Saturday, December 31, 2011

Should old aquaintance be forgot?

This has been quite a year, and after my painful 2010, I am very thankful for the very many good things I encountered in 2011. I hope this year will be one in which you continually find the good in life, reach out in love to those around you, and find yourself more at peace.

Happy New Year.

My Old Friend

For all my suggestions to others to carry two lights, wouldn't you know it- I got in a hurry to make sure I caught my flight out to visit a sister DRMO site, at the last minute and went off without my ElZetta. As I drove with Chief A to the fixed wing terminal, he suggested that I take the opportunity while I was at the larger base to go out to a FOB, instead of waiting until I returned to LNK. Great idea!

A day and a half later, I found myself outside at a decent-sized FOB that, in most areas, was pitch-black at night. Fortunately, I did take some of my own advice! I have tried a variety of small keychain lights, and after years of experience and trial and error, I strongly suggest the Photon 2. The Photon 2 puts out a very useful light that lasts for an extremely long time, and it is tough (for comparison, I have broken three of the marginally less expensive Inova microlights, but never broken a Photon). Further, the price relative to inflation has actually gone down over the years.

I had a Photon 2 as I flew into Kuwait, on the way to Afghanistan. I noticed a specialist with a 25th Infantry patch, and after talking to him, found that he was in the same battalion I had been in when I was at Fort Lewis. Before I flew out, I gave the specialist the Photon 2 I had on my keychain. Fortunately, when I asked for Christmas gifts for my team, one generous soul (bless you), sent extra- including red Photons. Since my team was covered, I felt comfortable taking one for myself, as well.

I have never been as thankful for that little red light as out on that dark FOB. The light was bright enough to keep me from running into several objects that I would not have seen otherwise, without so much light that it would have been an issue on the almost completely blacked-out base. But remember, kids- two lights are better, even if you think you don't or won't need them.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas has always been my favorite day of the year. Sure, I like getting things, but even more, the joy and excitement of being able to give things to others has often led to me planning for Christmas for months in advance.

This year, I was focused on getting ready for deployment. Only after I was here, did I think about the small team at Camp Leatherneck, and how they could surely use some reminders of how they were loved. So I asked for help. And you delivered.

I was amazed, astonished, humbled, and brought to tears several times by the response. My team has all kinds of OTC meds,

shelf-stable snacks, toiletries, books, movies, lights, knives, warm socks, personalized stockings, and cards. Thank you so much. You made today special for this little group of sailors and soldiers, so far from home. You made it very special for me, too.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011


One of the boxes I received a few days ago contained CDs and DVDs from Little Bro and my favorite SIL. They were mostly to include in gifts bags for my team (gift bags were helpfully included), but there were also a few DVDs and CDs that Philip explained had been sent especially for me.

I had seen an episode or two of Justified when it first came out in 2010, but my schedule didn't allow me to follow it as I'd wanted. When I actually started at the beginning, I quickly changed my opinion of the show from "pretty entertaining" to really good.

Timothy Olyphant starred in 2007's Hitman . I rarely expect much from movies based on video games, but Hitman was surprisingly entertaining. (Yes, I was a bit intoxicated, the first time I watched it, but I've watched it since. And I still enjoyed it.) He also played the villain in Life Free or Die Hard, the same year. In Justified, Olyphant plays a US Marshal forced back to his native Kentucky after a very public gunfight in Florida.

Olyphant is a good actor, and sometimes reminds me of Billy Bob Thornton in an "aw, shucks!" role. (If BBT ever played any characters that would warn you 24 hours in advance to get out of town or die, that is.) The gun handling is pretty good, the story lines are reasonably fresh, and the hero's nemesis is brilliantly played by Walton Goggins. There is some vulgarity, and of course violence. If you can handle those, I think you'll enjoy the show- I know I'm already most of the way through the first 9 episodes, and dreading reaching the end of number 9.

And so it goes...

I received a work cell phone yesterday, and charged it. Today, I added minutes from a calling card, and left the phone on. Just 15 minutes later, I got my first call! It was a wrong number, of course.

I received more boxes full of incredible stuff for my team yesterday and today. I am delighted that so many of you have obviously worked hard so people you will probably never see will have some things to bring a smile to their faces Christmas morning. (As well as some things we usually take for granted, like vitamins and aspirin.)

I am understating a great deal, here. I am seriously awed at the generosity shown, and very thankful. I hope everyone reading this is having a great December.

Monday, December 12, 2011

When the Gifts Came Rolling In

The grumpy former Marine in the office wanted to know today who had packed all the boxes for Lieutenant Shirley?! When I walked out, I found a whole stack. My scheme to bring Christmas for my crew has already done as well as I'd hoped, and I know there are at least a few more boxes inbound, too. Besides the gift bags assembled, we have books and toiletries and snacks, oh my. And sheet sets for the members of my team who arrive in late December.

My thanks to every one of you who has supported my team, or any soldier, sailor, Marine, or airman.

Absolutely not at all connected to your support, there's a bit more history (with links to abundant black and white photos) up at Seek Cover.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


I had the opportunity to ride in a M-ATV this week. I really liked the vehicle, and was able to see some improvements that should make them even more survivable. I have an article describing the whole HMMVW to MRAP process at Seek Cover.

