Thursday, August 18, 2005

Crowley Chronicles, 6th Edition

The 6th Edition is published below. The words on 3/25 speak for themselves, and need no comment from me.


The 6th Edition of the Chronicles is dedicated to the members of Mortuary Affairs who have a less than enviable job taking care of our fallen heroes. I often have the pleasure of dining with these Marines in the chow hall and fully understand the tough times they are going through. Their interviews will be contained in future Chronicles.

Once again I have to welcome new readers of the Chronicles – I understand it has branched out into the Blogger world. For those of you who don’t know what a Blogger is do not worry, you aren’t alone. I never heard of one before last month when a Major I work with added me to his site. From what I can gather they are websites that address various world topics in an open forum where readers can comment and ask questions – much the same as what I am trying to do here. At the end of Edition 6 you will find readers comments as well as their questions that I try to answer as best I can. Please feel free to email me at:

28 JUL – I caught a ride to Camp Ripper where I was planning on spending the night at the 2nd Regimental Combat Team (2 RCT). Once I arrived I learned that there was an inbound convoy that could take me forward to Camp Hit with 3rd Battalion 25th Marines (3/25) that night. As usual the convoy was delayed and arrived six hours late. During the wait the 2 RCT SgtMaj showed me the weapons that the units under their command had seized. They had a wide variety from 120 mm mortars seized that week that were responsible for the deaths of several Marines to numerous homemade weapons, improvised explosive device (IED) components, old Nazi weapons, and various other weapons from around the world. In their lounge located outside the Colonel’s office there was a memorial for their fallen Marines. I couldn’t help but notice that huge stack of dog tags hanging from the M-16. Today two new dog tags were added. After an uneventful convoy I arrived at Camp Hit, headquarters of 3/25, located north of the city Hit (pronounced heat) at 0340 and finally hit the rack at 0530.

29 JUL – Got up at 0900 and looked around the base. I worked out in their “weight room”. It left much to be desired but with a little creativity you could get in a good workout. During the afternoon I caught a convoy to Firm Base #1 located in the city of Hit. The base consisted of one large building surrounded by deserted market areas. Due to all the recent fighting in the area all the shops remained closed. I spent a little over an hour here until my convoy departed for Firm Base #2 in the heart of Hit. Both Firm Bases are occupied by Marines from 3/25 – they also have positions in Haditha. The Commanding Officer of Kilo Company, Major Douglas, greeted me and gave me the grand tour. The base consisted of a one story building that used to be the Iraqi equivalent of a YMCA minus the pool of course. Due to the location and limited resources the “base” was quite lacking in everything! I thought Camp Corregidor and Combat Outpost were bad – this was to be the worst living conditions I have experienced in my life. For two thirds of the day the building was without power since they were trying to run the facility off of Iraqi power. They had one generator to power the communications equipment and computers in the command center – this tended to die quite often as well. The building is cramped with hundreds of Marines and Iraqi Security Forces living side by side. The only food provided is Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s are prepackaged meals in plastic) and there aren’t enough cots to go around. Marines and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) sleep anywhere inside they can get a little floor space – you can not sleep outside due to the large amount of incoming rounds. Day and night multiple patrols are constantly going out on foot. Most Marines average between 3-5 patrols a day ranging from 3-5 hours each. Inside the building the temperatures hover above 100 day and night. The building is extremely filthy mostly due to the fact it has indoor carpeting almost everywhere. They used so much glue to install the carpet it is impossible to remove. The dirt and scum continues to build daily – this is what the men have for their beds. One whole platoon had developed some kind of unidentifiable disease that specialists were trying to identify. I couldn’t sleep due to the heat, filth, lights, and noise.

30 JUL – At 0915 I stepped off on my first foot patrol in the city of Hit. I was with nineteen Marines and ISF members. At 0922 a huge explosion rocked the neighborhood we were walking through. No one knew where the explosion came from but soon we learned a convoy leaving the base two blocks away had been hit by a suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED). Two HMMV’s were destroyed and there were a number of Marines wounded. We continued on our patrol. As we prepared to cross a major road, security elements pushed out to stop the traffic at a safe distance. While dashing (slower then I used to) across the road I heard yelling. As I looked in that direction I observed a Marine engaging an oncoming car with his 203 grenade launcher. The car had failed to stop to hand and verbal warnings. Luckily for the driver the Marine still had time to launch a smoke grenade at the vehicle instead of an explosive grenade. The car stopped. We searched several vehicles to include that one.

After crossing the street we entered a huge palm grove – it was as if we had entered a different world. From the palm grove we patrolled along a stretch of the Euphrates River. All along the route children came out to see us and people offered us water and food. While searching an Iraqi meeting house I saw something that shocked me – a sprinkler in the yard with water coming out, and there was grass!!! While we were at the house we had a perimeter established to cover a wide area. Children were all around the neighborhood and one of the bolder kids around four years old came into the yard which is usually sealed off. With a little coxing we got him to start playing in the sprinkler. We were all sure it was the first time he had ever played in one. He had a wonderful time until we got ready to leave. I do not think the guard at the meeting house was too happy with the boy and tried to yell at his mother. We took care of that situation. The temperatures were in the 120’s as we continued our patrol. We searched a number of houses and spoke to numerous people willing to provide information. We completed the patrol at 1225 and I was wiped out. I was actually able to fall asleep for five hours; when I woke up my patrol was already back at it.

