31 May 2008

DVD Review: A History Of Violence

One of the problems with serving in the Armed forces is the risk of losing chunks of time where movies are come and go from theaters. Soldiers are perpetually playing catch up, especially after a long field problem or trip to the big sandbox.

One to the movies that I missed in the theater was "A History of Violence". Starring Viggo Mortenson and Ed Harris I knew it would be worth watching. And I was right, but for the wrong reasons.

As a Hitchcock style thriller it fails because the plot elements are just too simple. But as an emotional thriller it succeeded because Viggo Mortenson and Maria Bello played there parts to the hilt. They start out as a couple still in love after many years of marriage and two children, the oldest a teenage boy, the youngest a little girl. As the plot unfolds and the past life of the main character unfolds the wife starts to question everything she has experienced with her husband, and he has to integrate parts of his personality that he's repressed for half his life.

It gets to the point where he's sleeping on the couch. He gets a phone call, goes to Philly and kills his brother. He comes back to his family sitting down for dinner, his wife staring at the table. His daughter puts a plate on for him and he sits down, and his son passes him the meatloaf. Slowly his wife looks up to see him. Somehow all the doubt that she must have felt when she woke up to find her husband gone, the sense of loss that he might not be coming back, and her sense of joy that he is home comes through as their eyes meet across the dinner table.

"A History of Violence" will never be a study in character acting the way "Schindler's List" is, but the interplay and continual re-evaluation of the marriage relationship makes it well worth watching.

30 May 2008

Cold Steel knives finally arrived

So my UWK and Finn Bear arrived the other night. The Finn Bear is a pretty cheap little knife, only around ten dollars US. The handle is molded plastic, ribbed for someones pleasure I'm sure. The 4116 Krupp stainless steel blade came with a shaving sharp edge, and the corrosion resistant stainless makes this knife a very option for someone who wants a handy knife to throw in their saltwater fishing tackle box.

The UWK is also 4116 Krupp stainless steel. The handle is some sort of rubber, with a very positive grip pattern on the sides and back. The finger grooves are small but useful. This looks and feels like a pretty good competitor for the SOG Seal 2000, which is made from AUS6. 4116 has only slightly less carbon, less than half the vanadium, slightly more chromium, no nickel, and some molybdenum. What this adds up to is that the two steels should have very similar performance when it comes to corrosion resistance and edge retention, if they are treated to the same hardness. Saying that they should have similar performance and being able to test that are two different things. Since I don't have a SOG Seal 2000 handy I'll have to wait to confirm or deny that hypothesis.

4116 is much closer to 420HC, the steel of choice for Buck knives. I have no complaints over the performance of any Buck I've ever used, so I'm looking forward to seeing how these two knives perform in the field.

25 May 2008

Memorial Day.

The Cost of Service is ruined bodies, empty places at the table come the holidays, and holes left in hearts of those who lose the ones they love.

That is what it means to serve.

And that has me worried.

If Obama is elected the Carter years will happen all over again. Bad time to be in the military.
If Hillary is elected the Clinton years might happen all over again (but without the dot com economy to provide a tax surplus). Tough time to be in the military.
If McCain is elected we'll be in for another four years of the Bush administration (the least repugnant of the three choices). Tough time to be in the military.

If either of the Socialists are elected then the Army will need professional officers and NCO's to keep things together through the dark times. When budgets are slashed but deployments increased. If the least repulsive Democrat is elected, we'll have to continually deal with the added strain of keeping an all volunteer force combat ready while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although that will be the case if either Socialist is elected.

Like a defense lawyer who knows his client is guilty I'll still serve, because the administration may play fast and loose with the lives of America's sons, but I know that I will do my damndest to mitigate that and bring my boys home alive. There is no acceptable loss. There is acceptable risk, but no acceptable loss.

I would like to believe to the core of my being that I am serving the higher ideals of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. But the oppressive and unconstitutional policies of the three major candidates mean that I cannot even give myself that illusion. The only thing that I can cling to is the hope that I can make a difference and bring my boys home alive. Maybe someday we will wake as a nation and throw off the bloated social programs and take back the police powers that are quickly eroding our freedoms.

When I was a young soldier a wise old Sergeant said to me, "When you wake up three days in a row and feel that you can't make a difference in a soldiers life, it's time to retire." When time finally defeats me, it will be sad.

Unfortunately I didn't get any advice on what to do when I woke up three days in a row and felt I couldn't make a difference to my country.

