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The standard-issue Army reflective belt, formally known as "Belt, High Visibility," is one of the most enduring symbols of the Global War on Terror. It is also the most indisputably reviled piece of gear in any U.S. service member's kit. Don't let Russian spies or Urban Outfitters convince you otherwise: the reflective belt might be the aesthetic version of a "Kick Me" sign.
The U.S. military has spent millions of dollars on the standard Blue Force Tracking system to boost the situational awareness of warfighters downrange, but strap a reflective belt on an unmanned drone and bam: improved awareness at a fraction of the cost.
I’ve written a lot about civilian businesses hawking overpriced tacticool swag over the years, from mil-spec sneakers and kicks to dress blue knockoffs and buffalo jackets to a pinstripe vest that’s more pocket and magazine pouch than article of clothing. But I never thought I’d see the day when the one piece of military gear most likely to get you an ass-chewing for not wearing, would go for $30 at a trendy clothing outlet.
As Vladimir Putin continues his meteoric ascent from lowly KGB desk jockey to giant axe-wielding democracy-defiler, many of us may find ourselves wondering whether the people we know and love are secretly playing for Team Russia. For example, my colleague Patrick Baker. He’s got unusually small hands and shifty eyes. And he’s never not in the bathroom. There simply isn’t enough room in the large intestine for all the potty breaks that guy purports to take. (FYI Pat: the Febreeze isn’t in there for decoration.)
"Whether you're working in the motor pool or conducting clandestine night raids in the ISIS-infested mountains of northern Syria, the totally reflective camouflage pattern will keep you safe and sound," the Army spokesman told Task & Purpose. "It's also 100% cotton!"
Past conflicts have had iconic symbols associated with them. For World War II, it is the flag raising on Iwo Jima. Vietnam has the UH-1 Huey helicopter. When people ask me what will be the symbol for the Global War on Terrorism, I reply with an obvious option: the reflective belt. From Balad, Iraq, to Bagram, Afghanistan, the reflective belt has shone the way for forces of freedom, justice, and the American way. It is not an overstatement to say that it is the most hated item in the entire U.S. military's inventory. Why then is it always present? And how can such a small thing bring so much anger?