31 JUL – During the morning we had plenty of fireworks of all types. We had intelligence that an attack was planned on our base and even with stepped up patrols what might have been the “attack” came. Our building is surrounded by huge barriers filled with sand, concrete barriers, concertina wire, bunkers, and a number of amphibious assault vehicles (AAV) in the large field watching the rear of the facility. At around 0800 a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) shot across the field from the rear of our building just missing an AAV and impacted a barrier approximately fifty feet from where I was in the command center. Shortly after that an IED exploded near one of our foot patrols that had just left the compound minutes earlier. Part of a house and store were destroyed but the Marines saw the device in time to take cover. A little later while I was outside mortar rounds started walking in on our position. I could see the first couple land on the far side of the field and then the next six started moving closer towards my location. As the rounds walked in, the Marines around me and I started a controlled stampede into the building. Once inside everyone was laughing and having a good time – that’s humor in a combat zone. The mortars never reached the building. Things quieted down for awhile until a few hours later when one of our foot patrols was ambushed. The fire fight lasted for several minutes and all the Marines came out unscathed. It is always amazing when hundreds of rounds can be fired and thankfully no one gets hit. The mobile PX truck had the pleasure of being at the base all day during the attacks. This was their first visit to the base (and probably their last). The truck was loaded with snacks, soda, movies, CDs, magazines, and various other items for sale. I couldn’t believe the Marines had to buy items that they could get free at the chow halls at real bases. The grunts definitely have it tough. Every time I’m with them I have a greater level of respect for them not because they have to buy their Mountain Dew but because of all they endure and I never hear them complain.

And yes, I did do a number of interviews while with them. I almost forgot – I believe I’m trying to forget because a number of interviews dealt with the death of Major Crocker (my TBS roommate) who was with Kilo Company when he was killed. He was good friends with Major Douglas and was highly regarded by the Marines. Major Crocker had assumed the role as official photographer for Kilo Company since he always traveled with them. He truly believed in his Civil Affairs mission of helping to rebuild schools, hospitals, and to bring joy to the Iraqi children. The CO said he always used his great sense of humor to brighten the days. At the end of operation briefs detailing raids and patrols he would always ask “how many soccer balls should I bring for the kids?” He always maintained a smile and that sense of humor I will always remember from the 1980’s.

One of the people who detailed (once again I can not provide the graphic details) the events of May 26, 2005 to me was a Navy Corpsman attached to Kilo Company. They were in the middle of a company sized sweep through Haditha when they decided to occupy a school to rest during the hottest hours of the day. Security was established and Marines inside the building took off their helmets and flak jackets to relax and cool off. Without warning a barrage of RPG’s hit the second floor of the building that happened to be where Major Crocker was. As Marines returned fire and the insurgents opened up with additional weapons, the Corpsman tried valiantly to help Major Crocker while putting his own life on the line - for now there was no longer a wall between them and the insurgents. The Corpsman was able to get Crocker to a safer area. The Corpsman will always remember looking up and seeing a female Marine returning fire as he dragged the Major to a safer area. He had a huge wound due to the rocket hitting him but since there was only a small amount of bleeding the Corpsman thought he could save him. He worked on trying to reestablish an airway and attempted CPR. Another Marine was helping him while the rest of the company engaged the insurgents. Major Douglas stopped in briefly, he touched Crocker’s leg, said a silent prayer, and said farewell warrior after the Corpsman told him it was over. Major Douglas continued up the stairs to direct return fire at the insurgents. Five additional Marines were wounded in the battle which continued until military aircraft dropped a 500 pound bomb on the enemy location and a number of tanks rolled in to squash the attack. Crocker’s dog tags hang outside of Major Douglas’ room and command post at Firm Base #2. He provided me with a disk of Crocker’s favorite pictures that he had taken of the unit and of a photo Major Douglas took of Major Crocker in front of a tank. Major Douglas told me Crocker was so proud of that picture.

When I asked Major Douglas about his worst day in Iraq, he said his worst day was the whole month of April. He believes they only had five days during the month without receiving indirect fire (IDF) and on most days they were hit multiple times. There was a three day period where the Marines were hit hard. The first day a foot patrol was hit by IDF wounding six Marines. The next day after conducting rehearsals for a large scale operation IDF landed among the company as they moved towards the building. Six Marines were medically evacuated and twenty-four others were wounded and treated at the base. During the Corpsman’s interview he was quick to point out that a GySgt “had a Forrest Gump wound in his rear end”. The following day one of Kilo Company’s convoys was hit by an IED that resulted in one KIA and an additional five wounded Marines. April was a bad month.

The reserve Corpsman relayed that it is so much more emotional performing his duties with the Marines then when he worked in an emergency room. In an emergency room you do not know the patients coming in and you always have a staff to help you. With the Marines he knows all of them and usually he is the only one on the scene to treat their wounds.

