I recently received an email asking for advice about what to get a young Marine, who is likely to be deployed soon, for Christmas. That got me thinking, and I am guessing that there are a whole lot of people out there this Christmas who are wondering the same thing. With such a large amount of troops either deployed or deploying, it can’t hurt to put up a generic Christmas list that would be good for almost any Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine.
As I mentioned in my reply to the received email, Soldiers generally like things that are: 1. Time Saving 2. Time Consuming 3. Functional 4. Pointy.
I am going to break it down into categories according to cost. The Christmas present from a niece or nephew in middle school is not going to be the same as the one from Mom and Dad for their son or daughter’s first deployment.
Relatively Inexpensive- (trying to keep it under or around 30 bucks…)
: Care packages with necessary items, such as soap, shampoo, razors, shaving cream, baby wipes, stationary, pens, AA batteries etc. This is mainly for the guys who are already deployed. They can get this stuff there, but it saves them a trip and they’ll definitely use it. Include some good stuff like Beef Jerky, Slim Jims, hard candy, or whatever they like.
: These are the things that will keep them busy during down time between missions. They are working hard over there, but they will usually have some free time here and there, and boredom sucks. DVDs, CDs, and books are great. If you send DVDs you might want to avoid sending the latest blockbuster, since most of them will already have seen it. Try to send either a specific movie that you know they like, or one of the classics. If you know they are a Monty Python fan, send them the Holy Grail or Meaning of Life for instance. If you know they like Chevy Chase or Alfred Hitchcock, send a box set. There are certain movies that are almost universally popular among the military. Of course they are war movies, but not all war movies are the same. I would say the top three classics are We Were Soldiers, Saving Private Ryan, and Blackhawk Down, as long as you know they don’t have them already.
Books are more difficult to pick, and fewer people seem to read today than in the past. Then again, a lot of people read books on deployments who wouldn’t otherwise. If you know they like Fantasy or Science Fiction, I would recommend something by Robert Jordan, George R. R. Martin, Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks, or of course J. R. R. Tolkien. I also like the Dark Tower series by Stephen King.
If your Soldier is a little on the intellectual side, with a good (but maybe odd) sense of humor, try the Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. If they like that they’ll like the next three books that make up The System of The World also.
If they like military related books, there are several series out there that are worthwhile. Anything by Stephen Ambrose is going to be good. His books are basically history given from first hand accounts of the soldiers who lived it. Michael Shaara wrote The Killer Angels, and then his son Jeff took it from there and has written several excellent books about the Civil and Revolutionary Wars. The Glorious Cause and Rise to Rebellion are outstanding.
: Anything that will make their professional life easier. Commonly used items are notebooks, good pens (the Army supplies pens, but I personally hate having to use the old Skilcraft. I do it because I’m cheap, but prefer the better gel or higher end roller ball pens.), Map Pens are a big item also. The standard map markers are made by Lumocolor. A selection of six or more colors should do it, and include several extra black and at least one correction pen. Fine point is preferable. Available at Ranger Joe's
: I don’t know a Soldier who doesn’t like knives at least a little bit. Some of us get downright obsessed with them. And everyone carries one, there are just too many times during the day that they come in handy. In the inexpensive category are going to be the small, useful, everyday knives that fit easily into a pocket or clip onto a belt. Some of the better inexpensive knives are made by Buck, Spyderco, and Gerber. Nearly any small folding knife by an established company would be welcome. If I were going to name a few favorites for around 30 bucks they would be these…
The Gerber Gator. Common and classic, great knives… I have one.
One of the Bucklite series. I don’t have one, but this is just a basic useful knife that doesn’t have any deficiencies I know of… Look here
Spyderco Ladybug. I know with a name like Ladybug your average grunt isn’t going to buy one, but not everyone is a grunt and I had a spyderco one size larger that was one of my favorites for a long time. I used to use it to de-rig my guntruck after air assaults. Slices through 550 cord like butter. I like serrated edges on an everyday knife like this because I don’t have to sharpen it all the time. Look here
A little more expensive- (Shooting for between 30-130 bucks…)
: Hmmm… this is a tough category…
: First things first. Of all the movies that I don’t have, the one I want most is probably the Band of Brothers box set. It runs around 80 bucks on DVD and if you haven’t watched the whole series, you should. It follows Easy Company, 506th PIR from training in the states all the way through Normandy, Bastogne, and the end of WWII. The book was written by Stephen Ambrose and is about as historically accurate as it could be. The box set includes commentary from the actual men of E Co, who, to me and many other Soldiers from the 101st, are literally legends and heroes. I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this for a gift whether they’ve already watched it or not. Another box set high on the list would be the Sopranos. I didn’t start watching it until just recently and I’m completely hooked. Not quite on the same level as Band of Brothers, but definitely a good series.
Another good idea would be an inexpensive MP3 player. I can tell you from experience that CDs are difficult to care for in harsh conditions.
: Multi tools are always popular. There is a strong possibility that they already have one, but if they don’t then they are wishing they did. I can’t imagine one much better than the Swisstool by Victorinox, but I haven’t had to really look for one since I’ve carried this one for around five years. Here it is
I’ve also heard good things about the Leatherman Wave (they have a cool “tool finder”
on their site… http://www.leatherman.com/products/tool-finder/default.asp ) and Gerber Evolution, but haven’t carried them so can’t say for sure. Gerber Evolution
: In this price range, I really can’t think of any knife I love more than the Applegate-Fairbairn by Gerber. I wanted one for several years and my wife bought me one on our first anniversary. I’ve carried it for the last seven years and use it constantly. Mine has field dressed two deer this year and butchered one, and still has a fine edge. It’s the first knife I pick up in any situation and it still draws admiration from anyone who loves knives and sees it. Incidentally it was the “Blade of the Year” or something when it first came out and is still just as popular today. Very, very useful, but just dangerous looking enough to attract attention.
EXCALIBUR... uhhh I mean the Applegate-Fairbairn.
Big Bucks- (just about anything short of taking out a second mortgage…)
: If they don’t have one, a mini-DVD player would be handy. Laptop Computers are always good, and be sure to include a DVD drive if you’re going to spend that much anyway. A high end MP3 player with a lot of memory would be good. If you get them one, you might want to have one of their siblings or friends load it up with their favorite music before you send it to save them the trouble and expense of downloading. Have them load up a couple of CD-Rs with all the music they can and send them as well.
: I guess the laptop would fall into this category as well.
: The one category I never have trouble with. If you want to send a gift that is very personal and timeless with a strong military history, there is no better knife, than the Randall. Randall Knives are handmade and have been around since WWII. They are expensive, but will only increase in value as they get older. The only Randall Knife I own is the one carried by my father-in-law during Vietnam. He bought it for 35 bucks in around 1966. Unfortunately I can’t really carry it to the field with me because it is valued at between $2500 and $3000 today.
The waiting list to have a Randall made is around four years. You can buy them from a few dealers, but obviously the price will go up. A Model 14 from Randall will cost around $290. If you buy one on Ebay, you’ll probably pay a good hundred dollars more. If the knife is a little older, you could end up in four figures pretty easily.
One of the reasons I like Randalls so much is their connection with the military. Like I said, the wait is around 4 years, but if it is being shipped to a service member they will have it there in around 6-8 weeks. All they need is either an active duty military ID (copy), or an APO address.
I believe there is no charge to have name and rank etched in tthe blade during fabrication.
I’m out of time, but I plan on talking to some of my buddies who have already been to Iraq and back, and getting their opinion on a few more gifts. I will update this as I go along, and if anyone has been deployed and has other ideas for gifts, leave them in the comments section for people to see.