(IRAQ) NECESSITY: MOTHER OF INVENTION

INGENIOUS GIs
From AirBurd. Original source unknown

American soldiers eat match heads in the Iraq desert. “The sulfur in them gets in your system and you sweat it out and it keeps the mosquitoes away,” explained Pfc. Joshua Joe, an artillery forward observer from Buena Park, Calif.

A folding pack of matches comes in every Meal Ready to Eat (MRE), so some soldiers chew up — or lick, depending on their preference — as many as 20 per day. That's just one of the tricks GIs have devised to cope with life in Iraq's hostile environment.

In the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, many soldiers carry tampons to plug bullet holes in case they are shot. They stick Condoms on the muzzles of 50-caliber machine guns to keep out dust, and shoot right through the latex when the time comes to fire.

There are soldier-made port-a-johns: folding metal chairs with a Hole cut in the seat and a toilet seat bolted around the hole. More primitively, the folding shovel used to dig foxholes can be locked in an L shape and the blade used for a seat under one buttocks cheek.

The thigh pocket of desert fatigues is perfect for carrying a flattened roll of toilet paper.

“We do a lot of things to make life a little more comfortable,” said Sgt. 1st Class Curtis Elliott of Cincinnati. “Like making automatic washing machines.” An empty box that held about 20 MREs is lined with a plastic trash bag and filled with water and detergent. Socks, brown T-shirts, underwear and fatigues are loaded in and the top of the bag tied shut. “You stick it in the back of the truck and drive around with it for a couple of days, then take out the clean clothes and rinse them. Dry them by stringing a cord between the radio antennas of two combat vehicles.”

Need to stay awake on an all-night patrol? Many soldiers swear that chewing tobacco or snuff will do the trick. “You can also put the instant coffee that comes in MREs under your lip like Copenhagen and the caffeine will keep you up,” said Sgt. Gabriel Graan of Las Vegas. Some soldiers even mix the coffee and snuff for a double kick.

“Baby anythings are popular,” said one soldier. Baby wipes for bathing… baby powder to prevent chafing… baby salve to cure chafing. Even baby food, because the small containers are easily packed and don't need can openers.

Various items may be used for weight training. A 50-pound tow bar makes a good barbell. A .50-caliber ammunition can weighs 30 pounds and can be held on the chest during sit-ups.

“You're going to lose weight in the desert because of the heat anyway,” said Pvt. Matt St. John, a scout from Lake City, Fla. “You might as well take advantage of the time to work out and come home all rippled up.”

For every problem, there is an innovation. Flea collars on wrists and ankles keep away ticks. Pencil erasers are used to clean communications equipment.

For creative cooks, bouillon cubes and spices are musts, said Sgt. Jason Thompson of McMinnville, Ore. “You can eat any MRE with the right spices. With Starbucks a distant memory, mixing milk shake powder with coffee makes great lattes.”

There is debate on the wisdom of wearing underpants. You can change underwear more often than fatigue trousers, and that promotes cleanliness, some insist. Others say underwear gets all sweaty, and going bare prevents chafing.

Both sides swear by talcum powder. “I had a gunner that used the dust from the ground” when he was out of talcum powder, said one soldier. “I called him 'Dusty.'