that time of the year again

$50, 12 toys for Toys for Tots

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It was not our best year ever for raw number of toys, but some of those are playsets and fairly complex ones at that, so hopefully their recipients will consider playing with their friends/families. 

If you are interested in donating yourself, drop-off locations are fairly easy to find, and apparently Toys ‘R’ Us is a nation-wide Toys for Tots partner, so you can always leave your toys with them.  As always, they would prefer new, unwrapped toys, and, of course, they are always willing to take money

I know this season is going to be rough for a lot of people, but if you can spare the time and money, you stand a good chance of making it a little bit better for some kids out there. 

leadership fail

Back on my last deployment, I had the… pleasure… of having to attend the Department Head’s meeting every night, which consisted of the aforementioned leaders/managers (depending on the person…) of the various departments of the ship (Deck, Operations, Engineering, etc.) getting together with the Executive Officer (the second-in-command for the ship, generally abbreviated to "XO") and talking about what they accomplished today, what was on the agenda for tomorrow, and discussing long-term goals. Once we embarked our Marine detachment, the commander of our particular MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) unit – a colonel in charge of a Force Reconnaissance element – also attended the meetings, mostly as an observer since the Marines were generally just marking time below decks (when they were not stabbing themselves in the legs… another story for another time).

But, as soon as our ship got northwest of 10N 68W, something about the Marine colonel changed – he started carrying a sidearm.

Now, for you civilian / non-squid types out there, I guess I should clarify – once a Navy ship is underway, pretty much no one carries firearms. If we were in a certain area (say, the Persian Gulf, for example), then some topside watches were diverted to manning a few of the fixed weapon emplacements on the ship (just .50 M2s, in our case), and if we were to go to General Quarters ("Red Alert", for you Star Trek aficionados), then the rest of the emplacements would be manned and a few other folks would be sent topside with firearms, but even then, 90% of the crew would remain unarmed. Even in-port, only the topside watches carry guns, and not many at that (and mostly in Condition 3, which is yet another post for another time).

So, yeah, a firearm on a person on an underway ship was something a bit out of the ordinary, especially since the firearm in question was a 1911 clone of some type, and not the military "standard" M9 (it was probably a MEU(SOC) M-45 upon which the Kimber Desert Warrior is loosely based). But the officer in question wore it damned near everywhere I saw him on the ship (I never saw him carrying it while on liberty (taking a break in friendly ports), but, obviously, that does not mean he was not), and no one really cared because he was a Marine, he was in a designated Combat Zone, and that is just what Marines do. I mean, seriously; I am not going to say all Marines are automatically above reproach, but you would have to be an idiot to ask a Marine to surrender his weapon in a combat zone.

Which, I guess, says a lot about Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta:

Around 200 troops who had gathered in a tent at Camp Leatherneck were told "something had come to light" and asked abruptly to file outside and lay down their automatic rifles and 9mm pistols.

"Somebody got itchy, that’s all I’ve got to say. Somebody got itchy – we just adjust," said the sergeant who was told to clear the hall of weapons.

Major General Mark Gurganus later said he gave the order because Afghan troops attending the talk were unarmed and he wanted the policy to be consistent for all.

"You’ve got one of the most important people in the world in the room," he told the New York Times, insisting that the decision was unrelated to Sunday’s killings. "This is not a big deal."

However, US troops often remain armed even when their Afghan colleagues have been asked to lay down their weapons and the incident is believed to be the first time they were stripped of guns during an address by their own secretary of defence.

Hell, we were on a ship, in the middle of the ocean, outside of even the most optimistic cruise missile ranges in the world, and our full-captain Captain trusted the Marines with their own weapons. SecDef Panetta, however, does not appear to trust the Marines.

And regardless of whether or not he actually does trust the Marines and regardless of whatever his motivations were for wanting the room cleared of weapons, that appearance is exactly what will be driven home to the troops – the second-highest individual in their chain of command does not trust trained and experienced Marine Corps veterans with their own firearms in a hot combat zone. As OldNFO (the person who brought this to my attention) said, "This crap is going entirely TOO far, if they don’t trust our own troops, the stay the F**k away from em…"

insultedusmc

If there were a better way to destroy morale and the troops’ faith in their leadership, I will be damned if I know what it is.

Of course, the Secretary of Defense seems bound and determined to piss of the military, what with his blatantly unconstitutional belief that all he needs for military actions, up to and including war, is "international permission". Never mind that pesky "Constitution" thing, or that whole "Congress shall have the power… to declare war" bit.

"Who allowed the inmates to take control of the asylum?" is becoming an increasingly poignant question…

dead zero on a soft target

Just over a year ago now, Simon and Schuster very graciously provided me some review copies of their then-new book, Dead Zero, written by Stephen Hunter, and I was able to put them to good use raising over $230 for Ramon Castillo’s recovery fund.

A few months back, the same publishing house sent me a few review copies of the sequel to that book, Soft Target, which I then put to good use raising over $2300 for Soldiers’ Angels.

What I have not done, however, is review those books that they gave me to… well… review.

Whoops.

So here is me, doing what I should have done a year ago (at least) and reviewing both books… simultaneously. Why? Well, I have never read any of the lengthy series that precedes these two books, but, taken together, they resemble nothing more than an honest-to-God complete reboot of that very series, complete with the effective retirement of the old main character and the rise of a new one.