Camp Chores, knife review

Went "car camping" for a few days with the wife and some friends. I carried around the Ranger RD-9 for a day and compared how it functioned as a camp knife with a Buck 119 and Kabar USMC knife.

Battoning firewood: The Ranger was actually the least effective because of it's quarter inch thick spine, it did the job but with the most effort. The Kabar was the most effective, the slim blade sliced right through the firewood.

Chopping firewood: The Ranger was the best chopper, most mass and longest radius. Least effective was the Buck 119.

I used the RD-9 to clean some trout, the big blade was sharp enough for gutting without mauling the fish.

All in all the RD-9 is a darn good knife, but it is very big and more knife than you need for most camp chores. If you can only take one tool this would be the best compromise, but a variation of the "Nesmuck Trio", a hatchet, medium knife, and small knife, is preferable.

23 May 2008

Anti-Military Bias

Republican presidential candidate John McCain's family background as the son and grandson of admirals has given him a worldview shaped by the military, "and he has a hard time thinking beyond that," Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., said Friday.

"I think he's trapped in that," Harkin said in a conference call with Iowa reporters. "Everything is looked at from his life experiences, from always having been in the military, and I think that can be pretty dangerous."

Harkin said that "it's one thing to have been drafted and served, but another thing when you come from generations of military people and that's just how you're steeped, how you've learned, how you've grown up."

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080517/NEWS09/805170330/1001/NEWS

What Harkin (D-Ia) is really saying is that "the military doesn't produce the type of people who think the way I want them to think." He even used the phrase "military people".

Would you be offended if Harkin (Liberal-Asshat) had said "white people" or "Straight people" or "Black people"?

I know the big red letters at the top of this blog spell out "AmericanMercenary" and I've posted about liberals calling American Servicemembers "mercenaries". But evidently we are not just "mercenary" we are "unable to think beyond the borders of military thinking".

So why the hell are recruiters for businesses sending me recruiting literature and contact information? If the set of skills that a military officer has is so "specialized" why is it that I have never known an officer to leave service without a good paying civilian job lined up?

Maybe because the business world isn't populated by liberal asshats. Maybe the business world understands that military leadership is all about risk/payoff very similar to the cost/benefit methodology of business. Then again maybe not, maybe the civilian world has no place for a college graduate with years of experience leading men and women under stressful situations, planning the complex logistics needed to support them, all the while dealing with a potentially hostile civilian population (Arabs or Liberals, take your pick). Maybe having a track record as a problem solver and getting results just doesn't cut it anymore.

According to Obama if you are "small town America" you "bitterly cling guns and religion". According to Harkin if you are/were career military then you are "trapped in only one mode of thinking".

I am beginning to think that the Democrats really don't like me, and are actively doing their best to marginalize me. Instead of a multi-dimensional human being with complex thought processes I am simply another unthinking gear in the Big Green Machine.

Don't get me wrong, I have no love for McCain, but the elitist view from Harkin is shared by the liberal/leftist demographic. Believe me, I know, I went to a liberal school. Of course liberals are not known for their logic. After all they think the military never solves anything but complain that President Bush needs to sent troops to Darfur.

20 May 2008

Toss the dice

There is a difference between a risk taker and a gambler according to Army Safety Doctrine.

A risk taker analyzes the risk/reward ratio and makes a decision based on likelihood of success after doing all he can to lower the risks involved.

A gambler tosses the dice and lets them fall where they may.

That's really just splitting hairs. Officers get paid for a number of things, and one of them is the ability to make timely decisions. Unfortunately the amount of "timeliness" allowed is the real difference between a risk taker and a gambler. When you DON'T have time to do a thorough analysis and mitigate possible risks then everyone becomes a "gambler".

We have another common saying amongst the officer corps; "Hope is Not a Method". Which means that if you are hoping that something goes right you had better have a backup plan, or two, that addresses the bad news.

So the Army splits hairs trying to explain the "Composite Risk Management" process which is all that seperates a "risk taker" from a "gambler". A better example would be an investor verses a gambler. Both are risking losing money in order to get more money. The odds are against the gambler, even though the short term payoff can be much higher than a payoff from investments. Investing isn't without risks, but it is much easier to mitigate risks by diversity and careful planning so that long term performance is in your favor.

I believe that the Army would get more out of Safety Training if it would explain that time spent planning and mitigating risks is really a long term investment in your Soldiers lives. Thankfully quite a bit of good risk management is simply good leadership; ensuring maintenance is done routinely and to standard, managing rest cycles, monitoring the health and welfare of your soldiers, proper initial and refresher training on equipment and weapon systems, etc. Those are the things that are the benchmark of a highly effective unit, one that is prepared to deal with the unforseen crap that happens now and then.

