Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Online Shopping Best Practices

In a relatively short period of time, we've gone from a widespread fear of accepting rides from strangers and meeting people from the internet, to paying money to get a ride from a stranger from the internet (hello Uber).  We've also seen explosive growth of online shopping.  Shopping online is enticingly convenient, and can lead to some great cost savings.  With the ease of access also comes additional risks.  Here's a few tips that can help avoid the headache of getting ripped off.

Start by doing some research.  Shopping online with the bigger companies is usually pretty safe, but even some of the big sites, such as Amazon, will sell wares from third party vendors. When ordering from Amazon, ebay, etc, pay attention to the name of the seller; do you recognize it?  Do your homework on these smaller vendors, and see what others have to say about them.  Quite often, you can read reviews about the seller right on Amazon's website.  If not, head to your favorite search engine and look them up.  

Most sellers, even the smallest ones, will have a Facebook page, with reviews.  Go read those reviews!  

Check with the watchdogs.  The Better Business Bureau keeps tabs on many online sellers, and will allow you to search for reviews and complaints.  They even have a scam tracker (click here) that allows you to search by name or location. 

If you've never heard of a seller or business, and you can't find any information about them via search engine (google), avoid them.  Any reputable business will have some information available, with positive reviews on their Facebook page, Yelp, etc.  When in doubt, don't click that mouse button!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Doctor Grumpy

Go give this guy a read (click here).  Dr. Grumpy posts comedic stuff about his medical practice, family vacations, and other adventures.  If you read about any of his family vacations, scroll down to "day one" of each of them; it will be worth it, I promise.

Monday, November 26, 2018

.45 ACP vs 9mm Debate Rages On

One of the oldest debates among gun enthusiasts is which caliber of handgun is best for self-defense.  The two top (or most contentious) calibers are 9mm parabellum and .45 ACP.  20 years ago, this debate was moot, as the .45 was simply superior in capability, while the 9mm had an advantage in magazine capacity.  Today, with advancements in modern ammunition, the gap in capabilities between these two calibers has narrowed greatly.  I've been asked a few times which caliber I prefer, and I answer enthusiastically with .45 ACP.  Remember that there's a difference between personal preference and ballistic capability.  Let's talk about both.

One of the best (and most exhaustive) tests available on this topic was conducted by the folks at Lucky Gunner.  You can view the article and results at this link.  You'll note that there are several good ammo choices in both calibers, as well as in .40 and .380.  You'll also note that the .45 simply makes a bigger wound, 20 percent bigger in most examples.  Before you complain about the shortcomings of ballistic gelatin, go read the article.  They included layers of heavy clothing in front of the gel, more closely simulating a real-world shooting scenario.

Another interesting article can be found at Ballistic Magazine (click here), where 14 "experts" give their opinion.  Note that some of the experts are simply competitive shooters, and don't have any real world experience with defensive shooting or training.  All of the assembled experts prefer the 9mm cartridge over the .45.  What is telling about their opinion is the reasons given.  Without exception, the top drivers of their opinion are cost and magazine capacity, not terminal ballistics.

There are even a few articles out there written by folks in the medical profession, and they indicate, without exception, that larger caliber handguns cause more devastation in human tissue. Others claim that because the FBI chose the 9mm round for all of their issued handguns, it must be the best for self defense.  I would argue that the FBI has a much different mission than a civilian defending themselves from an armed assailant.  The FBI must be prepared to possibly face multiple suspects in a lengthy gun battle; in circumstances like that, magazine capacity is important.  Cost is also a driving factor, along with recoil and speed.  The 9mm cartridge produces less felt recoil than the .45, enabling most shooters to fire a follow-up shot more quickly.

