We’ve talked more than once about the uniforms in the Army.
When you first enlist in the Army, one of the very first things that happens, just about right after the haircut, is the issuing of uniforms.* Four sets of ACUs, two pair of boots, underwear, t-shirts, belts, socks (but not Sox) and various and sundry stuff. All the uniform items every soldier is required to maintain at all times. After that “initial issue” each soldier is responsible for replacing items as they wear out.
But that’s just the basic uniform stuff. Given the wide array of places the Army serves, and the huge array of roles and missions various units fill, specialized clothing and equipment is issued a little differently. For instance, someone working in a recruiting station only needs the basic uniform items prescribed for all soldiers. They don’t need body armor, load carrying equipment, and a helmet.1 So the Army doesn’t issue that stuff to them.
Clothing and equipment issued according to what unit you are assigned to is known in the Army as Organizational Clothing and Individual Equipment. Since allocation of these items is under Table of Allowances TA-50, it is also very often referred to as “TA-50”, particularly individual equipment like load carrying equipment. 2
One oddity is that Organizational Clothing generally isn’t managed at the organizational level. Very roughly, “organizational level” in the Army equals “battalion.” But instead of making each battalion manage this stuff (especially when there may be as many as 30 or 40 different battalions on a post), the fort will have a single warehouse to manage this stuff for the units. Since this facility is centralized, and issues this stuff, it came to be know as the “Central Issue Facility” or CIF. 3 Some of the staff at CIF usually came from the division support battalion, but most of the folks were civilians hired by Department of the Army. Think DMV workers with less motivation. And less compassion.
As an individual soldier going through CIF, you’d go through a line, and they’d issue you whatever it was your normal outfit of equipment would be, based on whatever unit you were assigned to. Sometimes you’d get new equipment, but most of the time, you’d get some used piece of equipment some previous troop had turned in. At the end of the line, you’d have to sign a “hand receipt” basically acknowledging that you had the equipment, and you were responsible for it. You lose it, you bought it.
Now, you might think this is a tidy little contract between you, the individual soldier, and the CIF. Ah… not so. Your equipment is subject to frequent inspection by your NCOs, your platoon leader, your company commander, and even on rare occasions by the battalion commander. Prepping and displaying TA-50 for inventory and inspection by the various poobahs is, of course, time consuming and tedious. Some senior NCOs worry more about the presentation of how the layout of gear looks than whether the equipment is serviceable. Others, more wisely, spend their inspection time making sure that everything is present and works.
If you’ve got a piece of equipment that, through normal wear and tear, has become unserviceable, you can “DX” it through CIF. That is, a direct exchange. One example. My first unit, the 25th ID, issued two pair of jungle boots as OCIE to all soldiers in the division. I almost always wore them to the field (rather than my basic leather combat boots) as a matter of comfort and personal choice. But the unit commander mandated that when we deployed to the Big Island, ALL troops would wear jungle boots, and not the leather combat boot. The reason was, the volcanic rock of the Big Island would destroy a pair of boots in only a week or two. Since jungle boots could be DX’d, at no cost to the soldier, that was a better deal than having PFC Schmuckatelly ruin a pair of leather boots he’d be required to replace on his own dime. I think I ended up going through about 10 pair of boots in 19 months in Hawaii.4
So far, so good. But eventually, your tour at any given base comes to an end. And when that happens, you have to give back all the goodies the CIF gave you. When CIF issues you a piece of equipment that looks to be in worse shape than a piece of month old Texas roadkill, they insist it’s serviceable. But when you try to turn in damn near anything not still in its wrapper, they insist that it is suddenly it’s too dirty, and needs to be cleaned. And given that they do DX, why do they get prissy about turning in unserviceable stuff when you’re leaving post? I never figured that out. The problem is, until you have successfully turned in all your TA-50, you can’t clear post and leave. Eventually, you get fed up trying to satisfy the sadists at CIF, go to the post Clothing Sales store, and buy a brand new example of whatever that last piece of equipment is that they’re hassling you about, turn that in (and even then, I’ve had a CIF staff give me grief) and get the heck out of there.
I suspect there’s a line in Heaven where CIF issues new stuff with no hand receipts. Of course, there’s also a turn-in line in Hell. You can imagine how that one works.
*Actually, they hold off a while on the dress uniforms. Your body is going to undergo at least some change during basic. No sense issuing tailored uniforms until those changes are mostly done.
1. There were times when Gary, IN challenged that notion.
2. In the Marines, this stuff is also known as “782 gear” for similar reasons.
3. I presume it is still called that. Though I wouldn’t be the least surprised to learn CIF has succumbed to the mania for renaming in stilted jargon every institution known far and wide through the Army, which is then referred to by the old name by everyone in the Army.
4. Jungle boots were also a happy exception to the rule about mostly being issued used stuff. Every pair issued were brand new. And you could DX them when they wore out. You had to turn in the old ones when you did that. But that was mostly to make sure you weren’t building a huge collection of jungle boots for sale at surplus stores. When you left the post, you didn’t have to turn in your jungle boots, but could instead keep them, and of course, wear them at your new duty station. See, while in Hawaii, they were OCIE, everywhere else, they were an optional piece of equipment that you could wear, or buy on your own dime. The trick was to replace worn out jungle boots at the last possible moment in Hawaii, which if I recall was something like 30 days before you were scheduled to depart the station.