For The Serving Soldier

The 2013 Military Christmas Gift Guide.

You folks know the drill, and if you don’t, go online to and search “Digital Editions” for past Serving Soldier gift guides in November issues. Judging from e-mails and letters received, we have a solid cadre of good-hearted readers who look forward every Christmas season to sending packages both to friends, family members and loved ones in service, and to “friends you haven’t met yet,” but who you know from their postings at And though our “deployed forward” troop levels are being drawn down, we still have many thousands of Americans serving in places from Albania to Timor and Greenland to Kyrgyzstan—and their needs are still unfilled.

Let me grab the opportunity here to ask you to make a donation to I made another donation just last week and wish I could send more. This terrific non-profit outfit does wonders in coordinating gifts—both essentials and much-appreciated extras and comfort items—to troops in some of the world’s loneliest, smallest-staffed, least-known outposts. Don’t “give until it hurts.” Just give until it feels good. I guarantee it will.

In this gift guide, you’ll find my answer to your most-frequent questions: “So Connor, what do you send, and what goodies get the highest approval ratings?” First I try to send exactly what my giftees specifically ask for, and then I fill out the parcels with these extras. You’ll also find gift suggestions for your Special Someones. Ready? Cool. Let’s do it!
By John Connor

Here are some Five-Star Goodies for the Far-Flung Few:


The BLACKHAWK! Gideon Tanto combat/utility knife is made from a full-length billet of AUS8A stainless, and the finish is black titanium-nitride. It has a 5-inch blade perfect for piercing or slashing, and CNC-machined deeply textured G10 scales provide an outstanding grip. The Gideon’s injection-molded nylon sheath comes ready for PALS/ MOLLE mounting or a drop-leg platform attachment. Priced at $129.99, it’s a lot of knife for the money.


BLACKHAWK! offers terrific gifts for the serving soldier, starting with this Field Operator Watch. Not a civilian timepiece with “paint-on performance,” it’s a no-frills precision time-tool built for functionality and durability. The case is 316L stainless steel billet with a screw-down backplate and a Miyota 2315 movement powered by a 3-year battery, held on with a snug, easy-adjusting Zulu style nylon band. Waterproof to 100 meters, it’s made to be read fast up close in the dark without attracting hostile attention at distance. List price is $159.99.


If you want ’em to write letters home, give ’em the right tool to do it with: Frontline Series Tactical Pens from Tuff-Writer are precision-machined from 6061-T6 aluminum, hard-anodized to military specs, and loaded with pressurized, smooth-scribblin’, write-at-any-angle Fisher Space Pen cartridges. There are more expensive “tactical pens,” but none better.


Our troops are increasingly being targeted by “electronic pickpockets” using RFID scanners to steal their ID and credit data as they cycle through airports, shops, comm centers and while using ATMs. Thieves can clean out accounts and run up big bills before our on-the-move military personnel know they’ve been phished. That’s why Vanquest makes their tough, flexible, lightweight wallets with built-in RFID protection. Precisely cut and stitched from 1000-D military-grade Cordura with Dupont Teflon treatment, the Cache holds ID and a handful of cards while the larger Vault secures that plus folding money. Offered in black, foliage green, coyote tan and multicam, they’re priced right at $12.99 and $16.99.


I’ve only sent four bags of these dried, smoked and cured steak strips so far, but they get absolutely rave reviews, like “‘Way better than jerky!” and “Best ever!” They’re chewy rather than biltong-tough, and delicious. The bag shown is a Costco brand, but other big-box stores and chains carry them too. They ship well and the bag notes “refrigerate within 3 days after opening.” Ha! Don’t worry about that! They’ll be empty fast, and when your giftee shares ’em, he or she will be a rock star in their unit!


I’ve been sending these sweet, moist and vitamin-loaded Philippine Brand Dried Mangoes for about three years and they’re consistently given five stars. They’re widely available in grocery stores, and I think, because they’re picked ripe and immediately cut and dried, they taste even better than most fresh mangoes. Send half-dozen small zip-bags with each 30-ounce bag so they can be shared and portioned out for patrols and long duty watches. They’re great energy snacks.


No matter whether they’re ground-pounders, wing-wipers, bubbleheads or deck apes, all military personnel appreciate these two items: Gold Bond medicated foot powder and “flushable personal wipes.” Responses are less exuberant, but rich with sincerity, as in “Really, really thank you!” Foot-rot and swamp-butt aren’t subjects for light conversation, but providing soothing relief for ’em is a truly thoughtful act. I try to put these in every outbound parcel now.


No matter how semi-palatable and abundant the coffee may be, the troops really like these Stash Teas—black Earl Grey, Premium Green and Chai Green. They come in well-sealed individual packets, and retain their taste and freshness. I think the Chai Green is nasty, like melted candy and spices screwing up decent green tea, but the troops, especially the young ladies, love it. One female Marine told me she and her friends would brew up cups after duty, close their eyes, “And it’s like having a sleepover, yakking with my high school BFFs. Nice!” I guess that’s a positive vote, huh?


Suitable for the field, flight deck, office or off-duty, the Harbinger locking folding knife from Hallmark Cutlery is a multipurpose MVP. One of custom designer Sean Kendrick’s “Bad Blood” models, it has a 4-inch bead-blasted blade of 8cr14 steel, hand-filling textured G10 scales, solid stainless liners, hardware and pocket clip—a real bargain for about 50 bucks.


It’s an excellent all-around multitool, but Brownells’ Series 3 Multitasker was designed specifically to serve AR-15/M16/M4 shooters. It features a dual-lug castle nut spanner, 3/8- and 1/2-inch hex drivers for scope rings and mounts, a 3/32-inch pin punch with 8/32 threads for most push-through and pull-through rifle cleaning gear, and a radiused tip carbon scraper. Oh, yeah, it also has a 3-inch D2 tool steel knife blade and D2 pliers, a 1/4-inch magnetic bit driver with an M16A2 front sight adjuster plus 10 hex bits for commonly used AR accessories. Is that enough? It ain’t all, folks. List price is $139.99.


Funny thing about our young warriors: Not only do they want their ballistic eyewear to be distortion-free, sharp and clear, comfortable and comms-compatible, but they want it to be all cool and stylish too! Go figger, huh? Revision has all bases covered with their new Stingerhawk combat spectacle system. The US military kit includes quick-change smoke and clear lenses and they’re slowly dribbling out to the Far-Flung Few, but you can beat the sluggish supply pipeline and go ’em one better with the Stingerhawk DeLuxe kit, with smoke, clear and high-contrast yellow lenses, plus head strap, antifog lens wiper, microfiber pouch and a belt-clip zippered case for just $124.99.


The ban on shipping lithium batteries is still on, but no worries, folks; this BLACKHAWK! Legacy L-2A2 tactical flashlight delivers potent performance from two standard alkaline AA batteries. A Cree XP-G LED puts out 200 lumens on high and strobe, 100 on medium and 15 on low. A recessed push-button control’s momentary and constant-on, while power levels, strobe and safety off are selected via a marked rotating ring, so the user doesn’t have to cycle through light levels to select one. Featuring a multifaceted reflector, tempered glass lens and a 90-minute runtime, it’s listed at $99.99.

That wraps it up, folks. Remember to fill in the corners of your parcels with small plastic bottles of hand sanitizer, travel packs of tissues, unscented body lotions and salves—and copies of your favorite gun mags, maybe? And this: They’re not all kids, and they’re not all ours, but when they put on that uniform and take the oath, they’re all OUR KIDS. God bless you. Connor OUT
By John Connor

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