28 January 2015

Let's Not Joke About Ebulla

This past weekend, U.S. military officials announced that the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division headquarters, along with hundreds of other National Guard and Army Reserve units from across the nation, were no longer slated to deploy to the West African nation of Liberia this spring. This essay was written prior to that announcement.

Sgt. 1st Class Katz is preparing to go to Africa. It'll be her fourth deployment. The Minnesota National Guard's 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division headquarters has been alerted for the Ebola-response mission to Liberia. The mission is called "Operation United Assistance." I tell her it'll be a good mission—a good story. She tells me something she remembers me saying once, regarding going to Afghanistan with the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (2-34th BCT).

"You said something about how everything kind of fell into place, for both you and the unit," she says. "How the Red Bull boasted the longest-deployed units to Iraq ... the largest deployment of Iowans since World War II ... one of only three National Guard brigades to own battle space in Afghanistan ... This might be the only time anyone would ever see something like this."

In typical sentiment, Katz says she doesn't want to go, but also that she wants to go. I understand the push-pull, topsy-turvy, mixed feelings about pending deployments. It's heady stuff, being called up to help change the world. Citizen-soldiers get to see history in the making. It's also a burden, however. Family and friends worry. Life and job get interrupted. Embrace the suck.

"Still," I remember my father saying once or twice, "it has a certain appeal ..."

I remember Papa Sherpa coming off a U.S. Air Force Reserve rotation to Operation Desert Shield. Soon after, he put in his retirement papers. He had started his active-duty military career during the Vietnam War, as a navigator on a C-130 Hercules, flying tactical airlift missions. After a variety of other platforms and missions, he ended his career in the same way.

After his paperwork had already been filed, however, the military mission to Somalia popped up. At the time, I was relatively new to the service, and was wearing Army greens. Off at months of Army training, I'd missed the war in Kuwait. That was on my mind when I asked Dad if he regretted putting in his papers, and potentially watching his former colleagues lift off without him. "You know," he said, "this might have been one to miss ..."

"All this has happened before, and all this will happen again." The same Army officer who once tagged me with the "Sherpa" nickname was the one who recommended that I watch the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, while we were both deployed to a peacekeeping mission to the Sinai Peninsula. From that science-fiction program, I first learned the mantra of the eternal return: "All this has happened before, and all this will happen again."

Of all the lessons I learned in the Army, that phrase explains the most.

After I graduated, I swore that I'd never come back to Iowa, but I did. I returned to Iowa after Army communications school, and joined the Iowa Army National Guard. I worked a couple of community and metro newspaper jobs, and made the jump to trade magazines by the mid-1990s.

My first editorship? I kid you not: It was a trade magazine for managers of corporate, hospitality, healthcare, institutional facilities and campuses. The now-defunct publication was was called—again, I am not making this up—"Maintenance Executive."

How's that for high-falutin'?

My interest in writing about best-practices and lessons-learned stems from that experience. Twenty years ago, I was writing about the threats of Ebola, as well as other emergent diseases, on behalf of those professionals most likely to clean it up. In one memorable columnist's portrait, I was photographed wearing a suit and tie and my M17A2 protective mask. I'd borrowed the latter from my locker at the National Guard armory.

For magazine cover-story, I interviewed Richard Preston, author of the non-fiction book "The Hot Zone." Preston tells stories of three strains of Ebola, each named after the place of its discovery: Ebola Sudan, Ebola Zaire, and Ebola Reston (Va.). My family and friends took to naming the seasonal flu after the person who'd first discovered it: Ebola Jeff, Ebola Scott, Ebola Sherpa ...

Hilarious, no? I kill me.

So, Katz is off to war again. And Ebola doesn't look like as much of a joke as it was when I was young and immortal. But the Red Bull is, once again, present at the fulcrum of history. People like Katz don't want to go, but they don't want to stay at home, either. This will be the first time I'll see a Red Bull friend of mine move out smartly, post-Afghanistan.

It's not a war, but neither is it business as usual. The Red Bull is again on the attack.

Two thoughts haunt my hours:

"This one might have been one to miss."

"All this has happened before, and all this will happen again."

23 January 2015

Each 'O-Dark-Thirty' Packs Punch, Prose, and Poetry

Portions of this Red Bull Rising blog post originally appeared Oct. 2, 2013.

In the current literary terrain, there are dense, fine-printed journals that cover war and themes of war. There are also imposing anthologies of war fiction and fact. Also combatting for the public's attention are war novels, memoirs, and journalistic explorations and exposés.

Whatever the genre, however, too few of these are easy for readers to infiltrate. By force of page-count alone, too many tomes seem ready to overwhelm or intimidate—often driving away civilians who are, ironically, often considered the high-payoff targets of military writing.