Friday, December 2, 2011

To answer your question...

I've received quite a few queries in just the week that I've been here, asking what my people and I can use. Camp Leatherneck does have a USO, and it's well stocked with many essential items.

What we got:

Baby/wet wipes
Lip balm
Hard candy

What we don't got:

Sugar-free cough drops (Not sold in the MCX, either)
Aspirin (These three are in the MCX, but only in single serving packets)
Tylenol (generic is fine)
Benadryl (generic is fine)
We do get in jerky sometimes, but it's rare, and appreciated. As always, feel free to send John Ringo, Larry Correia, and David Weber books. ;-)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Operation Afghan Christmas 2011

Gentle readers, I need your help. I am assuming command of my own little detachment. I would like to make Christmas special for the 9 sailors and soldiers under my command. I plan to pull them in, so they can get a few days off to relax, recharge their batteries, and talk to family and friends around Christmas.

I could really use some help with some small gifts to brighten their holidays in this ugly place, so far from their homes.

Thanks in advance,


Monday, November 28, 2011

Dust, old cars, and moon rocks

I forgot just how much I loath this country, with its wet-dog smell and silt blown into every crevice. But I'm here, after a marathon series of flights. It's good to be well prepared, but there is a down side to the four duffel bags worth of uniforms and gear I was issued.

I thankfully have my own little teeny-tiny living cubicle, which is a major improvement from living accomodations on my last deployment! I am looking forward to learning the job well and making the most of this year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On Thankfulness

I scraped my plate and placed it on the counter in front of the DFAC worker. "Good mornin'", I cheerfully wished her.

"Good morning," she replied. "How are you?"

"I'm so good it hurts."

"It's good to be thankful," she said. And it is.

We celebrated a Thanksgiving lunch today. I managed to restrict myself to a not-quite-obscene amount. Even now, in the midst of a recessession, and facing a rougher economic forecast than many previous US citizens, we still have much for which to be thankful.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When it's packing time...

APFT shorts, shirts, jacket and pants
Army Combat Uniform, 2
Atrix Lapdock
Books, reference
Boots, Protected Toe
Boots, Temperate
Knife, fixed, custom
Knife, folding, Spyderco Manix 2 Translucent
Light, tactical, ElZetta
Light, red
Lotion, sun protective
Personal hygiene kit
Running shoes
Shirts, brown, t
Shirt, longsleeve, button-up
Socks, boot
Socks, white

What is this list? Well, if you haven't guessed, it's just some of the things I'm packing for my deployment. This is the part I really hate, arranging and guessing what's going to be most important and valuable in an environment in which I might have to carry everything I need for an extended period, and in which I will definitely have to move everything myself.

My job description includes travel to FOBs, so I bought a Maxpedition Doppleduffle from Optics Planet. I want a bag big enough to carry enough gear for a week or two, but still light enough to be portable. I also wanted a bag big enough to carry most of my gear until I get to Fort Benning, where I know I'll be issued a lot more gear. The LapDock I got in the hope that I can use it instead of my much heavier, bulkier laptop when I travel to the FOBs. Look for a review of the Doppleduffle in the future on Seek Cover.

I face this deployment with both trepidation and anticipation. I've been away from my civilian job for about a month now, and despite spending some of that time training in Battle Creek, I am eager to feel gainfully employed again, to feel useful. I also know that everything changes us. I hope I can successfully apply all my previous life lessons, and come back from this deployment as someone I like even better.

(And, Tamara, I'm sorry I didn't get to make it out to visit y'all in Broad Ripple. I'll make it a priority after I return.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veteran's Day

History is part of everything else. Science is based on observable, repeatable fact (though my friend Matt says science is actually based on curiosity, and that observation is just a tool). That observation and recording is history, the written record of what has transpired. Without history, nothing that happens has context. It is just meaningless data. History helps us understand what is happening now, based on what has happened before.

Our veterans have been present for some of the most harrowing moments of our recent history. We cannot know how future generations, from their distant perspective, will judge us, but we can choose to live bravely, and with honor, as so many of our previous family has lived and died.

What is now called Veteran's Day was originally created to celebrate the end of the destructive horror of World War I. Read about "Armistice Day" here.

Happy Veteran's Day.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Battle Creek Thoughts

I'm getting DLA training in Michigan, and the cold is moving in. I was happy to find that the training is specifically focused on the job I'll be doing while deployed.

It's interesting to see that the women in this area tend to have a unique facial construction.

And, it's good to be back on active duty.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wandering to AZ

I went to Gunsite three weeks ago with three friends. Training is good. Good training is better. I'd rate this training as pretty darn good, and the mindset as excellent. More thoughts on the trip at Seek Cover.

I really enjoyed hanging out with friends. In our modern world- or perhaps, especially in my nomadic existence- spending time with good friends just seems too rare an occasion. I really treasure the times I can spend.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Little Soviets and Americans

There is a post up at Seek Cover about a deal running on S&W
ar-15 uppers at CDNN. And history, philosophy, and stuff.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dust in the Wind

Thursday I received notification that my orders had been approved. I'm heading back to Afghanistan in short order. I've been to Afghanistan before. It wasn't the hardest thing I've done, but I was incredibly happy to leave. I'm hoping this time, as an officer doing something that requires some thought, will be even better.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Late September Movie Round-up

(Late, late September. So late, it's not even in September.)

