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First, Second and Third Line Gear

Written by Rich Hecht

The gear you need depends on the mission. In policing, we have three basic missions: first line for the plainclothes or off-duty officer, second line for the uniformed patrol officer and third line for the tactical team member.

The term “kit” as it relates to tactical equipment was originally a British military word used to describe what Americans call gear or equipment. Kit first entered into U.S. military usage with some special operation units who had the opportunity to cross-train with their British counterparts.

In the early 2000s, the term “kit” began to receive formal use throughout the U.S. military with the introduction of the PALS-MOLLE “kits” of equipment. During this period, military equipment began to move rapidly away from the Vietnam era ALICE gear and into the new modular “kits.” Equipment began to be issued in a “rifleman’s kit,” “grenadier’s kit,” “medic kit,” “machine gunner’s kit.”

Instead of having to place your ALICE gear according to unit SOPs, the soldiers were issued kits, which were designed to be modular according to the soldier’s individual needs and assignment. Each of these kits came equipped with a variety of pouches that the soldier could place where he wanted, exchange what he needed and were often separated within the kit itself to include multiple platforms on which to place the gear.

The platforms included a modular belt (first line), vest and chest harness (second line), and assault pack and rucksack (third line). Each “line” of equipment was built on the one before it, again based on the needs of the soldier. Each line also had a somewhat unique purpose, although the actual usage of the kit pieces tended to be more general.

A first line kit is generally thought of as the gear you need to take you into the fight right now. This would include your primary firearm, one to two reloads, a knife, a small first-aid kit and a canteen. If a soldier needed to shed his heavy gear for more freedom of movement, such as during an escape or evasion behind enemy lines, then the first line gear is the bare bones, basic equipment he’d need.

A second line kit is the gear you need to sustain yourself during the fight. This kit includes multiple firearms magazines, a secondary firearm, grenades, stun munitions-smoke, trauma / first-aid equipment, a hydration reservoir and small amounts of food such as energy bars or a stripped down MRE. Second line gear would also include body armor, a ballistic helmet and may include a small assault pack.

A third line kit is the gear used for prolonged combat operations that last more than a couple of days. This kit is usually carried in a larger rucksack, which holds additional ammunition, explosives, extra clothing, food, water, squad- or platoon-specific items and any other items used in the first and second line kit that are not immediately needed.

Plainclothes and Off Duty

First line for the plainclothes, off-duty police officer may include a belt or waistband-worn, concealed carry handgun, at least one additional magazine, a folding knife, a small high-powered flashlight, a cell phone, your personal wallet, a badge / commission card, keys, etc.

That’s a whole lot of stuff to be hanging off your waist, which is exactly why your first line kit needs to start with a good, stiff belt. Your choice of weapon type may also be dependent upon your choice of clothing. If you can wear relaxed-style cargo pants, these are great for holding all that gear. If you wear a suit or business casual attire, you may have to choose your equipment based on your clothing instead of choosing your clothing based on your equipment.

Second line gear might be carried in one of the many “man-bags” that are available from numerous tactical equipment companies. A laptop computer bag also works well for holding second line equipment. The bag can be carried in your car, set near your work location or set down next to your chair while watching your kid play soccer.

Filling the bag is up to you, but some additional ammunition, first-aid / trauma supplies, water and food are basics that should be kept. The second line bag may end up including some of your first line equipment due to your clothing requirements or restrictions.

Third line gear can include foul weather clothing, heavier weapons like a shotgun or rifle, as well as enough food and water for a couple of days. Third line equipment can be stored in the trunk of the car in a rucksack or any large bag with shoulder straps.

Uniformed Officer

First, second and third line gear for the uniformed police officer gets a little more involved due to the amount of gear that is required to be carried and the variety of jobs that we are mandated to perform.