My point boils down to this: a unit with good leadership is much more likely to have a favorable outcome when a snap decision must be made, a decision that is forced by circumstances or from higher up on the chain of command. But nothing is a "sure thing", and sometimes you have to toss the dice and pray you don't roll snake eyes.

18 May 2008

Beaten to Death

So for fun I decided to google the phrase "Beaten to death with a _______" and see if I could find incidents where people were beat to death with a; hammer, tire iron, wrench, screwdriver, or other household tools.

Makes for an interesting mental break.

16 May 2008

Ranger Knives RD-9

I purchased an RD-9 from a seller on bladeforums.com and got a pretty darn good deal.

First off this is a dang big knife, but surprisingly well balanced. Unfortunately it is too big for me to comfortably attach to my body armor with the MOLLE compatible sheath that came with it. But I am looking forward to using this for camping/hunting this year.

After some yard work and whacks at a 2x4 I've come to the conclusion that I will be buying another RD knife, probably an RD-6 or RD-7. They cost around the same as a RAT-7 from Ontario Knives, but are thicker at the spine and made from 5160 spring steel instead of 1095.

All told Ranger Knives seem to be the true bargains of the knife industry.

12 May 2008

Keeping track of stuff means long days

Company change of command. 100% Inventories.

My day started at 05:30, my day ended at 19:00

And tomorrow it will start at the same time, but not end until Friday.

Joy.

10 May 2008

Kosher Scramble

The wife and I like breakfast scrambles. Potatoes, eggs, bell peppers, a touch of onion, and some sort of meat complete the dish. Jimmy Dean breakfast scrambles are an all in one cooking option.

The only problem is that the "some sort of meat" is always pork in a Jimmy Dean product. This isn't problem for the missus and I as we have no religious dietary restrictions, but we don't particularly like pork. But it is a problem for our friends who keep kosher. There is a saying that if you ask two Jews how to keep kosher you'll get three answers.

Thankfully our friends are not hardcore in their dietary restrictions, so they don't mind that the cookware may not meet the kosher standards as long as the food does.

That being said, here is the kosher scramble.

One bag frozen Potatoes O'Brian (potatoes with onion and bell pepper)
One bag frozen bell pepper strips (bell peppers are chock full of vitamin C and good stuff)
One package Hormel Turkey sausage (although a smoked beef sausage would be great too)
Six eggs.

In a large skillet you need to brown the potatoes, add the bell peppers. Pop the sausage into the microwave 50% power for 5 minuets and heat it up (it comes fully cooked). Cut up the sausage add it too the potatoes and cook for another few minutes. When the potatoes are nicely browned place them off to the side in a dish, and scramble your eggs. When your eggs are just about done add the potato/pepper/sausage mix back into the skillet and blend together.

Serve and enjoy.

The End Of The World As We Know It, firearm selection

Sometimes referred to as TEOTWAWKI it refers to a time when basic services will no longer be available.

No interstate commerce, no fuel stations, no public services like police, EMT, or firefighters.

Kinda like living like they did only a bare 150 years ago. At best we could hope to rebuild a coal/steam based society if we can't supply our energy needs from petroleum.

Many people have put forth very convincing arguments about what sort of firearms you should have on hand in case the Zombies attack or some other complete social breakdown.

First lets start off with the .22 rimfires. A rifle at a minimum, a pistol is also nice to have. If you can afford it stainless steel and synthetic stock is a good way to go.

A shotgun is also recommended, but the downside is that shotgun ammo is bulky, and aside from hunting birds it has a limited range for other uses. It's useful for home defense, but so is any firearm.

The big rifle has a lot of options, some like a full size battle rifle, some like small carbines. The small carbines are very useful for home defense, less useful for big game hunting. If you have have to decide between the two, pick what will be most useful to you. Bolt action rifles are rugged and simple. So picking up an AK or AR is fine if you already have "real" rifle.

Having put a lot of thought into this I've come to the conclusion that break action shotguns and rifles are fine and even preferable for real survival situations. Having only one shot forces the shooter to be accurate, and accuracy conserves ammunition. If it really is TEOTWAWKI then you want your ammo stash to last as long possible.

The good news for anyone who needs to buy three firearms for their survival kit is that break action rifles and shotguns are cheap. A single barrel break action shotgun can usually be had for around 80 dollars US. A break action single shot rifle for under 200 US, and there are loads of inexpensive 22 rifles. So someone could purchase their entire survival firearm collection for under 400 dollars. This is kind of a weird post because most people who are preparing for survival situation already have some firearms.

