EUGENE, Ore. - OK. You’ve got your helmet and you’ve got your body armor.
Technically, that is all you are required to bring to embed as a reporter with the Marines in Afghanistan.
But you’d look like the world’s biggest fool if you showed up in a T-Shirt, flip-flops and Bermuda shorts wearing body armor and a Kevlar helmet.
You gotta have gear. Lots and lots of gear. You don’t want to stick out.
Actually, of course you’re going to stick out, you’re a journalist, not a soldier, and don’t fool yourself into thinking people can’t tell the difference, even if you have on body armor.
But there is a reason the soldiers wear the gear they wear, and that reason applies equally to you while you are in-country. You do not want to look like a walking target. So you gotta have gear. Lots of gear.
You don’t want to carry a briefcase while on patrol, so you need to buy a few MOLLE bags to hang on your vest. They’re about $15 each and I bought four. You might want to go see a local embroiderer like I did to have a few name tags done up that clearly identifies you as Media. That’s another $30.
You want a Nomex flight suit and Nomex gloves.They are fire resistant and important to have in case you happen to get too close to an IED. The flight suit is $200 and the gloves are another $30.
You want ballistic glasses too. For one thing, they make you look macho (always important in a war zone), but also because they can save your eyesight, which is rather important to a photojournalist. Another $150.
Boots. Yep, gotta have combat boots. Desert boots to be exact. They’re about $150 and you really need two pair, a stiff rugged pair for patrols, and a softer, more comfortable pair for lounging around base. So you’re out another $300 total.
T-shirts. Tan. $20. I bought six.
Socks. Five bucks. I bought six of those too.
Plenty of underwear. Your opportunity to use laundry facilities is just about nil. You need plenty of underwear. My laundry plan is to just throw them away.
Poncho. Okay, it’s the desert, but it actually does rain sometimes. $15. Get the poncho liner to go with it, another $25.
Boonie hat. Well, you’re not going to wear your helmet all the time, and the sun is merciless, so get a boonie hat. $25.
Scarves. Okay, we all know they look cool, but in truth they actually are cool. Meaning, if you soak them with water while out on patrol, they actually do cool you down. It is currently over 125 degrees over there. I bought three, $25 each.
A couple of web belts. Ten bucks.
Tent. $100. But I was told to bring my own tent because I was going to a very remote outpost. If you get sent to a major base, your own tent may not be necessary. Sleeping bag was another $100.
Water. It is critical to have a hydration system, and let’s face it, Camelbak is the biggest name in that game. They make models that are cammo colored and fit into the MOLLE system on the Eagle Scalable Plate Carrier vest. $135.
Headlamps and flashlights. There ain’t no street lights where you’re going. Buy several. Buy batteries. Lots and lots of batteries.
According to my contact in-country, the best non-military trousers and shirts to bring are Columbia Sportswear Titanium. I’m a big fan of Columbia gear anyway, so I bought three shirts and three trousers. About $350 total.
And now you’re all tricked out.
And for what it’s worth, the vendors who ended up with most of my money were Ranger Joe’s, U.S. Calvary and Brigade Quartermaster. And of course Eagle Industries.
Now, all this gear can probably be found in military surplus stores, or most of it anyway. I bought a few items at a surplus store near my house. But in any case at this point you will have spent over $6,000.
Let me repeat that, you have already spent over $6,000 and you haven’t even left home yet.
You are a journalist of course, not a tourist, so you will have to do some work while you are in Afghanistan.
I am taking my three Nikons (D200 and D700) with five lenses, my Macbook Pro, digital audio equipment, video gear, tripod and various accessories, all with hardshell cases. Well over ten thousand dollars worth of gear.
Toss in five or six hundred bucks in cash in case of emergencies, and hey, you’re up to a nice round figure of close to $20,000.
Oh yeah, forgot to mention. I’ve been informed we will NOT be given access to the Internet while in country. So that means once I leave the States my wife and three sons will have absolutely no idea where I am or what I’m doing or - let’s be honest - whether I am safe.
Don’t mind a trip being extremely stressful as long as it is also horrendously expensive.
COMING FRIDAY, SATURDAY and SUNDAY: Dan and Cali have arrived in Afghanistan and filed their first reports from Camp Marjah - and from "outside the wire" where the Afghan citizenrs have complaints about an improved road the U.S. built.
Morrison teaches photojournalism and multimedia reporting at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication in Eugene, Ore.
Bagby is a freelance multimedia journalist who spent 10 months embedded with the Oregon National Guard in Iraq for KVAL.com.