One Single Step

It has been said that the hardest moment of any journey is the very first step, overcoming the inertia of doing absolutely nothing.

I agree with this idea.

You see, I’ve really been struggling with this as of late, I have a mountain of stuff to do both with my Patreon site and straight-up writing in my new trilogy.

There are many reasons for this, along with a few stupid excuses. We all know that the kill radius of an excuse is zero meters, right? So I won’t do excuses.

Here is what needs to happen.

I need to schedule the narratives in my Patreon site, the first book of the Promised Land Trilogy is created.

Here is an obstacle.

Around the drama and horror of what happened in Afghanistan I’ve been dwelling on what I want to capture in the opening moments of Book Two of the trilogy. Believe it or not this has slowed me down for two months. My protagonist needs to act a certain way, and I need to capture his emotion, his sense of wonder and fear. However, I worry that my efforts will be inadequate.

It’s time to kick self-doubt in the dick, to paraphrase the words of advice from John Birmingham in his amazing how-to re: being an author.

This is ridiculous. The last thing I wrote was on the 25th of June. The 25th of June. Seriously?

Yeah. Seriously.

Alright, I know this has been a totally distracting summer. Vacations. Road trips of discovery. The fkn debacle in Afghanistan. All of it added up has definitely screwed up my side gig, this writing thing. I am sure that you guys have noticed on this website, because I neglected this place as well. If it were a building there would be a broken window, weeds on the sidewalk and a wet basement.

So let’s get cracking, shall we?

It is time to drop in on my protagonist, Joe. I need to do some reading (and I have. My verdict? Probably not the crap I had feared). After the reading, to re-establish the mood, it will be time to write.

Chapter One of Book Two.

Everyone knows that the second work of a trilogy is the toughest one, the traditional bridge novel.

Well, this is my third trilogy, so it’s old hat. In theory.

BTW, after consulting with my friend, I have decided to release my unpublished trilogy on Patreon as well.

There is a lot to be excited about! I am looking forward to this fall; hopefully I can pull some of you along on the journey as well.

J

No, I’m still here.

And no, I’m not getting drunk a bunch. If any. But there have definitely been times over the past month where I really wanted to reach for that can, or a bottle. It’s been a real adventure around here, and maybe not in such a good way.

Times have been tough.

Writing has been close to a mission impossible, especially with the Afghan drama last month. One bright spot has been the success of the GoFundMe by some other advisors for our interpreters. That worked out well, with three times (nearly) in pledges then the requested amount. So that was cool.

Besides that I’ve really just been watching the seasons change, with the days growing inevitably shorter and crisper as we head into the fall. There’s a lot going on, but curiously there isn’t, also. It’s just being one of those years, and I thought it was something to do to at least give you, my readers, proof of life.

Yes, I am still here. No, I have not disappeared.

I need to return to the keyboard, there’s a lot of work that’s waiting on me to get done.

Especially on my Patreon website. I have enough material for now, but that stuff doesn’t write itself.

So a return to work is past due.

Stay tuned.

A Worthy Cause!

So all of us know the story about the sudden, chaotic and rushed departure from Afghanistan by US and Allied forces.

I think all of you know my opinion about how the withdrawal was handled.

However, this does not take away from the fact that there were desperate, heroic and valorous acts involved with getting our service members, civilian personnel and friends out.

I pull out my hair at the thought of those left behind. It is scandalous, and pure incompetence and treachery.

But many made it out, and today I celebrate this.

With great pleasure I’d like to announce a GoFundMe page for the interpreters and family of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 209th ANA Corps.

Word has reached me that what remains of our battalion, the 3rd, have retreated into the Panshir and are still doing battle with the Taliban. How long this lasts, who knows. But it fills me with a somber pride that my men are giving it their all.

This. This is the least I can do for the living.

The dead cannot be helped.

Disgusting

Yeah, I’ve been quiet lately. There’s a reason for that. Because I do not want to spend a ton of words raving about the abject debacle that we are watching unfold in Afghanistan, a place I know well.