X-Men: First Class I wanted to watch this movie. I've seen the other movies in the series, and-well- it just looked neat, too. While the film obstensibly follows the initial formation and history of the X-Men (with some license: I don't think some of the characters were original X-Men), it really seems to be more correctly titled "The Rise of Magneto" as the film begins with, and ultimately connects the viewer emotionally to, Eric Lehnsherr.

The major problem with First Class is suspension of disbelief. Not of super-heroes, but of the actions of various participants. I can make myself believe in superpowers enough to be entertained, but the screenwriters for First Class have both humans and mutants doing and saying things they absolutely would not. This annoys me incredibly.

In the case of Charles Xavier, the authors of the script have made the mistake of writing for someone supposedly in the rarest, stratospherically high percentile of intelligence on the planet. And they are not up to the task. "True focus lies somewhere between rage and serenity, " Xavier solemnly pronounces to Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr. Oh, yeah? You know what lies somewhere between rage and serenity? I call it (drum roll) Since we know "true focus lies in life" is an incredibly stupid comment, the writers should have stuck to more plebeian tasks, like writing a plot that made a lick of sense. Or understanding the total force output of 20 submachine guns and 1 66mm rocket.

Didn't happen.

3 of 5 stars for mostly good actors and blinky lights (really, incredible special effects).

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

One day, entire movies will be able to be charactered by CGI with reasonable believability. That day has not yet arrived. Rise is pretty good for what it is: a moody drama about the nature of the soul and man's hubris. If such be your poison, go. Watch.

3 of 5 stars.

Hannah is another superhero story. If you can dig escapism, it's not bad once. And Eric Bana always reminds me of a basset hound, so there's that.

Yet another 3/5 stars.

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

If you like silly, sometimes gross humor, this is the movie for you. It should be fairly inoffensive to most, and okay for all but very young kids who are frightened of movie monsters, especially zombies.

Really not doing this on purpose~ 3/5 stars.

Chris Evans, who lit up the screen as The Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies, plays the ultimate good guy in yeoman fashion. This isn't the most enjoyable super hero movie ever- that's probably Iron Man- but it's not bad. I give extra style points for Hugo Weaving's casting as the bad guy.

3.5/5 stars.

Super 8

Coming of age or monster flick? It's both! With impressive acting by a couple of youngsters, this film mostly gets credit from me by the treatment of the film to make it look like it was shot in the early 80s. With an almost preternaturally morally good main character, some parts of this movie don't stand up well to scrutiny, but it's not a bad flick once.

3/5 stars.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Glades

I've watched several episodes of The Glades recently. The more I watch this show, the more I like it. It's more than just cute leads in retreads of the same old cop show plots. It's funny, and thoughtful, and every now and then, touching.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Changes and Time

My shift is ending at the base I guard. It seems the ten-year anniversary of the 9-11 attack will pass without any incidents here, so close to D.C. and a brief walk away from the Pentagon. The world has never really been a safe place, but that message was driven home ten years ago: you are vulnerable. You can be killed not only as a U.S. service member deployed overseas, but as a man, woman, or even child with the temerity to live in these United States.

We are now fighting a war we can neither win nor withdraw from. We are inspected in minute detail when boarding flights, with laughable and pointless restrictions on how much shampoo or toothpaste we are permitted. We may be fondled by security personnel, or strip-searched electronically. Our conversations may be recorded without a judge first granting a warrant, and our government holds many prisoners without granting them the customary rights and protections of prisoners of war or charging them with a crime. While we may withdraw in the not-so-distant future from Afghanistan, leaving it to inevitably return to utter chaos, there seems to be no way to "break contact" with terrorists.

We have fought,and some of us have died fighting in this conflict to protect our families and our way of life, but it seems the longer we fight, the the more we lose. I don't have a solution. So, just after this decade anniversary, we find ourselves looking back on immense quantities of money spent on the conflict.

Our economic policies have finally caught up with us as our population ages, leaving us far too few workers to support the pyramid scheme of Social Security. We are the world power, but our options will rapidly shrink as the amount we owe to foreign governments increases, with no real way to pay it. Our way of life mostly remains, but for how long?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Summer Ends

The heat has finally broken, and Fall seems to be here with cooler temps and rain. Due to changes to my battle assembly ("drill") schedule, I had requested this last weekend off from WSI, but found I was free after all. I had covered a shift for a WSI coworker Thursday night, so after some recovery sleep Friday, I headed back to Pennsylvania.

Sam and I were able to have some hanging-out time as the rest of the family was off with in-laws. Sam and I have been working together on some knives this year. There have been several knife steels I've used extensively over the last 12 years or so, and I've used knives in a few particular applications enough to know some things that work really well.

CDv2 with GunKote and pale jade G10

Sam will be producing a line of large knives that I designed. These knives will be suitable for camp use or make very powerful fighters along the bolo or kukuri "heavy hitter" model. The blades will be about 9" long, and handles will be of micarta. A kydex sheath will be included. I've seen Sam's work. Sam's day job is historical reconstruction, so he usually is rebuilding something while painstakingly matching it to much older construction. I have seen the first two knives of this series, and they are terrific. The 5160 steel used is an excellent big knife/hard use steel because the bit of chrome content adds toughness and some rust resistance, while still being easy to resharpen and keeping an edge.

