Gear and Lesson’s Learned Contracting in West Africa

So what I want to write about are lessons-learned with respect to gear in W Africa. If there is interest, I will continue to post my thoughts about working in this region.

I started my first mission into W. Africa late Q3 2011 doing ISR for one of the largest O&G’s, and during that time it was rainy (read: monsoon) season. Previously, I was working in W Colombia where the climate was much the s…ame. There’s really only two seasons here: rainy, and haramattan – the latter being dry dusty hot searing sun season. W Africa is a tropical maritime zone, so its either very dry or very wet. So packing for these conditions required some consideration. Not only that, but I also needed to pack for all the work settings I would encounter – mainly low pro.

 What I will list are things I ended up keeping with me throughout my missions, and then I will list off items I left at home after my first rotation out. This is in addition to items that were provided by the company (PPE, etc).

 Things I needed:

Surge Protector AC Adapter Bar with multi-national plug fitments. Surge protection is a must, there are lots of power outages, brownouts and surges. You need it to be a 220v/110v adapter because some electronics’ adapters do not have this, requiring the need to down-tune your voltages in order to not fry some of your electronics. Biafra areas are a mishmash of different colonial institutions so there’s all sorts of different outlet types.
Clippers. Shampoo is not cheap. Shaving your head is.
‘Fitted’ cotton dress shirts. A shirt with rolled up sleeves, unbuttoned 1 button lower than normal, tucked into dark blue boot cut low rise denim, with leather shoes, and aviator ray-bans.

Ultimate ex-pat blend. Don’t wear fitted if you’re fat. Don’t wear skinny jeans either. You’ll just look like a coffee barista.
Dark Blue Boot Cut Low Rise Denim Jeans. Versatile as hell, it can make you look professional and badass at the same time. Don’t pay for the factory to make holes. Do that on your own.

VertX tac pants. These pants give me enough pockets to store stuff and stay classy and low pro. I could tell the contractors from their 5.11.
Fine grain leather shoes that are soft and supple, while providing good ankle support. I bought ankle-height side zip shoes from Aldo.
Two pair of desert jungle boots – one cheap, one expensive.

Vertx polos. Always classy and makes you feel all tactical. haha
Ralph Lauren Polo polos. It’s always classy to have something classy to wear for a classy event at a classy establishment to meet other classy people without giving away that you’re not so classy.
Wifebeater, just one. I never wore it.

Moisture-wicking liner socks, lots of them. I was on my feet everyday with lots of walking, and socks aide in the body’s cooling system.
IFAK. I built myself an extensive IFAK that included Rx/non RX meds for common ailments one would experience in W Africa.
Prophylactic items like sunscreen, lipchap, etc.

Chacos sandals with Vibram soles, Running Sneakers, Flipflops
T-shirts (none that say infidel or Porkeater – unless you want those looks that could get you fired, kidnapped, or shot)
Under armour workout clothes (the international symbol for serious workout ppl)
Lululemon long pants (the international symbol for Canadian)
EDC items and bag (multi tool, light, AA batts, etc)
Arc’teryx Squamish Hoody (cause it rains like a mother here). Goretex won’t work in these conditions.
iPad2 (for facetime and skype), Blackberry Playbook (for shits and giggles), work laptop, unlocked Blackberry Torch.
A chipped credit card, copies of ident, etc etc
Bolle Warrant sunglasses, Rayban aviators…
Things I did not need:

Gore-tex desert boots – too slippery when walking on slime covered wet shit (literally)

LEAF Arc’teryx Alpha Jacket – Gore-tex does not work here, and it gets hot and sweaty.
Printed t-shirts that are offensive to over 50% of the indigenous population
Big Backpack that screams tactical
Basically anything that screams Tactical(Obviously I wear whatever is appropriate for my mission/role)

The idea of being low-profile in my kind of work means that I am constantly changing my equipment. Its an ever-evolving process to go leaner, and more greyman. The idea of greyman is not new. Greyman is essentially the art of blending in to the environment whilst remaining tactically sound. In fact, one of the biggest barriers we former soldiers and current contractors face is how to stop being a “Show of Force” kind of guy. Being a greyman will help you avoid hassle at the airport, or worse, being shot in the face by bad guys. You also don’t want to look like you came out of an REI or MEC catalogue. That’s another way that savvy badguys can determine your worth. “F*ck he’s American, let’s kidnap and ransom him…” You don’t want to be “that guy.” You do want to be like everybody and nobody at the same time (caveat being, if your mission/role is to be a Show of Force faceshooter, then bring on that escalating violence of action bitches!!!).
I totally understand that the tactical stuff is super comfy and it gives an air of presence; however when working in a country where there are active terrorist cells, the more lo-pro, the better. On the other end of the scale, one shouldn’t wear red shoes when outside the wire (even if you have faceshoooters with AKM’s guarding your ass). That’s just umm…..hipster. I do have a colleague who is of the hipster persuasion (not everybody is perfect). 
The said Hipster colleague does tone down the hipsterness for work, in fact he’s sort of bad ass. “Hipster” has been in W Africa for more years then he cares to remember. And because of this I can forgive his red shoes, and perfectly coiffed hair.
Normally when I give the newcomer inductee riot act (especially to security types), I stress lo viz, lo pro, high vigilance, high violence. Be as incognito as you can be, but be ready to step up that violence of action when required. There’s all sorts of issues here from tribal to Biafra, from religious to terrorist, from scams to kidnappings, but these can be saved for another time.


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