Why are serial-numbered items "a problem"
December 18, 2015 7:07 AM   Subscribe

In episode 1 of Season 2 of Serial, it is noted that Bowe Bergdahl left behind all his "sensitive items." Someone clarifies that sensitive items are "serial numbered gear that would be a problem. Like his weapon, the laser for his weapon, the optic, his night optics..." I understand why the Army would not want this technology to be in the hands of the enemy. But what do the serial numbers have to do with it?

The person that says this was a member of Bergdahl's unit. Like I said, I understand why you wouldn't want the Taliban to get ahold of night optics -- but why does this guy specifically mention "serial numbered" gear? What do the serial numbers have to do with it?

This is impossible to Google because of the name of the podcast.
posted by OrangeDisk to Law & Government (10 answers total)
 
This could be a reference to the German tank problem?
posted by elgilito at 7:09 AM on December 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


-- but why does this guy specifically mention "serial numbered" gear? What do the serial numbers have to do with it?

Those items are individually checked out by supply to a particular soldier and when they go missing it's a total pain in the neck to the entire unit. They get locked down until the items are found.

See for example this story about serial numbered items missing in Hawaii.
posted by Jahaza at 7:14 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


From the transcript:
Bowe's fellow soldiers immediately tried to piece together what had happened. Here's Austin Lanford, the guy who Bowe was supposed to relieve from guard duty.

Austin Lanford
I knew, in my mind, that nobody came in and took him. Because they would've either been seen, they wouldn't have been able to get through the concertina wire. He would have fought back. Like I didn't imagine him being taken as an option.

Mark Mccrorie
And he left behind all his sensitive items in a nice, neat little pile. Sensitive items meaning--

Sarah Koenig
That's Mark McCrorie.

Mark Mccrorie
--serial numbered gear that would be a problem. Like his weapon, the laser for his weapon, the optic, his night optics, stuff like that that would be a big problem if it went missing. He left it in a nice, neat little pile with a note.
This stuff is individually tracked by serial number, but "serial numbered gear" isn't really a thing that people say in the Army. It's just McCrorie trying to explain to a civilian what he means by "sensitive item", which is how soldiers refer to this stuff:
"Squad leaders, check your sensitive items."
"Got my rifle, got my optics..."
posted by Etrigan at 7:15 AM on December 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Here's another article, reposted on a military forum, that talks about a multi-week lockdown during such a search.
posted by Jahaza at 7:18 AM on December 18, 2015


Every piece of equipment is closely tracked to an individual, for lots of reasons, including theft and replacement with substandard copies. This is a very big deal.

Most likely, the members of his unit are calling this out to highlight how unusual it was for Bergdahl to be leaving behind gear that he was entrusted with, gear that he would get in trouble for if it went missing.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:18 AM on December 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I interpreted "stuff like that that would be a big problem if it went missing" as a big problem for his unit, as in people would be accused of stealing it, they would get dinged for losing it, etc. Not a big problem for the US military if the Taliban got a hold of it.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:22 AM on December 18, 2015


I interpreted "stuff like that that would be a big problem if it went missing" as a big problem for his unit, as in people would be accused of stealing it, they would get dinged for losing it, etc. Not a big problem for the US military if the Taliban got a hold of it.

It's both -- the Army goes squirrely over this stuff going missing because they don't want it falling into the hands of the enemy.
posted by Etrigan at 7:36 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I used to work at a large university and when we made grant purchases they would come and put a serial number on the big-ticket items (like a new lab fridge or laptop computer),; when we had lab inspections the inspector would check for lab safety issues but also for the serial numbered items. Technically the university owned those items, not the researchers. I expect things work similarly in the military.
posted by cnanderson at 8:12 AM on December 18, 2015


It's both -- the Army goes squirrely over this stuff going missing because they don't want it falling into the hands of the enemy.

Yes. Sure, night-vision technology is cheap and (some) is off-the-shelf. But losing even one piece to a nearby enemy can have impact -- even one guy with night-vision lenses can act as a force multiplier for his allies.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:05 AM on December 18, 2015


It's serial-numbered because it's "checked out" to the solider in question. You lose your rifle, you are in deep shit. You take someone else's rifle to cover your own loss, it's easy to find out.
posted by mrfuga0 at 9:14 AM on December 18, 2015


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