Not so, however, the Veterans Writing Project's journal "O-Dark-Thirty."Launched in 2012, the print journal is published quarterly by the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit, along with occasional on-line dispatches of additional prose and poetry, essays and interviews. As the journal's mission statement reads:
In our seminars we give participants the skills and confidence they need to tell their own stories; O-Dark-Thirty is the platform to put those stories and others in front of readers. This is not a peer-reviewed professional journal, nor is it a judged literary contest. Our editorial style is more curatorial than other journals. [...]
Each print edition averages less than 100 pages, and provides a brief burst of covering fire from each category of writing. It's accessible and approachable, easy-to-digest. It can also be indelible, however ... unforgettable.

In short, it's short. A quick hit of literary adrenalin. A mini-bottle of inspirational Tobasco. Each issue debuts new voices, demonstrates the versatility of each writing form, and depicts the military experience in new and provoking ways. Then, it disappears into the night. [...]

Stick a copy "O-Dark-Thirty" in your right cargo pocket, or hand it off to a brother or buddy. Better yet, use a subscription as a regular reminder to keep writing. A 4-issue subscription costs only $30; individual copies are $10.


A 2012 e-mail interview with Veterans Writing Project founder Ron Capps appears here. Also, click here for additional background on the group's useful differentiation of writing-as-therapy and writing-as-expression.

For submission guidelines to "O-Dark-Thirty,"click here.

21 January 2015

Update: New Deadline for 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Book

This Red Bull Rising blog-post originally appeared on Feb. 3, 2014. The new deadline for submitting to this anthology project is Oct. 1, 2015.

PHOTO: Vicki Hudson
The phrase "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was used to describe the 1993 U.S. Department of Defense policy that discouraged gay Americans in uniform from openly acknowledging their sexualities. The policy remained in place until Sept. 20, 2011.

In a new anthology, editor, poet, photographer, and 33-year U.S. Army veteran Vicki Hudson has taken on the mission to collect stories of the aftermath of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

The book is tentatively titled "Repeal Day—September 20, 2011, When DADT Became History."

"The Repeal Day collection is meant to tell the story of what was that first year was like, from the moment the repeal was finally 'live' and all through that first year," Hudson says via e-mail interview.

"I want to acknowledge the courage for those in the military that first year that went ahead and came out," she says. "The repeal did not change culture in an instant, and those that were out in the beginning were breaking down huge barriers. Their families, their comrades in units, their commanders all have some part to tell."

To further inspire writers, the Submittable page for the project is peppered with potential prompts:
  • Did you take part in a celebration, make a point of coming out to those you work with, do a small yet significant or symbolic action (like try and update your DD 93 with a change of ‘friend’ to ‘spouse’) that marked the requirement from forced in the closet to finally able to be yourself and true about those who are your family?
  • What is your story of how you experienced Repeal Day? What was the significance of the day for you and your family? How does the repeal affect you?
  • In the months following September 20th, what was life like for you in the service? What was your experience in that first year? What are your thoughts, opinions, emotions, and observations for you and your family during this historic first year when LGBT service members were finally visible?
  • Are you an ally? What was your experience of your compatriots no longer having to hide? Were you a leader? How did this impact your unit or leader responsibilities?

Deadline for submitting to the anthology is [NEW DEADLINE: Oct. 1, 2015]. Hudson seeks essays from 700 to 7,500 words in length. As an editor, she is willing to work not only with experienced writes, but also those who are still developing their own voices.

"As an editor, you aren't just asking for stories and then you print whatever shows up in the mail box," Hudson says of creating, collecting, and publishing anthologies. "Often, what I have received are short snippets of an experience well written in military writing style. [...] Part of my role as the editor is help that story be fleshed out a bit, and bring the person who had the experience more present in the story. This helps make the recounting of a memory turn into a compelling narrative which reflects and resonates for the reader."

The project will acquire first-time world anthology rights in English and translation, as well as audio and e-book anthology rights. Beyond that, writers retain copyright to their works, although mentions in any future publication of a given work would be appreciated.

For a full set of guidelines, click here. Submissions may be made electronically here, or via postal mail:
MRD c/o Hudson
P.O. Box 387
Hayward, Calif. 94543
Hudson has a history of encouraging writers to creatively and honestly take on tough topics, and resourcing her fellow editors to do likewise.

Hudson is also author of 2012's "No Red Pen: Writers, Writing Groups & Critique,"
a cargo-pocket-sized manual that's packed with tactics, tools, and techniques for optimizing workshop processes.

In 2016, Hudson plans to collect an anthology of poetry and prose focused on a theme of military clothing and gear.