Photo Jeff Chudwin
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For patrol officers/first responders, patrol cars serve as the base of operations during everyday work. The emergency response vehicle affords access to enhanced communications, electricity, mobility, protection from the elements, climate control and safety-gear storage. But when officers leave behind the car on a call—particularly an in-progress violent offense or other high-level emergency—what do they bring with them? The answer: only what’s attached to their bodies. The vehicle is our mobile storage locker and re-supply point—when we leave it, we’re on our own.
This was well illustrated in my town, Olympia Fields, Ill., on Sept. 11. Late in the day, as we monitored the terrorist attacks taking place in New York, units were called into a pursuit of a group of home invaders/armed robbers. The offenders bailed out of their car in a heavily forested area near a major highway. One of the first officers on scene, an Olympia Fields sergeant, quickly cleared his AR-15 from an in-car rack and took the high ground above a large drainage culvert, blocking the only clear escape route. His fast action prevented these dangerous felons from breaking through the perimeter into a far wider and uncontrolled area. An extended search by patrol and SWAT took all into custody.
During the hours of the search, officers were on the inner perimeter or in small units away from their patrol vehicles. What we had with us was all we had. Due to the dangers, support agencies couldn’t bring supplies into the inner perimeter. We were on our own, and the lack of water was a serious problem. Had this gone on for many more hours, it would have gone beyond mere discomfort—hydration is critical.
A review of this incident brought home the critical need to consolidate basic field sustainment necessities in a portable, lightweight grab bag. Bottom line: All the extra gear in the car or trunk (or worse yet, back at the station) remains useless if you can’t access it.
No officer can know how long a call will last or where it will take them. Plan for the long run to avoid getting caught short. Identify the items you need to collect, and maintain and periodically refresh them to enhance individual field operations.
A friend once said that as long as he had weapons, ammo and water, he was good to go. A minimalist view for sure. Where you stand in terms of sustainment items is your choice. Enhancing personal comfort and protection is not a sign of weakness.
The Carry Bag
First, pick a carry bag for your need-it-now gear. It allows hands-free carry. Our belt space is already taken, so it needs to be an over-the-shoulder/over-the-neck carry pack, or a small backpack.
Several products are worth a look: BlackHawk Industries’ Battle Bag, Maxpedition’s Fat Boy Versipack series and Eagle’s Active Shooter’s bag are designed to carry extra ammo, wound kits and other gear. The Battle Bag is one I’m testing, and it offers space for three to four water bottles in addition to other needed items. Other manufacturers, such as CamelBak and BlackHawk’s HydraStorm, make backpack models with internal water carriers, although some backpacks may prove too large or heavy to fill the role of a fast roll-out bag.
You must include essential items in your pack, yet not too much to cause problems with weight and bulk. Let’s look at the necessities.
You must consume water or other liquids to remain operationally effective. Our tactical medics always remind us that dehydration will make you sick or kill you. (How many 90+ degree F days have you worked in full gear and body armor?) In very hot weather, you may need a quart/liter of water per hour for intense physical activity, such as an extended field search.
Along with your grab bag, carry a hydration system (such as a CamelBak or HydraStorm) filled and ready. Our military uses these types of water carriers (both stand-alone systems and those built into a backpack) worldwide. If you choose a pack system with an internal hydration system, you can use it to carry other needed items, but again, limit weight and bulk.
Alternatively, you can carry individual plastic water bottles in your grab bag and/or BDU pockets. Whatever means of carry you decide on, bring as much water as you can find space for. The downside: Water weighs 8 lbs. per gallon, and it’s one item you can’t condense.
Include extra rifle and pistol magazines or shot-shells. However, if you overload with ammo, you defeat the purpose of a small, lightweight grab bag. Illinois Tactical Officers Association (ITOA) presenter/trainer and retired special-operations soldier Paul Howe insists mobility remains key to combat success, and mobility demands light weight. He points out that if we carry two or three extra rifle mags in addition to those attached to our .223 carbines (we use a Redi-Mag), we are up to the immediate task. Yes, extended law enforcement firefights have occurred, but odds are you won’t need an extended ammo supply, so keep it light.
