Desert Gear II

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Date: Tuesday, August 5th, 2003, 10:20
Category: Archive

A few months ago I wrote in to the PowerPage asking readers for suggestions on desert-hardened gear to take with me as I deployed to Iraq. The article spun up some controversy, more about the war than what gadgets are tough enough to endure military life in the desert. Now that things have settled down a bit, I thought that I’d send a little feedback. Internet access out here is spotty, but living on an Airfield has its advantages – the Air Force needs the internet to get weather data. Read more…


A few months ago I wrote in to the Powerpage asking readers for suggestions on desert-hardenedA few months ago I wrote in to the PowerPage asking readers for suggestions on desert-hardened gear to take with me as I deployed to Iraq. The article spun up some controversy, more about the war than what gadgets are tough enough to endure military life in the desert. Now that things have settled down a bit, I thought that I’d send a little feedback. Internet access out here is spotty, but living on an Airfield has its advantages – the Air Force needs the internet to get weather data. Read more…
One general note: you don’t really appreciate the value of dual-voltage gadgets until you find one that isn’t compatible with foreign power girds. Most of the time, I am able to get some power from generators that we brought with us, but now that we have settled in to former Iraqi military bases, most of the electricity available is 220V (actually, due to the problems with power distribution here it’s more like 190V.)
iPod: Absolutely the best thing I brought with me. CDs just don’t survive well in the desert, and replacing double A batteries, while possible, is a whole lot harder than finding a generator and plugging in my iPod for a couple of hours. Being able to bring most of my favorite music with me has been a major quality of life issue — even if I only get to listen to it for a half an hour or so before I go to sleep. I’ve got a Marware neoprene case, and a plastic plug to seal up the Firewire connection when I’m not using it. I’ve also purchased the MacDrive/Xplay software to make mine a cross-platform Firewire hard drive.
256 MB USB thumb drive’ Essential for anyone who uses computers out here. Floppy disks get 1-2 uses and then they die. Must be a combination of the heat and the sand. They also tear up the drives when you try and use them. Most laptops floppy drives have been sealed with 100MPH (green duct) tape and are using the USB drives exclusively.
Nikon Coolpix 700: I decided against buying a newer, toughened (I was looking at a 3.2 or 5 megapixel water-resistant Olympus) camera, and take my old one and use it until it died. My old Nikon has held up very well, all though it eats double A batteries, and the lack of a zoom is a real problem. I keep it in a case-logic case and it’s in great shape. I’ve even used it for air-reconnaissance missions, downloading the pictures afterward and emailing them over a secure intranet to the units that need them. I’ve also used a Sony Mavica with a built in half-size CD burner for recon missions. I much prefer the Sony for it’s large view screen (easier to use when leaning out the door of a helicopter), powerful zoom lens and the ability to pop out a CD and drop it with the unit that needs the pictures &emdash; no need to email or download to a disk.
Dell Lattitude Laptop: I know that the PowerPage is a Mac-centric site, but I wasn’t about to take my personal laptop, especially when the Army had already issued me one. Overall, it’s done as well as can be expected from a Wintel machine. Lots of canned air, and plastic dust covers help. It’s fans run almost constantly in the 110+ degree heat, and the trackpad buttons are failing. The floppy drive is useless, but that’s more a function of the disks than the drive. There are lots of people using Panasonic Toughbooks out here too. They are having the same problems &emdash; sand and dirt in any opening, especially through the keyboard.
What I’d really like to see is a 12-inch PowerBook or iBook that was toughened for field use. We’ve shot some digital video footage out here (both for work, and to send home) and it would be great to use iMovie to edit it. Heat would be an issue, and it would have to be totally sealed against dirt and sand, with some sort of removable access panel for USB/Firewire connections.
PDAs: Didn’t bring mine, and haven’t seen any others. I’ve got a spiral bound Dayrunner mini weekly calendar I use for a flight logbook, and a desert-camo Franklin Covey binder I use for everything else. Sometimes simpler is better.
Garmin Etrex Vista GPS: I carry this with me everywhere I go, along with a spare set of lithium double A batteries. You do not want to get lost in the open desert, and trying to navigate by map and compass is next to impossible (I also carry a Brunton GPS compass as a backup).
Suunto Observer watch: As a helicopter pilot, it’s invaluable to be able to carry a weather station with you. Operating out of forward bases without weather forecasting support, I could at least get accurate temperature and altimeter settings for aircraft performance planning.
Satellite phones: I’ve used both the Iridium and Thuraya phones, and while the reception isn’t exactly the fiber-optic line quality we have come to expect, it’s pretty good when you’re a hundred miles from nowhere in the middle of the Al Jazeera desert. I also worked with some reporters who used an Iridium data link to file stories and send in digital pictures from the middle of nowhere. Rates were about a dollar a minute, but well worth it.

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