Times change, equipment changes, and tactics change – but the military man does not. I see it every time I go to a Ranger Breakfast or any other gathering that involves veterans of multiple generations. We are all basically cut from the same cloth; and while wearing the uniform – we worried and cared about the same things. I don’t think Audie Murphy was posting a selfie on IG whilst hash-tagging #zerofucks as he assaulted Germans with ruthless efficiency, but he probably liked good coffee and appreciated a sharp uniform just like today’s servicemen. So, I present to you the list of things every military man worthy of the title should have and know how to use.
- Multi-tool. Anyone who has made it more than a day in the military knows how important a good multi-tool is. Get a nice Leatherman or Gerber, and get the one that does the job, not the one that is loaded with so many tools that you’ll never use even half of them. Keep this with your uniform, don’t be the guy wearing it on his belt taking a girl out to the movies.
- A good pocketknife. This is your off duty, everywhere-you-go tool. You don’t need one longer than three inches, but you do want one with a good folding blade that will stand the test of time. I believe a man’s pocketknife is an instant heirloom, and getting something that you’ll be proud to give your son is an important consideration. Spend the money on a good one, and don’t lose it.
- Mini-bic lighter. You don’t need a full-size Bic lighter, a Zippo needs to be refilled, and matches aren’t practical in most situations. Thus, the need for the mini-Bic lighter. Perfect for melting the ends of your tie-downs, taking care of loose threads, or lighting that post-mission rooftop cigar with the chaplain.
- Speedloader. Don’t be caught at the range without one! These things are worth their weight in gold, and make your day at the range as efficient as possible. Put your name on it with a paint marker, and don’t borrow it to anyone!
- Eye-pro for off duty. Don’t be that guy wearing his issued eye protection on the weekends. Get a good pair of sunglasses – I prefer the polarized lenses – and keep them for the weekend backpacking trip or day at the beach. Oakley’s are of course the go-to for many but don’t discount a pair of classic Ray Ban’s either.
- Cell phone with water/shockproof case and charger. You need a reliable phone, something to protect it, and something to keep it charged. We live in an age of expeditionary warfare, and your leaders should be able to get a hold of you when the war hammer is about to drop. Also, because drunk Joe’s need a way to call for a ride, and leaders need to be able to receive the call from the police after their drunk Joe’s decide to bash in some college kids face at the bar.
- Extra cell phone charger. Because keeping your phone operational really is that important. Get the kind that has a USB on one end so that you can plug it in even when a standard outlet isn’t available.
- Condoms. Because getting rodded off the range isn’t fun. Also, don’t kid yourself – she has a hankering for that BAH and Tricare. Protect yourself, protect your paycheck, and protect your leadership’s sanity. Obviously, if your married this is an optional item depending on you and you’re wife’s childbearing plans.
- Click pen. Yes, that kind that has the button on top. Not the kind with a cap that you can lose. And make sure it’s black ink; blue just makes you look like a shit-show.
- Team leader book. You know, those green ones from supply. They have enough room to keep detailed notes, without being so big that they are a burden to keep on you. Put your name on the front and cut a hole in the cloth to stick that click pen you should have.
- 100’ of 550 cord. Keep it in the trunk of your car or in your locket at work. Or both. You never know when you’ll need to re-do your tie-downs or ball up someone on their birthday.
- 100mph tape. Similar to having 550 cord around, 100 mph tape is one of those incredibly convenient things to have around.
- A pair of durable business casual pants. I prefer a good pair of Bluffworks. You can go rock climbing in them during the day and look good on your hot date later that night. Made of fast-drying, technical material but cut like a nice pair of slacks, these are the multi-tool of clothing garments.
- A durable dress shirt. Similar to the pants, you want something fast drying and don’t need an iron. This shirt is a bit on the pricey side, but does the trick. You really only need one anyways. Stuff them in your D-bag when you deploy or keep them in your backpack for weekends away – a versatile shirt is a great investment.
- Good boot socks. At least five pairs. If you are still wearing those green things you got issued in basic, then you are doing one of your most important assets (your feet) a disservice. I’ve had the same ten pairs of black Darn Tough sucks since 2007; they’ve been through three deployments, a wedding, and a failed train-hopping attempt. Their expensive, but they won’t disappoint. Oh, and they are the only socks that come with a lifetime guarantee.
- Headlamp. I’m loyal to Petzl myself and always go for the one that has an attached red lens option. Great for the range, great for camping, or even SSE’ing a bad guy’s house overseas. I’ve had the same one for years now, and it hasn’t broken or let me down yet.
- Lithium batteries. Always, always have extra batteries. For your IR laser, for your weapons light, your optic, your NOD’s, headlamp… the list goes on. Don’t be caught with dead electronics because you failed to prepare.
