Army launches new effort to end combat soldiers’ reliance on families, donors for gear

IDF program to outfit troops with personal, not unit-owned, combat equipment seeks to ensure equality among troops and quality of materiel

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

In the late 1940’s, Jewish women across the United States knitted black hats and scarves to donate to the soldiers of the fledgling Israel Defense Forces.

Seventy years later, soldiers’ gear — including tactical equipment — still comes in part from donations, both by parents of troops and from abroad. But a new IDF program, rolled out this month, hopes to end that, in what the army is describing as a “revolution.”

Combat soldiers who finish their advanced training will now receive a kit of brand new equipment, including a tactical vest, helmet, protective glasses and more, which they will use throughout their service.

In the past, different units and specialist courses “owned” the equipment, signing it out to the soldiers. Now the soldiers will be given the gear directly.

Besides ensuring that soldiers never need to scrounge for equipment as they are transferred between various commands and training bases, the change is expected to save a great deal of valuable training and operational time. Every IDF combat soldier knows the hours-long (and, at times, days-long) process of signing for one’s equipment at the start of a course, and the equally tedious effort of returning it at the end.

“It sounds trivial, but commanders see this as a revolution,” an army spokesperson said.

A soldier poses with new equipment he received as part of army program unveiled on March 7, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
A soldier poses with new equipment he received as part of army program unveiled on March 7, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Beginning in August 2017, new recruits will also receive funds from the IDF to purchase additional gear, like socks, undershirts and underwear, from specific stores as part of a program known as “Stars,” the army said.

The decision of how the funds will be spent is to be left up to the individual soldiers.

Ordinarily, these purchases are made by the parents of soldiers or by the soldiers themselves, and the quality of soldiers’ basic clothing can vary widely in a unit depending on each family’s financial situation.

The army has yet to set a shekel figure to a recruit’s “Stars” grant, a spokesperson said.

‘These are things that the army needs to be providing’

The combined cost of this two-pronged outfitting program is expected to be NIS 200 million ($55 million) in 2017.

“But these are things that the army needs to be providing,” an army spokesperson said. “We’re not going to scrimp on combat equipment for our soldiers.”

By giving equipment “fresh out of the plastic” to every combat soldier, the army hopes to cut down on the need for outside donations, often solicited by soldiers or individual unit commanders from families, corporations or Jewish communities overseas. The change is meant to ensure equality among soldiers and better control over the type and quality of the equipment used by IDF soldiers, the army said.

The military is responsible for checking the efficacy and durability of every piece of equipment, something soldiers’ parents or civilian companies do not always do.

Soldiers receive equipment as part of new army program unveiled on March 7, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Soldiers receive equipment as part of new army program unveiled on March 7, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Under the new program, upon completing advanced training, every combat soldier will receive “bet” work uniforms, a light jacket, a standardized three-liter water pouch for his combat vest to replace the traditional – and traditionally leaky – plastic canteens, a helmet, a helmet cover, protective glasses, a tourniquet, trauma bandages and a large backpack to carry it all.

Some soldiers will receive additional gear, depending on the specific needs of their units or specializations.

Infantry soldiers, for instance, will also receive a tactical vest with attachable backpack, a “mitznefet” shape-camouflaging helmet cover, earplugs for the many hours spent at firing ranges, knee guards and a headlamp designed for urban and tunnel warfare.

Troops who have already finished their training regimen and are deployed to their units will not receive the full kit, but will get parts of the new equipment roster.

Soldiers will return the equipment to the army at the end of their service, according to the new plan. The army is working on a parallel effort to help resolve equipment challenges faced by reservists, the spokesperson said.

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