This is what you need to take to Iraq or Afghanistan in order to get by.
They say an army marches on its stomach. Well, these days, that stomach is full of full of KBR/Halliburton chow supported by protein/creatine/multi-vitamin servings.
The new standard for military operations is Red Bull. The Austrian energy drink is an elixir of chemicals, usually mixed in with vodka in a soldier’s world. But for convoys, missions, and just getting out of the sleeping bag every morning, Red Bulls are standard operating procedure. Soldiers get surly without their Red Bulls in the small, thin can, chilled in coolers full of ice, thank you very much. I’ve rolled off my cot many times and sipped down a Red Bull slowly as I woke up, like a dehydrated car accident victim waking up from a coma.
I’ve traveled to many different parts of Iraq and archeologists digging into their deep Sumerian and Babylonian layers are going to have to weed through the thick layer of discarded Red Bull cans scattered everywhere. The Red Bull effect is universal and helps get through long twelve-hour missions. It is a consistent member on the Iraq PX top-seller list, along with San Benedetto Peach Iced Tea, Starbucks Double-Shots, Skoal, and Newports.
There isn’t much info on Red Bulls anywhere on the Internet. I figured some other soldier would remark on the life-giving ambrosia that is Red Bull. But no one has. Its secrecy bears suspicion. What little info I did find suggested that the Austrian who developed the Red Bull might have stolen the recipe from similar Asian drinks. Given the slow initial sales of the product, I’m given to believe that Red Bulls are bottled using liquid that flows only from a stream in the recesses of Zaire, collected in buckets by long trains of abused, malnutritioned slaves and processed by an oligopolist corporate syndicate. The product is in turn pushed onto the bar scene as only adding liquor will make it drinkable, or onto the military, which signed a long-term contract to off-load excess Red Bull inventory.
It’s a working theory.
Petzl Zipke headlamp
Soldiers operate in darkness much of the time because the military believes that even in completely controlled and safe areas where there are plenty of lights in the most useless places, that there cannot be even the dimmest red or off-white lights in covered areas.
It’s good to have a miniature SureFire or Pelican flashlight, with enough output to blind a bat at 1500 meters. But it’s also good to have a Petzl Zipke headlamp. It’s bright, can be replaced with various colors of lenses (sold separately), and has a retractable string for wearing around one’s head. And it runs off AAA’s for multiple hours. Much better than the large headbands and clumsy multi-light headlamps.
I subscribed to this magazine a year ago and every issue has been a drenching of the mind in ideas and inspiration. It is first and foremost a style magazine for men. Most guys I know who read these pick GQ instead. GQ is horrible. It has horrible fashion tips which appeal to A&F fratboy aesthetic at a bloated price. The stuff they recommend to wear screams 10-year-old spoiled suburbanite kid. GQ’s interviews and articles are shallow and over-dramatic for the subject issue. They ask stupid people stupid questions and make stupid metaphors with stupid exaggerations of stupid events in the world.
Esquire meanwhile has class. Classic or modern style. It interviews intelligent people in intelligent ways. It recommends clothing, drinks, furniture, trips that have legitimate value and style. It makes you into a better man, not into a more preppy boy. It is chock full of ideas about the world. It has personality. From a design standpoint, its layout is gorgeous. The font selections for headers down to the captions to article text are distinguished and easy on the eyes. It is a very mature, modern design.
For instance, check out the contents of this year’s Genius Issue with Bill Clinton on the cover. A list of America’s best restaurants for 2005. A funny joke from Nadine Velazquez, a beautiful woman. A short list of cultural icons for the month. The monthly rules for men including Rule #262, “The mental stress of figuring out exactly whom, when, and how much to tip is often enough to negate the pleasure of the very thing for which you are tipping.” Books of the year. (not a re-hash of Oprah books) An enticing endorsement for beautifulagony.com, a site that has videos of women’s faces, and just their faces, as they orgasm. A list of 41 ways to improve the world, including “Pixies record a new album.” and “A new punctuation mark that applies more emphasis than a period but less emphasis than an exclamation point.” Don Rickles explaining how to give a proper toast. How to wear a coat. An explanation on how we form our opinion on things. A Carmelo Anthony article. A lengthy primer on fragrances. Dr. E. Fuller Torrey’s theory about house cats causing schizophrenia. The director of the Earth Institute at Columbia and the UN Millennium Project goes to Africa. Ads for beautiful, ridiculously expensive custom watches. Portraits of blue-collar guys in NYC. Bill Clinton’s “third term”, his best term. The Best and Brightest, including Banksy the graffiti artist (written by Colby Buzzell, the first famous milblogger), flying wind kite power, font design, Lang Lang the pianist, seven ways to fix the oil crisis, Roland Fryer the economist with new ideas, green design, experimental education, Andre Agassi’s philanthropism, an experiment with Wikipedia, and the U.S brain drain. I swear by Esquire.
Wired got really popular before the dotcom bubble burst. Then at the bubble’s height, everyone said it was lame. Then when the stock market was sucking and everyone left the market, Wired got good again.