Initially, the Camp Defenders will be available for $150 shipped, with natural micarta handles, satin finish, and a belt loop attachment on the sheath. $175 gives you a choice of natural or green micarta or light jade G10 handle scales, high-polish or (black or brown) GunKoted blade, and a TekLock or MOLLE attachment on the sheath. These are excellent prices for handmade knives of this size, and I don't know how long Sam will be able to offer them for this. If you want one of the first Camp Defenders at these prices, you can reserve one for $75, with delivery expected within two months after deposit. Send me an email for mailing or PayPal address.

CDv1 with natural canvas micarta and high-polish finish.

v2 is a little heavier and wider-bellied (at bottom):

While at Sam's, I also shot an IDPA match. I'll cover that in more detail in another post.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Summer Shooting

I have twice in the last month had the pleasure of joining my friend Sam in Pennsylvania for shooting and socializing.

The first time, our buddy Ken was able to shoot with us as well, though sickness interfered the second time.

I hadn't had the chance to meet Sam and Ken in person previously, though I've corresponded with Ken online for three years or more, and with Sam, for at least two. Both were skilled shooters, and kind teachers to my less experienced trip companions. It was a great experience, though there were a few..."issues".

Pros: everyone had a great time, we got to shoot some new firearms, we got to finally really put some faces to people that had previously only been voices and words on a screen, and a safe time was had by all.

Cons: my Rossi 7.62x39mm not only won't fire Russian ammunition, it won't reliably fire Winchester ammunition, nor the handloads Sam had. My Remington 7600 .35 Whelen was discovered to have some rust in the chamber (but some CLP and a good scrubbing remedied that- Sam then put two rounds into touching holes at 50 meters using a Williams aperture sight). Easily the most distressing of all was my beautiful Territorial Gunsmiths custom .35 Whelen, which was previously unfired. Despite's still unfired. Here's hoping it's a simple fix, since the TG .35 is one of my two most expensive rifles.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Popular Science reports on a bracelet that will give blind people warning of objects from one inch to ten feet away. Proximity is expressed by increasing pressure, and direction conveyed by varying the side the pressure is felt on the gauntlet. I might ordinarily be offended that the inventor is not attempting to make a profit- he'll give the plans away, and materials can be purchased for under $100-but considering the target audience, I guess he gets a pass.

Blogroll Additions

There are a couple additions to my blogroll. Of especial interest to me as a history student and teacher, and firearms enthusiast is Forgotten Weapons. Check them out.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

July News

It's hot! One day I'll find my way back to the Pacific Northwest, where it's not so oppressively hot in the summer. After a very enjoyable visit with my family in Mobile, I had more than a week off before qualifying with my M9 for WSI, followed the next day by battle assembly ("drill") with my unit. Monday I took my annual PT test with WSI and dutifully performed three days of annual training, and now I'm back. It's also great to be back training with my Bujinkan class near Fort Myer.

Saturday I finished another John Ringo book, Eye of the Storm. When I went to Afghanistan, I devoured the first four of the Posleen War series (which tell a complete story) in early 2007 as I sat out in the boonies of Afghanistan on a tiny firebase with a handful of SF guys and 4 other mortarmen. These books are an incredible, fast-paced, well-written 4-parter. I mentioned on my blog trying to read with night vision- unsuccessfully- and John even commented, asking if I'd like a larger-print version. Ringo is still one of my very favorite authors, along with pal Larry Correia, for not only the stellar first four books he wrote, but for other superior writing since.

John's stuff is incredibly entertaining, with (usually) solid story lines, plot twists, enjoyable characters, and tons of action. He does have a few...quirks, though. Based on his writing, it's easy to believe John is a bit of a perv. Also, John sometimes obviously wants to create a character or situation that's really fricking cool, man! Sometimes those things may work, and sometimes...An example is the Des Moines. She is a warship that has bonded with its artificial intelligence computer- and fallen in love with the captain. So she cloned a body from cells of a deceased movie starlet who played Daisy Mae. Daisy Mae/Des Moines is a single entity who feels and controls what happens in the ship and in her physical body, which must remain close to the ship.

Eye of the Storm is full of John's usual skillful writing, though he does tend to sometimes use translations of ethnic insults that just as we read them. In English. John also seems to have created the Ultimate Bad Guys for this book. Because they're bad, and they look horrendous, and they can USE THE FORCE. No, really. John has characters who use The Force, only he calls it something else than The Force, because aliens had it first, and they don't speak English on their planet. Also, George Lucas could sue. It's still The Force, though, and despite some attempt at a scientific explanation for it, well, it's still magic.

Regardless of potential distractors, Eye of the Storm is a solid, very enjoyable read. I give it a 3.5/5 stars.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

News Flash!

The U.S economy in such bad shape, Mexicans are staying home.

