Preparedness Beginnings, by “Two Dogs”

I am a retired Marine Corps officer and Naval Aviator (jets and helicopters), commercial airplane and helicopter pilot, and most recently, an aircraft operations manager for a Federal agency.

I graduated from numerous military schools, including the U.S. Army Airborne (“jump”) School, U.S. Navy Divers School, Army helicopter, and Navy advanced jet schools. In addition, I have attended military “survival” courses whose primary focus was generally short-term survival off the land, escape from capture, and recovery from remote areas.  Like most Marine officers, I attended The Basic School, an 8-month school (only five during the Vietnam era – my case), which is still designed to produce a second lieutenant who is trained and motivated to lead a 35-40 man platoon of Marines in combat.  This course covers everything from field sanitation to squad and platoon tactics, artillery and other ordnance delivery, communications, reconnaissance, intelligence, firearms training, and much more.   Later, I attended the Marine Amphibious Warfare School and the Command and Staff College, both follow-on schools and centered upon the academic study of tactics and strategy as they applied to the missions of the Marine Corps.  I flew helicopters offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and across the U.S. I found out first hand how thoroughly corrupted is the federal bureaucracy and the government, in general.  Not a pleasant experience. I’d rather have been flying. I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

As a result, my wife of forty years and I seem to have been moving endlessly from place-to-place.  Nevertheless, I have tried in each place to do what I could to maintain a level of self-sufficiency for my family that varied greatly with locations and personal finances. My intention here is to try to share some of the less-than-perfect ways that I have tried to accomplish that end. 

Only in the last few years, primarily as a result of the political and fiscal situation in the U.S., have I begun reading some of the huge amounts of literature about how one can prepare for serious long-term off-the-grid survival.  I have found that the preparation required to be ready for that contingency seems to be endless.  I do not want to talk about all of those preparations.  Others have done so very well, and besides, I’m not there, yet.  What I would like to do is to talk to those, perhaps like me, who are not true survivalists in the commonly referred-to sense, but who are genuinely concerned about the future of this country, and might desire, like me, to begin to prepare. Perhaps my elementary and simplistic efforts might be of help to someone else who is beginning to think about the subject of preparedness.  There are many scenarios that might require this, but the two that I am thinking most about are economic collapse and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. I’m building small Faraday boxes, but not doing much else for EMP.

My thinking on begins with my own estimation of the basic problems:  shelter, water, food, fuel, and security.  I view these as the most critical needs, whether living in a tent or other outdoor shelter or here in our rural home in West Virginia. Here I have and often take for granted what I have — shelter, well water, a small stream, a pond, a rain barrel; canned, dried, frozen, and freeze-dried foods; fuel for the generator and portable stoves, kerosene heater and lanterns; factory-made and reloaded ammunition for any one of several firearms.  Edible plant books. Gardening books. Encyclopedia of Country Living-type books. Reloading books. Hunting books. Tracking books. A few novels devoted to the “what ifs” of the future, including Jim Rawles’ excellent “Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse”, for example.  Books to fill an entire bookcase.  The Boy Scout Field Book sits right there next to the military survival manuals, as do Tom Brown’s Field Guides, the The Foxfire Book series, a canning book, field medical books, and quite a few others.

Those are the basic things about which I think. I have been thinking about them for quite a while, in fact, longer than I even realized.  Perhaps I’ve been thinking about them ever since I was a young lad.   For example, my very first “survival book” was the Boy Scout Field Book, the original of which I still have (circa late-1950s edition). It is still a great reference if one is looking for an all-in-one manual for starting fires, making simple shelters, recognizing game tracks, tying knots, and much more.  I note that it is still available on (It’s probably been scrubbed to favor the politically correct, but don’t know [JWR Adds: Yes, I can confirm that unfortunately it has been made politically correct–with the traditional woodcraft skills showing any injury to innocent and defenseless trees duly expunged. So I advise searching for pre-1970 editions!] ) One does not necessarily need the SAS Survival Handbook or the U.S. Army survival manual. I have them and have read them. They do cover security problems, but then don’t cover other topics.  Alas, there appear to be no “perfect” manuals, and the Boy Scout Field Book is no exception.  But it’s not a bad beginning. And so I was beginning the journey even before I knew that I was. 