One of the most challenging operations that Kilo Company took part in was Operation New Market. They were scheduled to patrol a 40 kilometer stretch along the Euphrates River to weed out insurgents and locate hidden weapon caches. The original estimate was that the foot movement would take no more then five days. During the first two days morale was a little low because of the hot weather and no visible results taking place. Numerous names were given to the patrol but most I can not list here because of the language, the patrol lasted twelve days! It has become best known as the “Death March” in honor of the Bataan Death March. By the third day they started to seize large quantities of weapons and for the remainder of the movement results were extraordinarily high. They seized thousands of weapons and munitions. Even after the twelve day torture all the Marines I spoke to about the operation were all very positive because of the end accomplishment.

A Corporal I interviewed spoke about the 3/25’s first KIA which happened to be in his company. It was extra eerie because the Marine was killed on 3/25/05 (matches the units name). His fellow Corporal was blown up in front of him and the Marines realized they weren’t invincible.

1 AUG – Decided to pass on spending several days at Firm Base #1 at this point in time. I’m too exhausted from being unable to sleep at Firm Base #2 and the living conditions are the same at number #1. I caught a convoy at 0001 to Camp Hit in the back of a 7-ton. Riding with me was a team of snipers that we dropped off, security Marines, and a detainee. The Marines kept telling me to get lower. When you are flat on your back packed into the back of a truck you can not get much lower. The sky was amazing – I could see billions and billions of stars. In the first fifteen minutes I saw seven satellites and a couple of shooting stars. Looking up at a crystal clear star-filled night I almost felt like I was in Northern Minnesota or Canada. Unfortunately I don’t often see such star-filled skies in other parts of Iraq. It was truly amazing. I arrived at Camp Hit and hit the rack around 0200 and was up the next morning to catch a convoy to Al Asad. While I was filming part of the convoy we came head to head with a tank convoy. Smartly we gave way and pulled off the “road” and allowed them to pass. The roads that everyone travels on to get around that area of Iraq are all just packed down sand through the middle of the desert. Luckily I was able to save a few hours by convincing my HMMV to take me to Al Asad instead of Camp Ripper.

2 AUG – Recovery day, I finally slept and missed all three meals! It was time to try to install the lights on my bicycle again. I have neglected to fill you in on that horrid story. Wanting to ride my bike the mile and a half to the weight room at night, I bought lights that are supposed to be powered by the bike. The rear red light works great but I was unable to get the headlight working. I returned it and got another headlight, which I still can’t get to work! And of course I tried to mount the light on the handle bars which came loose once again while I was riding the bike. For some reason the handle bars like to turn around. This will be an ongoing battle with the lights and handle bars. Not only that but I almost had a run in with the fire department again. When microwaveable popcorn is sent over some of the butter tends to melt through the bag, so I grabbed a plastic plate and stuck it under my bag of popcorn to prevent the butter from leaking all over the microwave – but unlike at home nothing here is microwavable. You should have seen the plastic plate go up and melt all around my popcorn. After opening the microwave and letting the mushroom cloud blast over my head I made a dash for my room. I figured this time the firefighters could figure out for themselves what the burning odor smell was.

3 AUG – Had to clear all my email that built up during my trip.

4 AUG – Ran into my other roommate from The Basic School, LtCol Ken Cross, at the weightroom on base. I didn’t get in much of a workout since we hadn’t run into each other since last year. He is currently flying F-18 missions over Iraq. We plan to get together and I will interview him and members of his squadron. He no longer has his orange Hawaiian shirt – I can’t wait to tell the General!

5 AUG – My sleep pattern is non-existent and I ended up going to bed at 0620. After all night convoys and living in places where you can not sleep it is hard to get back on a schedule.

6 AUG – Went to bed again after breakfast. I’m still trying to catch up on typing interview summaries while at the same time knocking out new interviews. If only I could type.

7 AUG – Hopefully I’m back on more of a normal schedule. The wind has been blowing like crazy for a couple of days. After breakfast at 0600 this morning I went to my office for a few hours. I had to leave because so much sand and dust was blowing around in there. I cleaned my desk and within a couple of hours it was covered with sand again. Today was my day to catch up on the Crowley’s Chronicles and typed Editions 5 and 6! Hopefully I get some reader comments to add to this Edition in the next day or two.