However, I will talk about the situation a bit. There could be some readers who are curious what my opinion is. So I’ll give it to you.

First, some background, BLUF.

The end of my career was spent as an infantry advisor to 2nd Rifle Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 209th Afghan National Army Corps. They say we were “training” forces, but what we really did was backstopped the ANA during combat operations, both large and small. I guess a couple of times I did hold some formal classes and ranges with those guys, but mostly it was patrols and operations.

By operations I mean sweeps, raids, deliberate attacks, ambushes, etc. We attacked and were attacked by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

I got to know what I saw as “my men.” I absorbed and breathed in their fierce warrior culture, the ethos of those rugged mountains.

Why did they fold this past week like a house of cards.

I’ll lay it out.

1. Name a modern army that can operate when all logistical support is withdrawn.

2. We made it clear that we would not support the Afghans after a declared date. So no prospect of help.

3. No air support, very limited Afghan air assets.

4. Years of infiltration by the Taliban, who are famously patient versus the US, who (in)famously are not.

5. The common soldier had pay, food, medical support, etc. witheld by corrupt officials. 

6. High morale with Taliban, the opposite with the Afghan Army, who often felt abandoned by the central government.

7. Superior planning and execution by the Taliban.  

That last point is simply the case. The Taliban rolled up the entire country in less than a week, the morale of the Army completely collapsed and disaster ensued.

I watched the footage of that C-17 taking off from Kabul with my mouth open in shock. The poor bastards mobbing a moving aircraft, people getting run over and falling to their deaths.

The most secure area in a combat zone is supposed to be the airhead. That footage told me that there was zero control or security for a US Air Force aircraft, cargo and crew. Heads should roll.

Heads should roll!

So far, I’m not seeing it. All that I’m seeing is “pass the buck” in Washington, regardless of what the President claims. It’s all mealy-mouthed bullsh*t up to this point, incredible betrayal, unforced errors and obfuscation.

I could b*tch about the waste of years of my life, the ultimate negation of my seemingly misspent youth, and the cavalier dismissal of my family’s sacrifice.

But that’s selfish and stupid compared to the scenes I’m witnessing on TV and the crushing tragedy being experienced right f*cking now by the Afghan people.

It’s like watching a car wreck. You can’t tear away your eyes. I avoid the news and it still finds a way to seep under the door and blow into my eyes.

So yeah. What more can I say?

Disgusting.

You have got to be kidding me

See the image above? Sure looks like a town in Afghanistan with a military convoy going through.

Guess what? It is. I know this place well, I have eaten kabobs there many times.

Now look at the image below, courtesy of CNN/Getty.

Same exact place, different perspectives, and ten years apart.

As you can see, the town is under new management.

At the moment I have nothing but profanity to utter, so I’ll cut it short.

Hopefully the next installment can be on a better note.

Good surplus tent

Alright, my long time readers will know that from time to time I review camping gear, I have an interest in cheap stuff that works well. While browsing a surplus website here in the US, I found a French Army tropical surplus tent for an unbelievable price. 38 bucks!

If you act fast, you can get one of these right now. Surplus dries up fast. Spoiler: Good tent, if you respect its limits and understand its intended use.

OK, first let me address a couple of videos I have seen on YouTube. One was particularly bad, the poster completely set the tent up to fail, and then he complained about it. Terrible set up, etc.

Alright, a few factoids and first impressions about this tent. First, mine arrived brand-new, unissued. There is no guarantee that yours will be the same. It was date-stamped 1992. See below.

This tent was full mil-spec quality, and something a soldier is expected to do is to prepare his/her equipment. This is especially important on brand-new gear. For example, would you go on a twenty-mile hike with spanking new boots? (The answer should always be NO.) A new tent is the same.

The YouTube fellow not only set the tent up like crap, there was no indication that he prepared it with seam-sealer or a waterproofing spray. Then he complained that it leaked. Well, go figure. Any tent from Wally World would do the exact same if subjected to the same treatment.