I learn when I read Wired. It covers sub-cultures, has interesting new sites and books, and interviews people who are building cool things. It seems to be staffed by people who are familiar with the internet and the web and aren’t just people looking to profit off of it like cnet. They also don’t dumb down their articles or coverage.
They also seem to care about quirky statistics, and they go a step further from geekiness towards relating technology to humanity. That is, they’re interested in what the social benefit of technology is and what it will be.
The Economist magazine
There is a new issue every week and each one takes ages to read because it’s full of articles about news all over the world. The articles are informative and even-handed without much fail, and oftentimes the writing can be cheeky. But you learn what’s going on in countries that no one else is paying much attention to. While its cover stories on the big picture are hardly ground-breaking, they DO give all the angles so it’s more thorough, if not BREAKING NEWS DRUDGEREPORT SIREN.GIF hot.
Mosquito Cot Net
I don’t know who makes this but the team guys I’ve worked with all have it. What it is is a mosquito net wire-framed into a shape that fits perfectly over an Army cot. It keeps its shape so you have about a foot or two of clearance above your head and body when sleeping. You can un-zip the net and crawl inside, then zip it back up from the inside. When you have to pack up and move out, it folds up into a thin semi-circular shape with a retaining strap. Added bonus: watching a newbie try to open it, setting off a wireframe explosion right in their face.
If you work at night and you’re on base, you need a really bright flashlight. Like so bright you blind people and light up whole swathes of area when you turn it on. Surefire flashlights are really the only ones that serve up enough amperes. I used to use mine in the pallet yard to guide the forklift when moving pallets, and on the airfield when bringing the forklift up to roaring C-130s or C-17s.
Free time is easy to come by in Iraq these days now that we don’t do all that much.
When you’re on a flight or in your room or working on shift, it’s good to have some
tunes. It’s probably best not to have an iPod but have something like an iRiver (I have
the iRiver H340) because it connects via USB and plays all the major music file types
(including OGG). You don’t need iTunes to interact with it. Its charger works on 220V or 110V. The menu is confusing to some people and the display of music is not as nice as other devices but it has a lot of space, is easy to find, and is low-key.
The PSP is mired in a lack of game support even a year almost after it’s come out. GameBoy still has a wider variety of games and is cheaper. You might want to buy those instead even though they have a lot of children’s games.
But the PSP was my best friend during this deployment. I played it on the plane flight over the ocean, I played it while on missions, while waiting back in the rear, while killing time in several different places. A lot of people over in Iraq have one so it’s easy to share PSP games and UMD movies. You don’t get much out of the wireless browser connectivity yet but I bet you will in the future, and back in the States. I cleared all of Ridge Racer and finished Metal Gear Acid — buying Lumines and NBA ’06 later.
One thing that pissed me off was that NO PX was selling a lot of PSP games. That makes no sense to me. They had tons of GameCube (soldiers don’t own GameCubes!) and Xbox games. But no portable console games??
Crystal Light Flavor Packets
One great thing about deployment is that there’s bottled water everywhere. Big bottles of water too. Free. But since water gets tiresome, you need to add some flavor. Crystal Light sells a few flavors of flavor packets like peach, lemonade, and raspberry that you can dump into your water to give it some taste. Plus, only 5 calories and no sugar, so it’s a lot better than drinking a lot of soft drinks while deployed, which help you gain weight!
Chex Mix Sweet and Salty
I got turned onto this snack while in Iraq. It’s Chex Mix, with sweet honey clusters and sugar. You sort of have to eat the whole bag quickly since it’s in a non-re-sealable bag instead of a can, which kind of sucks.
A good morning chocolate pick-me-up. And PX best-seller.
You NEED a laptop. Especially if your MWR center has fast internet that you can plug your CAT5 into. God forbid they switch to wireless yet for more convenience around post. I bet they’re worried about security. You know, because all those Forbes 500 multi-billion dollar international corporations that use wireless aren’t concerned about security. You know, because those 256-bit keys are easy to crack!
But yes, a laptop is a must. For multimedia, watching DVDs, for writing letters, for uploading photos (allowable ones that don’t violate OPSEC, of course =P), but mostly for keeping a lot of music on it. One thing I learned from my deployment was that I should’ve brought my external drive full of music. Even the music I’d put on my MP3 player had all grown stale by the time I reached the end. I didn’t trim my collection very well so a lot of albums I just never wanted to listen to.
You need to bring a LOT of music to keep it fresh. You’ll have a lot of time to listen to music, whether you work out or try to wind down after shift, or even ON shift. I ended up reverting to iTunes because the MWR is fast enough to download small files. I ended up getting The Rolling Stones, Jamiroquai, and Brazilian Girls to have something new to listen to. But there’s just so much music I have back home that I wanted to listen to out here.
A laptop these days should at least come with wifi, and you might like a TV tuner too. A webcam is good for chatting home to family. The best is probably the Logitech QuickCam Pro 4000.