When it comes to preserving your life and making sure you survive in the most extreme conditions, the best people to rely on are the troops. They always find creative ways either to survive the battlefield, make themselves as comfortable as they possibly could, or even just to put something useless into good use. You know what they say, necessity is the mother of invention. So with that, here are common everyday items that the military people found unexpected applications on the battlefield for.

The SpecOps Grease Pencil Gun Sight

A grease pencil (UK chinagraph pencil) is made of hard colored wax and is useful for marking on hard, glossy surfaces such as porcelain or glass. (carolCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Wax pencil, china marker, or chinagraph pencil, whatever you want to call it, is the same writing material made from hardened color wax that can be used to mark on many surfaces. You can use it on porcelain, glass, rock, plastic, polished stone, acetate, even metal, and glossy paper. In the military, the grease pencil can be used to write on the glass of aircraft carriers for air traffic controllers. As for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment pilots, they found another way to utilize the pencil. The Army added two M134 7.62 x 51 mm mini-guns and two 2.75-inch rocket pods to the OH-6 Cayuse when it was adapted into the MH-6 Little Bird used for Special Operations. Now, the problem with these guns and rocket pods was that they didn’t give pilots the capability to aim them.

The rudimentary but effective solution was to take out their grease pencils and fly the aircraft for a few practice gun runs to see where their fire would exactly land in relation to their windscreen. Once they figured out the exact position, they would mark the spot on their windscreen with an X using their grease pencil. That would act as a gun sight, and as Sgt. Raleigh Cash of Task Force Ranger commented when they used the Little Birds during the Battle of Mogadishu, “These guys hit exactly where you told them to, using nothing but a little X on the windscreen.”

The Gunsite that became Super Glue

Super glue
Super glue. (Taken by User: Omegatron,  CC BY-SA 3.0 /CC BY-SA 2.5 /CC BY-SA 2.0/CC BY-SA 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Yep, that super glue that lies somewhere in your dad’s shed or maybe in your stash of craft materials that you can use to fix your favorite coffee mug or your mom’s antique China wares that you accidentally dropped and glued back, hoping she wouldn’t notice, otherwise she might kill you. Super Glue has a life-saving application in the military, too, but in a different sense.

It all started with Harry Coover, who, in 1942, was searching for materials that he could use to make clear plastic gun sights using cyanoacrylate. He successfully invented a new super-strong and quick-drying adhesive, and while his son was making a model and accidentally cut open his fingers, he used the glue to seal his wound off. Realizing its potential medical application as tissue adhesives, he submitted it to the FDA for approval. It was, however, rejected due to the possibility that it could cause skin irritation. Regardless, Super Glue was still used in the Vietnam War in a spray bottle form. The medics would use the adhesive to temporarily close open wounds and stop blood loss while in the field. This allowed wounded troops more time while being MEDEVACed to a field hospital for conventional surgery and proper medical treatment, saving many lives throughout the course of the war. Super Glue’s formula was later modified to be safely used on human tissue, which is now used worldwide for different sutureless surgical applications in humans and animals.

Using Silly String to Defeat IEDs

Silly String on a wire. (Photo: core77.com)

Who didn’t love silly strings as kids? This fun-in-a-can toy of flexible, brightly-colored plastic string that can be propelled through an aerosol can is not only used for kiddie parties, carnivals, and other fun and festive occasions but is also proven useful in the military field.

During the war in Iraq, the US troops found themselves heavily obstructed by tons and tons of improved explosive devices (IEDs) that were usually triggered through simple tripwires. As a solution, the soldiers discovered that using Silly Strings was a simple yet effective way to identify tripwires that were invisible to the naked eye. They would shoot the plastic stream 10 to 12 feet across places where there could possibly be an IED, and the fairly light strings would hang in the air if there was a tripwire but would fall on the ground if there was none.

Upon hearing the use of Silly Strings in the battle zone, a New Jersey mom named Marcelle Shriver organized a drive, collected 80,000 cans, and sent them all to the troops of Iraq.