First line gear includes all of an officer’s standard equipment, including primary and secondary firearms, additional ammunition, body armor, handcuffs, pepper spray, a telescopic baton, a tactical flashlight, a radio, a cell phone, a pager, a TASER®, flexible restraints, a folding knife, a pocket CPR mask, pens, work gloves, rubber gloves, etc.

Second line gear can be carried in a small go-bag that can be left on the passenger seat of the patrol car and taken by the officer when he needs to deploy his patrol rifle or while on containment during a barricaded subject call. A small bottle of water, some energy bars, extra handgun and rifle ammunition and trauma supplies should be mandatory.

A baseball cap or winter hat can be stuffed into a side pocket, and a couple of small hand-warmer packets, sunscreen and a cold pack might also be a good idea depending on the season. This same kit can also be carried attached to a plate carrier, with added ballistic rifle plates. Also, don’t forget your ballistic helmet, eye protection, painkillers and any other medications you may need.

Third line gear is everything else that you can stuff in a bag to carry in your patrol car, such as an extra uniform or a BDU, long underwear, a large hydration reservoir (kept full), some MRE-type meals, extra batteries for your lights and certainly more ammunition.

We have seen numerous disasters all across the country from hurricanes to floods, tornadoes to massive wildfires and structural collapses. A uniformed officer on patrol should be as self-reliant as possible during times of crisis for at least the first 72 hours after a large-scale event or disaster.

Tactical Teams

Tactical teams are tasked with numerous responsibilities, which can essentially be broken down into two categories. First, the pre-planned raid. Second, the emergency response. It is on these two types of duties that the tactical officer should base his equipment. Since a tactical officer does not have to plan to escape and evade behind enemy lines, the officer may choose to combine first and second line gear.

Some officers may choose to use a separate duty belt to attach their drop leg holster and subloads. Or, they may have the belt suspended from the attachment points of an equipment vest. Many newer-style entry vests are equipped with PALS webbing for the direct attachment of your kit.

First line gear should include the primary and secondary firearms and appropriate ammunition loads for each. Stun munitions, gas grenades, gas mask, additional batteries for all handheld and gun-mounted lights, as well as an extra (fully charged) battery for your portable radio.

A small hydration reservoir can be mounted to the back of the vest, and a couple of energy bars should be stuffed into a pocket. Any needed allergy and pain medications should also be carried. First line gear also includes all personal protective equipment, including an armored vest, a ballistic helmet, eye protection and gloves.

Second line gear is what can be stuffed into a go-bag or small day pack that can be dropped at a rally point or carried to your position on containment. Equipment in the second line bag includes items that help to make the tactical officer less reliant on others for personal comfort during a multi-hour mission. Items can include additional food and water, rain gear, hand warmer and cold packs, long underwear and heavy socks.

There should be little to no need for a tactical officer, once deployed, to come out of the field for personal comfort items. Taking five minutes to drop your gear and put on a thermal top is OK. Taking 25 minutes to break from your position, walk back to your car or the van to change and then walk back, is not OK.

Third line gear can be items used for multi-day operations and may include additional uniforms, a sleeping bag and food. A surplus military rucksack is a great way to carry third line gear.

What you can’t carry on your person needs to be available to grab and go. What you can’t grab and go needs to be stored in such a manner that is easy to carry but sturdy enough to store your gear long term. Make sure that your kit is set up the same way every time, whether you are on patrol, making a tactical entry or taking the kids to day care. This way, there is little doubt that your gun, reloads, radio / cell phone, restraints and flashlight will be right where your hands think they should be when you need them.

Richard Hecht has been a deputy sheriff in Washington State since 1991. He served as a member of his department’s SWAT team from 1994 to 2005 and has been a firearms instructor since 2004. He served four years with the 2/75 Ranger Battalion and participated in Operation Just Cause. He also owns Rich275 Designs, a tactical equipment design, evaluation and marketing company. He can be contacted at rich275rgr@msn.com.

Published in Tactical Response, Sep/Oct 2009

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