I left the regular straight-leg army infantry and came to Delta for one simple reason: the elbow flashlight that I was required to clip to the right shoulder of my Load Bearing Equipment (LBE) harness. That flashlight was the bane of my very existence: it mocked me; thumbed its nose at me; disrespected me at every juncture. I became born anew into a world where the death of my elbow flashlight, OD-green in color, became the key to my continued existence.
I knocked at the front door of the Delta Force:
“Can I help you, Sergeant First Class?”
“Yes… that is, I hope you can. I heard that I would be allowed to wear my combat kit here anyway if I felt that it made me a more effective fighter.”
“You heard correctly, Sergeant First Class.”
“Please then, make I come in??”
(throwing door open wide) “Yes, Sergeant First Class… yes you may!”
Though there was actually slightly more red tape involved with my journey into the Delta Force, it was truly the organization that let proven pipe-hitters fight in armed combat the way they wanted to fight. “Ask and ye shall receive!” Be it an M3 Grease-gun, a flame thrower or a Colonial Blunderbuss… if you wanted it in the fight, Delta got it for you. John “Shrek” McPhee, the Sheriff of Baghdad, fancied a Heckler and Koch G-3. It doesn’t matter what you think of the gat, John wanted it and that’s ALL that matters — game on!
The policy can perhaps be attributed to an unwritten Delta philosophy to the effect that “the men are going to die in combat, yet they are willing to fight anyway… why not let them go out in a supernova of glory clad in the kit that gives them the most satisfaction and confidence? Why heck, we’ll even get more mileage out of them — win/win!” Delta sure doesn’t want its pipe-hitters being extruded through a mold from a state factory: they want our enemies not to know what in blazes hit them when they are killed.
Son of Laden: “I tell you what, Father of Bakr from Baghdad… I was at my desk watching America’s Got Talent on YouTube, and the freakin’ terminator from hell smashed through my door… next thing you know I had a hatchet in my chest, a canoed head, and SEALs taking turns posing next to me for selfies. I tell you I got no respect!”
Father of Bakr: “Tell me about it, son of Laden: I was playing Call of Duty on my X-box when a team of pipe-hitters wearing Byzantine crusader armor and carrying… pipes… stormed my ranch! I grabbed the kiddos: ‘Come on brats we’re goin’ to Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb’s to get ice cream!’ We got stuck in a dead-end (no pun) and were attacked by a dog! I tried to pull out my knife — I don’t know what I actually pulled but it was the last thing I remember.”
“Varium et mutable semper kit” Kit is an ever-changing thing. The generation before me was the duct-tape pipe-clamp generation; mine was the velcro generation. The present generation’s kit looks very refined and deliberate, not so much in the prototypical fashion of my day. Kit modification was a never-ending endeavor. I can remember spending more than one full workday in the parachute rigger shed modifying my kit.
Assault kit was a near-perpetual tail-chase. It had to configure to solve so many problems; yet when you solved one problem you inevitably created another one: You wanted everything on your chest where you could see it and get to it quickly, but you could not effectively lay in the prone with a heavy chest. Putting it on your back helped, but now you almost needed assistance reaching it.
As assault kit evolved, there appeared at least a few constants that grew to near doctrinal status:
* ammunition for primary weapon goes on your chest.
* water goes on your back, piped to your front with a camelback-like system
* Night Observation is carried during daylight missions, typically on the back, as combat bodes no guarantee of a decent quitting time.
Speed of dress out, oh my God, is a very important factor that the weekend paint-ballers probably don’t consider because they aren’t wearing assault kits — they are sporting costumes. I watched an interview with a state militia (AH-HA-HA-HA-HA) clown who was wearing and demonstrating his kit configuration. My interest in what he had to say was diverted to a squirrel chasing a nut when he got this part:
“And in this pouch, I keep an assortment of varied color Sharpie markers and such…”
Clearly those would come in handy if he stumbled upon a Mary Poppins coloring book during his assault.
With the requirement of speed, more and more peripherals became semi-fixed to the foundational body armor plate carrier. This meant that in the single fell swoop of grabbing and donning your plate carrier you would have most of what you needed to fight with if you only had time to grab one thing.