 So, the 9mm is almost as lethal as the .45, but not quite, but it has a distinct advantage in cost (ammo is cheaper in 9mm), felt recoil, and magazine capacity.  With all of that, why do I still prefer the .45?  The number one reason is that I love the 1911 platform.  I can shoot better with my 1911, chambered in .45 ACP, than with any other handgun I've ever shot, in any caliber.  This includes simulated defensive shooting drills.  Yes, there are 1911s available in 9mm, but the magazine capacity is still less than in other designs, so why not use the more lethal ammo?  

In the end, the best answer to the debate over these two calibers is that you should shoot what you're most comfortable and capable with.  Shoot both calibers in a variety of guns, and pick what you like best in comfort, shootability, concealability, etc.   I've made my choice, and I trust my life with it. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Hurricane Florence and Human Character

I live in Eastern North Carolina, and we were recently visited by Hurricane Florence.  Florence has cost an estimated $38 to 50 billion in damages, and killed at least 39 people in NC alone.  This was a huge natural disaster.

As the storm was approaching, some in our neighborhood evacuated, but many stayed in place.  My family was among those that stayed, along with the rest of the military base near us.  It was an adventure, for sure.

During and after the storm, we saw the true character of many of our neighbors.  As the flood waters began to rise, much higher than anticipated in our neighborhood, my wife and I realized that we were in a very dangerous situation.  The water was almost to the top step of our porch when one of our neighbors helped me pile my wife, daughter, dog, and cat into a canoe, and swim alongside, pulling them out to safety.  

Over the following couple of days, we huddled together with two other families in a vacant house in our neighborhood.  The homeowner, who had the house listed for sale, gave us permission to stay there, and we were very grateful.  Neighbors showed up and offered us blankets, food, and other necessities.  There was much help and comfort from those that stayed through the storm.  A couple of neighbors that evacuated even gave offers of their homes and belongings via text messages and phone calls.  It was heartwarming.  

As things settled a bit, my family was able to return to our house.  The floodwaters had mostly spared our home, but four houses around me were flooded, to include the two families that we spent the last couple of days with.  Additionally, others in the neighborhood began returning from wherever they had evacuated to.

One woman in particular, who had previously offered to let one of our neighbors stay in her house and use her belongings (towels, blankets, food, etc), returned home and began to sing a different tune. She accused our neighbors of breaking into her home and stealing from her, despite having texted them an offer of her belongings, leaving them a key to the house, etc.  She made sure to visit all of the neighbors and spread these lies.  I also suspect that she contacted the owner of the vacant house we stayed in, as the sheriff deputies showed up there to run us off after a couple of days, claiming that the owner had been told that we were tearing up the place.  Told by whom? I can only guess, but I suspect that the same woman that suddenly decided to label us as burglars and thieves was to blame. To be clear, we left that house in better shape than we found it in.

What kind of person does this?  This disaster brought out the best and worst in people.  We had many offers of help, and a few looters as well.  We also had one neighbor that chose to attack and defame us.  The real irony is that one of our neighbors that stayed in that borrowed home was planning to buy it; she ended up buying a different home in the neighborhood, so the liar not only inconvenienced us all in a time of need, but she cost that homeowner the sale of their house.   I hope she doesn't ever find herself in a position where she needs a favor from me.

True character comes out in times of stress.  

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Master Gunnery Sergeant vs Sergeant Major

      The Marine Corps has two senior enlisted career paths, each with their own unique duties and privileges.  There's often confusion on the part of outsiders about how that rank structure works, who is senior, and what these ranks mean.  There is also some bit of rivalry between the ranks, which is usually good spirited.  Here's a little explanation, and a little opinion as well.

     When an enlisted Marine is promoted to the rank of Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt), they must then choose which path to follow, by selecting either "F," or "M," on their fitness report, which stand for First Sergeant (1stSgt) and Master Sergeant (MSgt), respectively.  When that GySgt is eligible for their next promotion, they'll be considered for the next rank based upon that F or M.  If they put F on their fitness report and fail to get selected for 1stSgt, they will be considered for MSgt, if eligible (time in grade requirements differ for different jobs/MOS).  That scenario isn't as common as you'd think, since the time in grade requirements for MSgt are usually greater than those for 1stSgt.  In other words, if you put F on your fitness report, you'll typically get looked at for promotion sooner, but not always. 

