Wednesday, March 14, 2012

BAD Gear: Last Post from W Africa: Gear and thoughts

This will be BAD's last post from W. Africa for a while. BAD is heading domestic for some much needed R&R. Third-Location Decompression will happen at a spa retreat called Le Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara. Yes a f*cking spa. I get to claim that shit so why not get a big muthaf*cker reefing on my back muscles. And after that, within the calming and nice-smelling environment, they have this mineral grotto-styled pool that's suppose to do wonderful things for the epidermis. I don't know what, but my b@lls haven't fallen off yet.

They have something called Treetop dining. You're not really dining in a tree (although that would be pretty bad ass), you are, however, dining amongst the woody surroundings. I know the prices are a bit spendy at $45/BAD for all-you-can-eat tapas, but why the f*ck would BAD be working in far off places to make money for if he cannot spend it on fabulous small eats. I am no foodie, although I have relatives who are - and 10 out of 10 foodies will agree with me, this spa is the shizzle.

So what I do want to write about are lessons-learned with respect to gear in W Africa. I started my first mission into W. Africa late Q3 2011, and during that time it was rainy (read: floody) season. There's really only two seasons here: rainy, and haramattan - the latter being dry dusty hot searing sun season. So packing for these conditions required some consideration. Not only that, but I also needed to pack for all the work settings I would encounter.

What I will list are things I ended up keeping with me throughout my missions, and then I will list of things I left at home from my last rotation out.
Things I needed:
  • Surge Protector AC Adapter Bar with multi-national plug fitments. Surge protection is a must, there are lots of power outages, brownouts and surges. You need it to be a 220v/110v adapter because some electronics' adapters do not have this, requiring the need to down-tune your voltages in order to not fry some of your electronics.
  • Clippers. Shampoo is not cheap. Shaving your head is.
  • 'Fitted' cotton dress shirts.A shirt with rolled up sleeves, unbuttoned 1 button lower than normal, tucked into dark blue boot cut low rise denim, with leather shoes, and aviator ray-bans. Ultimate ex-pat blend. Don't wear fitted if you're fat. Don't wear skinny jeans either. You'll just look like a coffee barista.
  • Dark Blue Boot Cut Low Rise Denim Jeans. Versatile as hell, it can make you look professional and badass at the same time. Don't pay for the factory to make holes. Do that on your own
  • Fine grain leather shoes that are soft and supple, while providing good ankle support. I bought ankle-height side zip shoes from Aldo.
  • Vertx polos. Refer to previous post.
  • Ralph Lauren Polo polos. It's always classy to have something classy to wear for a classy event at a classy establishment to meet other classy people without giving away that you're not so classy.
  • Wifebeater, just one. I never wore it.
  • Moisture-wicking liner socks, lots of them. I was on my feet everyday with lots of walking, and socks aide in the body's cooling system.
  • IFAK. I built myself an extensive IFAK that included Rx/non RX meds for common ailments one would experience in W Africa. 
  • Prophylactic items like sunscreen, lipchap, etc. 
  • Chacos sandals with Vibram soles, Running Sneakers, Flipflops
  • T-shirts (none that say infidel or Porkeater - unless you want those looks that could get you fired, kidnapped, or shot)
  • Under armour workout clothes (the international symbol for serious workout ppl)
  • Lululemon long pants (the international symbol for Canadian)
  • EDC items and bag (multi tool, light, etc)
  • Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody (cause it rains like a mother here). Goretex won't work in these conditions.
  • iPad2 (for facetime and skype), Blackberry Playbook (for shits and giggles), work laptop, unlocked Blackberry Torch.
  • A chipped credit card, copies of ident, etc etc
  • Bolle Warrant sunglasses, Rayban aviators...
Things I did not need:
  • Gore-tex desert boots - too slippery when walking on slime covered wet shit (literally)
  • LEAF Arc'teryx Alpha Jacket - Gore-tex does not work here
  • Printed t-shirts that are offensive to over 50% of the indigenous population
  • Big Backpack that screams tactical
  • Basically anything that screams Tactical
  • (Obviously you need to wear whatever is appropriate for your mission/role)
The idea of being low-profile in my kind of work means that I am constantly changing my equipment. Its an ever-evolving process to go leaner, and more greyman. The idea of greyman is not new. Greyman is essentially the art of blending in to the environment whilst remaining tactically sound. In fact, one of the biggest barriers we former soldiers and current contractors face is how to stop being a "Show of Force" kind  of guy. Being a greyman will help you avoid hassle at the airport, or worse, being shot in the face by bad guys. You also don't want to look like you came out of an REI or MEC catalogue. That's another way that saavy badguys can determine your worth. "F*ck he's American, let's kidnap and ransom him..." You don't want to be "that guy." You do want to be like everybody and nobody at the same time (caveat being, if your mission/role is to be a Show of Force faceshooter, then bring on that escalating violence of action bitches!!!).