But I digress; needless to say I think this tent didn’t get a fair shake on YouTube.

Let me talk about this first rate, if somewhat dated, tropical military tent.

A big surprise. Actual, no-kidding YKK zippers and a full mesh screen, along with generous meshed venting along the sides of the tent. I shook my head at the quality and foresight of construction on the F1 Tropical, it is top-notch stuff. BTW, not canvas but vinyl (Important. I wouldn’t have a canvas tent given to me.)

As an aside, I have come to expect quality from surplus French Army stuff. Very well built and practical gear. Every bit the equal, and in some cases better, than US or UK kit.

So I unpacked my tent, I was the first person to do so since the factory. Everything still had factory rubber bands on it, everything was arranged just-so in the bag. The thing was perfect, I was almost afraid to set it up it was so nice.

But I did, and I learned a thing or two doing so.

First; this tent needs seam sealer along its stitched surfaces, like always, and it needs to be tight.

This isn’t so hard to understand. The French made it easy to figure out, although I did do one minor mod. See below.

In the tent’s eight(!) stake down loops, I ran some 550 (parachute) cord through each. Makes life a little easier when you set-up/tear-down. Here is where I ran into one of my few gripes with this tent, but it’s easily fixed.

LOL if you try to use the issued bent-wire stakes in sand or gravel. Totally useless. Now, for around here with clayey loam, they are great. Or maybe in France itself. But in the Sahara? Or Mali? A really bad idea. So in addition to making sure you prep the tent, you may want to get different stakes depending on your soil. For my uses the supplied stakes are fine. But in the Australian Outback? Not so much.

Another criticism, but not from me, was somewhat legit if a bit spoiled. YouTube dude didn’t like it that the door is only on one side of the tent. Well, I guess a little situational awareness is called for when setting this bad boy up, I didn’t have an issue here.

Speaking of door. Did I mention the nice zippers? The full rain doors backed by mesh? It’s a nice set up. I have to say I’m a bit dubious about how long the “shock” cording (a big spring) on the two poles will last in hard use, but if you saw how the poles were constructed, you’d realize it’s just a convenience feature, anyhow.

This is a good tent, it beats the ever-living hell out of the old canvas USGI “shelter-half” which was still in widespread use in the US Army in 1992. It is a somewhat old-fashioned design, but it does what it’s supposed to do pretty well. It’s theoretically a two-person tent, but I’d call it one person plus gear.

It weighs about five pounds and is relatively bulky, so this is best for vehicular ops, or mech infantry applications.

I wouldn’t lug this very far, but it can be done with careful packing.

So there you have it. For LESS than a total piece of junk at Wally World, a mil-spec, pretty good tent. This will do the job if you use it as intended, and I do not doubt that it will outperform and outlast the flimsy Big Box tent.

Just make sure you stretch it tight. With a grand total of SIXTEEN anchor/tensioning points, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Buy with confidence, I hope you get one as good as mine.

The RPG

Here is a sample, the first page, of a fanfic short that I composed in the World War 3.1 universe for John Birmingham.

Sergei Petrov couldn’t remember his parents at all. For some reason on this stuffy June night that mattered. The muttering of the guns and the idling diesels punctuated his thoughts. Everything stunk. The chemical reek of ordnance. The violated earth. His squad mates disgusting funk, especially that Ukrainian pig Oleg and the stupid blackass Ibrahim. The reeks choked him, his skin itched with revulsion. 

The Red Army had held few surprises for Sergei, a product of Orphanage Number Sixteen. The fine institute was located outside of what could have been the place of his birth, Vyazma. He snorted. Where he had been born meant exactly nothing, except for a starting point in his graduation through a succession of organs of the State. 

His earliest memory was of being beaten by older youths over scraps of bread. He shrugged. That must have been in the Great Patriotic War against the fascists. Times back then had been hard, he remembered how precious a steaming bowl of kasha was, or dried fish. Shriveled cabbage. Moldy bread. He had learned young not to look too closely at what he ate. 

