When an army begins an engagement with an adversary, what exactly do they bring and how do they know what to bring? Well, as Mary Roach writes in Grunt, “by and large, an army shows up to war with the gear it has on hand from the last one.”
This means armies can be dramatically unprepared for their current conflict at the outset. Fighting in a desert is much different than fighting in a tropical rainforest. Fighting an opponent with top of the line fighter jets is much different than fighting an opponent with improvised ground based war vehicles. What an army used to fight their previous war may not be the right things to bring to the new conflict, but it might be all that is available in the early days.
The United States is often criticized for having a military industrial complex, meaning that a huge amount of American economic output is driven not by consumer demand, but by a military that is gearing up for potential conflict. Even with our military industrial complex, the United States has not always been well prepared for war, even in regions where we have fought in the past. Roach continues, “The Marines arrived in Iraq with Humvees. Some of the older ones had canvas doors, Says Mark [Roman], who was one of those Marines.”
Warfare in Iraq in the 2000’s was much different than war in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm of the 90’s. But that didn’t mean that the United States was well prepared for the new warfare. The US showed up with the gear used to fight the previous war, and that didn’t do enough to protect soldiers. It is hard to say that any amount of preparation can ever be enough to be ready for the new war, in the new place, against the new enemy. Your needs will change on day one and every day after, so your gear better change as well.