I totally understand that the tactical stuff is super comfy and it gives an air of presence; however when working in a country where there are active terrorist cells, the more lo-pro, the better. On the other end of the scale, one shouldn't wear red shoes when outside the wire (even if you have faceshoooters with akm's guarding your ass). That's just umm.....hipster. BAD does have a colleague who is of the hipster persuasion (not everybody is perfect). 

Hipster colleague does know how to tone down the hipsterness for work, in fact he's sort of bad ass. Hipster has been in W Africa for more years then he cares to remember. And because of this BAD can forgive his red shoes, and perfectly coiffed hair. 

So for now, BAD will be signing off until touchdown domestic side. I don't know what I'll do first, but I do know that near the top of the list will be eating, sleeping, spending copious amounts of money on things I don't need, and being with BAF. After a bit of rest, I will continue to review BAD gear that simply works for our BAF.

Word out!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

BAD Gear: Clothing: Vertx ColdBlack Polo

Operational Mentoring
Every Bad Ass Dad should have a polo shirt. Its smart, its casual, its professional. I might be cresting on ghey territory by skimming the surface of fashion, but it should be noted. A good polo shirt can have a multitude of uses. For example, BAD can wear the same polo shirt for golfing (if he golfed), sailing (if he sailed), reading the sunday times in a citchy coffee shop, shooting bad guys in the face, pushups, standing in the sun for hours, driving in an open top convertible down the Big Sur, or just around the compound kicking it old school.

BAD owns several polo shirts (Ralph Lauren Polo fan-boy). For missions, however, BAD always packs his Vertx ColdBlack Polo shirts. Billed as clothing for the "Operational Athlete" this polo shirt incorporates some textile technology that BAD has come to rely on. Vertx also makes a sweet pair of pants that are professional without looking like a 5.11 douchebag or an Aeropostle/Old Navy cargo pant wannabe hipster.

Looking Professional
and shit
 After meeting the Vertx Rep at DS Tactical, BAD picked up some pants ($64.99 CDN) and shirts ($54.99 CDN) - of course I get the pro rate. I should mention that Vertx collaborates with Arc'teryx, creating a  combined effort product. That's all I will say about that. Vertx has listed the following features for the shirt:
  • Vertx polos are made with a unique material called coldblack®, a special finishing technology for textiles which reduces heat build-up and provides reliable protection from UV (30+ SPF)  from Schoeller Technologies AG. reflecting up to 80% of the sun’s rays.
  • 100% moisture wicking polyester, no-fade performance fabric and the non roll collar with stay looks professional enough for duty wear wash after wash.
  • Athletically patterned polo features a raglan sleeve for ease of movement.
  • Performance 6.5 oz pique knit fabric.
  • Mic tab or sunglass loop at base of placket
At the office
There's also a feature that wasn't advertised but was told to me - anti-odour. There are other brands like the Under Armour or the 5.11 that offer something similar; however, BAD liked that these shirts are not logo-ized. I've been wearing these shirts on rotation, for about a year now. They have traveled with me from Canada, to the US, to France, to Germany, to Cuba, to Nigeria. I have worn them under training conditions, recreationally, in the office, under the beating sun, under body armour, and of course - operationally. These shirts are so versatile that I can adapt it to any setting. 

