Thursday, December 25, 2008

RFI Reissue – Merry Christmas!

Thursday 25 December 2008
1930

The Army has several ways of getting individual clothing and equipment to soldiers (get ready for more Army acronyms!). When you first join up, you get a basic issue of uniforms, boots, etc., all of which becomes your personal property. After that, you are supposed to keep up your own individual uniform items by purchasing the necessary replacement items at the Military Clothing Sales Store (MCSS). Other items (generally field gear like packs, web gear, canteens, ammo pouches, sleeping bags, etc) are considered Organizational Clothing and Individual Equipment (OCIE). These are issued when you get assigned to a new unit, and are turned in when you leave. Generally both types of equipment are issued at the Clothing Issue Facility (CIF).

Since we’ve been at war, and since we’ve mobilized so many Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers, the rules and the processes are a little different. Not everybody had all the same uniforms and equipment, so they put processes in place so make sure everybody had everything. (I wrote about this already when I first mobilized back in 2006.) It was still managed through the CIF, but in addition, there was a process called the Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI). This was a separate process that complemented the normal CIF issue with the latest equipment that hadn’t made it completely into the system yet. We went to the CIF for much of our basic issue, then went to the RFI facility for our then-new Army Combat Uniforms (ACUs), hot-and cold-weather tan boots, Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH), Interceptor Body Armor (IBA), and various other items. It was a pretty good system, designed to get us what we needed quickly and efficiently, so we could deploy ASAP.

Another wartime change in the uniform issue policy is that we don’t have to buy our own replacement uniforms while we are over here. There is an allowance of four new uniforms per year, plus the associated headgear, underwear, etc. I have taken advantage of that and been well taken care of with fresh uniform items as needed. No complaints there.

Nonetheless, there were problems with the system. There were just too many people mobilizing and deploying too quickly, and there wasn’t enough of the latest equipment to go around. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures from early in the war of soldiers in the desert with woodland-pattern camouflage items as part of their uniform and equipment ensemble. It looked kind of silly but that was all they had to issue at the time.

I was in a similar position and got a mixture of items. I was issued woodland-pattern web gear and wet-weather gear, as well as Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU) Gore-Tex parka and pants (part of the Extreme Cold Weather Clothing System , or ECWCS). The rest of my ECWCS was an amalgamation of old and new components – various layers of long underwear, gloves, etc., most of it the exact same stuff I got back in the 1980’s (and which I’ve used for deer hunting and winter camping in Michigan for years). Finally, I didn’t get one of the new high-speed backpacks – I was issued a Vietnam-era (albeit brand-new) ALICE pack and frame (ALICE = All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment). Since I didn’t actually have to go into combat it never really mattered and all that stuff stayed in my footlocker and duffel bag most of the time I was in Kuwait.

We don’t have a full-fledged CIF here, but we do have an OCIE point that stocks basic uniform items, so I’ve been able to get a new uniform and new boots when I needed them. Recently an RFI team came through here and we had a chance to go through the entire issue process again, indicating what we still needed. I went to the place where they were set up and went through the process. I turned in my old stuff and ordered the new stuff. A couple weeks later two big boxes arrived at the OCIE point and I picked them up and brought them to my room.

What does this have to do with Christmas, you ask? Well, as my friends and family know, I am an avid backpacker and outdoorsman, not to mention I just plain like military equipment. I’ve always had various elements of it around, ever since my dad gave me the old WWII canteens, ammo belt, and backpack that he used as a Boy Scout in the late 1940's. At home I regularly walk or ride my bike to REI and spend an hour or two just browsing. While I am not really a “gearhead” per se and don’t buy new equipment just to have the latest stuff (I still use some items from when I first started backpacking in the 1970’s), I do appreciate and enjoy well-designed and well-made equipment and get a sort of a thrill from integrating it into my system. That’s why, when I got these boxes, I decided to set them aside until today and open them up on Christmas day. They’ve been sitting in the corner of my room beckoning to me for several weeks, but only today did I open them up and take everything out to look at it in some detail.

So here’s what Santa (i.e. you, the taxpaying citizens) brought me:

4 x Army Combat Uniforms (new flame-retardant material)

Generation III ECWCS, consisting of:

2 x Lightweight Cold Weather Undershirts / Drawers (Polartec Power Dry)
1 x Midweight Cold Weather Shirt / Drawers (Polartec Power Dry)
1 x Fleece Cold Weather Jacket (Polartec Thermal Pro)
1 x Wind Cold Weather Jacket (ADS, Nylon/Spandex))
1 x Soft Shell Cold Weather Jacket / Trousers (ADS, Nylon/Lycra)
1 x Extreme Cold Weather Cold/Wet Weather Jacket / Trousers (ADS, Primaloft Sport)
1 x Extreme Cold Weather Parka / Trousers (ADS, Nylon w/ breathable waterproof laminate)

Plus:
2 x Balaclava Hoods (Cotton/Rayon/Spandex)
1 x Gloves, Flyer’s , Summer (Flameproof)
1 x Gloves, Flyer’s, Intermediate Cold Weather

This is all very high-quality clothing, made of the latest materials. It’s a layering system, with several options each for the base later, insulating layer(s), and outer layer. There’s no way I’d ever need it all here, but they issue it all together as one system. It would be awesome for hunting deer in Northern Michigan! (As well as hunting Taliban in Afghanistan, I imagine).

In addition to the clothing, I also got the newest web gear and field packs. As I said earlier, the old Vietnam-era system was known as “ALICE”. The new system is known as “Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment”, or “MOLLE” (Pronounced “Molly” - I guess the Army thinks we’ll feel better if we have a woman’s name associated with our field equipment.)