Check out your ammo and magazines at least semi-annually, and sooner if possible.
The ability to remain in contact with your operations center and other officers is vital. Include an extra, fully charged radio battery. We’ve all experienced loss of radio communications due to lengthy field operations or older batteries. To ensure your radio battery is charged, you must perform active maintenance. Pain in the butt? Yes. Value when you need it? Total. By rotating your batteries daily, you control and evaluate their functionality.
Also carry a cell phone and maintain its batteries. One very neat cell phone support item: the SideWinder portable battery charger by IST (Find it here: www.sidewindercharger.com). It’s a battery-free, hand-cranked generator that powers the phone and recharges the battery. Very small and lightweight, it provides on-demand power off the grid.
Sometimes the radio system is not available. This occurred during our team’s deployment to New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, and the Motorola FRS-type radio, a short-range and low-power radio, worked well for convoy and close communications. The FRS radio has multiple channels and subchannels. It’s small, lightweight and, with an extra eight-pack of AA batteries, you’re good for two days.
Aside from your weapon lights, carry a small, powerful flashlight. You can count on those made by Surefire, BlackHawk, Streamlight and other high-end manufacturers. The lithium 3-volt battery system is the most common; carry at least two sets of batteries. A small, key-chain-type squeeze LED light—such as the ASP Sapphire—is also a must-have. Lithium batteries have a long shelf life, but check your batteries at least quarterly to be on the safe side.
Bug spray, sun block, lip balm and baby wipes all take up little space but can make a huge difference in comfort and sustainment. During a summer call-out involving an armed man, our patrol officers on the perimeter of a field deployed quickly, not grabbing the bug spray stored in the trunk of the squad car. Over a period of hours without the spray, they were worked over hard by mosquitoes. Tough it out? Sure, but a few foil-packed towelettes of DEET weigh nothing and take up very little space.
Sun block in a roll-on stick protects from serious sunburn and does not leak into your kit. Lip balm, such as Carmex, is a comfort item, but it easily treats a bad case of chapped lips. Baby wipes, Wet Ones and hand sanitizer allow for cleanup and sanitation. Another lightweight, small-space extra: a small pack of Kleenex.
Store these items in zip-lock bags to prevent spoilage.
Include a 6" Israeli battle dressing (Find it here: www.performancesystems.com), ibuprofen or naproxen (Aleve) for pain, several cloth Band-Aids of various sizes, alcohol swabs, tweezers, a sewing needle (for splinters), antihistamine, a butane lighter (for tick removal), a couple gauze pads and a Sharpie marker to write on skin (and for other writing needs). A small med kit is not a luxury.
Going hungry for hours or a day will not harm you, but there’s no need to go without food when you can easily avoid it with a supply of sports-type energy bars. Keep a half-dozen in your bag and change them out every few months. Gum and hard candy also go a long way. Do not include food items that melt, go stale, pull the fillings out of your teeth (e.g., Charleston Chews) or stick between your teeth and make you crazy (e.g., beef jerky). If you insist on jerky or stuff like it, include a few toothpicks and a small dental-floss dispenser.
You can compress a Bonnie hat or other head cover, an extra pair of socks and a small towel into a zip-lock bag. These lightweight items don’t take up much space, and they can make a big difference when faced with hot sun, bitter cold or driving rain.
All the above items fit in small pouches. Include a small waterproof notebook and pen to maintain a list of the items in your bag with dated notes that record items used, replaced or added to.
You decide the value of these items and add more or delete. Remember, too much weight and you will leave the bag behind. Make the time now to develop your own grab bag, then maintain it and keep it close at hand. Keep vital equipment on hand, not scattered throughout your patrol car, inaccessible and unavailable.
BlackHawk Products Group
4850 Brookside Court
Norfolk, VA 23502
Maxpedition Hard-Use Gear
P.O. Box 2366
Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA 90274
Eagle Industries Unlimited, Inc.
1000 Biltmore Drive
Fenton, MO 63026
CamelBak Products, LLC
1310 Redwood Way, Suite C
Petaluma, CA 94954
Note: This list does not include all bag and hydration unit manufacturers.