06 May 2008

Barracks scandal

Joseph L. Galloway of the Miami Herald wrote an oped piece about the responsibility the US Army has in caring for soldiers.

The latest outrage is a father's video of a U.S. Army barracks at Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the 82nd Airborne Division. It shows the quarters where his soldier son and other soldiers were sent to live upon their return from combat. Mold and mildew and peeling paint are bad enough, but what about a big barracks bathroom ankle-deep in raw sewage?

Scandals like this one and an earlier eruption of outrage over the miserably maintained quarters where wounded soldiers were warehoused at Walter Reed Army Hospital are an indictment of the core competency of our Army.

If the Army cannot afford to maintain minimally decent standards of housing and feeding our soldiers -- and treat them with the best medical care and all the loving attention they deserve when they're wounded in combat -- then, by God, the Army doesn't deserve to have ANY soldiers at all.

There's only one real demand we place on the Army: To turn out a well trained, well-armed, highly motivated U.S. soldier to protect our nation and defeat our enemies.

I pretty much agree with him up until he gets to this point.

This isn't rocket science. This isn't an impossible demand. This is taking care of business at its most basic level. If Army leadership can't do that every day, 24/7, then it has failed utterly and ought to be relieved of duty and drummed out of service in disgrace.

......If the Army can't do the job, then take the soldiers away and turn them over to, say, the Marines, and let's see if the Marine Corps can take care of them properly and see that their most basic needs are met in a competent and consistent manner.

Cut the fat first

Sorry. That's not a valid excuse. If money is short, stop running congressional junkets to Iraq and Afghanistan at a cost of millions to protect the little darlings during their photo-op market visits in Baghdad. Stop painting general officers' quarters. Stop mowing the grass on base golf courses. Close the Army Congressional Liaison Office until the budget bills are passed. Cut the fat first. Cut the perks for fat cats first.

Sounds good in theory. But how many barracks do you think will be renovated if we put the whole "golf course grass cutting" budget into barracks maintenance? If we stop painting General officers' quarters, that will stop painting between three to seven houses per major installation. How many barracks can be painted with the paint from just seven houses?

Like most government agencies the US Army has to have a budget that gets reviewed. We have to work within that budget, even when new needs arrive that weren't part of the initial budget.

We, the Army leadership in question, are COMPLETELY AWARE of the living condition of our enlisted men in the barracks. Men get put in substandard living quarters IF and ONLY IF there is NO OTHER PLACE TO PUT THEM.

I have the pleasure of the additional duty of "building manager". Which means that I got to go to classes on how to inspect barracks for safety issues and the process for getting work done by the civilian contractors who are responsible for maintaining the barracks.

Is the system slow? Yes and no. If it is a health or safety hazard then it has the highest priority, and it will get fixed the fastest. Please note that fastest does not mean "immediate". Getting fresh paint on the walls takes a longer time than getting the plumbing fixed.

The barracks that my Joes occupy is the same design as the Ft. Bragg disgrace. The only difference is that while they were deployed maintenance was conducted by contractors. Since the barracks at Ft. Bragg were never supposed to be occupied again, they were not renovated in any way.

We are in a time of war. We have gone through multiple rounds of "BRAC" or Base Realignment And Closure which closes small posts and transfers soldiers to big posts. We are also "growing" the Army by multiple combat brigades. This means that we are going to be in a housing crunch until we can catch up to the demands that have been placed upon us.

I guarantee you that the leadership at Ft. Bragg was working to fix the problem the moment they found out where they were going to be living. I guarantee you that work orders were already submitted before the video ever posted on YouTube.

I've encountered poor leadership, but never completely negligent leadership in the Army. The "perks for fat cats" that Galloway wants cut aren't going to fix anything. Cutting the MWR budget is going to be particularly unwelcome with the Joes that he's trying to please. Sure we can close the bowling alley, fire the MWR staff at the gyms (PT is free), shut down the library, etc. But who wants to live on a post where there is nothing but well maintained barracks?

Sure it was a disgrace to not get the barracks into livable standards before the unit returned. Sure some bean counter somewhere was planning on having new barracks for them to move into when they got back. The new barracks are really nice, when I enlisting (way back in 1997) they had just put in the first two on North Fort Lewis. Since then they have completed a bunch more, but still have the old WWII wooden barracks (slowly getting rid of them as they can) and the Korean era barracks like at Ft. Bragg.

