Articles

9 items deployed troops use instead of cash

Everyone has heard the phrase "cash is king" but that's not always the case when troops are deployed overseas.


When service members deploy to remote areas, they enter a barter economy where cash loses value since there is nearly nowhere to spend it. But a shortage of consumer goods drives up the value of many commodities.

Some troops — call them blue falcons or businessmen — will stockpile these commodities for a profit.

1. Cigarettes

Among vets, even non-smokers stockpile cigarettes. They're easy to trade, hold their value for weeks, and are always in demand. Plus, sellers can reap great profits after patrols. A smoker who lost their cigarettes in a river is not going to haggle the price down if they won't reach a store for days.

2. Dip

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/OAC

Similar to cigarettes, the addictive nature of dip means it's always in demand. Dip is slightly harder than cigarettes to trade since users can't easily break a can into smaller units. But, since troops can't always smoke on patrol and smoking in government buildings is prohibited, dipping is sometimes the better method of nicotine consumption.

3. Energy drinks (especially "rare" ones)

Part of the reason tobacco is so popular is that it's a stimulant, something that is desperately needed on deployments. Energy drinks are the other main stimulant that is widely traded. They have different value tiers though.

Drinks the military provides, like Rip-Its, are worth less since they're easy to get. Monsters are generally available for purchase on large bases. So, they're are easy to trade but still command high value. Foreign-made drinks, which pack a great kick, can sometimes be found in the local economy and demand the greatest price.

4. Beef jerky

Mmmmm.....

High in protein and salt, jerky is great for marches and patrols. It's easy to carry and shelf-stable. Troops can trade individual pieces if they want to buy something cheap or use whole bags for large purchases.

5. "Surplus" gear

Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith

Every time a unit does inventory, someone is missing something. But, service members with lots of extra cigarettes can always buy someone's "surplus" gear to replace what they're missing. Prices vary, of course. Missing earplugs are cheap, but eye protection is expensive.

The only things that can't be purchased are those tracked by serial number. Replacing something with a serial number requires help from the E-4 mafia.

6. Hard drives (the contents)

Photo: US Air Force Airman Taylor Queen

Nearly everyone deployed has a computer drive with TV episodes and movies from back home. Old movies are traded for free, but getting new stuff requires the rare dependable internet connection or a care package with DVDs. Those who have digital gold will share new shows in exchange for other items or favors.

7. Electrical outlets

Electrical safety Army currencies Marine Corps deployed trades trading Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Johann H. Addicks

These work on a subscription basis. In many tents, there are only a few outlets hooked up to the generator. So, entrepreneurs snatch up real estate with an outlet, buy a power strip, and sell electrical access. The proliferation of portable solar panels is cutting down on this practice.

8. Lighters and matches

Matches are distributed in some MREs, but not as much as they used to be. Lighters are available for purchase at most bases. Still, service members at far-flung outposts are sometimes hurting for ways to light their tobacco. Smart shoppers save up their matches and buy up Bics while near base exchanges, then sell them in outlying areas.

9. Girl Scout cookies

Photo: DoD by Capt. Andrew Adcock

Girl Scout cookies come in waves. Every few weeks, boxes will show up in every office on a forward operating base. Resupply convoys will grab dozens to take out to their troops in the field. But, as the days tick by, inventories will wane. This is especially true of top types like Caramel deLites and Thin Mints.

The trick is to store the boxes after the delivery comes in, and then trade them for needed items when everyone else has run dry. A box of Tagalongs can wrangle a trader two cans of dip if they time it right.

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