I think that my first education in “survival” came at about fourteen. That’s when I first shot a .30-06, an old [Model 19]03 Springfield. It pretty much rattled my cage.  Mostly, my older brother and I used to track and shoot small animals in the deep woods of Missouri as youngsters.  We were “issued” ten rounds of .22 LR ammo by our father, a retired USAF pilot, to be used in a bolt action, single shot, .22 rifle with open sights.  One would be surprised what that meager handful of loose ammunition could do for one’s choice of shots, one’s ability to be patient in waiting for the shot, and for one’s great satisfaction at having brought home six or eight squirrels for the cooking pot, having used just those ten rounds – and sometimes, but not often, less.  My point is that the knowledge of firearms is, in my view, basic to the notion of preparedness and in surviving in the wild. And it need not be exotic or overly complicated in nature.  One can surely attend modern schools that will teach one to double-tap a cardboard target or silhouette at seven yards with a semi-auto pistol, as well as basic and advanced tactical rifle courses, but very basic survival skill with a rifle can be had without much cost if one is committed to learning the skill and if one disciplines oneself. Start with only one round, and work up from there.  As Col. Jeff Cooper used to say, “Only hits count.”  In a purely off-the-grid survival scenario, I can envision that .22 LR rounds would be very precious, indeed.

Consequently, and even though I own handguns and rifles that will shoot .45 ACP, .44 Magnum/.44 Special, .357 Magnum/.38 Special, .380 ACP, .223, .25-06, .270, 7mm-08, .308, .7.62×39, .30-30, .30-06, and .45-70/.457 WWG Magnum (a wildcat), I shoot a .22 rifle and pistol more than all of the others, combined, and normally at least twice a week. And I’m hoarding them, as well as shooting them.  I have the capability to reload all the calibers (except .22 LR/Magnum, of course) above, as well as shotgun ammo in 12 and 20 gauge. I wasn’t really thinking of “survival” when deciding to do this about twenty years ago, but was interested only in having the capability to shoot more, and to do it more cheaply. Yet it appears that much of that ammo could be used for barter. I had never even considered this until reading some of the recent “survival novels.”

My apologies.  I’ve wandered into the weeds here, as I could do forever on my favorite subject.  Suffice it to say that whatever firearm one chooses – and make no mistake, one is necessary in my opinion — there are all kinds of reasons to choose one over the other, depending on the situation and the person. One must endeavor to shoot it well. Owning a firearm is of almost no consequence, at all, unless it is properly employed.  Personally, I prefer a M1911 .45 ACP pistol and a 7.62 M1A SOCOM, while my wife is comfortable with the milder .38 [S&W] revolver and 20 gauge. pump shotgun.  I won’t even begin to get into the debate over .223 vs .308 and 9mm vs. .45 ACP.  Suffice it to say that in Vietnam I had the opportunity to see the effects of all of these, and I chose for my own security the .308 and .45 ACP.

Having got my favorite subject out of the way, I’ll talk about one that is likely even more important.  Water.  It is amazing how complicated this can be, and how many choices one has to solve this problem.  I have not yet solved it.  I have put up a rain barrel, and plan to get a couple more.  It’s amazing how rapidly a 55 gallon barrel will fill in even a moderate thunderstorm.  I got mine from Aaron’s Rain Barrels. I’ve camo-painted the first one to make it recede into the bushes that surround it.  

