Does your college have an MRAP? Would you like one? 

Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. The FBI has one. Your college police could have one soon, too. Photo: Flickr.

If so, you might be in luck. Because over at the U.S. Department of Defense, they're practically giving these things away! Actually, scratch the "practically." Under the aegis of the Pentagon's Excess Property Program (known colloquially as "DOD 1033"), the Defense Logistics Agency is literally giving away Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles to just about any college that asks for them.
And not just MRAPs. As the U.S. Army begins winding down operations in Afghanistan, and promises not to get involved in another ground war in Iraq, it finds itself stocked with more trucks, guns, tools, clothing, and other "military" equipment than it knows what to do with.

A G.I. Bill for honorably discharged MRAPs
Some of this military materiel is being sent to the scrapyard (and when I say "some," I mean billions of dollars' worth). But in an effort to avoid consigning all of its surplus equipment to the junkyard, the Pentagon is trying to find new homes for at least some items ... in college.

Earlier this month, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a report on the widespread use of the DOD's 1033 program by colleges seeking to acquire surplus military gear. As it turns out, some 117 U.S. colleges have taken possession of about 7,704 pieces of surplus military equipment. And that's probably not all. Colleges in Alabama, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. have not yet all reported in.

Some of these items should feel right at home on a college campus. For example, the 150 "Binders, Loose-Leaf," acquired by Old Dominion University. Or perhaps the 20 laptop computers that the University of Alabama in Huntsville secured.

Others are nearly as innocuous, such as the 60 flashlights and 82 "Shirts, Cold Weather" acquired by the University of Akron Police Department. Or El Camino College's 30 laptop cases, or Old Dominion University's 20 first aid kits.

Other items are likely to look wildly out of place in the hands of "campus cops." For example, no fewer than six MRAPs have been handed out to campus police departments. Twenty-three other Army trucks have been delivered as well, some of which are "armored."

Lethal military weapons have also proved popular. It turns out that my own alma matter, The College of William & Mary, is now in possession of four M-16 assault rifles. Our in-state Virginia rivals at James Madison University got four military-issue shotguns -- but the University of Virginia outguns us both with a full dozen M-16s.

Campus police! We're searching for an unauthorized kegger! Photo: Flickr.

Among the military hardware described in the Chronicle's report, U.S. colleges are now in possession of:

  • 582 M-16s assault rifles (some of which have been modified to make them semiautomatic). Arizona State University alone took possession of 70 M-16s.
  • 42 M-14s automatic rifles.
  • The University of Central Florida Police Department and Hinds Community College police obtained M-79 grenade launchers.
  • And just in case World War I-style trench warfare makes a comeback, James Madison acquired eight trenching tools!

Armed with shotguns and trenching tools, James Madison University is ready to take on the Kaiser. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Is this really necessary?
Do college police departments actually need all of this heavy-duty military hardware? Perhaps not. But under the terms of the DOD 1033 program, so long as the colleges intend to "acquire property for bona fide law enforcement purposes that assist in their arrest and apprehension mission," they can request and receive surplus military equipment free of charge, paying only for delivery. This puts campus police departments in a quandary.

Maybe they only actually need a couple 9 mm handguns to ensure safety on campus. But faced with a choice between paying $600 for a new Glock or accepting a used military sidearm for free, why not just take the free gun? Heck, why not upgrade to a free shotgun or M-16 assault rifle? Why not take a dozen?

Programs such as DOD 1033 aren't even all that uncommon for the U.S. government. Globally speaking, it's not unheard of for the United States military to sell off -- or even give away for free -- its surplus hardware to foreign nations. In 2011, the U.S. donated 400 used General Dynamics (NYSE:GD) M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Greece. The year before that, Romania got a sweet deal on 24 second-hand F-16 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT). (Pay only the costs of reconditioning and upgrades -- $1.3 billion or so -- and they're yours!)

The problem, of course, is that once possessed of these weapons, a recipient is going to be tempted to use them. Maybe that's OK for a foreign nation, faced with real military threats from its neighbors. It's when we put these weapons in the hands of police charged with protecting our kids that we should begin to worry.


Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.