8 AUG – “Attack of the Blob!” Hopefully people have seen either the original Blob or the newer version so you can picture what took place in my office on this fateful day. I was in high spirits after receiving several care packages and merrily started to open them. As I opened one box and then the next my enthusiasm grew. I couldn’t wait to get all the wonderful items out to the needy Marines. Then it happened (pause for effect), I cut open the third box only to be instantly attacked by a monstrous white oozing creature! As the “Blob” moved up and over the box edge I backed away only to realize it was too late – the Blob was on me! If you have seen the movies you know you are a goner once the Blob gets on your flesh. But instead of eating my flesh the Blob just kind of stuck to everything, and not only that but it tasted pretty good. After wrestling the Blob out of the package I realized it was Marshmallow Fluff that tried to cover every item in the box. Luckily it had been bagged even though parts of it managed to escape and most of the other items were individually bagged as well to reduce the damage. Several of the magazines ended up losing covers but the damage could have been much worse. The lesson to be learned here is not to send any items that can grow to ten times their original size when exposed to 120 degree temperatures and always bag items. Luckily the unnamed party does such a great job bagging all the items that everything could be salvaged. That reminds me, this story had a happy ending. After wrestling the Blob into my trash can I started to think about how he had traveled all the way around the globe to get here. I decided I had to salvage what I could so I used the George Castanza theory (Seinfeld show). Yes, it is true the Blob was in my trash can but it was on the top of the pile. Carefully and bravely I managed to pull the once mighty Blob back out and scooped about a third of what was left in the container into a Gladware bowl for future use. Most of the Fluff had expanded beyond the original container but the salvage effort made his trip worthwhile. This is a typical day in Iraq.

STUMP THE HISTORIAN - QUESTIONS????? (Note: these are my opinions and not official USMC answers)

1. Q. With multiple catastrophic kills in Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) why is the USMC using them in Iraq? CC – Ohio
A. The AAV is currently the only armored personnel carrier the USMC has. The armor provides much greater protection than the HMMV’s. Most often in Iraq it is used for beefing up forward base defense with its weapons capability and armor.

2. Q. Have you encountered any troops from other countries such as Great Britain? What role are they playing? Are there enough of them to make their presence felt? CMC – Pennsylvania

A. Other then Iraqi forces I have not encountered any other military from various countries supporting our efforts. However, there have been 2,017 coalition troop deaths, 1,825 Americans, 93 Britons, 13 Bulgarians, one Dane, two Dutch, two Estonians, one Hungarian, 26 Italians, one Kazakh, one Latvian, 17 Poles, one Salvadoran, three Slovaks, 11 Spaniards, two Thai and 18 Ukrainians in the war in Iraq as of August 4, 2005. As you can see they are out there fighting and dying with us.

3. Q. So far the only group you've encountered that has been unprofessional and had a rotten attitude was the army unit on the convoy that didn't properly secure the Gatorade being taken to the front line. To what do you attribute the bad attitude? Dr. J – New Jersey

A. I spoke to an Army LtCol the other night about that convoy and he was going to address the issue with their CO since he oversees all Army supply convoys in this sector of Iraq. We both agreed it was due to a “short timer’s attitude”. They were close to returning home after being in Iraq too long. They were an active duty unit.

4. Q. We keep hearing reports that it will take a long time to properly train the Iraqi troops so they can eventually take over. How are they doing in this process? You've mentioned the quality of the ISF officers who were once leading the troops for Saddam Hussein, how were their training procedures? Are our troops prepared well enough before arriving or is it a lot of on the job training? Dr. J – New Jersey

A. We have established training facilities all over Iraq where Marine and Army forces are training Iraqis. The training is progressing at a good rate but they have to deal with recruitment issues like the US military. You can only recruit and train so many soldiers at a given rate. Their former military and officers had Iraqi training. Iraq is a third world country that we rolled over twice setting all kinds of records for warfare. Their prior training is not on an acceptable level for US standards. We are trying to raise their level of proficiency and professionalism through our training and tactics. When our troops arrive here they train for at least a ten day period with the troops they are replacing. In every environment and even in each city there are different tactics to be learned. This could be your fourth tour in Iraq but you still need to be trained by the departing Marines. Training and learning is continuous.

5. Q. The press has quoted several sources this week that said the casualties are high because "The Reserves" are not as combat ready as the regular complement of soldiers. What is your feeling? JCC – New Jersey

A. When 14 Marines are killed driving down the road in a vehicle it doesn’t matter if you are active duty or reserve. You are driving down the road – everyone looks for IED and SVBIED’s but you can’t always see them and do not know they are there until they blow up. I think you would have to actually break it down and look at each death individually and ask if it would have made a difference if they were active or not. There is a higher number of Reserve deaths recently because there is a higher number of Reservists in the most violent areas. I haven’t broken down the deaths by Active and Reserves but in the future I’ll see if someone has – I think I need to find a staff to research this question. If you look at two hot spots close to where I am – Haditha and Hit, you will see that the only Marines there are Reservists fighting the insurgents. So of course any deaths in these cities will be Reserves. Ramadi is patrolled by Active Duty Marines and Army but they have suffered a large number of losses in that city as well over the past year. The biggest factor is where the insurgents decide to pool their resources and make a stand – that is where you will have the greatest number of deaths regardless of duty status. A bullet or bomb doesn’t care if you are Active Duty or Reserve, enlisted or officer. I feel the Reserves perform to the same high level as the Active Duty and all the military I have interviewed in Iraq have stated the same fact.


