CAMP TAJI, Iraq (Army News Service, Jan. 25, 2007) - The Army makes sure that every Soldier going into combat has the best hardware and equipment money can buy. But hidden away somewhere underneath all the gear, most Soldiers also carry an item or two that their supply sergeants didn't issue.
As they readied vehicles and equipment for combat recently, paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, based at Camp Taji, also filled their rucks and pockets with some extra personal items. The items ranged from the obvious, like extra ammo and batteries, to the bizarre, like a lucky Sesame Street doll.
The most common item many of the paratroopers carry is a picture of a loved one hidden away in a uniform pocket or taped inside of their helmets. Sgt. Chancey Tillery, an infantryman with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, said he always carries a picture of his girlfriend, Valerie, in his left breast pocket to brighten his mood when he's feeling down.
"When I'm feeling crappy, I just pull that picture out and look at it," Tillery said.
Other paratroopers carry pictures that remind them of what they are fighting for.
Spc. Brad Griffith, an infantryman with Company B, 1st Bn., 325th AIR, has pictures of American prisoners of war taped to the radio mount inside the Humvee he drives. The pictures, he said, remind him of what could happen if he ever lets his guard down. They also give him the inspiration to carry out his mission even when he gets frustrated.
"Seeing those guys lets you know you're here for a reason, whether you agree with the politics or not," he said.
Soldiers are famously superstitious, and 2nd BCT troopers are no exception. Many carry talismans or charms for good luck - playing cards, rabbit's feet, individual rounds worn smooth from being rubbed between their fingers, socks they never change. Sgt. Jason Price, of Co. D, 2nd Bn., 325th AIR carries an American flag signed by all the members of his old platoon.
"It's for good luck," Price said.
One 2nd BCT paratrooper is widely known for carrying a Sesame Street "Ernie" doll everywhere he goes as a lucky charm. The trooper didn't want his name used in this article.
"Ernie doesn't like attention," he said.
Some troopers carry religious icons or medallions for spiritual strength. Many have a copy of the "Soldier's Bible", small enough to fit easily into a cargo pocket or assault pack pouch. Spc. Matthew Plumlee, a military policeman with the 2nd BCT's Special Troops Battalion, has a St. Michael medallion fastened to his dog tags. A chaplain gave him the medallion, Plumlee said, because St. Michael is known as the patron saint of paratroopers
Spc. Benjamin West, an infantryman with Co. D, 2nd Bn., 325th AIR, carries a small strip of red cloth embroidered with the Jewish Star of David tucked into the flap of his body armor. The cloth was stitched by West's aunt, who said a special prayer for him before she sent it. West likes to wear it close to his heart.
Not every item the paratroopers carry has such deep significance. Some are strictly for comfort. Spc. Brett Crawley, a scout with Headquarters Co., 1st Bn., 325th AIR, always packs a little pillow with him, just in case he gets a chance to rack out.
Spc. Cody Needham, a team sergeant with Battery A, 2nd Bn., 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, never used to leave the wire without extra packs of cigarettes. Now he carries something even better - a nicotine inhaler. The inhaler, he said, packs a little more punch.
One last item that almost all the paratroopers seem to carry is a small notebook or diary to jot down their thoughts. Sgt. Tamara Brown of Co. F, 407th Brigade Support Battalion is on her first deployment to Iraq. She carries a notepad with her so she can write down her impressions of life in a combat zone. But when Brown finishes work late at night, she said, she's usually too tired to write. Her notepad is still mostly empty.
"I really don't know when I'll find the time," Brown said.
But she carries it anyway, just in case.