When you finally get your orders to come to Iraq, usually you have a lot to do in a few short weeks. Not least, you have to pick up appropriate clothing and equipment for this environment. In this post, I’ll review some equipment that has worked well – and not well – for me.
I have spent my tour(s) in the International Zone, with frequent trips outside, including several to the rural qadas of Baghdad Province. Nothing too rough, but lots of climbing in and out of Hummers. Most of this advice will apply to civilians more than military.
Boots. If your feet aren’t happy, you won’t be happy. I wear a pair of Merrell hiking boots like this.
Merrell is a popular choice for civilians. The soles are a trademarked material that has held up very well to a year of walking on silt and concrete. The lining is worn though to the sole in both heels and I had to replace a lace, but otherwise the uppers and bodies have held together perfectly. Many people wear desert combat boots, but I’m told the Merrells are a little cooler to wear. Grade: A.
I get by all right with a pair of Wrangler cargo pants from Walmart. I might break down and get a pair of 5.11s though. For the rest of the ensemble, outdoorsy patterned shirts from 5.11, North Face, Mountain Hardwear, or LL Bean are a good bet. Pick up an Embassy polo in the PX. Grade: B+.
From about November to March, you will need long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, and light jackets. The temperature can get down around freezing at night, at least in Baghdad. A watch cap is good at night. In the summer, some people wear wicking undershirts like this one from Under Armour, but I’ve never bothered.
Dog Tags. Cheap insurance. Get them from dogtagsonline.com and lace one into your boot. (Fortunately this works with the Merrells.) Some people also get embroidered Velcro name strips and U.S. flags from sites like this one. Grade: A.
Pack. I looked at a lot of packs and decided on the Kelty Redwing 3100. Great choice.
My criteria were that the pack had to be comfortable and roomy, have a good belt, as few dangling external straps and buckles as possible, and a non-flamboyant color. The Kelty scores close to 100 on all counts. It comes in black and the material is tough. I can live out of it for a week, no problem. There is one big compartment, a small compartment with a couple of internal pockets, two side pockets, and two tiny pouches. (I keep an extra trash bag in there for flying.) There is a good handle on top but otherwise very little strapping. It fits in airline overhead bins. It has excellent back support and a wide belt. I would recommend this pack to anyone. Let me also give a plug to the friendly folks at Eastern Mountain Sports, where I tried on a dozen packs. Grade: A+.
Bonus packing tip: ship it. On my first trip, I carried the Kelty pack and shipped everything else. That made for some trade-offs, like wearing tennis shoes for the first few weeks. But you do not want to drag a suitcase around BIAP. Make sure you can get up and walk around with your luggage, and ship the rest.
Camera. I wanted a cheap, pocket-sized digital camera that I could drop and step on without feeling too bad, and I guess that’s what I got. I picked the Kodak M753, 7 megapixels, for about $110 at Best Buy.
It is small enough to carry in a pocket together with a cell phone. However, the optics aren’t that good; it never seems to take a really sharply focused picture. The screen on the back is fragile: it got crunched in my carryon on the way back from my last leave, so now I frame my shots by dead reckoning. And it uses a proprietary USB cable. I lost the original, and the replacement (OK, from eBay) only works about once out of eight tries. Next time I would spend more for better optics and a carrying case. Grade: C-.