     Once promoted to 1stSgt, a Marine is given the MOS designation of 8999.  If promoted to MSgt, a Marine remains in their original career field.  Upon promotion, both are now on a path that cannot be changed.  1stSgts will be considered for promotion to Sergeant Major (SgtMaj), and MSgts will be considered for promotion to Master Gunnery Sergeant (MGySgt).  What's the difference, you ask? 

     1stSgts and Sergeants Major (yes, that's how you state the plural) are mostly administrative jobs, and they serve as the direct enlisted advisor to their respective commanders, with 1stSgts at the company level, and SgtsMaj at the battalion or higher level.  MSgts and MGySgts remain in their MOS fields as technical experts and senior enlisted advisors.  Occasionally, MSgts and MGySgts will temporarily fill a 1stSgt or SgtMaj billet (job), but you'll never see an 8999 filling a MSgt or MGySgt billet; they just don't have the technical expertise to do it. 

     Which rank is senior?  Neither, technically; both SgtMaj and MGySgt are at the E9 paygrade.  Niether is "in charge" of the other.  The biggest difference is that the SgtMaj believes that he/she is senior in rank, because they work directly for the commander.  In reality, the MGySgt is usually in charge of more equipment and personnel than the SgtMaj; SgtsMaj typically have a clerk or two in their charge, and they routinely harangue their company 1stSgts. 

     How do their duties differ?  Here's another area where it gets contentious.  8999s are advisors to their commanders on troop issues and administrative matters.  They also have the pleasure of dealing with all unit punishment issues, so they get to deal with the dregs of the unit on a routine basis.  MSgts and MGySgts work as equipment or technical experts, members of a commander's or general officer's staff, and other key leadership billets.  Many Marines jokingly claim that the 8999 probably spends all his/her time at the PX, chewing out Marines for uniform violations or poor haircuts.  In fact, I recently received an email from a SgtMaj, complaining about Marines being at the PX and gym during working hours...coming from the guy that was at the PX and gym during working hours.  You do the math. 

     There are other differences, and a few stereotypes.  Here's the stereotype about 8999s:  They're dumb, self-important, and weren't worth a damn at their original MOS, so they had to go the 1stSgt route.  Here's the stereotype of MSgts and MGySgts:  They know everything, they're really old, they're fat, they drink heavily, and they hate all 8999s.  There's some truth to both, but the shoe doesn't fit all.

     Most 8999s are great Americans, but they can typically be categorized by the reasons that they chose that MOS path.  If they chose it for the right reasons, they usually end up being great Marine leaders.  If they chose for the wrong reasons, they often end up being worthless jerks.  If they spent more time out of their original MOS than in it (multiple tours as a Drill Instructor, or other special duty assignments), and know that they are less competitive for promotion within their MOS, many Marines will put F on their fitness reports; that's the wrong reason to go that route.  If their original MOS promotes very slowly, and they know that putting F on their fitrep will get them promoted sooner, many Marines do so; that's also a poor reason.  Most of us view the 8999 MOS as a miserable, thankless job; many Marines find that out the hard way when they put F on their fitreps for the wrong reasons.  You've got to want to do that job. 

     The Corps needs great Sergeants Major, just as much as it needs great Master Gunnery Sergeants.  I just hope that more future leaders will choose their path for the right reasons.  Here's a funny article about the subject (click here).

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Marine Corps Lingo

I was browsing a blog written by a fellow Marine who bills himself as, "America's Sergeant Major,"  when it occurred to me that many Marines assume too quickly that our lingo will be understood by those outside of our profession.  As a result, I decided to publish a list of some of our more frequently used phrases and terms for the amusement and education of our civilian friends.  Feel free to add to this list in the comments.