In all seriousness, a series of factors seem to be involved in the decrease of illegal Mexican-U.S. immigration:

o Poor US economy
o Increased criminal penalties
o Improving Mexican economy
o Ease of legal immigration to U.S.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

More Cigars and Troops

Thanks to all of you who were able to help a few months ago when I was sending some cigars to members of my old unit who are deployed to Afghanistan. I received a very nice card signed by about a platoon's worth of troops (and it is VERY hard to assemble that many for a non-mission function in a war zone!).

If anyone would like to send some more, JRCigars is having $.99 shipping for the month of July. A 12-pack of JR Special Corona #5s, a cheap cigar cutter, and a small humidifier will set you back less than $21. Email for address if you're interested...and it's not a bad deal for everyday cigars for you, either.

Other inexpensive cigars that are favorites of mine are Maria Mancini Robusto Largas and El Rey Del Mundo. Lastly, probably my favorite cigar is the Romeo Y Julieta Reserve Maduro.

Should you decide to enjoy any of these yourself, or purchase them to store and share with guests, remember all cigars benefit from being kept in a moderately moist environment. If you don't have a humidor, an inexpensive humidifier and a small cooler work. I actually use a cheap plastic tool box that I've lined with bamboo skewers.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Good Cup

I have used a Bialetti Stovetop Espresso Maker on and off for years (I used them at others' houses before I had my own). My original one was purchased in Miami while visiting my grandmother some years ago. A Bialetti is a kind of mini-percolator, but since the hot water doesn't keep circulating, the coffee has a "cleaner" taste than percolator coffee (which can also be excellent). I find that gas heat and glass-top stoves seem to work much better than electric burners. I enjoy making espresso in the Bialetti, and adding warm milk to make my own latte. This lets me use plenty of milk without diluting the coffee taste or strength.

I loved my Bialetti. I even took it to Afghanistan, since a reduced amount of coffee grounds will make regular coffee, and I didn't know if I would be somewhere away from power sources. (I wasn't, but some of the other soldiers in my infantry battalion were away from all creature comforts for several months.) Unfortunately, my Bialetti was lost somewhere after moving back to the States and my divorce. My roommate has a Bialetti Moka, but it wasn't well maintained by her last roommate. I am finally giving in and getting a stainless steel version.

It's not cheap, when countertop coffee makers can be found for $15, but I have found that it's usually less expensive in the long run to buy quality the first time.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Concrete Canoes

Would you like a concrete canoe? It doesn't sound , um, very buoyant, does it? But students from 23 colleges met Saturday, 18 June for the American Society of Civil Engineers' National Concrete Canoe Competition in Henderson, KY. Concrete ships were first made in the 1800s, and were made in small quantities during WW1 and WW2, when shipping needs were high, and traditional material and labor was in short supply.

Despite its heavy weight, steel has been the most common hull material for large modern ships beginning with the SS Great Britain. Other materials such as fiberglass and aluminum may be used, as sell as the old standby, wood.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Footsteps Turn Homeward

After a grueling rotation in the field, with 6 LTs, 25 SGTs, and 149 AIT soldiers under me, I walked across the stage Thursday. I am now affiliated with the two oldest branches of the U.S. Army, as first an infantryman, and now, a quartermaster officer. My Temporary Duty Tour apartment clear time was 1200, and in my rush, I forgot to take a picture. My apologies.

I think the last time I visited my family in Mobile was almost exactly two years ago. Home turf always has such mixed emotions associated- my unhappy childhood, far-right Southern Christianity, family, the Gulf of Mexico, Southern food, family, azaleas, and the sticky, brooding Deep South heat. There are things I love about lower Alabama, and things I do not.

But I haven't seen my family in too long, so I'll make the rounds, hurting a little at the age I see assaulting my closest loved ones, and rejoicing and astonished at the growth of young Shirleys. I will be seen as kind and adventuresome by young nieces and nephews, and hopefully will be seen as loving and warm by my siblings and cousins.

For all their imperfect humanity, we can't change where and from whom we come. And maybe that's not so bad.

Happy Fathers' Day.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Brothers in Arms

It's Memorial Day, a day to celebrate our dead. I've been listening to Best Of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler: Private Investigations . One of those songs is "Brothers in Arms", which some have claimed is the best song ever.

"Best" is a hell of a superlative, and I'd be reluctant to describe any song in those terms (though of course "When the Levee Breaks" is the greatest rock song ever). Mark Knopfler's quiet, meditative voice, thoughtful lyrics, and enveloping guitar instrumentals do make "Brothers in Arms" one of my favorite songs. It's certainly an appropriate song for today.

These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is the lowlands
And always will be
Some day you'll return to
Your valleys and your farms
And you'll no longer burn
To be brothers in arms

Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I've witnessed your suffering
As the battles raged higher
And though they hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms

There's so many different words
So many different songs
We have just one world
But we live in different ones

Now the sun's gone to hell
And the moon's riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it's written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We're fools to make war
On our brothers in arms

Those who have served in the armed services know a special kinship. We train to do terrible things- wage war, take the fight to the enemy, endure privation and long absences from friends and family- to do a great thing. Protecting our families, country, and way of life is a great thing, and a honor. In the process, strong bonds are formed, some forged in the fires of war.

We can believe that war is noble, which, though there may be nobility in some things, is not true. We can also believe that the existence of war is sad, though it's really truer that interpersonal violence is just a fact of existence.