Thank you for sending Tim's photographs. I've gone through them all several times, each time learning something new. How proud we all are of Tim and the others like him. MS – New Jersey

Reading the Chronicle and I am surprised you can actually write. BM - Connecticut

Sir - Outstanding!!! I seem to have misplaced editions 1 - 4, can you re-send. Thanks. Great stuff!!! AJC – Pennsylvania

Thanks so much for letting us view your life in Iraq. The photos are great and the Chronicles are providing us a view of life in Iraq. I have always loved the Marines. My father was a Marine in World War I. Be safe. Our thoughts are with you. SS & DS – New Jersey

We are now able to view all of the pictures. It is an amazing look at what is going on in Iraq from multiple perspectives. These photos tell the stories that the news never touches upon. It helps me understand why our troops are there from the soldier’s perspective, not the governments. Tim, you still have a flare for photography. Stay safe and well. MC - Massachusetts


Several new projects have started or have been given new life in various parts of the country to help the Iraqi children as well as the Marines due to the Chronicles. I would be honored to accept packages on behalf of the children and the Marines until December. Many good projects die off because people who the packages are sent to constantly rotate – prior to my departure I will provide a new point of contact so packages can reach the needy.

The children need school supplies as well as small toys such as Matchbox cars, dolls and other small items for boys and girls.

Items for Marines will be delivered to our front line Marines who live everyday in the harshest environments. I would love to surprise them with snacks (that withstand the heat) as well as any non-pornographic magazines new or less then two months old (DO NOT send all the old magazines that have been piled in your garage for the past ten years). If you are sending larger quantities of packages (over two at once) please email me so I can make prior arrangements for boxes.

If you can help, please send packages to:

LtCol Tim Crowley
Field Historian
MWHS-2, Det A
Unit 78092
FPO AE 09502-8092

Thank you!!!

Semper Fi,

LtCol Tim Crowley

Note: The care packages are sent Priority Mail to a federal post office facility so a domestic shipping rate is charged; the government sends them to Iraq. They take 2-3 weeks to arrive. Put items in plastic bags to contain contents if packaging is damaged. A customs form must be filled out; these can be obtained at your post office along with priority labels. Free Priority Mail boxes can be ordered from the Postal Service web site and will be delivered to your house.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Team Med-Fah Update, 17 Aug

a new post from major erik peterson and the boys:


Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Greatest TEWT in Military History

military folks will know what a TEWT is, and will immediately get this joke.

(for the uninitiated, a TEWT is a Tactical Exercise Without Troops, a way to illustrate a tactical point in the field without actually maneuvering your forces. a TEWT is most often used in formal schools, such as the Marine Corps' Basic School, where you have masses of eager young lieutenants working out a hypothetical tactical problem-- "i'd emplace my machine guns here," and "1st squad will attack up this draw," and so on.)

TEWTs are very useful things, but they are frequently the butt of jokes, with the name being reworked into Total Waste of Available Time, or Practical Exercise Not Involving Soldiers (spell those out and you'll get the point).

without further ado, the greatest TEWT ever known, found in chapter 11 of Bugles And A Tiger, by John Masters; the memoirs of a young British Army officer serving in a Gurkha regiment in India in the 1930s.

“We… discussed a problem which tradition said was set to officers about to qualify from the riding school of the French Army at Saumur. I didn’t believe the tradition at the time, but it is true; a couple years ago I had the opportunity of confirming it from a French general and cabinet minister. When the French officer had passed all his tests in horsemanship and horsemastership, he still had another trial to undergo before was passed as a true cavalryman, Frenchman, and heir of Murat. He was allotted three horses, three bottles of champagne, three whores, and a cross-country route of thirty miles. He had to cover the course in all particulars in three hours. The problem was, obviously, in what order should he tackle his fences? We reached no agreement on a single plan to solve the problem presented in this interesting TEWT…”

now, i don't profess to have a solution. but since a little bit of champagne goes a long way for me, at least i know what i'd do last. :-)


Happy 70th Birthday, Social Security!

social security turns 70 this weekend. i truly hope it doesn't live to see 71.

if there’s one thing i would do to improve my family’s finances right now, it would be to nix the social security payment. i’d like to do it right now, and i would if only i could. but of course we can’t do that, because tragically we’re all stuck with this loathsome program. no one seems to want to talk about killing social security, only “fixing it,” or “strengthening it.” not i! i say kill it, and the sooner the better.

i object to social security on so many grounds it’s difficult to organize my thoughts properly. where, o where to begin?

let’s start with the immediate financial impact. my social security “contribution” is a few hundred bucks a month. that’s a car payment. or an IRA contribution-- and an IRA contribution is a REAL contribution-- or an investment in our son’s education fund. or it’s whatever the hell i want it to be. retirement, mortgage, ammunition, cigars, beer: it’s my damn money.

that brings us to the moral objection: it’s my damn money. i earned the pay, and i don’t like part of it being skimmed off to help fill the public trough. (and let’s not kid ourselves. our social security payments go in to the government and right back out again in form of monthly payments to current retirees. talk of a trust fund or an individual’s account is hot air and feces.) no one is born with any obligation to labor for someone else’s benefit, except what he himself decides of his own volition. i thought people who were born with labor obligations were called slaves. Americans do not exist to feed their governments with revenue; they exist to pursue their own lives, as they see fit, according to their own means, period.

