Day 76 – Monday (late morning)

We had an Operations Section meeting this morning, all members of the teams. It was nice of Jim to volunteer his folks to take SecFor during the meeting.

We’ve been training our butts off! And, I think it shows that we are not bad, not bad at all. Granted, and don’t get me wrong, we are no soldiers. We are not at any level that we could go up against really trained folks but we are pretty dang decent. And that may be our biggest problem…we are good, but not that good, but we think we are good. That is called Competency Bias. And that problem has to get solved or some of us are going to die.

Our meeting was pretty simple. First a briefing of where we were skill wise, then a review of what lay before us once we left for AZ, and then the nitty-gritty…what was going right and what we had to improve on. We decided we would go down the list of 7 common threats/risks; violence, injury/sickness, communication, organization, dehydration, exposure, and starvation.

Risk of violence: We had trained over and over on our immediate action drills and felt like we could react quickly to given situations. Our two primary concerns were ambush while we were moving and attack while we were stationary (i.e. sleeping/resting). We had a plan on how to position ourselves while we were moving. We thought help mitigate that problem as best we could. We would walk in a diamond pattern; point, left & right flankers, and rear guard.  Originally we were going to have another team doing a box inside our diamond but realized that would be too confusing having them scattered around inside our diamond. So we decided to have one team walking behind the point, but close in to the day care. Then another team walking in front of the rear guard but they too would be close in to the day care. Those two teams could arrange their folks for whatever was best at the time. Their responsibility would not change during our immediate action drills but they had flexibility to meet the needs as they changed.

We had blown through thousands of rounds of ammunition while training. We got down to about as low a stockpile as we thought prudent. All Ops folks were pretty decent shots, some were amazing. We only did one day of paper targets, that was to ensure we had optics and iron sights zeroed in. After that everything was real-life; shooting while moving, shooting from different positions, shooting at moving targets, etc. Even the bump-stock folks were getting really good. But, they didn’t have to be sniper quality; they were more for volume of fire when needed. In other words…throwing LOTS of lead down range.

Each team member would have the following weapons: AR15 with a total of 7 full mags, pistol with 3 full mags, a survival/fighting knife, and a pocket knife.

One of the really cool things to happen was Annie! During our physical training each day we got her to teach some martial arts. At first she was doing the basic stuff…yellow belt, beginner stuff. She, Jared, and I had a discussion about what and how to teach. The very next day it was changed up to self-defense…how to protect someone from killing you. It was high-speed kind of stuff, get in your face, and hardcore. It was great!!  So she would go over that in the morning after Kim did a good warm-up with stretching for 10 minutes or so, then Paul (high school football player) would take us through some general workout stuff for about 15 minutes. I hate push-ups! Come on…I am in my 60’s…but I did them the best I could. Then Annie would do her thing in the morning and Jared got the afternoon.

Dang! He was teaching us this version of Krav Maga. He toned it down for us since we are mere civilian mortals but it steadily got more intense. When you are doing that each day for an hour people get better quickly. I don’t think there isn’t a single one of us without a bruise…or two…or three.

Everyone felt as if the training was going along really well, people were learning quickly, the teams were working really well together. We did feel that there were two groups of people; 1) those that thought we were undefeatable, 2) those that thought we would get slaughtered in our first fight. So we had to talk over how to overcome both.

Jared had a suggestion on the first one. He asked for the best fighter to spare with Annie. Joe is one of the other football players and he is kind of cocky and thought we couldn’t get beat in a firefight. He immediately volunteered. Remember Annie has been doing this since she was a teenager. She beat him in less than 15 seconds…he was laying on the ground asking someone to help him up. Then Jared asked Annie if she was willing to spare with him. She is a black belt, and really good, but she ain’t dumb either. She reluctantly agreed. I was wondering how she was going to go about this…she probably was trying to figure it out as well.

They were in our little circle and Jared just stands there, Annie is moving around a little, probably looking for an angle. She made a move and Jared lit off on her! He had her all tied up and choked her out. Yeah, actually choked her into unconsciousness. And here it is…it lasted maybe, maybe 5 – 10 seconds. That was a reality check on us. Jared’s violence of action was overwhelming…that’s how you defeat your enemy with as little risk of loss to yourself…violence of action.

And then Jared in this really quiet modest voice asked, “Would anyone like to shoot the course with me one on one?”

Ah, no! There is little doubt that Jared is our best shooter. And who knows what he would do to his opponent during the competition. He said we were good; on a scale of 1 – 10 we were probably a solid all-round 7. You could see the pride in folks’ eyes. Then he brought us all back down. “That means all the 8 – 10’s would slaughter you.” Reality check!!!

But, here is something I wasn’t expecting, he asked, ”And are you ready to slaughter all the 1 – 6’s?”

Many, undoubtedly most, of us hadn’t really thought that all this training was going to be only for killing people…actually taking a person’s life with extreme violence. Another serious and very sobering reality check.

So what to do? Plan!!!

We thought coming up with a good set of Rules of Engagement wrapped in a solid Mission Statement would solve all of our problems. Since this would involve moral issues as well, I asked someone to go get Jim…our group’s conscious…a patron saint of morals.

The results…

Operations Section Mission Statement:

To protect our group, through vigilance and violence of action, from loss of life and freedom while traveling to AZ.

