18 May 2009

Mail Call: New Toy

I've been eagerly awaiting this care package for the past week.

As the mail came in today, someone read my name off of the addressee line, then noted something unusual about the packaging. "Who do you know in Switzerland?"

I leaped up, snatched the package, and opened it up. Among the goodies sent from one of my Swiss fans, Claudia (who is currently in DC at the Air and Space Museum), came one of Switzerland's finest creations--and this is the country that gave us Rolex, Nestle chocolate, and, of course, Swiss bank accounts.

In the package, nestled among some chocolate, were two Victorinox knives, known to us Americans as "Swiss Army knives". Folding knives of this sort were manufactured by two rival companies, Wenger and Victorinox, both of whom had a contract to supply field knives to the Swiss Army. Each knife (from both companies) featured the white cross on a red background, and most models were colored red--in fact, today, the color red for folding knives is actually a registered trademark of Victorinox.

The knives proved quite popular in Central Europe, where many German officers purchased the knives, some of which subsequently fell into the hands of American GIs, who referred to the knives as "Swiss Army Knives". (Well, it was easier to pronounce than "offiziersmesser", the official name for them)

The knives have been taken everywhere--to the top of Mount Everest and even into outer space. They've been used for countless purposes. My most frequent use for one in Iraq, aside from the obvious use of the knife itself, is the bottle opener/flat-head screwdriver.

Why am I using a bottle opener when there's no beer? Well, in order to pre-flight the Black Hawk, you need to first check to ensure you have fuel. Simple enough, right? But the thing of it is, unlike a car, where you just turn on the battery and check the fuel gauge, the only way to get the electronic fuel gauge to light up is by starting the auxiliary power unit--a massive turbine generator--which you should really only do after you pre-flighted everything else.

So how do you check to see if there's fuel? Well, you open up the fuel tanks and you look inside to see if there is, indeed, JP-8 (That's Jet A for you in the civilian world) sloshing around on the inside. Problem is, the new childproof fuel tank caps are quite difficult to open, so I have to use the flat-head bottle opener to pry open the fuel tank so that I can look inside. It's not as sexy as using a Swiss Army Knife to fight terrorists, like MacGyver, but it works for me.

An interesting thing to note is that, a few years ago, the Swiss Army was looking to buy a new pocketknife for its Soldiers, and forced Victorinox--the company who trademarked "Swiss Army Knife"--to compete and bid to win the contract to manufacture the new Swiss Army Knife. (Take note, KBR, even Victorinox had to bid to build Swiss Army Knives)

Fortunately, Victorinox won the contract and is continuing to build knives for the Swiss Army, with many of the seemingly-innocent items, such as the bottle opener, being used to help assemble the SIG 550 rifle.

Focus: What have you used your pocketknife for?

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