Scrappers at MCAGCC 29 Palms

I had a random memory float into my mind the other day about a training area safety brief I had one time while on active duty in the US Marines.

It was common, if not mandatory, that everyone received a safety brief before departing for major training operations and even some weekend or holiday liberty. Someone, usually one of the battalion command officers or perhaps someone from regiment would conduct the briefing.

The training safety briefs would usually include topics about firearm use and safety, hydration, what to do if you get lost and separated from your unit, how not to get lost or separated from your unit, and it would include a high level overview of what the training mission was all about and some of its main objectives. Then there was the part about scrappers.

Scrappers are civilians who sneak onto the military base to collect steel and other recyclable material to bring to a recycling center and get some money. The material often came from exploded ordinance like artillery shells, bombs dropped from jets and rockets launched from helicopters as well as mortars and TOW missiles or shells from tanks.

MCAGCC (Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center) is 932 square miles of installation. It’s far too large to put up a fence and a sign saying keep out or to have regular and effective patrols to guard against intruders. The majority of the base is just open desert area while a very small, town-sized, area is called Mainside where everyone lives, plays, shops and works. This area is patrolled by the MP’s or military police just like a regular town is patrolled by civilian police. I believe there are some signs in a few places around the perimeter of the base indicating that it is a military installation and trespassing is illegal, but they’re hardly effective and probably only serve to be a technicality for legal reasons, like the warning not to use a hair dryer in the bathtub. So there is no real way to prevent people from entering the training area of the base.

I suppose the only deterrent for someone who is thinking of coming onto the base would be the off chance of getting shot, having a bomb or artillery land on them accidentally (and yes, I mean accidentally in this instance).

Sometimes the ordinance found out on the desert floor of the training area remained unexploded either because the detonator failed to trip or the ordinance was a dud. Part of our safety briefs also included unexploded ordinance. If we happened to come upon a shell that had not exploded we were to quickly move away from it and notify our chain of command. Someone would then mark it’s location and put a flag near it and EOD would be notified. EOD is Explosive Ordinance Disposal. It was their job to go out to the unexploded ordinance and blow it up in a safe manner.

I recall when Super Bowl XXXII in 1998 was played in San Diego, California. Local officials had asked the Marine Corps to provide additional security at the stadium to supplement local law enforcement efforts. Marines from MCAGCC and Camp Pendleton were selected for the detail and were given civilian attire to use during the game. I was not one of those Marines.

Rather, I was selected for an exercise on base, TrashEx, or Trash Exercise. So while some of my friends were providing undercover security at the Super Bowl and meeting celebrities, I was out combing the desert floor for trash to pick up.

We ain’t found shit!

It was a week long event and every morning we had to meet up at the 7th Marines Regiment headquarters to be trucked out to some random place in the training area and walk along picking up any trash we found. Once again a daily safety brief was given which included what to do if you came across any unexploded ordinance. We did in fact find some from time to time and we marked them with flags and noted their locations so that EOD could come back through and dispose of them. We even found a TOW missile one day which was kind of exciting because that is something you don’t usually see laying around on the ground. Usually it would be artillery shells or small MK82 (500lb bombs) that we’d find. It was a pretty boring week with a lot of walking around picking up random garbage and even some TOW missile wire which was very thin and deceptively strong. If you weren’t careful you could seriously injure yourself with it.

Now the part of the story that actually came to my mind recently involves probably one of the very first training safety brief’s I ever had as a young PFC. I recall it was late one evening and we were to assemble on the soccer fields a block or two away from the barracks for the brief. The usual stuff was said about safety, hydration, getting lost etc. Then the officer giving the brief added a bit about encountering scrappers. We were told that if we spot a scrapper in the training area to notify our chain of command and/or the base MP’s. The MP’s would be dispatched to investigate the trespassing civilians. We were told not to approach them and to simply call it in. If we were to approach them, the officer said, it could lead to a violent encounter where the scrapper was probably more heavily armed than we were. Yes, you read that right; we were told the civilian scrapper might have outgunned us, the US Marines. That is neither a lie, nor an exaggeration on my part, he actually said that.

I remember hearing that as a young 19 year old PFC, fresh into the Marine Corps being told that I might be outgunned by a civilian trespassing on our military installation. I looked down at the name tapes on my uniform to make sure it said US Marines on it, and it did.