then there’s the perversity argument. if i wasn’t compelled by force of law to participate in the system, i wouldn’t need its benefits later in life. every dollar i’m forced to part with today is one dollar i can’t save on my own in what i know are more productive investments. not only could we feed our IRAs, we could knock out a huge part of the mortgage early (thereby alleviating future debt), or secure our son’s education (thereby eliminating future debt), or sock away a big sum for medical problems (thereby solving a problem before it starts). retirement saving and debt relief are mutually supporting actions. social security inhibits my ability to do both.

finally, there’s the money-down-the-sh*tter argument. i’m almost 38. i’ve got fewer than 30 years left before (presumably) i will need to start drawing from a social security account that doesn’t exist. do you think that it’ll be available when i need it? i don’t. so, if that assumption is correct, then the money is in effect being stolen from me. i have to work twice as hard for my future because of an artificially imposed obligation which, apparently, i inherited at birth and now don’t seem to have much control over. how nice.

so if i could, i’d bail out of this wicked ponzi scheme as fast as possible. i’d even buy my way out, 50 cents on the dollar. i’d do it to secure my family’s future, and to avoid being a burden on future workers. if given the choice between being part of the problem and part of the solution, i’ll be part of the solution every time. let’s drop the mandatory participation, free new workers from the shackles of bondage, and transfer the obligations to the general budget. it’ll hurt, but it’ll teach us a lesson about entitlement programs.

so here’s to a social security funeral next year, not another birthday

Gunsite Basic Carbine Course

In a previous post I wrote about the General Rifle Course I attended at Gunsite Academy. I was also able to score a seat at the Basic Carbine course, or “223,” in December 2004. Thanks to the generosity of the school’s management and ownership (and several ammunition manufacturers) a few tuition-free courses have been made available to veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq. And thanks to the generosity of my wife, the airfare and room and board were made available to me.

One might ask why I would want to go through the course after having returned from Iraq, the barn door being closed on the horse, so to speak. In the first place, I knew what Gunsite had to offer and was eager to add on to what I reckoned would be a rich experience. Also, in my particular job in the Marines I don’t have ready access to the enhanced marksmanship training being conducted for deploying units. Finally, I reasoned that one day I would be going back overseas and I ought to get good training on the cheap while it was available.

The 223 was just like the 270 in that it was efficiently organized, well taught and challenging. It was completely different from the 270 in that the students were all military. Every service was represented except the Navy. There were active duty and reservists, enlisted and officer. Some came out on their own dime; some were on various forms of funded temporary duty. Many carried weapons issued by their units’ armories-- which is a strong statement on how far and wide the practical shooting gospel has been spread. Most of them were fresh out of Iraq or Afghanistan or getting ready to go.

The instructors were standard Gunsite: high quality, wide backgrounds. The rangemaster was a retired Army reserve officer and current Denver PD lieutenant. The second was a retired Air Force pararescue operator. The third was an active duty Marine on leave.

Just like in the 270, things start quickly. We showed up, registered, got whatever gear we needed-- in my case, a borrowed Bushmaster carbine from the armory, as the Marine Corps was singularly unhelpful in providing me one-- and got down to business. After about an hour of classroom work, it was off to the range.

Once on the range, you get your gear on, you get your ammo squared away and you start training. When the rangemaster calls for the first relay to get up on the line, you’re wasting everyone’s time if you’re not ready. I suppose it helped that he had a military class, full of people used to taking orders and doing things quickly. As the class progressed we got faster and faster with preparing for each session, and more and more comfortable with being on a “hot range.”

The hot range is one of the most welcome recent developments in the military. Places like Gunsite pioneered it, but it took years (and a lot of work) for it to filter into regular units. The hot range runs like this: instructors and shooters carry loaded, ready weapons at all times, on and off the firing line. Safety rules are briefed, and then safety becomes an integral part of proper weapons handling rather than a separate issue. Big Boy Rules apply. Not for amateurs or raw trainees, it requires a developed level of discipline. It is absolutely the best way to run a range if you want to prepare people for a gunfight. (By way of comparison, in my experience pre-9/11 ranges in the Marine Corps were pretty static affairs, not particularly realistic and very strictly controlled. All of the Marines in my class joked that what we did in the 223 as a matter of course would have gotten us thrown off any “old” Marine Corps range.)

In the 270, students carry full-bore rifles, i.e in the 30-caliber range, and dress for comfort. In the 223 we carried 5.56mm carbines and back-up handguns. We carried web gear and wore uniforms, the way we would wear them in the field. The course gave us the chance to try new gear and new ways to stow it. In another refreshing departure from active duty orthodoxy, we were encouraged to work out how best to carry our weapons, how best arrange the magazines, and figure out what else we might need to do to stay in the fight and win the fight.

Over the course of the week each of us fired close to a thousand rounds. That’s a lot of ammo, far more than I ever shot on any military range. Every shot was a little lesson in itself. Apply the fundamentals and your shot strikes home; forget the basics and it’s a miss. And like the 270, we shot on steel as well as paper. It's a stark contrast between the KLANGG! of a .308 hit on steel and the TINK! of a 5.56 hit, and serves to drive home the reminder that you're firing a carbine and not a rifle.

