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Some of the best gear soldiers and Marines used in Iraq was paid for out of their own pockets.

That’s according to recent after-action reports published by the Army’s Special Operations Battle Lab and a Marine Corps Systems Command Team. Researchers from both services interviewed soldiers and Marines in locations across Iraq to learn what worked well and what needs more work.

Simple things such as uniforms and boots issued by Uncle Sam weren’t up to snuff, the troops reported. Turns out some of the best gear they had, they bought themselves.

Rifle slings

The over-the-shoulder look for rifles wasn’t good enough for U.S. troops. The two-point configuration, in which the sling connects at the butt stock and just forward of the hand guards, didn’t allow for easy access to a weapon when it was needed most.

The three-point sling, howver, connects the rifle to the soldier by connecting to the butt stock, the receiver and close to the sights. The configuration allows the rifle to hang free when not in use and the slings don’t entangle when the weapon is raised to fire.

Some Marine and Army units purchased “three-point” slings with unit funds. In other units, soldiers and Marines often ponied up the money to get their own.

“Soldiers are purchasing their own slings because the issued variant does not provide the flexibility or comfort they require,” the Army report stated. It added that soldiers felt the three-point slings “allowed the weapon to be slung on their back or hung on their chest so they could respond to contact faster.”

The Marine report said Marines requested a three-point sling “be issued with each M-16A2.”

Holsters

Dissatisfaction with the current M-9 9 mm holster was so strong that the Army report said plainly, “The issued 9 mm holster is not used.”

The leather shoulder holsters didn’t hold up well in the sandblasted Iraqi environment. An alternative holster clipped on a load-bearing vest didn’t fare much better.

“If the 9 mm is your personal weapon, you don’t want to have to always wear your LBV in order to have your weapon with you,” the report said.

The alternative most troops preferred came in the form of “drop holsters,” bought with personal funds from commercial outlets. Marines paid up to $65 for holsters that looped to the belt and strapped around the leg from companies such as Special Operations Equipment.

Marines also bought “phone-cord” style lanyards — cords designed to keep the pistol connected to the body.

Global positioning systems

Soldiers and Marines alike preferred commercial global positioning systems to the military’s precision lightweight GPS receiver.

“As widely known, many soldiers purchase their own GPS systems rather than use the PLGR,” the Army report said. The Marine report showed that entire units bought smaller commercial GPS units for their Marines. “The commercial market produced small, lighter and more easily used GPS,” it said.

Uniforms

Soldiers wanted their desert-camouflaged uniforms with pockets on the sleeves, much like the new Marine Corps’ digital Marine Pattern uniform.

“Soldiers realize they will wear the IBA (Interceptor Body Armor) in almost all environments from now on,” the report stated. “The pockets on the front of the DCU are all but useless.”

To solve the pocket problem, many soldiers took matters into their own hands.

“Many soldiers have already had a tailor sew pockets on their sleeves,” the Army report stated.

Soldiers even suggested a similar move for trouser pockets — moving them to the front of the leg — because gas masks block pockets on the thighs.

Boots

Soldiers complained the desert combat boots’ soles were too soft and held in too much moisture. They said the soles were “easily damaged by the terrain.”

Some soldiers had their boots resoled with commercial Vibram, with mixed success. But they also found the boots lacked ventilation, preferring a boot with holes, such as the jungle boot, to allow moisture to escape. Soldiers also said the desert boots were too tight.

“Many soldiers did not use the bottom set of lace holes to reduce pressure on the top of their feet,” the Army report stated.

Although the Marine Corps didn’t field comments about the boots issued to Marines, the Army report noted “the Marine Corps Desert Boot has a very good reputation.”

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