In any case, honor those who have gone before...and those who will join them.

Stay in and Win

I've posted some thoughts about my recent Combatives training on Seek Cover. Combatives: FM 3-25.150 is the official hand-to-hand system the US Army has used since 2002.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Thunder Gods, Hot Wheels and Men of Light

I haven't reviewed any movies for a while, so I thought I'd knock a few out.

Tron. Jeff Bridges once again reprises his role of genius lost in a data universe. There are pretty lights a-plenty, action and eye-candy, and Jeff Bridges plays the same character he's played in numerous movies ("You're messin' with my Zen thing, man.") Unfortunately, the storyline doesn't make a lot of sense, but that's not really why you'd watch this, is it? 3/5 stars.

Thor. Relative newcomer Chris Hemsworth plays the Thunder God perfectly. Sir Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman perform admirably, as usual. Action. Thunder. Beefcake. I didn't expect so much of this movie to be set in other "realms" than Earth, but the movie was still fairly enjoyable, anyway. 3.5/5 stars.

Fast Five. Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Dwayne Johnson together. What could go wrong, right? Hmph.
If you don't watch these for the (heh-heh) storyline, you'll probably enjoy it. Cool cars, speed, explosions. And Diesel and Johnson fight. I'm going to be a little generous because I'm just happy Dwayne Johnson isn't in a Disney movie for once, and give this 3/5 stars.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Way of All Flesh

Just over 24 hours ago, I heard the news that Osama Bin Laden was dead. Some part of me is still trying to grasp that. Killing OBL was something that needed to be done, and I hope some people find a measure of peace in knowing of it. But nothing's really changed. There's still a war on.

Looking back over the past century of so, it seems the US has rarely gone more than a few years without being embroiled in some conflict, often for years. Believing that the nature of people will suddenly change is futile, so even if the combat zones we currently inhabit were evacuated of US service members, it is likely we will be fighting again shortly.

I do not see any dramatic reduction in the threats we as a country will face in the near future. I hope I am wrong.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cigars and such

I heard from Major G again. After hearing how well received some cigars I gave to the Major had been with soldiers he shared them with, I decided to send more, and invited anyone who could to help me. Here's what the Major had to say about it:

Great to hear from you. The cigars are a hit here. I've shared with 1SG P, CPT S, SFC D and the rest of the guys. Even sent some down to the boys in the dets. I really appreciate it. They are great cigars. I have my humidifier here, so no worries, they get plenty of time in the box.

Having been deployed, I have suggestions for some things that go well in care packages. Besides the things you might think, like books and snacks, I especially appreciated sugar-free cough drops. In an area with so much dust in the air, I often could not sleep without a cough drop. Also, wet wipes are invaluable when in that environment with continual dust, especially since some areas do not have shower facilities.

If you were able to help in this particular case, thank you. You've brightened some soldiers' days. Even if you weren't able to help with the cigars, there are so many ways to support our deployed service members. Some of them you may not have considered, like asking families with deployed service members if there's some way you can help them. There's always something you can do. Do it.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Uncle Kenny

Yesterday I discovered that my driver's window had been smashed. That would have elicited more of a reaction from me, except I was talking to Cousin Pam...who was telling me about the passing of my Uncle Kenny. Uncle Kenny tended to be quiet and sometimes a bit stern, and he was very dignified.  I remember spending a few nights over at my cousin's, so young that I was afraid to come back from the bathroom in the middle of the night, frightened of the dark doorways around me.  Over the years, I remember reading Pam's Star War comics, of watching The A-Team's exploits and playing Atari with her,  but I never remember Uncle Kenny giving me a single harsh word.

Maurice McKinley "Kenny" Chastain died at home Friday, April 22, 2011 at the age of 81. Kenny was born in Mt. Vernon, AL to Wren and Pearl Chastain. A resident of Mobile, he was a member of Luke 4:18 Fellowship Church. He was a Korean War Navy Veteran and a retired Air Traffic Controller who enjoyed fishing, woodworking, and being with his family. He was Past Master of Chickasaw Lodge #894 and a dual member of Spring Hill Lodge #896, and served as District Lecturer of the Alabama Grand Lodge, F&AM. It was his great honor to conduct hundreds of Masonic funeral services. Kenny was a 33rd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, a KYCH York Rite member, and a Shriner. He was Past Grand Governor of Alabama of theYork Rite College and Past Patron of John B. Shearer Chapter #517, OES. He served as Grand Master of the Alabama Grand Lodge, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and was Past Sovereign Grand Chaplain of the Sovereign Grand Lodge, IOOF.
He is survived by his loving wife of 36 years, Carrol Shirley; daughters Diane (Ken) Eelkema, Sandra Chastain, and Pamela Upchurch; sister Jane (Charles) Gullatt; grandson Dennis (Lisa) Eelkema; great granddaughters Lauren and Maggie; and many other relatives and friends.
Visitation will be held on Tuesday, April 26, 2011 from 10:00am to 12:00pm at Mobile Memorial Gardens, with the funeral services at 12:00 in the chapel. Internment will be at Valhalla Cemetery. Honorary Pallbearers: Percy D. Lane, Randall Fletcher, Curtis Hass, and Dulane Dunnam.
Memorials may be sent to: Luke 4:18 Fellowship Building Fund, P.O. Box 850695, Mobile, AL 36685.