Value-added Push-ups bitches!!
I find that true to the marketing, the polo's fit is made for an athletic body-type. We all know hipsters are skinny f*cks so this ain't for them. We also know that momma's basement armchair commandos are fat f*cks - this ain't made for them either. These shirts are purpose-built for men and women who do Bad Ass things. They also make a line specifically for the operational woman athlete, and from what I can tell, it's a very effeminate fit. Ok, back to the guy stuff. It's loose where it needs to be, and fitting where it needs to be providing all day comfort and very good range of motion. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it'll make your biceps and chest look huge, while keeping the amount of Heineken consumed secret. 

Kicking it ol' school
Intentional or not, wearing 15-30lbs of body armour all day on top of it, I don't get any friction burn or rashes from either the stitching nor the location of the seams. There's only one thing that I am beginning to notice. The area where the shoulder pads sit, the face of the fabric is pilling. But hey, that's after 1 year's worth of wearing and washing. About the washing - the colour hasn't faded. Here in tropical Africa, we use a lot of spray sunscreen and bug-juice. That, combined with perspiration, and harmattan dust makes from some dirty shirts. After a good wash, it is as good as new. 

Jalapenos and peppers.
This shirt is also quick-dry. Several times BAD (sorry BAD/I switch between the first/third person) has been caught in monsoons. BAD does not use umbrellas. In less time it takes to eat a 14" pizza, I was dry. This feature would also be good for recreation, for example, just touring around a nice tropical town on the equatorial belt without being all sweaty and shit. What BAM would want to be close to a sweaty BAD anyway. 

Rocking the Vertx shirts & pants
I'm not a SME on textiles - but I did stay at the Holiday Inn. So I do know, what works, and what I prefer. I prefer this shirt over some of the similarily marketed and priced performance polos out there. It just works for me. Something that is totally awesome about Vertx is that they listen to their customer base. They appreciate feedback and are very active in recognizing any concerns or comments regarding their products. Just like Arc'teryx, one of my other favourite textile manufacturing companies. 
Hanging out at a tropical island
with BAK

Looking at these images, my readership may think that this is all I wear. Not true. I also wear black, brown and tan. So, if any of you Bad Ass Dads are looking for polo's, give Vertx a try. One might think that $60'ish is a lot to spend on a polo shirt. Is it? If hipsters and faux-hemians can spend $125 on factory-ripped skinny jeans and then $50 on a 5 dollar shirt and still look like a douchebag, then why not spend $60 and look like a professional thing doer.

Friday, March 9, 2012

BAD Gear: UV Protection: Bolle Warrant Sunglasses

Fits my small face
Everybody knows that Bad Ass Dads require bad ass sunglasses. Whether we wear the obligatory Ray-Ban Aviators or Oakley M-Frames or the pair that I have been rocking for 1 year already - Bolle Warrants, bad ass sunglasses provide us with a multitude of protection and should always be included in our Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).

You gotta put your back into it
I have traditionally been an Oakley SI fan-boy, rocking the Ballistic M-Frames or similar-styled models. I really liked those glasses because they were inexpensive through the Forces Canada program, some models had "asian" nose pads, interchangeable lenses, and the ballistic protection properties that the poly carb lenses provided. I should mention that Oakley Forces Canada also has an awesome warranty and replacement program. So why did I switch to, and swear by, the Bolle Warrants?

Fist pump + high five
I was given a pair of Warrants to T&E exclusively for training and shooting. I was told the clarity is phenomenal, the ballistic protection properties are better, and the fit would be more functional for my tiny dome. My Bad Ass Colleague from Nanaimo 1 Hour Optical speaks the truth. He knows my f*cked up eyes, and gave them to me to try out. What makes this pair of eyepro great for me is that the interchangeable lenses are designed using the Toric. Toric lenses were designed to eliminate peripheral refraction - the cause of blur through the use of two different base curves - one vertical and one horizontal - that follow the eyeball curvature. All Bolle poly carb lenses exceed the ANSI standards for UV and impact protection.

Brownish Amber lens
Other things I like about this model is that it comes in small asian face size. The frame is minimalistic B88 nylon so its very lightweight and bendy, conforming to my face while still being very strong. Another feature are their nosepads and the grippy thing that goes behind the ears, what they call Thermogrip. They are designed to stay on your face when your doing hardcore activity and sweating - something BAD does a lot of.
Italia Bitches!

