Only 29 soldiers have filed claims under a new program to reimburse personal expenditures for body armor and other military gear. Military personnel can request money to cover equipment—like body armor, helmets, protective goggles, and hydration systems—that they purchased between Sept. 11, 2001, and July 31, 2004. Which kinds of gear do soldiers have to buy for themselves?
In theory, they shouldn't have to buy anything. The Army says it supplies each soldier with everything he'll need in the field, from socks and T-shirts to advanced combat helmets. Before shipping off to Iraq or elsewhere, each recruit gets issued—that is, he borrows from the Army—a basic set of equipment in addition to whatever extras are required by his commanding officer. This set often includes stuff you don't need, like outdated canteen pouches. These items are often left behind when it's time to ship out.
A soldier isn't supposed to bring any equipment that's not government-issued. (He's also supposed to bring all of the government-issued equipment he gets.) People do buy their own gear anyway, often after checking with higher-ups to make sure it's OK. While waiting to deploy, newbies might hear gossip from other soldiers about which official gear needs an upgrade and what else they should bring.
You don't have to worry too much about getting permission for basic "snivel gear"—stuff that keeps you at a minimum level of physical comfort. You probably won't get in trouble for bringing along some extra fleeces, jackets, and gloves, or even for trading in Army-issued boots for a commercial pair. But if you want to pick up a new scope for your rifle or a nonstandard armor vest, you'll have to clear it with a commanding officer. And bringing along your own guns or grenades is a strict no-no.
The more unusual the item, the more likely you'll get grief for it in the field. If you weren't issued a rifle scope, it's best to order the kind in standard use. That way you're less likely to draw attention to yourself from officers who are sticklers for the rules. If you're wearing something that no one else has—a special kind of body armor, for example—you may be told to take it off, even if your own commanding officer said it was fine.
You can pick up supplies at stores located near stateside Army bases and at the "Post Exchange" shops on the bases themselves. It's also fairly easy to receive items ordered on the Internet while you're overseas. A soldier could log on to a site like this one, put a tactical vest in his shopping cart, and have it delivered to a military address in Iraq. (Friends and family at home can also send gear or gift certificates for online purchases.)
In general, members of the armed forces aren't required to buy any tactical equipment. They may have to lay out some cash for certain ceremonial duties. After a promotion, for example, you might have to buy a new insignia and sew it onto your uniform.
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Explainer thanks Sgt. Todd Bowers.