The Russian that he spoke, mat, was as filthy as his ass. Every other word was “fuck,” and most insults had something to do with the mother that he had never known. What he did know was soul-crushing work and the brutal discipline of the State. He had done a little of everything. Helped with the harvest. Industrial cleaning in the grease pits of a steel mill. Assembly line work for microprocessors, operating a shear press in a Kevlar factory. 

He frowned. The press had been the best of jobs, although half his coworkers were missing a finger or two. He had had no such luck when the Commissars of the People’s Red Army showed up at the factory looking for numbers to fill their quota. Sergei’s foreman had fingered him, the moldy cunt, and four businesslike, unsmiling men threw him into a Black Maria with the other suckers. 

Now here he was, in a slit grave along with his fire team. They were a bunch of shits who wouldn’t have lasted two months in the Orphanage, where the inmates were no better off than zeks. Enemies of the State, orphans, criminals, what did it matter? All of them ended up in the infantry, where everyone was equally miserable and totally fucked. 

He shrugged in the darkness, the diesels of the tanks behind him muttered and ticked. His company of motor-rifle infantry were deployed in ambush hides in front of the main line, the theory was that the Stalin heavies would shoot and burn the fascist’s armor at half a kilometer. Whoever made it past that would have to deal with his battalion, the poor foot soldiers were dug in forward of the main line. 

The fucking tankers called them “crunchies.”

The rest is behind the paywall at my Patreon site.

What do you really need

Last year, for perfectly obvious reasons, I missed the annual vacation. And this year time was tight, so the options were limited. Also, none of us wanted to go hang out with the big crowds. Not this year, because the disease isn’t burned out and I really don’t feel like getting seriously ill.

Again. Because I’ve been there before.

So off to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I went, a few peeps in tow. It’s a fantastic place to go if you don’t want to hang out in crowds, and all you want is the experience of a beach with none of the hassle and astronomical expense.

Yeah, it cost a few centavos, but all in all it can be done on a budget. Probably my biggest complaint is how far it is from anything, but that’s also an attraction. You have to be determined to go to the beaches by Lake Superior. Lemme tell you, though, it’s worth the trip. It does require some careful planning though, as well as a selection of the right time of year.

If you hit it wrong, mosquitoes and biting flies can be pretty bad. And needless to say cold can be an issue as well, even in high summer. If you want to bask in the sun at ninety degrees and people watch, this is not a vacation for you.

But if you’d like to hike and see some spectacular scenery, then give it a look.

I can fully recommend Pictured Rocks National Park.

You’ll see stuff within the park that isn’t anything like a visit to the Outer Banks or Virginia Beach. Almost no crowds. Desolate beaches. Amazing swimming opportunities. Raw nature, seemingly endless expanses of mixed boreal forests. In terms of the Lower 48 east of the Mississippi, this is pretty close to as wild as it gets. The Smoky Mountains don’t really compare, especially not in terms of crowds.

And did I mention Lake Superior? The darn thing is crystal clear and it compares better with the sea than a lake. Excellent swimming, if a tad bit cold.

I went out on a speedboat excursion, it was a great heap of fun. What was better was that when I dried off there wasn’t the sticky film that salt water gives you. Same with kayaking the local lakes and rivers. I had the pleasure of doing a seven mile stretch with a family member, and it was a hoot.

Over and over again I marveled at how the kayak would navigate a few centimeters of water, and then how it handled rapids and deep pools with aplomb, even fallen trees. There was very little trash in evidence, and tons of wildlife. I saw various sorts of fish, cranes, turtles and even a mink as it attacked a duck.

The kayak trip, on the Au Train River, was a real highlight. Even if it revealed what terrible shape I’m in, really. Nothing like the occupational condition I was in during my military heyday.

But still, I was in good enough shape to get it done. And the excursion was a lot of fun. I highly recommend it to anyone who passes by.

Even though “just passing by” isn’t something you do on the Upper Peninsula. You have to really go out of your way to go there.

But it’s worth it.