Although my Bolle Warrants are out of production, its upgrade, the Bolle Vortex boasts better technology, look, and feel. Although they retail at about $189 USD, I feel that they would be worth it. Talk to my peep at Nanaimo One Hour Optical and tell him BAD sent you. He will hook you up. The particular lens he installed are designed for medium light enhancing certain colours in the spectrum - optimized for shooting things. Different lenses for different missions. BAD likes that. What else does BAD like?  The Warrants are made in Italy! MII has to be better that MIC.

This particular eyepro has saved BAD's eyes on numerous occasions - I have the scars on my cheeks to prove it.

So why do I prefer this over my SI M-Frames? For my face, these are more comfortable. Also, the visual acuity and clarity that these lenses provide, enables me to do my shit better. The nosepads stay on my face when running or doing strenuous activities. I find the M-Frames would not. I also find that the lens coatings on my Oakleys, they suck. After a while they start peeling. They aren't as scratch resistant as I thought they would be, although I do trust that because it is ANSI-rated that it would protect my vision in a catastrophic event.

These glasses just look bad ass, yet doesn't scream tacti-cool. In fact they are sport-inspired, and I'd rather look like a menacing athlete than a menacing goon. BADs cannot be BAD if they wear wayfarers...just sayin'

Aviators, on the other hand, are the shit.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

BAD Gear: Maxpedition Aggressor Tactical Attaché

Every Bad Ass Dad should have a man-bag. Not a "murse" but a man bag that can take the abuse of  Bad Ass Dad-related activities. BAD needed a full-featured bag that could securely store all his kit, while being air-transportable, comfortable, and durable. BAD needed a bag that would have easy-open exterior pockets for easy access of frequently used items. Introducing the Maxpedition Aggressor Tactical Attaché. Although there are other makes offering something similar like the EMDOM TNT or the 5.11, I chose Maxpedition because I already have some of their products, and they have never failed me.

Maxpedition's website  lists some of the features of this bag:

Main compartment: 17"(L) x 5"(W) x 13"(H)
Large pocket:â„¢ 6"(L) x 2"(W) x 10"(H) with slip pocket and ID holder
Med Flap pocket:â„¢ 9"(L) x 2"(W) x 6"(H) with velcro loop field on lid
Small flap pockets (2):â„¢ 4"(L) x 2"(W) x 4"(H)
Padded organizer pocket:â„¢ 16"(L) x 2"(W) x 12"(H)
Fits up to 17" (diagonal screen size) laptop computer
The #0612 AGGRESSOR Tactical Attache was a response to a huge numbers of customer requests for a super-sized version of our "Operator Tactical Attache". Fits up to 17" (diagonal screen size) laptop computer. The bag has all of the same (but magnified) features such as utility pockets on one side, padded organizer on the other, CCW compartment, internal hook-and-loop divider, radio and Nalgene bottle pockets on the ends.â„¢ For the AGGRESSOR, we also added lockable main compartment zipper slides and an external 4" x 6" velcro field for patches.
Product Materials
1000-Denier water and abrasion resistant light-weight ballistic nylon fabric
 Teflonâ„¢ fabric protector for grime resistance and easy maintenance
high strength zippers and zipper tracks
UTX-Duraflex nylon buckles for low sound closures
Triple polyurethane coated for water resistance
High tensile strength nylon webbing
High tensile strength composite nylon thread (stronger than ordinary industry standard nylon thread)
#AS-100 high grade closed-cell foam padding material for superior shock protection
Internal seams taped and finished
Paracord zipper pulls
Stress points double stitched, Bartacked or "Box-and-X" stitched for added strength

So here in W. Africa, I have some down time in between missions, so I thought I'd give my assessment on a piece of kit that I acquired through DS Tactical. Props to them for expediently sending this bag to me the same week I was slated to deploy. I have been using this bag for about 6 months now. Just to preface this, I am not military. Not in the paid soldier for HM the Queen sense anyway. I was, but not anymore. I do xxxxxxxxxxx xxxx for xxxxxxxxxxxx supporting risk mitigation, security, and emergency task forces...