All Gunsite courses stress the achievement of first-round decisive hits, within the working parameters of the weapon. The working range of the carbine is much shorter than that of the full-bore rifle, thus the Basic Carbine Course emphasizes engagement of targets from arm’s distance out to 100 meters or so. Yes, we shot at 200 and even 300, but the bulk of the work is 100 meters and in. That’s where recent experience tells us we will be fighting, and that’s where the 5.56mm cartridge is most effective. The Basic Carbine Course teaches you to hit with deliberate shots and multiple rounds in rapid succession. You get quicker and more accurate as you go, and more importantly you learn to strike the right balance of speed and accuracy.

One of the most important things taught in the 223 is the transition from carbine to pistol. This is harder than it sounds, and like anything deceptively simple there’s a trick to it. We learned not only how to get the carbine out of the way and go for the pistol, but a little about when to do it. That’s something I have never been taught anywhere else.

We learned the best uses of the standard firing positions-- prone, kneeling, sitting, offhand-- as well as some interesting variations. We even tried out a pair of contortionist positions, one face down and one face up, which are used to leverage the merest scrap of cover, like a curb or the low remnants of a ruined block wall. I don’t see how I’d be using either one often, but it was good to try them out and see just how effective they can be.

We know that marksmanship, the mechanics of operating the weapon and placing a round on target, is but one of the three elements of the Combat Triad, along with gunhandling and mindset. The great strength of the 223 is in the constant integration of gunhandling skills into the shooting problems. The safe but effective handling of the weapon is a primary teaching point. So is ammo management: when to reload and how. Where is the next magazine coming from? And the one after that? What do you do with the empties? Where should you keep the loose ammo to fill your magazines, and what’s the fastest way to load them? This relates also to the carbine/pistol transition: if the carbine goes dry should you reload or just go for the pistol? The 223 Course gets you thinking about these issues you don’t usually have a chance to address.
A fringe benefit of the 223, especially a veterans’ class, is in picking the brains of your fellow students. Our class was large, and divided into two sections. One was entirely made up of Army SF National Guardsmen-- a most interesting group of people. And ours was loaded with recent veterans of more conventional units. The bottom line is that you will meet people who have done it for real, and are usually quite willing to share their lessons learned. What’s the best holster? How well does the ACOG hold up? Would you recommend this or that set of pouches? What do you recommend for a first aid kit? One of your fellow students probably has the answers.

The culminating event of the 223 is the shoot-off. Each student shoots against a few other students, by pairs in turn, in a contest of speed and accuracy. Our contest was, like the carbine/pistol transition, deceptively simple. Two students come up on the line, and on a signal engage a pair of steel targets at 100 meters. The task is to score a hit in the offhand position, then drop to the ground and engage again, using the position of your choice and changing magazines while changing positions. The fastest time with two hits wins. Simple! Not quite. It’s fun to see how good you are under a little pressure, and the results were instructive. It turns out that, true to the adage, slow is smooth and smooth is fast. The shoot-off was won by a Marine sergeant firing a stock M16A4 with iron sights. Some were faster then he was, and some were more accurate. But none was as fast, as accurate and as smooth as he was.

I found the Gunsite Basic Carbine Course to be well worth my time and money. I was lucky enough to be able to attend at a cut rate, but if the truth be told I’d go back again for the full fee. The quality of the facilities and instruction is superb. The course teaches you things you would be hard pressed to learn elsewhere, and it makes you think about things that might very well save your life.

Gunsite General Rifle Course

On the range at Gunsite, August 2003. This is your classic Arizona high desert afternoon, with a good thunderhead building in the distance. The days are hot but not oppressive; the nights are cool and pleasant. Bugs are there but scarce.

In the 23 April 2003 edition of National Review Online, while reviewing a terrorism survival guide, columnist James Swan suggested that those interested in learning how to keep and bear arms as an aid to homeland defense would do well to seek formal instruction in this honorable art. He recommended Gunsite Academy as one place that the average citizen could go for just such a course. I didn’t exactly follow his advice, as I had already signed up for a course at Gunsite, but I can strongly second his endorsement. Gunsite is a citizenship academy, taught through the medium of firearms.

My Gunsite class in August, 2003 numbered ten students—two shy of a full complement. After registration we milled about smartly in the classroom, looking at the plaques and thank-yous from police agencies and armed forces around the world, making introductions and small talk. First names mostly and not much else, but with no guardedness; simply put, none of us had ever met before.

If we met as strangers, we would part in five days’ time as friends and equals. The class we had gathered for was the General Rifle Course, the “270,” at Gunsite Academy in northern Arizona. We came to learn, not to be taught, the art of practical rifle marksmanship. To be taught is far too passive a thing for any shooting school and especially this school; one goes to Gunsite to learn.

Gunsite Academy, located about 30 minutes’ drive north of Prescott, Arizona, is the prototypical modern shooting school; others (good ones, it should be said) exist around the country, but Gunsite was really the first and it remains the foremost. It was founded in 1977 by a redoubtable retired Marine, LtCol Jeff Cooper, who is one of the founders and main proponents of the modern technique of practical shooting. Its stated mission is, “to provide good people with the skills by which they may conduct themselves as responsible citizens of a free Republic.” There is no political element to the course, but it necessarily appeals to the more traditional ideals of American citizenship.

