The Things They Carry
October 2, 2010 3:34 PM   Subscribe

What sorts of small talismans or good luck charms might be carried by a modern day American soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq?

I'm trying to brainstorm a small charm that might be carried or worn around the neck of one of my characters who was a soldier overseas.

Other than dogtags, crucifixes/Jewish stars, and saint medals-- what would be an interesting or at least common thing to wear around his neck or always keep handy in a pocket?

I'm thinking less something like "an ipod" and more something along the lines of family photos, or something that has spiritual or cultural significance.

Alternatively, it could be something useful, like a small compass or magnifying glass, but I don't know if that's something that a soldier might actually wear while on duty.

Any personal anecdotes are very welcome about good luck charms or helpful small tools you might have seen carried by soldiers.

(Also, as I know very little about the military, if there are items issued to soldiers (swiss army knives?) that fit this category, and could be considered a character's "lucky" xyz, I'd love to know about it.)

posted by np312 to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The dog tags his dad wore in Vietnam/his grandpa wore in WWII.
posted by phunniemee at 3:38 PM on October 2, 2010

Anything. Practically anything. People carry books in their cargo pockets, virtually anything on a necklace, bracelets of various kinds (bracelets got banned in Iraq as the theater got less dangerous and more sergeants-major moved in, but a lot of people still wore them).

As for something like a Swiss Army knife, pretty much everyone has a Leatherman or Gerber.
posted by Etrigan at 3:44 PM on October 2, 2010

Perhaps more telling than phunniemee's suggestion: a memento from his father, who served in the first Gulf War.
posted by mikeh at 3:55 PM on October 2, 2010

Best answer: The bullet that missed?
A pressed penny (there are pictures under the different states, you could even go get one and have it next to you as you write) I have a friend who carries one that has the lords prayer printed on it.
posted by BoscosMom at 4:18 PM on October 2, 2010

Or a tooth, his baby tooth or his kid sister's tooth or his son or daughter's baby tooth or a puppy tooth from his pet coyote.
posted by BoscosMom at 4:27 PM on October 2, 2010

The bullet that missed?

Or, a bullet with their name on it. You've heard the phrase, "Somewhere out there, there's a bullet with my name on it." Well, some soldiers, and police officers (and other lines of work where the threat of getting shot is present) carry a "bullet with [their name] on it" with the implication being that if they know exactly where that bullet is (i.e. it's safely in their own pocket), then it will protect them from a random one.
posted by amyms at 4:33 PM on October 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

A titanium necklace or bracelet of the type worn by many professional athletes. A true talisman, they're thought to reduce pain and improve performance and sometimes also have a pendant or bead of special or sentimental significance (see nearly any google image of Josh Beckett, the Red Sox pitcher.)
posted by Anitanola at 4:49 PM on October 2, 2010

a bullet with their name on it.

Been done for laughs on Blackadder, if you're worried about any in the audience losing a sense of serious.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:52 PM on October 2, 2010

Seconding amyms- an ex of mine did this. He cared more about having it on him at all times than the St Anthony (lost things, people) medal from his mom.

I've seen photos of soldiers wearing bracelets or charms that look like they were made by kids- colored strings/beads or small Fimo-type pendants.
posted by variella at 5:26 PM on October 2, 2010

Best answer: This pendant means "Remember, you've only got one ass to risk, so take care of it."
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:12 PM on October 2, 2010

Ace of Spades.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:29 PM on October 2, 2010

I wore a KIA bracelet with a close friend's name on it during my subsequent deployments. That's about it. I don't know about "luck," but I felt very strongly about wearing it all the time.

I carried a Gerber knife. That's just practical.
posted by lullaby at 7:23 PM on October 2, 2010

One of these.
posted by jvilter at 7:30 PM on October 2, 2010

a bullet with their name on it.

Been done for laughs on Blackadder, if you're worried about any in the audience losing a sense of serious.

That doesn't mean that the people who carry one in real life don't take it seriously (to the extent that superstitions in general are taken seriously, that is). I can assure you that the military and law enforcement people I know who carry a bullet with their name on it aren't playing it for laughs.
posted by amyms at 7:52 PM on October 2, 2010

Best answer: I still have the jade Buddha tie tack that I wore on my uniform as a good luck totem in Viet Nam (1968). It was a gift from my sister who was living on Derby St. in Berkeley at the time.

Viet Nam era GIs carried the ubiquitous P-38 and a TL-29 as utilitarian items.
posted by X4ster at 8:47 PM on October 2, 2010

I should add that being dark green and small the tie tack Buddha really didn't stand out against the OD jungle fatigues that we wore at that time. I pinned on a corner of my left shirt pocket. I never got any trouble over it.
posted by X4ster at 8:52 PM on October 2, 2010

Best answer: A grenade pin. If you drop/lose a pin, or find a grenade one attached to a tripwire then there's nothing more handy than having a spare grenade pin. Know lots of army guys that carry one on their tags or keychain.
posted by furtive at 9:16 PM on October 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

The dog tags his dad wore in Vietnam/his grandpa wore in WWII.
Unlikely - in a conflict where you're operating with multiple units, countries and local troops, you don't want to be wearing a dog tag with someone else's details on it (even though modern, rubber-edged dogtags look quite different to the stamped aluminum dog tags of old). The potential is too high for someone to misread your blood type etc.

Nearly every soldier I know above the age of 30 wears a copper magnetic bracelet which are alleged to help with the knee and shoulder pain that comes with career soldiering.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:31 AM on October 3, 2010

« Older Which Costco Hamburger Patties should I buy?   |   Can I own, maintain, and insure a car without... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.