I would actually consider this more a "duty" bag than an attache (sematnics maybe), mainly because it used as a flight carry-on as well as a daily carry bag for work. This bag travels with me during my armed convoys between the different compounds, field recce's, site visits, off/on shore missions, and general duty stuff. With all of its myriad pockets and well thought out design, I find that it is versatile to meet my misssion objectives.

The back of the bag also has a spot to put a patch if you wish. Notice the wide shoulder straps, and the padded shoulder pad thingy. The attachment clasps are plastic. My only indictment of this bag would be the plastic on plastic rubbing, which creates some awful squeaky sounds. Not very tactical for a tactical bag. LOL

I don't have a measuring tape, so hopefully by showing pictures you can figure out how wide these things are. The handle has a non-slip rubberized grip. the same material also lines the bottom of the bag.

Starting from the front of the bag, you can see there are several spaces for you to stuff kit in.

All of the flaps are hook and loop.
There is one zip one...

That perfectly fits my netbook.

The bottom front flip open pocket fits, perfecty the power source for the netbook, and my Arcteryx Squamish Hoodie, also purchased from DS Tactical with the LEAF pricing.

This jacket, by the way, is a godsend,
during the equatorial afternoon rainstorms.

I use one of the top pockets to hold my mem sticks and electronic doodads like my mp3 player

The other top pocket holds chewing gum, various bits of PPnS and meal chits.

Underneath the clear plastic pocket is another pocket for daily intel reports, and other pieces of useful information

Not sure why but there is a plastic pocket to put your ident (even though ident should be on persons). If you worked for an agency or something like that, I suppose you can put the logo there. Like the UN logo or something...

But for me,I just put my Rememberance day patch

On either side of the bag there
are nalgene bottle pockets.

Tactical Pringles of the sour cream and onion variety, and my tactical coffee mug. The other side holds a standard sized water bottle, or whatever hydration.

Ok, now moving onto the main big pockets...

In between the front pockets and the big main zipped compartment, is another pocket that uses velcro enclosure. Because of that, I probably wouldn't put any thing in there that you wouldn't want rained upon...

I use it like a file folder, just putting misc loose leaf papers and documents...

You probably can't see, but the zipped main compartment is actually one large compartment, that I would hazard a guess to be 4 inches in width. It uses velcro-based board to split it into two. The board probably has some flixeble plastic in it, and is covered with velcro, so you can DAP anything you want to it. I just like the fuzzy feeling. It can be moved to increase or decrease the width of the compartments. I put my Toshiba Satellite in one of the compartments with mouse, power adapters etc.

And on the other extra change of clothes, dome shade, and eye pro...Like so: (note that I hastily rolled up the jacket and pants and shoved it in, just to make a point. usually its much tighter. I usually shove an extra pair of skivvies and socks in there as well.)

Ok, now onto the last pocket to the rear. this pocket is raised about 3/4 inch. Here it is unzipped. It has an integrated seperator that is non removable.

Into that pocket The cigars are used judiciously as social currency

Fitting like this

I don't usually haul it on my shoulder fully packed, cuz it can be 15-20lbs.

Ok, here's a couple of neat features:
There looks to be a shoulder strap keeper, for if you just want to use the handles. They are located at the top of the bag. I can only assume that if you had a tactical umbrella, or some sort of tactical yardstick, or that RSM/SSM dick measure, you could attach the same way...mary poppins style.

Another neat feature that I don't use, are the snap button keepers, that are used to keep the zippers fastened.

And another one for the main compartment:

You may be wondering about my IFAK...I have one. Its in my backpack that I only use for field work. For convoys to and fro, there is a med kit in each vehicle.

The way I have it setup now is not very grayman. It doesn't need to be. It holds my shit, the way I need it. So that I can access it. For greyman purposes or travel on airfrance or klm flights or whatever...Its very easy to just rip off the patches. put in some civi clothes like a polo shirt, shorts...and a travel case for grooming and hygiene.

Monday, March 5, 2012

BAD Gear: Starbucks Barista Aroma Solo 16oz. Mug

Bad Ass Dads worldwide have at one time or another owned, used, and abused coffee mugs. Whether you used it during a 14 hour drive through the Yellowhead Trail, or monitoring comms during a 12 hour shift inside the Strat Troop "Red Room", or...if like me, at this current moment, attending a 3 hour sit-down with the Local Nationals during OMLT, the coffee mug is one of the most important items a BAD can have.