To begin with, let me say this – Stephen Hunter knows his material. He only spent two years in the United States Army (attached to the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) in Washington D.C.), but he obviously supplemented the limited training he would have received there in the time since. His descriptions and depictions of firearms, ballistics, tactics, and so forth are so detailed they verge on “obsessive”, and while I cannot, personally, attest to the accuracy or veracity of most of it, I can say that most of his material regarding specific firearms matches up against what I know and could look up* – unfortunately, some of it was straight up Hollywoodism. When it comes to Marine RECON elements and their particular tactics, or how to do off-hand shooting crazy-accurate, though, I am just going to have to smile and nod, but at least the “suspension of disbelief” was not difficult.

Speaking of Marines and their general bad-ass-itude, though, brings me to one of my primary, if not the primary complaint against Mr. Hunter’s writing – he did far too much “telling” in my opinion. I am not an author (much to everyone’s relief, let me tell you), but it is my understanding that one of the more difficult balancing acts a fiction author must maintain when writing is that between “showing” and “telling” – sure, both can get the point across to the readers, but the former tends to have a significantly more lasting effect upon the audience. In my hardly humble opinion, Mr. Hunter spent far too much time on telling us just how monstrously hardcore his characters were, and too little time allowing the characters to demonstrate that for themselves. This may be an artifact of the former book being at the tail end of a series, and thus Mr. Hunter feeling he needed to get everyone caught back up again, and the latter book ostensibly marking the full start of a new one, or it could be something else entirely, but, personally, I got a little tired of it by the end of the second book. Your mileage, of course, will vary.

That said, there are more than ample opportunities for you to learn, first hand, just how badass Bob Lee Swagger and Ray Cruz, the respective main characters of the books, can be when properly motivated. Such demonstrations ranged from Cruz making prone shots against terrorists 100-200 yards away with nothing more than an iron-sighted AK-74 and a potato silencer**, to his making fairly short, but nowhere near easy, work of another Somali terrorist with a little help from a rather unstereotypical female local. Unfortunately for the storyline, Bob Lee has unsurprisingly aged over the course of his series, so his particular talents reside less in the “beat the crap out of people” department and more in the “think and act like a sniper” kind of way. The specific actions and decisions in his combat scenes can occasionally be a little difficult to follow, but Mr. Hunter keeps the audience, or at least me, interested in how they will turn out.

Speaking of, the stories did tend to keep me turning pages. They were rather quick reads, for whatever that is worth, but once I started I did not want to put them down until I figured out where all the pieces went and where it all ended up. Mr. Hunter did not seem to have too much of a problem killing of supporting or faceless characters, so there was always the overriding possibility that one of the main characters might make it under the chopping block, and, in fact… well, you will have to read for yourself.

Before you dive into Soft Target, however, you should probably be forewarned: to call it “a thinly veiled, intentionally insulting allegory on the current Presidential administration and the sociopolitical forces that would allow such a thing to come into existence and then stay in existence” would be putting it very, very mildly. In fact, I would even go so far as to say the story suffers in light of Mr. Hunter’s desire to let you know just how very much he dislikes the current situation. That story is eminently believable, given how many malls in America insist on declaring themselves to be “victim disarmament zones” and the prevalence of similar tactics in other countries (Mumbai, anyone?), but I get the feeling the book would have been significantly shorter, or significantly better, if the author had not used it as a avenue for his venting against the current state of politics. That is, of course, the author’s choice, though.

All in all, I would consider both Dead Zero and Soft Target to be a good, distracting read. They are not exactly earth-shattering in… well… anything, honestly, and I am not likely to pick them up again for a while, but they passed the time, and I would be lying if I said I did not enjoy some of the fight scenes. If you are as hardcore a Stephen Hunter fan as his characters are Marines, go ahead and snag a copy, but, otherwise, I would recommend at least waiting for paperbacks.

(* – I do, however, have to question the… artistic… depiction of a .50BMG round impacting a metal desk in Dead Zero. I have fired a Barrett Model 82A1 and watched through the scope as the round impacted a 55 gallon drum just shy of a thousand yards away (thanks to previous shooters perfectly zeroing the optic). The phrase “hot knife through butter” does not even begin to adequately describe the experience, so I really have to wonder if such a round impacting a similar object at an even closer range would behave anywhere near how he wrote it.

** – Which, thankfully, does not actually work, otherwise we would have the BATFE laser-engraving every spud to come out of the ground)

(Obligatory Middle Finger to the FTC:  As clearly indicated in this post, and the previous posts about these books, they were provided to me by Simon & Schuster on the premise I would eventually review them.  This is the review.  Get over it and get a real job instead of harassing webloggers.) 

‘tis the season

I know I am already asking a bit of you, my readers, with my ongoing Soldiers’ Angels fundraiser, but this is the season of giving after all, and, personally, one of my favorite charities is Toys For Tots.  If you can give at all, every dollar helps, but we typically have found that doing our own shopping at discount stores and sales nets us amazing results; for example, this pile cost us a bit less than $50: 

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And with that small expenditure, I am fairly certain that 15 kids’ Christmases will be a little brighter.  Drop-off locations have gotten crazy-prevalent these days, with even gas stations and apartment complexes getting in on the party, and, as always, they are happy to take your credit card over the intertubes.  If you want your toys to make it to kids this year, though, get your new, unwrapped toys to a drop-off soon! 

The Marines do good work all over the world, and some of the best is right here, in our own back yards.