Goodbye, Uncle. I'm glad your pain is over.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


So...I've been sick. Sick enough that our TAC called me out of PT formation Tuesday to ask if I would be okay for the PT test today. Yesterday I bought a new pair of running shoes, my first K-Swiss. And crossed my fingers.

I haven't been sleeping well for the past week, between the tickling in the throat and frequently coughing myself awake. I took three Benadryl last night, early (to make sure I wasn't weak from after-effects), but still slept poorly. I felt reasonably well this morning.

The weather was perfect, in the low 60s with no wind. I pushed out a few more pushups than last test. Pumped out 77 situps. And, finally, took my new shoes onto the long-dreaded 2-mile run.

I didn't do as well as I might've liked, but I did drop exactly a minute off my time, leaving me with a 271 out of 300. I'll take that. For now.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

BOLC Times

After at least a week with a sore throat, I went to sick call yesterday morning. I've been given antibiotics and expectorants. I'm just hoping I'm good for the PT test Thursday.

On Seek Cover, I describe an incident that happened Friday. It was nerve-wracking. And a good lesson.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cigars for PsyOps

I miss training with MAJ G. He is now deployed to Afghanistan with my old unit, 312 PO. Here is an excerpt from an email this week: "I have to thank you again for the cigars. I have been enjoying them, and so have CPT S, SFC D and some of the other cigar smokers here. It's a nice break on Fridays after Tommy Taliban is done with his IDF"*.

*Indirect fire: mortars or other high-angle artillery fire.

I am going to send more cigars to the unit. They won't be the absolute most expensive, but they will be high quality, solid value good smokes. If you'd like to help, and know something about cigars, if you email me at JRShirley(at), I will give you mailing information. If you want to kick in a few bucks to help, PayPal to that email address. Just put" cigars" in the notes, and I'll take care of it.

I remember how nice a cigar was to help pass the time when I was in Afghanistan. The little comforts can really mean a lot to deployed service members. Help if you can.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Red Riding Hood

Red Riding Hood
Stars: Amanda Seyfried, Lukas HaasGary Oldman
Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Summary: Werewolf rending of fairy tale, cast for 14-y/os.  If you expect it to suck, it won't be too bad.  2.5 stars.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


So far, the hardest thing about BOLC has been the PT. We took a diagnostic APFT the first Thursday. The group average was a dismal 189 (the minimum passing score on the current APFT is 180, 60% in each of the three events). Almost 1/3 of the class failed.

It was barely above freezing, but I managed a 251. I'll do better next time.

LAPG 3-Day Pack

A review of the LA Police Gear 3-Day Backpack is up on Seek Cover.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fun (not)!

Moving is pretty much my least favorite thing in the world. It's kind of like a mega-flu: you feel it coming on, then it screws your life up. And then, (if you're me), it takes months to recover. Sometimes, it must be done, though.

I loved a lot of things about living in Springfield. I was one mile from the interstate, with a quick and easy commute to work. I was one mile from Trader Joe's, stores, and a variety of restaurants. I was the same distance from the American Legion, and could walk there for breakfast, lunch, or a beer. I loved the trees in the neighborhood, the country feel of the back yard, and watching the birds, foxes, squirrels, and deer. I even enjoyed watching this intrepid visitor:

Springfield was a good value for me in a lot of ways, but there are always tradeoffs: little personal or storage space, finicky stovetop burners, sharing washing machine and dryer. And Springfield ended up being too far away from at least one person I wanted to spend more time with.

So...moving. Again. And since I was abruptly given an opportunity to attend BOLC eight months early, I had a minimum of prep and move time. But it's almost spring, and I'll be in a space with plenty of room, and good I will "endeavor to persevere." ;-)

We had furious winds about 10 days ago. As I was exiting my apartment building, a gentleman outside beckoned me to hurry. This was why:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

More Customer "Care"

Background: I worked customer care for about four and a half years. I moved from answering calls primarily from internal wireless customers, to being a second-tier representative. There, I dealt with escalated calls, problem situations, and monitored calls. I would then coach the care representative on what they had done well, and what could be improved. I do know what good customer care looks like.

I recently tried to ensure my Xbox Live membership was not automatically renewed. MicroSoft will let subscribers renew on their own, but not cancel. This is odd from a company that has made its money by supplying computer hardware and software. Most companies prefer online interactions for customer care actions, since customers can usually handle their own affairs without needing to involve a care rep. This means faster, more efficient service for the customer, and reduced cost for the company. Forcing customers to actually call in to talk to someone is clearly designed to make cancelling less convenient for the customer.

Hello John,

> This is Joyce, with Microsoft Xbox Support services.

> I understand that you would like to turn off your account's auto-renewal on Xbox Live. I appreciate the opportunity to assist you with this concern.

> Be advised that you can turn off the auto-renewal setting on your Xbox Live account by calling our phone support line. Our phone support line will verify your account information and they can automatically turn off the renewal date on your credit card on file.

> Thank you for your time and understanding.

> Thank you for visiting If you should have future questions on Xbox products or services, please be sure to revisit our Web site as we are continually adding information to enhance our service.

