"The idea now is, 'If it helps Joe do the mission, let him have it – as long as it's not hot pink,' " says Army veteran Logan Coffey, founder of Tactical Tailor, a custom-maker of packs and pouches in Lakewood, Wash. "It's a giant change" in the military mind-set, he says in a phone interview.
Since 9/11, the market for tactical war gear has expanded from nearly nonexistent to nearly $150 million in sales each year, which includes sales directly to soldiers as well as to the Pentagon, according to industry sources.
CIA operatives, domestic SWAT teams, and Border Patrol agents are also rounding out their gear at bazaars like Commando.
To some critics, the sight of soldiers buying their own battle gear symbolizes a divide between frontline grunts and rear echelon procurement officers who may never have seen battle. Rep. Gene Taylor (D) of Mississippi told the House Armed Services Committee last week that supplies such as body armor and uparmored Humvees "[have] taken entirely too long" to get to frontline troops.