I got several different MOLLE sets issued. First of all, I got a:

Large Field Pack Set, consisting of:

1 x Large Rucksack
2 x Sustainment Pouch
1 x Molded Waistbelt
1 x Straps Shoulder Frame (set of 2)
1 x MOLLE Pack Frame

This is a very good backpack, with many of the kinds of features I’d look for if I were shopping for one for wilderness use (with the exception of light weight!). “Lightweight” is a bit of a misnomer in this case. I don’t have a scale to check it, but it’s made of very heavy duty Cordura-type nylon, with correspondingly heavy-duty straps and buckles. It’s probably the most indestructible pack material you could imagine, but lightweight it isn’t. Nonetheless, it is very cool, with many, many attachment points around the outside. It has a cavernous main compartment that also has a flap that can be zipped or laced closed to create upper and lower compartments. It is accessible through the top flap as well as a crescent-shaped zippered front flap at the bottom (the sleeping bag compartment, should you choose to use it that way).

It took me awhile to find the two “Sustainment Pouches”, because they were already strapped on – they are basically side pockets. Unlike the ALICE pack, this one has no integral pockets other than the Velcro-closure top flap pocket. But it has more attachment points on the outside than any other pack I’ve ever owned or seen.

The hallmark of the ALICE system was the little metal clip used to attach the different components to the basic packs, belts, and straps. The MOLLE system is based on arrays of sewn-on nylon straps which create a grid of attachment points on the pack or load-bearing vest. The various components (holsters, pouches, etc.) have straps on them that thread through these straps and snap or Velcro in place. It’s extremely versatile - a bit cumbersome to set up initially, but once you’ve got the system set up the way you want it, it’s very solid – nothing is going to bounce around or come loose accidentally. It is every bit as superior to the ALICE system as ALICE was to the old wire-loop-through-the- grommet system used on WWI, WWII, and Korean War-era web gear.

In addition to the basic Field Pack, I was also issued a:

Rifleman Set, Basic MOLLE System, consisting of:

1 x Assault Pack
1 x Fighting Load Carrier
1 x Waist Pack
1 x Bandolier Pouch 6 Magazine
1 x Hydration system (Camelbak)
3 x M4 Two Magazine Pouch
2 x Canteen / General Purpose Pouch
2 x Hand Grenade Pouch

This is more stuff than I know what to do with right off the bat – it is ultra-configurable to your particular mission. The “Assault Pack” is basically a day pack with one outer pocket and straps and MOLLE attachment points all over it. The “Fighting Load Carrier” takes the place of the old pistol belt and shoulder straps. It is a sort of padded waistbelt/ shoulder strap combination, not quite a vest but close. It, too, is covered with MOLLE attachment points on the belt and front (chest) panels.


The design idea behind all this stuff is that you can wear them all together, or separately as needed. The “Sustainment Load” goes in the big pack, which carries the stuff you need for extended duty in the field. It would be left in the base camp or patrol base when out on patrol. The “Assault Load” would be taken on patrol, tailored to the specific mission (extra clothing, food, water, radio, etc.). The Assault Pack can be worn on patrol over the web gear but can be dropped quickly if needed. The “Fighting Load” is the basics for actual combat – weapons, ammunition, first aid gear, plus water and maybe some food. It travels in the (surprise) Fighting Load Carrier.

Cool stuff!

Plus I got even more:

1 x M9 Pistol Universal Holster
1 x M9 Universal Holster Leg Extension
4 x M9 Magazine Pouch
1 x Entrenching Tool Pouch
1 x Flashbang Pouch
1 x FG Model I Strap Cutter with Sheath
1 x Pad Set, Suspension System (Improved Helmet Pads)
1 x HemCon Bandage (High tech bandage to stop bleeding)
1 x Medical Visual Language Translator (pretty cool – check it out at www.kwikpoint.com)

Now that I’ve unpacked it, this stuff is all over my room and I have to figure out what to do with it all. I will probably fool around with it for awhile to learn how it all works and fits together, assemble the basic configurations and adjust the straps to fit me, etc. I will have to figure out how much of my own stuf to use or integrate with it (back when I first deployed, I acquired my own tactical load bearing vest, M9 pistol holster, and M9 ammo pouches, since they didn't really issue me anything I wanted to use). Some of that stuff, most notably my holster, are better than the issue items, in my opinion. So I may keep using my own stuff instead. In any case
I think most of this will just go back into the duffel bag / footlocker unless and until I get tapped for a mission up north. Given the job I have here in facilities and construction, I am unlikely to need most of it anytime soon.

But lest you this that all this new equipment is wasted on somebody who just works in Qatar at a rear-area logistics and R&R base and doesn’t go anywhere near actual combat, don't fret! We are all part of the same headquarters that runs operations across the entire CENTCOM AOR (Area of Responsibility). As members of this command we are supposed to be prepared to deploy anywhere in the AOR as needed. Even though there is no indication that I will actually go anywhere but here, that’s what we’re supposed to be able to do. I for one am glad that the Army has taken the time and trouble to see that I have the proper uniforms and equipment for any mission. All my life I’ve lived by the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared”, and it feels good, as usual, to know that I am as well-prepared as they can make me.

Besides, it was fun to open my new stuff and put it together - those who know me well will understand when I say that I’m "just like a kid at Christmas!" :-)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, from the best place to be in the entire CENTCOM AOR.

Mood: Happy but lonely for my family
Music: A Celtic Christmas – A Musical Celebration