While I don’t doubt that some of those scrappers might have had a pistol or two, maybe a shotgun in their truck or car, but to be told that the Marines might be outgunned was absurd. I’m thinking we have M16’s, M203 grenade launchers, mortars, artillery, attack helicopters, fighter jets, tanks, LAV’s, snipers, machine guns and all sorts of armament. How could we possibly be outgunned by one or two civilians in a pickup truck trying to steal metal for money? I don’t know, but that’s a true story and I nor anyone I knew ever came across any scrappers.

Looking back on the story I can understand better now why we were not to approach them and let the MP’s deal with them. I think it was less to do with “being outgunned” per se, and possibly more to do with legal issues if a gun fight were to ensue.

I’m not a lawyer by any means, but I now know having worked in public safety and very closely with law enforcement that there are issues between military and civilian encounters. If we were to actually shoot or kill a civilian on our base for simply stealing scrap metal that would be a very bad thing for us. Would it have been worth injuring or killing someone over the scrap metal, no it wouldn’t. It would be, among other things, very bad PR for the Marine Corps and they take that stuff very seriously. We don’t want stupid mistakes marring the image of the Corps.

It would be a different situation if a civilian were attempting to gain access to secure facilities on military installations that house sensitive information or weapons such as nuclear devices. To my knowledge we didn’t have anything like that at MCAGCC or in the open desert of its training area. So the use of lethal force would not be something that you could justify and that I think is what the real intent of not approaching scrappers was about in those safety briefs.

So, You Want to Write?

Here’s a post about some ideas, tips and maybe a little motivation on writing that I’ve had experience with. For starters I could use some motivation and consistency in writing myself so hopefully I can adhere to my own ideas.

When I started to write my first book all the ideas and stories were fresh in my mind and I was eager to get it all down in print. It was easy for me to type it all out and keep going until I had a good rough draft finished up. Words would flow out like water over a cliff as I drafted out the chapters with the main ideas and foundations I needed to go back on subsequent drafts to add more details.

Establish Consistency

Some of the things I did to help me through this process was to establish a schedule of sorts to keep myself accountable and on track. If I was able to be at home in the evenings I could dedicate an hour or two to writing. As long as I kept at it and stayed consistent I was able to form a habit. I’ve heard it said that if you can do something consistently for 45 to 60 days or so, that you can form a habit which makes it easier to keep doing what you need to do. This worked especially well for me when I wrote my book and for going to the gym each day in the very early morning.

Eliminate Distractions

Next on my unofficial list of things to do was to eliminate as many distractions as possible. Since I write on a computer it becomes far too easy to be distracted by other things. Social media like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other websites like to grab my attention and pull me away from my writing. So what I would do is close out all of my open programs that generate notifications. I would then put the program I was using to write into full screen mode to prevent me from seeing those other programs and wanting to click on them. Next I’d put my mobile devices into do not disturb or airplane mode to shut down those notifications too.

The next thing I have to deal with, and it’s far more tricky and complicated, is to figure out a way to keep the cats at bay! One of my cats loves to be right by me, if not on me, at all times when I am home. If I happen to be on the computer it’s not uncommon for him to be laying on my lap, or my hands between me and the computer. You can imagine that it’s a bit difficult to type and concentrate with a cat in the way. I could lock myself away in another room away from them, but in my experience they still find a way to break my concentration by by pawing at the door, banging into it, meowing and generally being unruly until I come out or allow them in.

The only way I overcame this distraction was to allow him to get close to me for a while until he settled down, usually on my lap or on my wrists. I’ve actually become quite adept at typing with a cat lounging on my wrists.

Sometimes you can’t always eliminate all distractions completely, but you do the best you can and push forward with your writing anyhow.

Take Notes

Another great tip that I learned way back in grade school actually was to take notes. It’s a great idea to keep a pen and paper nearby at all times. You never know when a great idea for your book will strike you and you may not be at home or anywhere to put that idea down in your drafts. If you keep a notepad nearby you can quickly jot down the idea so you don’t forget it later when you’re ready to put some words down.

I learned this at a school assembly once where an author spoke to us and I remember he said that you might wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and if you don’t write it down then, by the time morning comes and you get up, you may not remember what it was.

Write First, Edit Later

This is probably my biggest obstacle for getting work done quickly. I’m not OCD by any means, but I can be picky about some things. One of those things is having misspellings and grammatical errors in my text. It bugs me to see the little red squiggly line under some text as I’m going along and I just have to go back and fix it.

Really though it shouldn’t be a big deal and I should just write and get my thoughts down on the the proverbial paper. When I am able to resist editing as I am writing I am able to get a lot done in a session and I don’t lose track of what I need to put down.

It’s more important to get the bulk of your writing down first and worry about editing it later. This way you don’t forget what you wanted to write and you don’t want to be distracted by the process of editing when you’re supposed to be writing.

