Four Uncommon Military Gear You May Not Have Heard Of

The equipment, gear and animals used by the armed forces all serve essential purposes. The helmet is for head protection. Bulletproof vest to protect the body from bullets. An ammo loadout is self explanatory. In the military, there are canine companions that can help detect bombs or shoot down enemies like a missile made of hair. These are just a few of the common things we all know troops are equipped with. Here are some of the items soldiers brought with them into battle that you may not be familiar with.

The Pigeon guided missile

Inserting a pigeon into a missile. Photo; MIT Technology Review

Yes, you read that right. Piggeons used to guide a missile. The Navy’s experiences with Japanese suicide bombers left a deep impression. A plane full of fuel, armed with a bomb and an intelligent, thinking guidance system (the suicide pilot) was essentially the definition of a guided missile. And they were very effective. Thus, in the 1940s, the National Defense Research Committee tried to train pigeons recognize targets on the monitor screen through operant conditioning in an effort to create a pigeon-guided bomb. After a few years and $25,000 later, the project was canceled because “continuation of this project would seriously retard others which, in the mind of the Division, have more immediate promise of combat application”. Maybe they had a hard time getting the birds to volunteer once they understood the goals of the project. Pigeons may be stupid, but they’re not suicidal idiots. Presumably, we now have smart bombs that are at least as smart as a Pidgeon now, but they were certainly ready to think outside the box early in development, weren’t they?

Urban Combat Skateboard

Photo of a US Marine carrying a skateboard during the “Urban Warrior ’99” military exercise, March 1999.

Think riding your skateboard and doing flippies with it is cool? Maybe it could be used to detect tripwires and maybe evade sniper fire with it, that was the idea behind Urban Warrior ’99. It was the army’s experience of using skateboards to detect these traps in urban environments. There weren’t many details about the project, but based on the fact that we don’t see soldiers riding skateboards, it seemed like it wasn’t exactly a success. Plus, it was more gear to lug around.

Xbox controller

The High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, or HEL MD, has returned to the headquarters of the US Army’s Strategic Space and Missile Defense Command.

Want to play your video game, but your responsibility to take down enemy troops gets in the way? Say no more!

The US military collaborated with Boeing to create a directed energy (or laser beam) weapon and called it High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD). What’s crazy is that it can be controlled via an Xbox controller. HEL MD is mounted on a truck. How it works is that only one person operates the vehicle and drives it to where it needs to be. Meanwhile, another person is comfortably seated inside with a laptop and an Xbox controller that he could use to lock onto targets and destroy them. The idea is that more than half of adults play video games, so why not use that fact to their advantage. Since we’re talking about the government here, we imagine they’ve figured out a way to make a $30 X-Box controller cost $50,000 by the time they’re done.

D-Day Invasion Clicker. Photo by

A child’s toy as a friend or foe identifier

The cricket noisemaker was a popular toy for children during D-Day in Normandy. We’re sure it was incredibly boring for parents, which is why it was popular with kids. When planning the D-Day landings in Normandy, the military knew they would have a problem with paratroopers dropping all over the place in the dark.

How would they regroup in their units?

How would they end up in the dark?

How would they be able to tell the difference between friend and foe?

The easy fix was this dime child’s toy given out to thousands of paratroopers before their drops. It was made of brass and apparently worked quite well. A click from one paratrooper was answered by a click from another in the dark. If you managed to lose your clicker on landing, I imagine responding to a challenge click with “I lost my damn clicker on landing” could save you from getting shot.

You can still buy replicas today, but they now cost $9.

Which of these is your favorite?

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