In Somalia, we operated kind of like a firehouse. We tooled the day away waiting for an alert: “GET IT ON!” followed by a sprint to don all of the assault kit and run to revving helos outside. We built a rack to hang all of our kit in a specific order, just like firemen back home, so we could almost jump into our kit and go a-runnin’ for the helos. I can state in confidence that my experience in Mogadishu significantly steered how I configured and wore my assault kit for the remainder of my time with the Unit.
“GET IT ON!” I grabbed and donned my vest. It had more than 75 percent of what I needed to fight. I threw on my pistol belt. I had my .45 1911 in a Safari holster attached to the right side with one lower thigh strap to lock it down. I had my flash-bang pouch with grenades in it attached to the left side with one lower thigh strap to lock that down too. I grabbed my rifle and my helmet and ran to the helo.
Inside my helmet were my peripherals: an ankle knife that attached to my left ankle with two velcro straps; knee pads; and gloves. All of that I put on where I sat in the helo. Earplugs and eye-pro were in secondary pouches on the sides of my vest. My team radio, emergency PRC-90 survival radio, primary and secondary ammunition, water, flex-cuffs and heavy leather gloves for fast-roping, were all fixed to my plate carrier.
It was an unwritten rule that operators did not criticize each other’s kit configuration. That would have been equivalent to going over someone’s house and saying: “I think that couch would work better other there.” An operator’s performance reputation leaned heavily on the functional configuration of his assault kit; to critique was an insult. We needed only to worry about ourselves.
During our alert cycle, we were tasked at times to put on a Capabilities Exercise (CAPEX), also known by its Websters Unabridged title: “Dog and Pony Show.” This was to demonstrate our capabilities to VIP visitors to the Unit such as senators, congressmen and other high-ranking government officials. They would start out with a walkthrough of the squadron operation areas where displays would have been set up. They then would be greeted by the inevitable appearance of an operator walking about straight from the shower wearing just a towel and raking his ear with a cue-tip because he was not aware of the CAPEX.
I was only one time tasked to layout my assault kit on a table and remain to deliver a brief explanation of the components and answer questions, the first of which coming from the sea of bulging eyes was: “How much does all this weight??”
“Just under 70 lbs, Senator.”
One senator from California felt it absolutely unavoidable to pick up my set of aviators gloves with my last name “Hand” written on each of them with a black marker:
“Ah, ha-ha… is this a name or an instruction, ha-ha…”
“That’s my name, Sir. And now I have a question for you: how would you like a B-52 shoved up your nose, Senator?”
He sheepishly laid the gloves back down exactly where he had picked them up from, smoothing them down flat and neat with the palm of his hand.
“Are there any more questions ladies and…” I paused and looked at my standup comedian from California, “…gentlemen?”
There were none.
Kit. I love kit, kit loves me, kit and I fairly fully agree. Kit needs to be everything. It needs to be high-speed, high-end, high-fidelity, low-drag, low-profile, low-noise, light-weight, strong, durable, compatible, scalable, configurable, modular, wearable, accessible, and above all, it absolutely positively must look COOL!
I feel about assault kit, in a large sense, the same way I felt about my sleeping bag when I was in the 4th Mechanized Infantry Division in the Rocky Mountain when I first came into the Army. I remember my Sergeants instructing me at night:
“Hand, you need to keep your rifle in your sleeping bag with you at night to keep it warm… and the radio needs to be in there too down near your feed, you know, to keep it warm. And all those batteries need to be in there too, Hand. Put your water canteens in your sleeping bag so they don’t freeze overnight. And your food, that needs to go in your sleeping bag too, otherwise, you’ll be chipping away at it with your bayonet in the morning trying to eat. Have a good night, Hand.”
And there I lay in the snow, drawn up into the fetal position with a mere veil of a poncho liner wrapped around me, shaking like a blind faggot at a weenie roast, pining away at my sleeping bag bulging with toasty-warm inanimate objects. Pretty soon the sandman would be arriving to strip off my poncho liner:
“Get up and put on your glass slippers, Cinderella, ‘cuz you’re going to the ball!”
By Almighty God and with honor,