> Best Regards,

> Joyce

> Microsoft XBOX Support Services



How exactly have you helped me? You appreciate the opportunity to assist me...and then, you don't. Thanks a lot, for absolutely nothing other than wasting my time and making me even more pissed at MicroSoft.

Please do not fraudulently charge my credit card.

John Shirley

Hello John!

> Thank you for contacting Microsoft online support for XBOX. I am Jay and I will be helping you today with this issue.

> As our valued customer we are sorry to hear that you have issue on turning off the auto renewal.

> We know how frustrating it is when you have an account issue. However, all cancellations, billing questions, inquiries, and account or subscription problems are being addressed through our phone support line. Email support lines do not have the capabilities to process your request. We may require personal information verification which cannot be divulged over email. When you call, immediate action will be given to your inquiries or request. Thank you for your time and understanding.

> To expedite service, please provide Service Request Number 1148711893 when you call.

> Thank you for visiting We hope that we were able to assist you, and that your experience with our customer service was positive - something we constantly strive to improve. If you should have future questions on Xbox products or services, please be sure to revisit our Web site as we are continually adding information to enhance our service.

> Best Regards,

> Jay

Hi Jay!

Thanks for replying to once again tell me how MS wants to take me for every dime they can wring. Since you are able to determine enough information from me to allow me to renew, you obviously have enough information from me to allow me to cancel. Too bad you don't even have the stones to admit it's a revenue-control measure.

While we're here, let's talk about business etiquette. Are you my friend, Jay? Family, maybe? Do you know me in other than a business capacity? No? Yet you, knowing my last name, and without invitation from me, call me by my first name. I don't know your last name, or I would extend the courtesy of calling you "Mr. X". Because I don't know you, Jay. But you're certainly not my friend.


("Mr." or "Lieutenant" to you, you badly trained drone)

John Shirley

Sunday, February 13, 2011

From the FWIW Files...

A Verizon Service Representative will be with you shortly. Thank you. (07:46:50)
07:49:55 We apologize for the delay.You are next in the queue. A representative will be with you shortly.

Agent Patricia has joined.
Patricia : Chat ID for this session is 02131117510. (07:50:05)
Patricia(07:50:10): Hello. Thank you for choosing Verizon and visiting our Verizon chat service. How can I help you set up your new service and save with a Verizon bundle?

You(07:50:25): Hi, this is J Shirley. Good morning, Patricia . I was interested in setting up internet svc in 22211, and wanted to ask about military discounts.

Patricia(07:51:25): You will qualify for the online offer and discount.

You(07:51:55): A general online offer, or a military-specific offer?

Patricia(07:52:35): There is no special military-specific offer.

You(07:53:10): I see. I was sent a link by Verizon to my military email, but the link did not work.

Patricia(07:54:20): Yes, it is because there is no speical military discount

You(07:54:31): ...but it looks like that may have just been a Verizon wireless link...

Patricia(07:55:16): It will apply for wireless service.

You(07:55:26): ...but the link does not work.

Patricia(07:56:01): It will apply for wireless (Cell phone service).

You(07:56:26): BUT. THE. LINK. DOES. NOT. WORK.
You(07:57:11): If I try to drill down on the link, it says, about:blank

Patricia(07:57:36): You are looking for Internet service and the discount will apply for only cell phone (Wireless service)/.
Patricia(07:57:51): So that link will help you to place order for Internet.

You(07:58:16): What? Are you an English speaker?

Patricia(07:58:46): So that link will not help you to place order for Internet. *
Patricia(07:58:51): Yes

You(07:59:21): Patricia, maybe you can help someone else who's a little less pissy this morning. Have a pleasant Sunday.
Your session is now closed.
Thank you, have a nice day.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Saturday, January 29, 2011

After SHOT

SHOT 2011 was a lot of fun. Very busy, but I found that working with definite goals on behalf of The High Road actually let me enjoy myself even more than I did when I was there just for my own benefit. Perhaps the biggest reason for attending, was to give THR members a glimpse of new or rare products.

Taurus has sold a boatload of their Judge revolving .45 Colt/.410 shotshell handguns. This year they are introducing a variety of carbine/shotguns through their Rossi subsidiary, as well.

The Rossi Judge carbines actually feel really good, but I would be happier with them if they were offered in a .454 Casull/.410 version (similar to the "Raging Judge" revolver coming out), so I could be certain my hot .45 Colt loads could be safely fired. One of the Taurus reps told me that a Casull Judge carbine wasn't offered because of the potential for cylinder gap blast to cause injury, but there is a .44 magnum Judge carbine...dunno. I especially liked the "Tuffy" Tactical Judge carbine, which has a short LOP synthetic stock, fiber-optic front sights, and light rail! It remains to be seen how well the Colt ammunition will shoot from the 3" .410-length cylinders.

I finally got my hands on a Kel-Tec SU-16D SBR. I'd love to have a suppressed one. I also love, love, love what I saw of the new KT RMR-30 .22 magnum carbine. It feels absolutely great.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I'm at SHOT. Much more overtly for business, this time.

First time at Vegas. I haven't decided if this is the best or worst of the US. Maybe both. Lots of neon.