Quora Question: What Do Soldiers Keep in All Those Pockets They Have?

soliders pockets
Paratroopers from the U.S. Army's 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team participate in training exercises Kacper Pempe/Reuters

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Answer from Jon Davis, Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran, U.S. Marine Corps.

Most of those pockets aren't really pockets as much as well designed accessories, each with its own designed role, which are to be arranged by the individual troops' need, specialty, designation, and mission to fit onto the Interceptor and MOLLE systems.

All that to say that when you see pockets, I see magazine pouches. Each item you see was engineered for a purpose. Those long ones in the front, for example, are for holding extra ammunition in the form of fully loaded magazines. Look at the Marine below and note the fact that those pouches are about the same size as the magazine inside his weapon. Each pouch holds about two magazines; some can hold three. They are meant to be worn as near to weapon as is functional to keep the momentary time when a warfighter is out of action because of gear to a minimum.

Other items which are usually visible on a deployed Marine or soldier's gear is a larger square pouch which carries a whole medical trauma kit, hanging bag to retain spent magazines and a much smaller pouch for carrying grenades (or candy). Other attachments can be used which are useful for carrying radio equipment, or virtually any other piece of gear. Most anything can be converted to capable of being carried on the armor, depending upon the Marines mechanical creativity. If you look above again, you can see the first aid kit and the drop pouch worn on the Marine in the rear.

The system is actually pretty remarkable in that it was created to provide such a secure, but customizable platform for any number of tactical needs. The basic armor is lined on the outside with many, many bands of material that a Marine or soldier will lace whatever accessories they are issued or buy in whatever arrangement and configuration best suits them. They may arrange them according their NCO's instructions or on their own. There is always a minimum of expectancy, as in, you will have at least these pieces of gear on your equipment at all times. These pieces are always issued, but, as I said, the individual can buy better versions if they within military limits of acceptability. Take my gleaming example for a moment. In the image below, you'll see me with my IFAK (first aid kit) in the front, and three magazine pouches that I bought because they were better than the standard issued magazine pouches of the time (2005).

As of when I was in, there really weren't set rules on where what went. As I said, it was more or less up to the individual on how they arranged their gear. There are, however, many guidelines and armament philosophies or rules of thumb. For example, some combat marksmanship philosophies said that a shooter should never remove their firing hand from the weapon. For that reason, the non-firing hand is needed to be the one reloading the weapon in the event that the magazine begins to run low. A smart Marine would be wise, then, to keep their magazine pouches within ready reach of their non-firing hand so that they don't have to reach across their body and the weapon to grab a fresh magazine. Such actions take precious seconds, which are a commodity highly valued in tense situation. It would also be wise if that dump pouch was then also behind the magazines so that in one smooth set of motions, the magazine can be changed out and the spent one dropped in the dump pouch.

Many different people will arrange their gear in many different ways. Some arrangements focus on arranging gear around a particular weapons system. Some focus on left or right handed shooters. Some focus on additional mission requirements and all try to maximize comfort. All of these can also be changed out completely in about an hour. Yeah, there is actually quite a lot of thought that goes into it. Also, not everything we carry might be tactical.

Now besides that, we might carry anything. Pocket utility knives, pens, note taking material, covers. Below, you'll find the contents of my cargo pocket during most every deployment, training mission, field op, or act of unpleasantness I experienced in the United States Marine Corps ever since I went on my first Iraq tour starting in 2005.

Besides the knife and the boonie cover (hat) there was Froggy. Froggy joined me during the first half of my first combat deployment to Iraq. He came in a flat rate US Postal Service shipping container with assorted letters, cards, sweet treats, and nice sox, addressed from my wife, safe at home. Inside the package was a small stuffed frog with a tiny crown and and a little red heart in his hands that read "Kiss Me". When you pressed the heart it made a loud "smooching" sound. I think it was Jennie's way of being there for me when she simply could not be. From then on, I carried him everywhere I went inside my cargo pocket, nice and safe, but hidden away.

One day, while in formation within our hanger, I popped to attention with the rest of the platoon. My fist struck my pants leg as the platoon went silent and the Gunny took his place at the head of the evening muster. As my fist contacted with my leg, a loud, long, "smooching" sound emanated from my pocket. Half the platoon heard it and half of them knew it came from me, though none of them could have guessed what exactly it was that they had heard. I wasn't going to stop carrying Froggy for that. I had become too attached to him. Something had to be done though. That afternoon, in the a dark corner of a dusty bunker, deep within the sands of Iraq, I cut out Froggy's heart, a symbolic act I am often reminded of when I think about him. From that point on, though, he was ready as my silent companion.

For the next three years, in fact, Froggy was with me. Throughout the rest of Iraq in 2005 he rode in that cargo pocket. On every long day and even longer nights, there he was. When I came home, he was there when my wife and mom greeted me. When I was promoted to Corporal and immediately sent on a ten mile hump to celebrate, he was there too. In the training missions for months in Yuma, you could still find him. Finally, for my second tour in Iraq, the longest and some of the hardest months of my life, every time I needed to be reminded of the existence that somewhere there was something far greater than this miserable existence, all I had to do was reach down in my cargo pocket and feel his soft, velvety gesture. For three years of the United States Marine Corps after he joined me, beneath whatever facade I had to project, he was with me, for every step of every hike, every rifle range, every hole that was dug, every fearful moment, sandstorm, nightwatch, and all the tears shed both in remorse and in homecoming. We was present for all of them, hidden away peacefully in my cargo pocket.

It's been many years now since Froggy has seen action. Now, he is retired. In this new life he peacefully rests on the shelf above my desk. Sometimes when I write I look up at him staring off into the distance and think about all the adventures we shared. Now he's a bit dustier and not quite so soft to the touch, and even going bald in a few places. Regardless of this, I can honestly say that at any given point, if anyone were to ask me, "Hey Marine, what's in your pockets?" I'd reach down and pull out a little stuffed frog, because at any given moment, no matter where I happened to be, he was always there when I needed him, a task he remains true to, even today.


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