We have a very shallow stream down the hill that I need to dam so that it keeps only about a foot-or-two deep pool for gathering some water. It flows into a large pond, of which we own half (The owner of neighboring property owns the other half.).  But that’s over a hundred-yard trek downhill with empty buckets, and the same distance uphill with full ones.  Now, while that is okay for a backup, in my thinking, because I’m going on 63 years, I prefer to have something closer.  So my next “big” purchase will be a Simple Pump that allows one to drop a pump and pipe though one’s existing well casing down to below water level and extract water by means of a hand pump or DC motor attached to a battery which, in turn, will connect to a solar panel.  This is much, much cheaper than a Solar Jack.  At $1,200 for the hand pump capability (I’ll add on the DC and solar later), it’s a bargain, for me. See:  
I’m not recommending it for anyone, yet, as I haven’t got one. It has plenty of good reviews, and I’m willing to try it.  My apologies, but I am just talking about how I, for one, intend to solve my “water problem.” 

I’ve also started collecting clear plastic soda bottles for use in Solar Disinfection (SODIS), see;  I’ve set up a rack for putting out the bottles in a sunny place.  Again, that’s a backup, but I’ll use it.

I have bought three different water filtering devices, the best of which is the Swiss-made, all-stainless Katadyn Pocket Microfilter.  It works wonders in that shallow stream and pond down the hill.. [JWR Adds: The same Katadyn filter model is available from several SurvivalBlog advertisers. They deserve your patronage first, folks!]

With the exception of the Simple Pump, these solutions are relatively cheap and effective, if not producers of great volume.  So far, they are what I’ve come up with.

I won’t go much into the food problem. It isn’t quite as complicated as the water problem.  I’ve either got to have it [stored], grow it, or kill it.  I’ve started storing all kinds of Mountain House freeze dried #10 cans (with expiration date dates in 2034), two-serving meals from Mountain House (expiration dates circa 2016), and numerous grocery store-type canned foods (expiration a couple years), in addition to dried beans, rice, Bisquick (sealed in plastic bags with desiccant inside), salt, sugar (Domino, which are sold in one-pound plastic tubs), olives, peanuts, wheat, etc.  Basically hit-or-miss, so far.  I need to get this “food problem” organized and do it right.  But it’s a start.  I think we’ve got only about a 60-day supply now, for two.

I’ve got two Coleman two-burner stoves.  One is a butane stove, and the other a dual fuel (white gas or unleaded gas), as well as several small backpacking stoves, the best of which is a MSR Whisperlite International, which uses virtually all fuel (unleaded, white gas, kerosene, diesel, and maybe even corn oil).   I was heavily into backpacking when we were stationed in Hawaii in the late 1970s, and still have all the gear.  After having one knee replacement and hedging doing another, I’ll not be backpacking if I can help it.  Nevertheless, I have two bug-out bags with essentials in them, ready to hit the trail if need be.  I’ve saved up and bought two good Wiggy’s bags and a couple of his poncho liners.

Concerning backpacking stuff, I can recommend a book that I read back then called The Complete Walker, by Colin Fletcher. I haven’t read it in at least a decade, but its import is such that I remember much of it.  He emphasizes simplicity in gear.  That is to say, don’t pack a tent if you can get by with a tent fly – which you cannot in cold weather. I’ve still got my old three-season tent, but am saving up for a four-season. And he emphasizes: don’t worry about pounds – worry about ounces.  That is to say, if one is packing tea bags, remove the labels from the bags.  Ounces.  Remove all packaging material unless it is absolutely necessary (usually never). Don’t carry a “mess kit,” nor a knife, fork and spoon set.  A spoon will do (I’ve done it) along with a pocket knife. Now I have so many knives of so many types that I can’t remember them.  Personally, I’d go for a multi-tool.  But it’s heavy.  I never used to carry a weapon while backpacking.  Of course, it was (and is) illegal in Hawaii, but I think one would be remiss in not doing so today.  There was so much good advice in that book that helped me in the USMC, if nothing more than when packing my helicopter before a mission, or a car, trailer, or truck to move across the country.  “Think ounces, not pounds.”  I always think about Mr. Fletcher’s advice when I pack.

Anyway, I think I’ve got the camping stove angle covered in spades.  That is, until the fuel runs out.  Same goes for kerosene heater and lanterns (5).  My plan is to pull out our pellet stove and replace it with a free-standing wood stove.  Pellets are nice, but they must be bought, and the price is getting exorbitant, according to my pocket book.  They likely will be non-existent in a crunch. 

