Night Ops Outside The Wire.

The easiest way to become “that guy” in a rifle platoon is to lose a sensitive piece of serialized gear. Ask any seasoned lance corporal… or harried platoon sergeant. Losing an optic in the field or on the range, in say, a live fire exercise makes you directly responsible for having everybody get on line and conduct a police call for said optic. It’s not the best way to stick out in the minds of your peers or superiors. While it may seem like the end of the world, nothing compares to the pit of your stomach feeling when you’re down range and outside the wire and realize something is missing. Suddenly you’re not only deprived of a critical night fighting advantage but you have potentially left a piece of key technology for the enemy to find and use against you. Don’t say it can’t happen.

Between the mount and the adapter, there are 3 potential points of failure connecting your PVS-14 to your helmet. If it can happen, it will happen.

Night vision equipment in infantry operations is a critical technological advantage. I wouldn’t go outside the wire without it. I think it’s safe to say that today’s infantry rely pretty heavily on this piece of equipment. I’m not a night vision device expert and can’t tell you how it works beyond grunt terms, but I have a fair amount of time using one in-country.

Like a lot of things, I didn’t fully appreciate the need for night vision equipment until shipping to Iraq. I was lucky enough to have been issued an AN/PVS-14 in a time when a lot of Marines had to make do with the 7-B goggle or worse. The PVS-14 of the day was reliable and durable… relatively speaking. It was moderately crush proof and shock resistant but didn’t fare well submerged. The J-Arm adapter on which the whole thing relied was particularly prone to breakage with rough use.

On my first combat deployment, I had a wise platoon sergeant who reintroduced me to the concept of dummy cording my kit, night vision in particular.

Night vision devices are employed through a series of mounts and adapters. First comes the helmet bracket on which the whole assembly is supported. Then the mount which pivots the optic up or down (as well as in and out.) Finally (if running a PVS-14) the adapter which clips into the mount and positions the monocular. These mounts, adapters and brackets all have small mechanical parts that are fairly reliable, though steadily less so as they get worn and dirty (in other words, under field conditions.) Then they malfunction. Then you have problems.

Anybody know what an AN/PVS-14 costs?

Dummy cords aren’t for dummies. They’re a precaution experienced infantrymen take with the knowledge that everything they do is subject to Murphy’s Law. You take steps to ensure your kit will not fail when you need it most. It’s part of PCC and PCI (pre-combat checks and pre-combat inspections.) “Dummy cord” is the colloquial infantry term for a field expedient system to secure your vital equipment against loss. What do we dummy cord? Everything. By the time I came into the service we were dummy cording our ALICE clips, canteens, compasses… anything you didn’t want to lose when kit gets knocked about operating in the field. Grunts were doing this long before I entered the service.

Platoon sergeants pull their hair out over equipment accountability. Losing your PVS-14 somewhere in the area of operations gets you in hot water with your command and is a good way to hand a night fighting advantage to the enemy. Neither is a very good thing. So we dummy corded our optics (and other things, but this especially.) It was a very crude, field expedient method that turned out to be well worth the hassle. Every Marine in my platoon used a length of 550 cord tied around the optic and mount. It worked. Next time you see a Soldier or Marine in Iraq/ Afghan war footage and he has a safety pin/ small carabiner/ 550 cord or other paraphernalia attached to his helmet, that’s probably his dummy cord.

A big part of infantry work takes place at night where our optics and sighting systems make a crucial difference. I was both lucky and grateful to have a PVS-14 with one minor gripe: there was a big black spot where the image tube had burned through. Issued gear is rarely well treated and sometimes abused. If you break it they issue you a new one. It’s not like it’s yours.

That’s what motivated me to buy my own PVS-14. It would be outside of the system and I would be the sole owner and user. You tend to take significantly better care of expensive equipment you buy out of pocket. Particularly when it’s to the tune of $3500 plus or minus a few hundred.

I acquired a U.S. Night Vision USNV-14 night vision monocular. The USNV14 is the basic equivalent of the issued AN/PVS-14, but with better optical resolution and an improved housing. All in all, a step up.

Given the substantial out of pocket expense, I was particularly motivated to ensure my optic against loss or damage. While 550 cord can get you by, there had to be a better way. By the time my next combat deployment rolled around, I had developed an early predecessor to the NOD Retention Lanyard…

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