The author with Gunsite's founder, LtCol Jeff Cooper, USMC (ret.). Though he no longer teaches, he remains a dominating figure, living on the property in a magnificent house of his own design. He and his wife are rightly famous for their hospitality; I for one will remain forever grateful.

As we got to know each other better over the next few days, it did emerge that there were more citizens than soldiers. This was a pleasant and refreshing note: one would expect military and police to be interested in superior practical shooting, less so their civilian brethren. There were two doctors; a middle-aged couple; a lanky young man who had been a hunting guide (and turned out to be a phenomenal rifleman); two businessmen; a Gunsite employee who had not yet taken the rifle course; a Marine reservist just back from Iraq; and I, another Marine reservist. The youngest was 25, the oldest 50 or so. Just two of us had substantial military backgrounds, and none had police experience. Four had been to Gunsite more than once before. All were hunters or serious shooters.

The course stepped off quickly: after a couple hours in the classroom going over the philosophy and elements of practical rifle shooting, marksmanship fundamentals, the omnipresent and unbreakable safety rules (and the consequences of violating them), we headed to the ranges and there we stayed for the rest of the week. A couple days ended in brief classroom work, but the bulk of the instruction was on the range. We shot all day, every day, and even once at night. By the end of the week each of us would put over 500 rounds through his or her rifle, at moving and stationary targets, and at known and unknown ranges, with ever-increasing speed, accuracy and confidence.

We shot on a variety of ranges, from the familiar known-distance “square” range with a target line and a firing line, to terrain walks simulating bush conditions with targets at unknown distances, to a very challenging shoot-and-move course called the Scrambler. We shot on paper targets, but ones without nice round black bull’s-eyes; the Gunsite targets force you to choose an aiming point. We also shot on steel silhouettes. There is no target shooting more satisfying that nailing a steel target. Bam! KLANGG! Instant feedback. We all found that we tended to shoot better in every way when we were shooting on steel.

The Marine Corps has given me a good base in marksmanship; that I didn’t always display the skill I should have displayed brings me to my next point. If you think you can shoot, a Gunsite course will show you in great detail what you don’t know about shooting. Even experienced riflemen will benefit from the 270, from being drilled continually in the basics, under the watchful eyes of premier instructors. Here’s one example: we were shooting at 300 meters, prone, and I was having the worst time of it. My shots were all over the place, and I was not enjoying myself. From behind me came an older gentleman we hadn’t seen on the range before, wearing the Gunsite instructor’s shirt and cap. In very short order he had me back on target and putting the rounds exactly where I wanted them. He did this by watching me, not the target; the solution was in application of the fundamentals. (And to add embarrassment to frustration, this gent turned out to be a retired Marine Major, not only a WWII vet but a Raider as well. He stayed all that day and the next, and was a great teacher as well as a fascinating man.)

The author on the 300m range-- scene of gross frustration but eventual triumph-- with the mighty Steyr Scout .308. Just visible on the flanks about 100m downrange are two steel silhouettes: so much more fun to hit than paper.

The “270” is a practical shooting course, designed to enable the rifleman to achieve first-round hits at unknown ranges under field conditions. This is a broad definition, covering snap shots at 25 meters to deliberate shots at 300 meters or more. But there is more to practical shooting than the mechanics of firing a weapon. It is an integrated system of marksmanship, gun handling, and mindset: the finished product of knowing how and when to employ the rifle and development of the crucial, almost predatory mindset that can either win a fight or bag a deer. In fact, our instructors distilled the definition of practical shooting to this: “shooting for keeps.” The conditions might not be of your choosing, and something more than a trophy could be at stake. Even if it’s not outright combat, it is always adversarial.

We learn that the rifle is a tool; it is morally neutral. It always requires human intervention, for good or for ill. If it is a right to own a gun, then it is a duty to learn its safe and effective use and an obligation to drill oneself in the responsibilities of bearing it. None of us will ever have to grab his rifle off the mantle and dash out to face the redcoats; what else we might be called upon to do, armed or otherwise, is an open question. If you think otherwise, think again of the passengers of Flight 93.

Lest it be thought of otherwise, it is important to say that Gunsite is not some sort of ersatz boot camp. Yes, the school and most of the instructors have deep roots in various military traditions, but the course is conducted free of raised voices and coarse language. The students are paying clients and are treated accordingly. There is little if any tactical instruction in the 270. The emphasis is on drawing out the basic capabilities of one citizen paired with his or her rifle. (I took the 270 in August 2003, but recently I was pleased to see two of our three instructors featured on the Outdoor Channel’s Shooting Gallery.)

Gunsite offers not only the General Rifle Course, but also a series of similar and progressively more challenging courses for pistol, carbine and shotgun. Actually, the school is best known for its five-day Defensive Pistol course, which is offered also in a ladies-only version. The common themes of all the courses are skill at arms and responsibility. If you choose to keep and bear a firearm, you owe it to yourself and your fellow citizens to do both well. Gunsite will help you achieve a level of proficiency and preparedness you are unlikely to achieve on your own.