Sergeant Jeff Mahaffey knows very well how difficult it can be for a Marine to get his hands on the supplies he needs.
In June 2010, Mahaffey led a group of 15 Marines and one corpsman to inspect a village in Musa Qaleh, Afghanistan, on what was supposed to be a short mission. But suddenly, the sergeant and his men found themselves in a desperate ambush, badly outnumbered by a large group of Taliban.
Mahaffey was shot in the back as he assisted a wounded Marine. Fortunately, his body armor did its job and stopped the bullet. The armor also was effectively destroyed, however, and two weeks later, with the fight at Musa Qaleh still raging, Mahaffey was still trying to wear it. Cut off, his men were running out of everything else as well.
"In a situation like that," Mahaffey said, "supplies tend to get a little scarce."
Getting necessary supplies isn't much easier for many other U.S. soldiers and Marines, even the ones in the relative stability of forward bases or stationed in the United States. Mahaffey was told back at his base that his unit could not replace the $800 armor plate he needed. Other Marines there suffered from a wide range of supply shortages.
The problem is getting worse: Despite the U.S. military's "draw down" from Afghanistan and Iraq, federal budget cuts—some mandated by the so-called sequester—bureaucratic red tape, and supply chain inefficiency can make obtaining badly needed gear difficult or impossible for many American troops.