- A decent weapons cleaning kit. One that has the stuff you actually need and is customized to you and your assigned weapons. One that looks like you actually give a shit. I don’t care if you are one of the 73 SEAL’s who shot Bin Laden or a joe in the S-1 shop, maintain your weapon as if your life depends on it – because it probably does.
- A hard copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. It’s the classic book that outlines principles of combat that have maintained relevancy through centuries of warfare. There are a lot of great books on war and warfare, but this should be a staple present in every man’s library.
- A passport. If you aren’t using your time in the military to travel and see the world, then I really pity you. Use that Space-A perk when you can, and make sure you always let your Chain of Command know when you are leaving the country. I firmly believe that the more you travel, the wiser you become. And hell, you never know what country we are going lay the freedom hammer down on next, so maybe you’ll have a leg up for the next conflict!
- Uber app or taxi number saved in contacts. Most places have Uber now, and it’s a great app to have in your arsenal for when you have had a few too many drinks after a long week in the field. If you don’t have Uber, then make sure you have a taxi company saved in your phone. Drinking and driving should never be an option though.
- A pair of Gymnast rings. Although there is nothing more manly than hoisting large amounts of steel off the ground or over your head, sometimes there just isn’t enough room in the rucksack for an Olympic bar and a full set of plates. Enter the gymnast rings. You can do dips on them, pull-ups, muscle-ups, knees-to-elbow, and a host of other exercises that will compliment your regular callisthenic regimen. Your fitness is as, or more important than your weapon depending on whom you ask, and being away from the gym is no excuse to get soft. These are small, portable, and give you a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to staying in fighting shape. Besides, have you ever seen male gymnasts before? Those guys are fucking jacked!
- Portable coffee grinder. On deployment or in the field, creature comforts can be few and far in between. So do yourself a favor and treat yourself to some fresh ground coffee. I like this grinder from GSI. It doesn’t take up much space and almost has a calming effect when using it. Because military guys aren’t high strung or anything…
- French press. The perfect compliment to the portable coffee grinder. It’s small and makes a helluva cup of coffee. The morale boost is definitely worth the small amount of space it will take up in your ruck. Besides, all those energy drinks are going to kill you – ease up and suck down some coffee once in a while!
- Brasso. You should be proud of your Class A’s, and as such, they should look good when you wear them. Take some Brasso to those oak leaves and campaign stars – it’s the standard in some units, and even if it’s not in yours, your pride in uniform will be evident to all who see it.
- Black Sharpie. It’s good for writing your name on stuff you don’t want to be stolen, as well as drawing explicit pictures of genitalia on the face of your buddy who passed out too early.
- A good suit. Because although you should be proud of your service and your uniform, it’s not appropriate for every occasion. Get a pair of good dress shoes (not your Class A shoes…), a nice tie, and a simple pocket square. You don’t need to wear Tom Ford, but maybe wait for Men’s Warehouse to have one of their big sales and get everything you need. Pro tip: Black or grey suits will fit almost any occasion.
- Bottle opener. Because you’re a barrel-chested freedom fighter and drink beer that doesn’t have a twist-off cap.
- A pair of shoes that is not your boots, your PT shoes, or your shower shoes. Seriously, don’t be that guy wearing combat boots with jeans, or those cheap black shower shoes from the PX to the beach. A pair of Combat Flip Flops if you are on one of the coasts is a wise choice. Pick something that is comfortable and that you’ll wear, whatever you get.
- A good multi-purpose weekend backpack. I’m a big fan of the GoRuck GR1, but something that is big enough lets you get away from base for the weekend but not so big that you are overpacking. Plenty of pockets for organization are nice, and durability is a must.
- A bottle of good whiskey. Not for your average weekend drink, but a really nice bottle for when a buddy dies or a baby is born, or when you just get back from deployment. Get the kind of bottle that you will really need to justify to yourself why you are breaking it out.
- A deck of cards. Because isolating yourself on your phone playing Angry Birds for a 24-hour staff duty shift is for amateurs.
- Baby wipes. I like the Honest Company wipes made from actual cotton. They’ll keep your undercarriage clean and fresh feeling in the field, on deployment, or a four-day weekend to PCB when you are drinking so much you don’t have time to take actual showers.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on December 23, 2015.
Marty Skovlund, Jr. is a veteran of the 1st Ranger Battalion and Syracuse Recruiting Battalion, a former small business owner, the author of Violence of Action: The Untold Stories of the 75th Ranger Regiment in the War on Terror (Blackside Publishing) as well as Ranger Knowledge: The Complete Study Guide (St. Martins Press). He is also the executive producer of the award-winning documentary Nomadic Veterans, and the award winning short-narrative Prisoner of War. He is currently working on his third book as well as pursuing a career in film and television.