Rules of Engagement (ROE):

#1 – Avoid engagement of any kind first and foremost.

#2 – Engage only in defensive actions, no offense operations.

#3 – Engage in prolonged defensive actions only if we have overwhelming fire superiority. Otherwise, retreat, regroup, and move.

#4 – Only engage actual threats. Threats will be those people with the means and intention to cause us imminent harm; and only when we have overwhelming fire superiority to defeat a threat without taking casualties ourselves.

If we operated within our mission and used our ROEs we would back each other up 100%. And that would be iron-clad…no one would be left out to dry. Loyalty would not be a sin.

After Jim left we talked a little more. We got pretty somber because we realized that some of us could, and probably would, die along the way. So we decided a few things amongst ourselves. The children were the most important, we would do anything and everything to protect their lives…period. Yes, that meant sacrificing our lives for theirs. The people watching over the children were much more vulnerable to the horrors of violence. And they were much less able to protect themselves than we are. They would fall into the same category as the children…but the children are still the #1 priority.

Then we talked about loyalty. It was so amazing to see everyone so dedicated to each other, it was true and deep. We talked about not leaving any team member behind unless we knew they were dead. If they were dead, they were dead and we accepted that. But, if they were trapped, wounded, etc. we would do whatever it took as long as it didn’t conflict with the primary mission concerning the children.

I got pretty chocked up to see these folks in this setting talking about life and death. I’ve worked with hard men my whole life. Firefighters are some of the bravest people I’ve ever known. They perform some of the most dangerous work ever…and most do it with unfailing courage. These people were in that same category and I told them so. Then an amazing this happened…each person took a turn speaking. They talked about the group, their team, their friends, our mission, the children, what lay ahead, what was important to them, what they feared, and on and on. It was amazing! Something happened in those moments…as we listened to, and heard, each other we saw each other’s souls. We became a team. Tears flowed…lots of em.

What we didn’t know was the time was speeding by. Dinner time came and went. The cooks simply put our food aside and we ate later. No one wanted to come interrupt our meeting…they could tell it was ours and it was special. Jim told me later he could feel the spirit that we had and that he swore it was almost as if our area was lighter than the rest of the camp during that meeting…kind of like a glow.

But you know Jim…always looking for God in everything. Good for Jim!

The rest of the meeting items went quick and were pretty anti-climactic.

Risk of injury or sickness: We all had our individual first aid kits, we were all trained on how to use them. Each team had a more trained medic with a more complete kit that they carried. And then there was Kim and Daniel…they were our team of “Docs” when needed. And if it got really bad they would break into two teams with an assistant each. Covered and done.

Risk of poor communications: Each team had two radios, one for the team leader and for the assistant. Each radio kit came with two sets of spare batteries and a small portable solar panel with battery charger. It can be hung off the back of a tact vest and charge while moving or set out in the sun during the day while sleeping/resting. Oh, the radios are Baofeng UV-5r models. Completely programmed, lots of channels, even FRS and GMRS. But the radio itself is actually a handheld Ham radio. We have the longer antennas for them, as well and the earbuds and lapel mics.

Risk of poor organization: The entire group is organized under the ICS system. We have gone through enough of the training to understand the overall concepts. Also, ICS can scale up or down with perfect ease and matches our situation well. Each Section has a “Chief” and “Deputy” to ensure continuity of command. Units have a clear mission and clearly understood organizations. We know who has to be able to communicate with whom, about what, and when. Our OpsSecion is awesome! At first our teams were numbered. But then we were trying to figure out how to identify individuals. So we changed the teams to Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie as in the military phonetic alphabet. Just makes everything more clear. Then we decided to identify each person by number. So the team leaders are Alpha 1, Bravo 1, and Charlie 1. The second in command is Alpha 2, Bravo 2, and Charlie 2. The bump-stock folks (our machine gunners) are Alpha 3, Bravo 3, and Charlie 3. Yeah, come on, don’t laugh! They aren’t really machine guns but they are about 3 times the rate of fire of the ARs…hence, the “3” designation. If our teams would ever grow then we simply add the number for the new folks.

Risk of dehydration: We were lucky enough that each Ops member has a water bladder (CamelBak), most are the 3L variety. Each person also carries a stainless steel water bottle, a life straw water filter, and water purification tablets. Our protocol is simple…we stay watered up during the night and never pass a water source without drinking our fill and topping off our bladders and bottle. The Logistics Section handles the larger issue of water supply because they have the systems to do it.

Risk of exposure: Each Ops member is wearing (or has in a small fanny pack) really high quality cammo. They are Popper pants, military surplus shirts, good boots, wool socks (2 spare pairs), boonie hat, a rain poncho, and a long-sleeve undershirt that is the Marine desert camo one. We also each have a pair of sunglasses and clear protective glasses. We decided that we had to protect our eyes while we were operating (i.e. shooting).

Risk of starvation: Each Ops member would carry 1-days’ worth of food in addition to their current daily consumption food. It would be our back-up in case anything happened to food for that day from the cooks. It consists of two packets of Mountain House freeze dried entrees.

And that was the end of the meeting. So, are we prepared? The answer to that question will come after about a week on the road. Until then…we can only hope.


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