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PPE and You

I am in my last month of a deployment to Afghanistan.  This time, my mission has involved a lot of time spent in scrap heaps and junk piles.  My team and I have not been shot at yet, and we have fortunately not been subjected to any improved explosive devices, but working around so much discarded property has its own dangers.  At some camps and Forward Operating Bases, the camp mayor has kept strict control of what has been left in the scrap area, and these controlled scrap piles are usually segregated by type, as well.  In other locations, everything units wanted to discard that didn’t go in the trash has been tossed together in a heap.

Uncontrolled dump site.

Working in an uncontrolled dump site can expose the worker to poisonous chemicals, unexploded ordinance, sharp objects, and dangerous animals.  Unseen holes and shifting debris make even walking in such an environment potentially dangerous.  The warmer seasons in most of Afghanistan are very dry and hot, with the silt-like dust of Afghanistan, with its contaminants of dead animals and dried fecal matter blown by hot winds onto those unlucky enough to be present.  Winters are frigid, and ice adds additional risk.  Sorting and loading this scrap always involves some heavy equipment, which adds its own dangers.

Someone has to clean up the mess.  Wearing proper Personal Protective Equipment can reduce the chance of injury from nearly 100% to manageable levels.  In this nasty, sharp, hot, dry (or cold and wet) environment that may hold rats, rabid small predators, and snakes, as well as explosive threats, I had my troops religiously wear PPE.

Gloves protected my hands from this machete that was found point up in the scrap.

Shatter-resistant sunglasses protect eyes from blowing dust and other particles.  Gloves help protect against bites, sharps, and exposure to harmful chemicals.  Safety-toe boots protect feet from crushing, cutting and biting.  Long moisture-wicking sleeves protect against the sun and particulates, and give some protection from sharps, while keeping the troops cooler than the standard uniform blouse.  Moisture-wicking balaclavas filter the dust that swirls every time anything is moved.  Reflector belts increase visibility so vehicle operators can easily see troops on the ground, even in reduced visibility conditions.

You probably don’t do much work in heaps of scrap, but if you shoot, you need protective equipment, too.  At a minimum, shooters should always have hearing and eye protection when they shoot.  Fortunately, most of the shooting community now seems to be aware that shooting, especially extended range sessions, without hearing protection will cause permanent damage.  Not everyone has seemed to grasp the importance of protective eyewear.

My friend Byron had suffered a stroke, and lost almost all of his vision in his left eye as a result.  He then became extremely careful to protect his eyes, for fear of suffering injury to his remaining “good” eye.  The wrap-around shooting glasses he was wearing served him well when an out-of-time Model 57 revolver peppered his face with lead and bits of un-burned powder.

Quality shatter-resistant sunglasses are useful daily, and a must at the range.

Other PPE may be useful, depending on the environment.  A hat can keep the sun off your face and help protect against hot brass hitting you.  Long sleeves and pants can protect your skin against the sun, brass, and the ground if you are shooting prone or from unconventional shooting positions.  Depending on what and how you are shooting, a padded shooting jacket or gloves might make your shooting more comfortable and safer.  Elbow and knee pads will definitely be useful to shooters going through tactical shooting courses.

Since most shooting is done outdoors, shooters should also consider ways to protect themselves from the elements.  Wearing layered clothing during the autumn and winter allows the shooter to adapt to changing temperatures, and moisture-wicking fabrics will prevent sweat from freezing.  Wool or wicking synthetic socks and quality footwear will help protect feet.  Whatever the season, shooters should include water as a vital part of the gear they take with them on any outdoor adventure.

In general, people are lazy.  Shooters are not noticeably different.  The way to ensure that all the needed PPE is brought every time, is to get into a routine, and also figure out a process that works for you.  If you are going hunting within easy walking distance of transportation or housing, a light “hydration pack” with a water bladder will provide an easy and convenient way to carry water plus warmer gear, a spare flashlight, a two-way radio or phone, and snacks.

This CamelBak HAWG has served me well since 2003. It’s a terrific light day pack.

If you are going to the shooting range, have a bag pre-packed with all the basic gear you will always need, including spare eye and ear protection and a first aid kit.  If your range session will include firing powerful handguns, shooting gloves will help protect your hands  If you don’t already carry them with you, a copy of your insurance card, blood type, and emergency point of contact should be on an exterior pocket of your range bag in case of a medical crisis.  Lead contamination is a serious risk for shooters, so wet wipes should be included in your bag, for use after shooting.

The most important PPE you can have…is a buddy.  Taking one or more friends on a shooting excursion means there is someone right there to help.  An extra pair of eyes to spot danger, whether it’s snakes, fire, bad weather, feral dogs or just a gopher hole poised to break your ankle, is a valuable thing.  Taking a friend shooting is not only safer, it’s fun.  The more fun you have shooting, the more likely you are to shoot.  The more you practice, the better you get.  It’s a win-win situation.

The best PPE is a buddy.

Planning ahead and taking a few reasonable precautions can help keep you safe and enjoying your shooting.   Wear your eye and ear protection, and other PPE as prudent.  Bring water.  Take a friend shooting.  And have fun.


Written by

Former infantryman, martial artist, Army Reserve officer, History BA and MAT.

Filed under: Accessories

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