And it got me thinking. What, exactly, do I really need? Not a whole lot. I’m pretty satisfied with my small following, and my internet peeps. A trip to the wild places, a short journey down a river. Good food. Uninterrupted sleep. Reliable vehicles. A lush garden.

Recharged, I am back to regular life.

I need to buy a kayak.

That was fun.

Anticipation

The above vehicle, the new for 2022 Ford Maverick, is a truck I can get excited about. You can “build” your own here; if you like what you see you can order one on the website.

What’s the big deal, you say. It’s a stupid truck, nothing new.

Wrong.

What you are seeing with this little hauler is a return to the concept of an inexpensive, practical work vehicle at a budget price, starting MSRP is 19,995 (even though you’ll never pay that. There are fees and taxes that will push the real floor price to about 23,000, plus there are a few options you will certainly want.)

Another very important feature about this vehicle; this is the first budget truck that I can think of that comes standard with a hybrid gas/electric drivetrain. So that base MSRP is for a hybrid work truck!

Friends, that is a big deal. It is a signal from one of the world’s biggest auto makers that the era of mass electric transportation has finally dawned.

And did I mention that the Maverick is priced nearly fifteen grand under the base of say, Chevrolet’s Colorado?

Ford hasn’t just undercut the market, they placed a breaching charge on it and lit the fuse.

20k USD for a new truck. Hybrid drivetrain as a standard feature. What else could there be?

Turns out, there’s plenty. This vehicle is made with the DIY crowd in mind, the little truck is like a Gerber tool. Ford says that the bed is perfectly capable of hauling 1500lbs/750kg. This is not a trifling amount of weight. The stubby little bed can be easily configured to haul sheets of plywood, drywall or two by fours.

Also, this little guy is a camper’s delight, as the standard king cab can easily haul four adults and their gear, and the truck can be equipped with an AWD option and a Ford “FX4” option in the higher trim packages.

IMO, I think AWD beats 4WD hands down. Why? AWD is always there when you need it, and 4WD requires some trick reflexes at times, especially on roads that are dry with the occasional treacherous icy patch or snow drift.

Complaint: Ford does not make AWD with the hybrid engine. You have to get a pure gas-burner if you want AWD. True, it’s an efficient turbo four, probably combined 29-30ish, but the hybrid gets sick mileage. It would have been awesome if Ford had planned the hybrid and the AWD package together.

Oh, and did I mention that this little guy can tow 4k lbs/ 2,000kg? Of course, you have to buy the package for this capability, but it’s there.

There is so much to like about this truck. Large electronic console, user-friendly controls. Simple where it needs to be, no-nonsense as well. Back-up cam.

If this truck pans out, and early reports from reputable sources says it may, then this little truck is a game-changer.

I’ve never been a Ford acolyte, but it’s hard to ignore this offering.

Impossible, actually.

Don’t tell me they forgot the flag

Supposedly this is an image by the AP of Bagram AB today. If so, looks like they forgot the flag. See AP article snippet below, the BBC is reporting the same thing.

How shambolic can this possibly be? They didn’t even arrange for a cheesy change-of-command ceremony? What, did they just herd everyone aboard a C-17 and roll out?

Jeez. I hope they at least had a plan for making sure they didn’t leave anybody behind. Just imagine that you’re “Third Row Joe” and you wake up on your cot and things are a bit quiet. You get up, walk out to the road running parallel to the flight line and there’s nothing. No golf carts or side by sides, no troops walking along. No one waiting for the DFAC to open, no Blackhawks on final.

Just a few looters with AKs. Or could they be Taliban?

This would be a bad moment in Joe’s life. So let’s hope it didn’t happen. But what has assuredly happened has been the abandonment of those who fought by our side. Disgusting.

Who planned this goat rope? This disgrace?

Most people would shrug and say something like “It’s good the troops are leaving.” But there’s “leaving,” and then there’s “LEAVING.”

This feels like stiffing a waitress for a party of twenty when her boss is a serial killer, and you know it.

When I think of the years. The lives. The straight-up bad stuff.

For nothing.