I connected a 12,000 Watt/50amp gasoline generator when we moved into this house nine years ago, as I have with every house in which we’ve lived for the last two decades.  I’ve got it wired through a transfer box to the circuit-breaker panel, a job that I did myself. It works, and it’s safe.  The main reasons for having this were to run the 220V[olt AC] well water pump and to run the refrigerator and our free-standing freezer during power outages.  But I’ve got it wired, anyway, to nearly every circuit in the house, except the other 220V appliances – water heater and heat pump.  It is somewhat selectable. That is to say that I can choose which circuits I want to power by engaging or disengaging the switches on the transfer box.  The problem is that it uses gasoline. So in a long-term outage it would soon become useless.  I’ve had the propane gas company come out to estimate what it would cost to get a dedicated 100 gal propane tank for the generator.  It would be about $500, but then, in addition to the 50+ gallons of gasoline, butane tanks, and white gas that I keep stored in a separate outbuilding, it would make a great explosion when hit with a tracer round.

Which brings me to the subject of security.  We live in a split-level home on about ten acres of forest.  The property is surrounded by other similar-sized properties of seemingly like-minded individuals.  I gleamed this because everyone out here shoots.  The sweet sound of gunfire can be heard at times in a full circle.  West Virginia, at least, has still got its priorities straight in this regard.  But I digress. This is a frame house with half of it below ground in front, but framed in back, which faces the forest.  The forest, itself, is a maze of downed pine trees blown over by the wind, interspersed with small saplings, vines and low brush.  Not a likely avenue of approach for anyone but the most determined.  For those who are determined, the downed trees would make excellent cover and concealment.  So I have a security problem to solve there, as well as at the front. 

I’ve started buying rolls of barbed wire and baling wire.  Unfortunately, I do not have access to dynamite, which we used to be able to buy in a hardware store in the 1960s.  We used it back then to blow stumps while clearing the land for our house.  I am thinking of buying a bunch of used railroad ties to build cover in the back; I’ve thought also of bricks and sandbags.  Problem is we’re reaching the point in all of this where the house would begin to look like a fortress, of sorts, to all but the most ignorant observers.  So there’s a line here concerning security versus “normalcy” that I must cross sooner or later.  Inasmuch as my wife is a few years older than I and is on constant medications, I’m afraid that finding a retreat (if we could even afford one) would be out of the question, as access to doctors, hospital and pharmacy are a necessity. Nevertheless I’ve got the bags packed and gear ready to throw into the pickup (Toyota 4×4 – like to have one of those older model American trucks, but I think they are getting rare, at least around here.  And what there are will likely go to the Cash for Clunkers Program….grumble, grumble. What will they think of next?).

So it looks to me as if we are here for the duration of the crisis, or sooner, if they try to take the guns from my cold, dead hands.  Speaking of, I still have to build a cache or two for guns and ammo and a few other necessities. 

And since I’ve more-or-less made that decision (here for the duration), I’ve thought of organizing the apparently gun-loving neighbors.  I’ve begun to buy walkie-talkies, if not field phones and commo wire.  I’ve got solar panels and several batteries (need to get a mega deep cell or two, however) to run the small battery chargers and the CB radio. My shortwave is up and running.

I will have to wait to talk to the neighbors, whom I rarely see, much less know.  I can just imagine the words that would come out of their mouths if I were to mention to them the notion of forming a security “company” and establishing a perimeter.  “That old retired Marine down the road is nuts!”

So that’s what I’ve got to say.  I do hope it at least stimulates some thought for those who are starting out trying to prepare, as I am.  All of this shows me that one “problem” in this “survival” business leads to several more, and they in turn lead to even more problems.  Lots to do. So I’m glad I’m retired.  I’ve got time to think about it.  If I were rich, I could do a lot more and likely in a far away place, but as it is, we do with what we have.   I have to use the lessons taught to every Marine:  Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.  

Long Live America.  Keep the Faith. – “Two Dogs”, Col. USMCR (ret.) in West Virginia