AMERICAN BOOTS ON THE GROUND IN LIBYA
The Long Long Road to Alexandria
Despite having had my Turkish Airlines travel booked all the way to Benghazi, for some reason all flights to there from Istanbul had been cancelled. As a journalist trying to safely get into eastern Libya from my connection in Istanbul in order to cover the civil war, my only other option was Alexandria, Egypt, not too far from the east-Libyan border.
Fortunately, as I exited the airport, I stumbled upon a good cab driver, who had no problem taking me to the bus station on the outskirts of Alexandria at 3 a.m. I was to return at 7 p.m. the next day to catch a direct 8 p.m. bus to Benghazi. The bus station at Alexandria was more like a potholed, dirt parking area, consisting of strewn garbage and lean-to huts selling sodas, produce, and everything else. The best way to describe its look was as a cross between a garbage dump and a war zone in some post-apocalyptic environment. As a survivalism / preparedness
writer, I had found what I was looking for—what the US Army calls “Live Environment Training.”
After our first rest stop, I met three others who were heading to Libya: A group of 20-somethings, who were determined to return to Libya and fight Gaddafi—Mohammad, Nasser, and Aidan. My bus driver, who was handed off to me by my cab driver back in Alexandria, handed me off to Mohammad, telling me “go with him.” Again, I was amazed by the sincere assistance of both the Egyptians and Libyans. Granted, I was an American, and they saw dollar signs, but they also really seemed to appreciate the fact that I was not another cultural troll, and was making
every effort I could to learn more Arabic.
At around 3:30 a.m. on 13 May, at the first checkpoint of the Egypt-to-Libya side of the border crossing complex, I saw one opposition fighter, dressed in an old brown, long wool coat with something Russian, with a very long barrel, slung muzzle-down, across his back. As I walked past with my new-found Libyan friends, I saw what he had: An old DP squad machine gun with the top-mounted, horizontal drum magazine. I couldn’t help myself: My instant verbal reaction was “Aw, sweet!”
Our cab ride continued until we reached Baida, Libya.
Gear For the Mission—Boots First
For boots, I was originally intending to just wear my good old US-issue desert combat boots. However, just before I left for Libya, I got extremely lucky at a local thrift store, and found a used pair of coyote color, Blackhawk Light Assault Boots in a bin, where a sign stated “All Boots $10.00.” They were still in good shape. These boots are highly ventilated and comfortable (although I did not have the removable cushion that normally comes with them).
They held up well throughout my travel (everything was man-packed), as well as in combat conditions, in Dafnia. These boots are a perfect design for the Middle East. I still brought my combat boots, as a spare pair. Normally, I don’t wear fancy gear like this, but this low-cut, lightweight boot, with its pull-on strap made this tactical footwear perfect for my time in Libya, as I was always being invited into people’s homes (and even carpeted outdoor areas, for that matter) where I constantly had to remove my boots. They did not stick out as military boots to the average civilian. I also loved the coyote color, since as a survivalist I recognize coyote tan as the best single shade of color for blending in, in all environments—urban, suburban, rural, forest, desert, and so on.
A Must—Bugout Bag
In addition to my US GI duffel bag, I brought my Sandpiper sand-colored, MOLLE system “bugout bag.” These bags are lifetime guaranteed by the San Diego-based company, which has been supplying the US military for years. Although it got dirty, between all the travel and combat it didn’t receive so much as a scratch. These bags are highly expandable as well as compressible, designed as airline-compatible military deployment bags. My plate carrier is a MOLLE-covered, Condor-brand with standard AR-100 plates, which I have personally tested. At only 77 yards, they completely stop repeated hits from 5.56 mm AP and .308 BTHP. At $250.00 for the plates and carrier, they’re the best deal out there. My plate carrier was heavier than what the other journalists wore, but offered superior protection.
Corded ear plugs. Available from various vendors (mine are Winchester-brand), or make your own, with some inner
thread material from some 550 cord. As a survival and preparedness consultant, I tell people I’d rather loose my life than my hearing, but that’s just me. These are not just for constant, at-the-ready wear at the front. In garrison, at the base where I lived with the rebel troops for roughly three weeks, maintenance operations were ongoing where they recovered and reconditioned 12.7 mm, 14.5 mm and 23 mm weapons systems. They would conduct test fires without the slightest form of any warning, as if they were test-starting an engine. This was in addition to a complete, cultural lack of awareness regarding hearing protection.
Canteens For Survival
A pair of good old fashioned, polypropylene GI issue canteens, with canteen cup. When other journalists and I were in Dafnia looking for the war, everyone else’s cute looking metal water bottles developed leaks. My plastic canteens never did.
I could have brought a Camelbak but they were primarily developed for people in intense heat situations, while busy shooting and scooting, which wasn’t the case here. I wanted to bring my soft two-quart canteen, but couldn’t find the space for it. The canteen cup was indispensable, for everything from re-heating food to morning coffee.
The chocolate-flavored “Survival Tabs” emergency rations were a godsend, as Libyan food generally sucks. This product comes from a survival food company called Food Reserves, out of Concordia, MO. While at the base in Benghazi, where I lived with a rebel army unit for about three weeks, we would tend to eat the same humanitarian aid food each day (many times, just the same soup and bread). I knew I could get a complete meal, nutrition-wise from the Survival Tabs. Also, the container they come in doubles as a canteen, compatible with US GI canteen pouches. One container easily lasted my two months in-country.
All-in-One Gerber Entrenching Tool
I also brought a Gerber entrenching tool (but with a GI-issue, woodland camo carrier), for the Grad multiple-launched rockets. You always need something to dig with for incoming.
550 cord: I brought lots of this (in four different colors), primarily as handmade gift item, as I make and sell my own hand-crafted survival bracelets back home. These were great for any VIPs I met (Gen. Hefter even got one from me,
when I met him), or close friends, or a certain person that needed to be schmoozed. Also, the troops loved it when I would weave one of these in front of them. Since I basically introduced these into Libya, they made a powerful form of calling card, on my part.
My Gerber multi-tool was indispensable for pretty much everything, to include the file for minor gunsmithing (on AK magazines that would stay stuck in the weapon), to everything else. It wasn’t a fancy one, about 10 years old.
For treating water, I brought good old iodine purification tablets and a personal sucking straw-operated water filtration system. The personal filter came in handy, in particular, for just drinking the local tap water, which was heavily treated. And for good reason, as Benghazi seems to have no infrastructure for sewage treatment (it all goes into a city-center, seawater inlet) or garbage disposal.
My mini-binoculars are Bell & Howell brand, bought probably 15 years ago, the typical, blister-pack ones that sold at the time for about $20. I noticed years ago that they were handy for spotting the holes in a 25-yard M16 zeroing target, without having to walk back and forth.
These were painted with Rustoleum sand color spray paint, before I left home. They’re good quality, or I wouldn’t have had them this long.
A home-made alcohol “cat” stove (sonamed, made from a small cat food can). Super lightweight and simple; the canteen sits directly on top of the stove, providing the necessary pressure. It allowed me to make coffee while at the front. I also discovered a good, cheap fuel while in Misurata—bottles of gasoline treatment. Caution is recommended, however: This stuff is pure methanol, which burns without visible flame (watch for the fuel boiling).
As for what I wished I had out there, I should have had a fanny pack on my pistol belt. This would have held everything I needed, instead of wearing my whole bugout bag and pistol belt.
As for what I didn’t need out there, I brought an automotive power inverter for charging my personal electronics. I never used it once, and it wasn’t worth the weight, or the hassle it created going through customs (a very dense, metal object).
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Article by H. Smith