November 11, 2004
The current American defense budget provides a provision for reimbursing troops (mainly soldiers and marines) who buy needed military equipment with their own money. Up to $1,100 a year per soldier will be provided, if they can make a case that their expenditure was needed for protective, safety, or health equipment.
One unexpected development of an all volunteer army is soldiers who are willing, and able, to spend their own money to buy equipment the government does not provide. This has always been the case with career soldiers. But now everyone is a volunteer and in uniform long enough to acquire the if I need it Ill buy it attitude. The Internet came along a decade ago and the troops were suddenly in touch with each other, and quickly passing along opinions about new clothing, outdoor gear, weapons accessories and what not, like never before.
The Iraq war brought lots of reservists into action, and they quickly became aware of the extra gear the regular troops had, and began buying it. But the reservists and regulars alike were unhappy with the fact that they had to buy stuff that they felt the government should be providing. Several years ago, the army thought it had this under control with the Rapid Fielding Initiative, which gave combat units millions of dollars to spend as the commanders saw fit. But it was never fast enough. So the latest attempt to cope with this situation is the annual $1,100 reimbursement.
The basic problem is that new technology is coming into use much faster than the traditional military procurement system can deal with. Theres more useful, often life-saving, gear the troops can use for sale. And the troops dont wait for the military to get around to stocking the new stuff, and they are not shy about telling each other, or the media, how great the unofficial gear is. Overall, this is a good thing. The new equipment usually is superior, and makes the troops more effective. The military also gets the stuff straight to the field testing phase, and can then confidentially buy it for everyone if no problems are uncovered.