Not only does a good coffee mug keep your vile swill hot, it also keeps your drink secure within the confines of the vessel, thereby risk mitigating the spillage of hot contents onto your BAK's face - making them hate you forever. A good mug also serves as a possible improvised self-defense implement (a well-placed contact to the head of a bad guy will induce severe pain. One can then "Finish Him" by pouring hot content on bad guy's face). BAD's biggest reason for maintaining a mug is that it provides comfort and security. It's easier to describe in the negation...BAD feels 'naked' without the mug in hand (like how BAD feels 'naked' without his Casio G-Shock). It is also a medium for placing advertisement adhesive transfer paper from your favourite coffee shop.

Enter the Starbucks Barista Aroma Solo 16oz Mug aka "Mug". I've had this mug for about 11 years now. Although it is not available in stores anymore the premise is to find a mug that contains similar features for your consideration. This  traveller's mug is actually part of a coffee-machine system by Starbucks. F*ck the machine, just the get mug. This mug is my go-to and I will tell you why:

  • Stainless outside AND inside with vacuum - The vacuum creates a thermally insulated layer of dead-space that keeps your vile swill hot(or cold) for up to 2 hours. Other benefits include:
    • Stainless is easy to clean (no build up of swill-crud)
    • Can be used as a weapon
    • Non-magnetic, so won't f*ck up your compass reading if you happen to have your SUUNTO beside your mug, but what proper Pathfinder would be such a f*ck up...well it actually might, as all metals have a magnetic-field (if we are discussing in pure physics), OK, so it won't FUBAR it too much.
    • It won't dent without some serious pounding
    • It's a hefty 2 pounds.
    • The exterior surface has 2 columns of square divots pressed into the skin on opposing sides. Most likely to provide a positive contact (tactile) experience.
  • It features a plastic inverted 'L' handle, as well as a screw-on plastic lid with fliptop.
    • I prefer a mug with a handle, it just feels good. I utilize a neutral grip around the mug, using the handle as a grip-stop, or sometimes just to hang off of. The handle can be used as a hook to secure it to the seat-back during plane ride, or your backpack etc.
    • The screw-on plastic lid has a rubber o-ring that prevents spillage and creates a seal. The flip top secures the swish and is flipped open to gain access to vile swill. The top of the lid features two small vents that allow movement of air so that a vacuous situation does not occur. When the fliptop is closed, the vents are sealed.
  • The bottom of the mug is rubberized to provide a non-slip surface. It also fits in most coffee mug holders.
The bottom of my mug specifically states Not Dishwasher Safe and Do Not Microwave. I don't put mine in the microwave, but I do routinely put mine into the dishwasher - I'm not dead yet, and my b@lls did not fall off..

There are other types of mugs out there with different features. I've had all-plastic mugs. These mugs suck the balls, because eventually the plastic will start retaining odour and your swill will begin tasting like your BAM's herbal tea (that is, if she continuously uses your mug until you buy her one of her own). Plastic mugs are also prone to breakage and scratching - especially inside the mug where you might be using a scouring pad. Eventually all these little scratches will begin harbouring bacteria that will be hard to get out.

Plastic is not really an insulating material, in the sense that it will not keep hot things hot. I've also melted my plastic mug by inadvertently placing it on top of an engine block while working on a car (yes, BADs are suppose to work on cars).

Another type of mug is the one shown in this picture. The screw off lid as a cup, thermos type. These are ok, except that it is a two-piece system. And then to gain access to the swill, it is a push-button that you drink through. I don't know, but most of the time, my hands are not clean enough that I would touch where I will be drinking.

Who the f*ck knew BAD can write so much about something as innocuous and mundane as a coffee mug. But, hey, it's part of my daily routine. So if you are out looking for a Bad Ass coffee mug, get one that will last a long time, keep your swill vile, and serve as a weapon against bad guys.


Full Disclosure: Unless noted, Bad Ass Dad has not been compensated in any means to review this gear. It is all his own, procured through pro-channels, retail, or issuance.