If you have finally decided to take the plunge and eliminate social networks from your life (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), the skills for maintaining interpersonal relationships should not be completely thrown by the wayside. Over the course of the last five years our “group” has created a network of people that has proven to be very valuable. One disclaimer that I must put forth is that the flippant nature of social networking on-line must be completely discounted as OPSEC is paramount. I would never bring someone into my home to have contact with my family or include them in my preps if I didn’t fully trust them. This is why most of the people in my network I have met through my church. Developing a relationship with other families who have similar values and beliefs has been the backbone of the group that we have formed. Although there are only a dozen active members (not including 14 children) we have developed a set of skills that crosses many areas of need come TEOTWAWKI. Aside from having a wide range of skills the ability to work together as a team, the members of our group encourage growth “as iron sharpens iron” (Prov. 27:17).
I have isolated six areas of preparation that our group network has been most beneficial:
1. Physical Training:
This has been the greatest area of growth for our group. Five years ago more than half of the members were overweight and only a few exercised on a daily basis. As a challenge to all of our group members we started our road to fitness with an eight week program similar to the Get Healthy Challenge. Group members kept in touch with each other on a daily basis to hold one another accountable. After this eight week program we decided to focus on strength and core training through the Hundred Push-ups and Two Hundred Sit-Ups challenges. While working on individual fitness goals group members encouraged and challenged each other with daily progress reports through e-mail, phone or text to see how the others were doing. Doing these challenges with our wives was also an eye opener, as many of the women took the challenges more seriously than the men. One of the wives actually won the Two Hundred Sit-up Challenge ending with 312 total reps. Over the course of the last year the physical training has been taken to a much more intense level. The majority of the group members participated in a Tough Mudder Event and a GORUCK Challenge. While not every member participated in these events due to ability, injury or pregnancy the bottom line is that all of us are in better shape today than we were five years ago. The average member has lost 20 pounds (I have personally lost 40) and we all have a regular schedule of physical activity that maintains strength, flexibility and endurance. The challenge, support and accountability that doing these types of activities as a group brings is immeasurable. I doubt that most people would see the same results if done individually. Working at the retreat property together has also been good physical training for the group. Bucking hay, cutting and hauling wood and other chores at one of the two sites we have as retreat properties can be grueling work. You really find out who your friends are when the hay needs to come in or several cords of wood needs to be put up. Physically the group dynamic is tested with hard physical labor, but working together completes the task sooner and builds relationships with group members.
2. Medical Training:
This has been the weakest area for our group as we need to increase our level of training. We do have a doctor (optometrist) and a registered nurse in our group. Although they both have medical training, by no means are we able to fulfill needs like trauma care or even general surgery. One of the goals is to get several of the members to take an EMT course at the local community college. This would not solve all of our needs for medical training, but it would be a start for gaining more knowledge concerning emergency medicine. This course will be a major undertaking, as 120 hours of classroom, observation and practicum is a commitment that will not be taken lightly by most families. Ultimately the benefit of the knowledge of life saving skills will have to outweigh the cost of loss of time with one’s family.
3. Food Preps:
Buying in bulk is always better when done as a group. Greater quantity means lower cost per unit and the most value for the money you invest into your preps. We bought beef from a local slaughterhouse, grains from the local co-op and worked on preserving them as a group. Whether it is canning, storing in Mylar with oxygen absorbers or dehydrating, it is always better to have more hands helping with the work. While most of the food preps were done successfully we have decided as a group to not try to brew beer anymore. After hours of labor and weeks of waiting we had a pretty nasty batch of skunk beer that was not worth the effort or resources allocated. Pickling has been discovered as a fun way to spend time together as a group. Many of the wives were looking for ways to put up excess garden produce, so pickling parties became the summer staple. Developing the mindset that putting food up was important became the norm.
4. Ammo/Shooting Preps:
Again working as a group to purchase ammo in bulk has always been better than trying to find the best deal for each individual. Utilizing common calibers as the group standard for our center fire rifle and pistol, 12 gauge shotshells and .22 LR we were able to accumulate adequate supplies of ammunition for each group member. The greatest resource to ammo preparation as a group has been reloading. Most of our group members did not know how to reload ammunition when we formed five years ago. Today most have at least a working knowledge if not their own presses and dies. We have worked together sorting range brass, going through the steps of case preparation and even pooled our resources during the recent shortage of components. Sharing load data and ballistics has also helped with refining the accuracy of the rounds we produce through reloading. It is always better to have someone else check your load data just to be safe when reloading. We have also purchased several sets of reactive steel targets for our shooting sessions. While I admit this is the area that the guys enjoy the most and pour the majority of their enthusiasm behind, the wives in our group have all taken classes (as husbands are often the worst firearms instructors for women) and are continuing to hone their skills with range time. The area for improvement would be to take a tactical course like one at Thunder Ranch or Gunsite Academy. We did participate in a 1,000 yard long range shooting match (which just demonstrated everyone’s then-current lack of ability beyond 400 yards) as a group, but this was more of a recreational activity, not tactical training. A couple of the guys do IPSC or IDPA, but the majority of the group is not involved in competitive shooting. To encourage group participation in a serious training course or a competitive shooting series is the goal for the future. While all group members have firearm proficiency, few have had shooting experiences under pressure.
5. Communications Preps
Our group started out with FRS/GMRS radios as our primary method of communication in the field, and then we got CBs which were slightly better, now most members have Ham radios. Studying and taking the ARRL tests together was also a good experience. While the technician test is not hard, it did require some studying to refresh knowledge of electronics and radios. It was also amazing all of the different FCC requirements and regulations that we needed to know. Pooling resources together to build antennas and radios is another good function for the group. A few members have actually joined a local club that maintains the repeater in our town. The next step would be to have more members go for their General licenses to increase the bandwidth we can access and broaden knowledge concerning Ham radio.
6. Spiritual Prep
As I mentioned earlier, all of our group members were found through our local church. We are not exclusive to church members (as some have left the church but are still a part of the group), however it was important to find people that all had similar values and beliefs. The group members have been a part of a couple of small group fellowships that meet at least once a week. There is a family Bible study, a women’s study and a men’s study that meets at different times on different days. This has been probably the most important area of our network. To “bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)” and not only hold each other accountable, but to support one another through trials and blessings is perhaps the greatest function of our group. One of our group members is active duty Army and has been deployed four times overseas. The group has rallied around his wife and children to provide support during his prolonged deployments, which to me fulfills the second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39). While a group may be squared away with beans, bullets and Band-Aids if they are not squared away with their Maker then all is for naught.