by the armed forces all have essential purposes. The helmet is for head protection. Body armor to shield the body from bullets. A load of ammunition is self explanatory. In the military, there are dog companions that can help detect bombs or take down enemies like a missile made of hair. These are just some of the common things we all know the troops are equipped with. Here’s some of the stuff soldiers have brought with them into battle that you may not know about.

The Pigeon Guided Missile

Inserting a pigeon into a missile. Photo; MIT Technology Review

Yep, you read it right. Pidgeons used to guide a missile.  The experiences the Navy had with Japanese Kamikazes left a deep impression.  A plane full of fuel, armed with a bomb and an intelligent, thinking guidance system(the suicide pilot) was basically the definition of a guided missile. And they were very effective. So in the 1940s, the National Defense Research Committee tried to train pigeons to recognize targets on the monitor screen through operant conditioning with the purpose of creating a pigeon-guided bomb. After a few years and $25,000 later, the project was canceled because “further prosecution of this project would seriously delay others which in the minds of the Division have a more immediate promise of combat application.” Maybe they were having a hard time getting the birds to volunteer once they caught on to the project’s goals.  Pidgeons may be stupid, but they are not suicidal idiots. Presumably, we now have smart bombs at least as smart a Pidgeon now but they sure were willing to think outside the box in the early development stages, weren’t they? 

Urban Combat Skateboard

Photo of a U.S. Marine carrying a skateboard during military exercise “Urban Warrior ’99”, in March 1999.

Think riding your skateboard and doing flippies with it is cool? Maybe it could be used to detect tripwires and maybe elude sniper fire with it, this was the idea behind Urban Warrior ’99. It was the military’s experiment of using skateboards to detect these traps in an urban setting. There weren’t many details about the project but basing it on the fact that we don’t see soldiers cruising on skateboards, it looked like it wasn’t much of a success. Plus, it was more gear to lug around.

Xbox Controller

The High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, or HEL MD, came home to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command headquarters.

Do you want to play your video game, but your responsibility of taking down the enemy troops is getting in the way? Say no more!

The United States Army collaborated with Boeing to create a Directed Energy Weapon (aka laserbeam) and called it High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD). The crazy thing about it is that it can be controlled through an Xbox controller. HEL MD is mounted on a truck. How it works is that one person operates the vehicle and drives it wherever it has to be. Meanwhile, another person sits cozily inside with a laptop and an Xbox controller that he could use to lock on targets and destroy them. The idea is that over half of the adults play video games, so why not use that fact to their advantage. Since we’re talking about the government here, we imagine they figured out a way to make a $30 X-Box controller cost $50,000 by the time they were done with it. 

D-Day invasion clicker. Photo from

A Child’s Toy As A Friend Or Foe Identifier

The cricket noisemaker was a popular children’s toy bur during the D-Day in Normandy.  We’re sure it was incredibly annoying to parents which is why it was popular with children. In planning for the D-Day landings in Normandy, the military knew they would have a problem with Paratroopers dropped all over the place in the dark. 

How would they regroup into their units? 

How would they find each other in the darkness? 

How would they be able to tell the difference between friend and foe?

The easy solution was this ten-cent kid toy given out to thousands of paratroopers in advance of their drops.  It was made of brass and apparently worked pretty well.  A click by one paratrooper was responded to with a click back from another in the dark.  If you managed to lose your clicker in the landing I imagine replying to a challenge click with, “I lost my damned clicker in the landing” might save you from getting shot.

You can buy replicas of them today still, but they are $9 dollars now.

Which of these is your favorite?