Ooh-rah: Ooh-rah is a multi-use term that can be a greeting (not to be confused with the "appropriate greeting of the day"), an acknowledgement, or a simple expression of enthusiasm. It's origins are disputed, but I like to keep it simple and believe that it is derived from one of the common, early expressions of excitement, such as, "huzzah," or, "hooray."  

Good to go:  This is a very overused term that simply means, "Ok."  Many leaders get so fixated on this term, that they'll use it in every sentence.  It's an appropriate way of saying that everything is ok, understood, or that you approve of a given situation.  

Secure that $hit: To secure something means to properly tie it down or, more likely, to stow it or put it away.  This is Naval terminology, which permeates our vocabulary in the Corps.  This is an appropriate phrase for a leader when his subordinate Marines are saying something that they shouldn't (like complaining about whatever crappy work detail that they've been assigned to).  

MOS: Military occupational specialty, or job.  This is simply a numerical designation for the career field that a Marine is assigned.  Marines compete for promotion only against others in the same MOS, or sometimes a similar group of MOS designation. 

Lock on:  To lock on something is to schedule it, or set it up.  "Hey Gunny, did you lock on the range for next week's machine gun shoot?"  To lock somebody on can also mean to train them or explain something to them.

 Square away:  This term has multiple meanings.  If a Marine is squared away, he/she looks good in uniform and is good at their job.  To square something away means to fix it, or straighten an area up.  "The General will be here this afternoon; make sure the area is squared away." 

Boot:  A boot is a new, very junior Marine.  This term implies that the subject is freshly graduated from recruit training, or boot camp.  Boots are easily spotted off base by their awkward manner of dress, traveling on foot, backpacks, and running shoes (most don't own much civilian footwear yet).

Field day:  When we were kids, field day was an entire day of games and contests; in the Corps, it's nothing more than a thorough cleaning.  This can be a noun or a verb.  One can be told to go field day the barracks, or that field day will commence at 1800.

PCS: PCS, or permanent change of station, refers to a Marine receiving orders to a new duty station, and the move associated with it.   I got my PCS orders to Camp Lejeune today; looks like I'm moving in September.  PCS can also be used as a verb:  I'm PCS'ing to Camp Lejeune in September. 

Leave: Leave is paid vacation time.  Marines accrue, or earn, 2.5 days of leave per month, which works out to 30 days per year.  Leave is then "charged" when you use it.  Marines cannot carry over more than 60 days of leave to the next fiscal year; anything above the 60 day mark is lost on 1 October.

Liberty: Liberty is nothing more than time off, such as on the weekends, or in the evenings after normal duty hours. This differs from leave, in that it is not charged as vacation days.  

Float: A float is a deployment aboard ship.  Our Corps routinely deploys Marine Expeditionary Units, or MEUs, aboard ships for approximately six months at a time.  A MEU is typically made up of an infantry battalion, sundry combat vehicle elements (tanks, amphibious vehicles, and light armored vehicles), as well as artillery, air wing units, and support elements (cooks, mechanics, etc). 

POG or Pogue:  This term refers to anyone that has a supporting MOS, such as administrator, or supply clerk.  It began as "pogie," or "pogy," many years ago, and has been bastardized into POG, which is an acronym for "person other than grunt," or non-infantry.  
There are also a few more terms that seem to have fallen out of favor over the last couple of decades.  I include a couple of them here for amusement's sake:

Scuttlebutt:  This term has two meanings-- Water fountain and gossip.  The "latest scuttlebutt" is slang for the latest rumor, or word on the street.  Some say that this stems from water coolers being the traditional spot to meet and gossip about one's coworkers, and scuttlebutt being slang for water fountain.

Pogie Bait: Candy or junk food.  This originated from the practice of bribing pogies (supply clerks, admin clerks, cooks, etc) with candy or doughnuts in order to get a favor in return.  "I slipped the supply clerk some pogie bait in trade for a new sleeping bag!"

Geedunk:  Geedunk is another slang term for junk food or candy.  

Got any others to share?