Set Small Goals

This one kind of tags onto establishing consistency. If you can establish a goal of a certain time each day, or each week, that you want to write that is a goal. For me it is usually in the evenings that I can establish a goal of writing. Try to aim for some small goal like the following:

  • Write at the same time each day (week).
  • Write in the same location each time.
  • Write for a specific amount of time, 30 minutes, 1 hour or 2 hours – whatever you choose.
  • Write for a specific amount of words, 1,000, 5,000 or 60,000 words a session.

You don’t have to limit yourself to what I put above, but use those as a guide as you develop your own methods, habits and styles of writing.

But be sure that your goals are realistic for you. Nothing is worse than setting unrealistic goals and trying to keep to them. You may find that you burn yourself out or become discouraged when you can’t live up to lofty goals.

Back It Up

If you’re like me you probably use a computer to do your writing on. If that’s the case it is wise to ensure you have a good backup solution for your computer. Computers crash and data is lost and it happens to everyone at some point. The last thing you want to happen is your computer crash and you lose that book you’ve been working on for months.

These days there is no reason not to have a back up of your computer and it’s files. There are simple programs available to do this and usually all that you need is an external hard drive to back up to.

Also there are online services that will securely store your files on your computer and online for simple and easy access on nearly any device.

Some of this online services I can recommend are:

Those are the most popular services I can think of and I’ve used all of them through the years and each are good choices.

I also use an external hard drive with VEEAM Endpoint Backup Free software to protect my whole PC from data loss. I’ve used other Microsoft Windows-based backup solutions and was not happy with them, even the paid ones. But the VEEAM product has been rock solid and stable and best of all it’s free.

For my Apple MacBook Pro I use the Apple Time Capsule which uses Apple’s Time Machine software to backup the whole Mac.

If you use a computer, remember to save often! Power outages can happen even on nice weather days and you don’t want to lose that hour of work you just put in because you forgot to save your work.

If you write on paper it is still important to protect your work. Consider a fire safe to store your notebooks when you’re not working on them.

Wemo Switch Review

Last week I purchased the Belkin Wemo Switch which is a smart electrical switch that plugs into a normal outlet and connects to an app on your iOS or Android smartphone through your wifi connection.

I wanted one of these types of devices for a while now to use in conjunction with my Expobar Office Lever espresso machine. The espresso machine takes a while to warm up properly to get a good and consistent temperature  throughout the machine and grouphead. I would usually allow it to warm up for a minimum of 30 minutes and most times up to an hour before I wanted to pull a shot. Since I typically have an espresso first thing in the morning, and before heading out to the gym, that means getting out of bed, walking to the kitchen and turning the machine on, then returning to bed for a while longer.

Of course that is a major inconvenience and one that no one should have to endure! hahaha.

With the Wemo Switch I have set up two sets of rules, 1 for weekdays and 1 for weekends. Programming the Wemo Switch to turn on the espresso machine about an hour before I plan on waking up has been great and allows me to stay in bed with uninterrupted sleep – for the most part, bathroom breaks notwithstanding.

After a week of using it and some initial difficulty getting it set up I give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars if I were to rate it that way. I would have given it a 5 star rating if it weren’t for the headache it gave me on day one.

The instructions for setup are extremely simple and straightforward as you would expect, but it didn’t go quite as planned.

First connecting it to the wifi worked just fine. Then getting it to connect to the iOS app through the wifi didn’t work so well. I had to start over twice before it connected fully. Then once that occurred an in-app notification popped up and advised there was a firmware update available and so I initiated it.

The firmware update took over two hours to complete! That to me is a crazy long time for such a simple device, but that’s what happened.

Once that finished the device and app did not work right and eventually lost connection altogether. Unplugging it and plugging it back it did nothing to reset it and the light on the device just blinked orange at me after that.

I ended up having to do a device restore to get it to work again.

  1. Unplug the Wemo.
  2. Hold down the restore button for about 45 seconds
  3. Plug the Wemo in while still holding the restore button
  4. Release the restore button a few seconds after it starts flashing amber.
  5. Once the Wemo is flashing amber and green the reset is complete.

After that then the device was ready to be setup as new again and I had to connect it to the wifi and the app again. But once that was finished I was able to setup the rules that I wanted and its been working fine ever since.

It also has an on/off button on the device itself for those times when you want to use it outside of your normal automatic rule set.

That’s why I don’t rate it as a 5 and only a 3.5 since it took several hours of messing around with it before I was able to get it working properly.

The Life & Technology Blog

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