Murphy's Law: Silly String Goes to War


January10, 2007: Troops have a tendency to improvise. They've often used commercial equipment, where it seemed better than issue stuff. And they're usually quick to spot ways to use in combat items not originally intended for the purpose. Consider "Silly String."

Silly String was introduced in the late 1960's, and there are a variety of similar products out. Essentially, it's a polymer-based chemical dissolved in a CFC-based solvent and packed into an aerosol can. When squirted, the chemicals react with air to form a foamy strand as much as 10 or 12 feet long. Militarily, Silly String is useful for troops doing room-to-room searches, who have to contend with booby traps (IEDs, or Improvised Explosive Devices). Before entering a room, they can squirt the stuff inside. If it lands on the floor, the room is likely to be clear of trip wires. But if the stuff hangs in the air, it may have snagged on a nearly invisible wire (sure, the troops might be able to spot the wire if they peer carefully into the room, but this might not be possible in the presence of armed folks with hostile intent).

It's not clear who first thought of the military applications of Silly String. The stuff came along during the Vietnam war, and apparently saw some use there. British soldiers were seen using it on a TV in the 1990s. The U.S. Special Forces had a similar device, custom made, back in the 1990s as well. There's some evidence that some Marines, operating in Anbar Province, that introduced the stuff to Iraq,. The word quickly spread, via the Internet, to other combat personnel. Aerosol cans containing 3½ ounces of Silly String cost under $5.00. Although the label indicates that the can will produce "over 400 feet" of string, if applied carefully, a single cans have been found to yield nearly a third-of-a-mile's worth of the greenish goo.

There's a major problem getting enough Silly String to the troops. It isn't in the Department of Defense (DoD) standard supply basket (which is perhaps just as well, or a can might run several hundred bucks, because of all the special rules applying to military acquisition, and the tendency to customize things for "military use.") Some unit commanders have reportedly been using their discretionary funds to secure supplies. But for the most part, the troops have been relying on Mom to supply them, writing home to send some. This isn't easy, as Silly String comes in aerosol cans, which cannot legally be shipped by the Postal Service or commercial mailing services.

The "queenpin" of Silly String Supply To The Troops is Marcelle Shriver, who has a son in Iraq. She arranges shipments of Silly String to her son's unit and other units. Donations can be sent to her, c/o St. Luke Church, 55 N. Warwick Rd., Stratford, NJ 08084.




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