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Mr. Negherbon learned that troops were missing more than toothpaste.

Officers told him they had trouble obtaining the chalk, which is used to designate a found IED, the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, so they can step around it until explosive disposal units can disarm it.

Other hard-to-obtain items: stretchers, generators, plumbing parts, body armor components, ballistic eye protectors and bomb disposal kits.

“The most common comments that are made by those who are requesting stuff is ‘budget issues’ and ‘drawdown issues,’” Mr. Negherbon said. “With drawdown issues, they are saying that where one supply depot was supplying five units, it is now supplying 25 units.”

TroopsDirect’s funding comes from suppliers who provide items free of charge and from donations large and small.

Mr. Negherbon said he recently spoke with a Pentagon representative who praised TroopsDirect but asked him to ensure that the gear goes to troops, not impostors.

“We try and stay very respectful and nonaccusatory,” he said.

He said he ships only to official armed forces post office boxes. He also talks with the unit requesting gear and confirms it is deploying or has been deployed.

Mr. Negherbon offered an example: Members of a Utah Army National Guard artillery brigade are training at Camp Shelby, Miss., and are deploying to Afghanistan in August to train the national army.

They have requested certain items that the camp will not provide, and forwarded a shopping list to TroopsDirect. It includes medical equipment such as tourniquets, blood pressure cuffs and gauze, gun holsters, communication headsets and ballistic helmet pads.

Mr. Hunter wrote to Mr. Hagel: “[For] some time, units fighting overseas, including Afghanistan and locations in Africa, have not been provided with the basic resources they need to carry out their missions. There are numerous instances where these items are not supplied by a logistics system that is cumbersome and which can be non-responsive to the warfighter.”

The Washington Times asked the Pentagon to assess the work of TroopsDirect.

“The Department of Defense works diligently to ensure that service members have the necessary equipment to complete their missions in all environments, but we also recognize that throughout U.S. military history, our deployed service members have often supplemented their issued gear with non-issued items,” said Mr. Wright, the Pentagon spokesman. “When organizations send supplies directly to the battlefield that are not tested or sanctioned, DoD cannot vouch for their effectiveness.

“The department is always appreciative of the support that nonprofit organizations and individuals continue to render our deployed forces,” he said in an email.