It's going to take a long while to get all the living facilities up to Air Force standards, but then again the Army has finally started to get an Air Force style budget.

04 May 2008

Tactical Knives revisited

Thanks to a bit more research on my part, a helpful hint from Lady Tam, and the philosophy of m4040, I'm going to expound a bit more on "tactical knives".

First off, buying a "fighting knife" is like buying a "fighting gun". All knives can be used as weapons, but it shouldn't be the highest priority in your decision making process (unless you are choosing a knife solely for self defense, but that is another post).

Second, a knife is a tool and more importantly a multi function tool. Some knives are great choppers (Butchers cleavers), some great slicers (boning or filleting knife), and some great stabbers (stilleto/dagger). What you need for a tactical/survival situation is a knife that can do all three.

The knives that can do all three usually do one task (chopping, slicing, or stabbing) very well, one ok, and one poorly. The survival experts out there have figured out that chopping/slicing/stabbing is the best mix for the blade they need. So you see a lot of large choppers that can slice ok and very few stabbers. A well designed blade will feature a choil that is shaped to accept an index finger for "choking up" on the handle for precision work with a large blade. A nice but not deal breaking feature.

Since chopping is a pretty intense activity, these knives all have simple rugged construction. A tough thick blade and either riveted handle slabs or an overmolded synthetic. The blade steel can be either carbon or stainless, both will do the job so let your wallet decide what you can afford.

The premium brands are Busse Combat, Swamp Rat Knives, Scrapyard Knives, Becker and thanks to Tam, McCann Industries. McCann is Located just up the road from me in Spanaway here's a link.

If you can't afford one of those, don't despair. There are less expensive alternatives. Ontario knives still manufactures the RTAK (1095 Carbon steel) and RAT-7 (1095 or D2 steel). These are good knives that may not survive as long on a destruction test, but they will serve you well in the woods. m4040 gives these knives a thumbs up, and that's high praise.

Another option is Ranger Knives Ready Detachment series. These are 5160 carbon steel and "triple tempered". From what I know of metallurgy increasing the number of tempering cycles helps decrease the carbide size so that edge retention is increased. But don't quote me on that. The RD-9 closely resembles the RTAK, Becker BK-9 as well as the Busse Battle Mistress, and I'm hoping that it will perform similarly as a tough big chopper. Mine should be here next week.

I'll post a review after a couple field problems. Maybe I can get the wife a Rat-7 D2 for "her" birthday....

Training for Battle Drill Six

My last two posts have been about "slow is smooth, and smooth is fast" and battle drill 6.

Coincidently training to enter and clear rooms consumed most of last week. My platoon performed very very well. Our veterans are training our fresh meat better than any other unit that I watched.

Whether or not I have anything at all to do with that excellence remains to be seen. We transition to squad live fire exercises soon, and that will be something for a Platoon that barely has a boots on the ground strength of 50%.

High performance is the result of practice and relaxation. The single most important thing you can do before any event is relax. Sounds very new age, but the BN XO told a room of staff officers that "We don't get frustrated, when someone starts unloading a bunch of crap we just smile and start prioritizing. We are the zen battalion."

I was very happy to know that my senior leadership shares the same mindset about emotional conflict and job performance.

02 May 2008

Battle Drill 6 or "Enter and Clear a Room"

EDIT:

If you arrived here from Google looking for info for CQB training, here is the
doctrine, here is youtube video of room clearing done reasonably well, and that should be more than enough for you to make your own Powerpoint for teaching the class. I hate powerpoint, so consider using paper handouts cut from FM7-8 and doing a live demonstration instead.

Original post follows

In the old FM 7-8 there are various "Battle Drills" that form the cornerstone of our training.

Things like "React to Contact", "Enter and Clear a Trench", and "Squad/Platoon Attack".

They have by the numbers steps, and they are things that all good units practice religiously.

Battle Drill 6 is "Enter and Clear a Room".

When you watch a movie and suddenly a door bursts open and armed men flow in and shoot people who are holding weapons, they are executing some form of Battle Drill 6. In Urban Warfare (or a MOUT environment for you old dogs) battle drill 6 is very important.

Ask yourself if you want your police officers to execute battle drill 6 on American citizens?

If the answer is "no" then you need to write your congresscritter and explain to them that "no knock" warrants are unConstitutional (they violate the 4th ammendment, the right to be secure in ones home).

From http://www.kare11.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=509182

Hat Tip to Firehand at "Irons in the Fire"