31 October 2011

The Arsenal of Fun and Freedom

One of the great benefits of having younger children is the excuse to peruse the local toy shelves. AlphaDad's gotta maintain proficiency in the arms race happening out there in Superheroland and Barbiestan: Foam tomahawks. Gatling dart guns. Heroic helmets and warhammers. Playing war is a business, and business is good.

I love the smell of Nerf guns in the morning.

Like Sherpa at that age, 4-year-old Rain loves collecting miniature Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. I'm man enough to admit that I have a few mint-on-card vehicles stashed away in Sherpa's Footlocker of Military Memories: A couple of soft-sided Humvees, in both desert tan and woodland green. Military bulldozers and armored personnel carriers. And a 1965 Shelby Cobra that Hot Wheels inexplicably and fantastically painted out in olive drab.

That must've made for a wicked-fast command car. Like "Patton" meets "The Fast and the Furious." (The resulting film of which would be called ... "TFATF: Messina Drift.")

Back when I was hanging out with combat engineers, I took a liking to a Transformers character called "Bonecrusher." I'd never really gotten into the cartoon from the 1980s, but the rebooted movie was cool enough. And the fact the toy converted from robot to a "Buffalo"Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected ("M-RAP") engineering vehicle—complete with bomb-scooping "claw"—pretty much put the target-lock on my wallet.

Rain hasn't seen many of the original Transformer cartoons--and he's way too young for the more recent PG-13 blockbuster explosion-fests. Outside of my influence, however--I was still in uniform and out of town at the time--he dressed up like good-guy Transformer "Bumblebee" last Halloween. I guess the proverbial Energon Cube doesn't fall far from the tree.

So, given all this M-RAP love, imagine my glee when I recently discovered that Matchbox had issued a MaxxPro M-RAP truck lookalike painted as a law enforcement vehicle. I've got any number of Red Bull buddies who are also cops, and this toy seemed like it was right up our old Afghan I.E.D. alley. While I prefer the basic black version—it looks like Darth Vader's paddy wagon—a powder-blue variant reminds me of my youthful "U.N. peacekeeper" fantasies. How could something so cute possibly want to harm us?

Of course, an armored M-RAP truck would be about as useful in stateside law enforcement as shooting, moving, and communicating on the battlefield in that high-speed Shelby Cobra. (In another favorite example of questionable utility, Matchbox once produced a lime-green, racing-striped toy version of the B-2 stealth bomber!)

Consider the purple prose on the Matchbox "S.W.A.T. Truck" package:
Sirens are blaring as emergency forces surround the captured building. When the situation gets critical, it’s time to call in the SWAT Truck. Its high-tech interior and fully armored exterior will crush any obstacle that appears in its path! Time to restore the peace!
In reality, the MaxxPro is an ugly, top-heavy truck designed to survive driving over bombs. While I'm a big fan of mine-protected stuff, I'm not so sure I want my pre-schooler to yet contemplate a world in which roads explode and death is arbitrary.

I'll keep the mil-toys locked away for a couple of years, until Rain and I can talk about what they mean to me. And the Red Bull. It might prove to be a good, accessible way into the topic of Afghanistan. "You know, son, Dad used to ride around in one of these ..."

Generals may fight the last war, but toy companies play with it. Keeping an eye on how war is re-packaged and sold back to our kids is a perennial part of parental sentry duty.

In other words, war toys are two-edged swords. Even if they're made of foam. Or are 64 times smaller than real-life and painted powder blue.

Like G.I. Joe said: "Now you know, and knowing is half the battle."

27 October 2011

Pyramid Schemes and Combat Patches

Tuesday's blog post regarding the 2,600-member 1st Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division's (1-34th BCT) continued role in Iraq and Kuwait featured quotes from members of Charlie Company, 1st Combined Arms Battalion ("CAB"), 194th Armor Regiment (1-194th CAB), headquartered in Sauk Centre, Minn. The unit is anticipated to return to Minnesota in summer 2012.

Army Spc. Zachary K. Mangas originally collected those quotes as part of a story regarding the unit's patching ceremony, in which Charlie Company soldiers received an additional 34th Infantry Division "Red Bull" patch to represent their deployment. These "shoulder-sleeve insignia, former wartime service" (S.S.I.F.W.T.S.) emblems are usually described as "combat patches." The award is much deserved: As of October 1, the company has traveled more than 100,000 miles in Iraq and has escorted more than 4,000 trucks safely through that country.

Soldiers who wear a Red Bull patch on both the left (unit of assignment) and right (combat patch) sleeves are occasionally referred to as wearing the "steak sandwich" or the "doub-bull."

Just as notable as the patch ceremony, however, was where it took place: At the top of the Ziggurat of Ur, a 100-foot-high pyramid first built in the 21st century B.C.E. The site is located near Nasiriyah, Iraq. Some religious traditions hold that Abraham once lived in the region.

According to Mangas' story, the location was kept secret from the Red Bull soldiers until the last minute, if not the last mile:

“It was a normal mission for us,” said Spc. Luke A. Peterson, an armor crewman from Duluth, Minn. “We had been on the road escorting trucks for close to nine hours and were ready to take showers and get some sleep when word came down that our sergeant major worked it out with the Iraqi police to let us receive our patches on top of the ziggurat.”

“It’s pretty surreal to think of it this way—something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” said Andrew L. Schmaltz, an infantryman from Big Lake, Minn. “Most guys my age are in college or working back home. Here I am at the birthplace of man, receiving my combat patch.”

Again according to Mangas, more than half of Charlie Company previously deployed to a combat zone. During Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005, the Minnesota National Guard's 1-34th BCT deployed for a record-breaking 16 months.

“It’s great to see my guys who have never deployed before receive their combat patch after spending so much time training and running missions,” said Sgt. Aaron J. McGowan. “People recognize the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division patch throughout the whole theatre of operations because of what we accomplished during Operation Iraqi Freedom and now Operation New Dawn. It’s something I’ll always carry on my right shoulder for the rest of my military career. I’m happy to see more soldiers patched into the tradition.”

25 October 2011

The Roads Ahead for Iraq and the Red Bull

For those Midwesterners still paying attention to the war in Iraq this week--you know, since the last U.S. "combat units" allegedly left that country back in August 2010--President Barack Obama's Oct. 21 announcement that all remaining U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by year's end planted the hybrid seeds of hope and rumor.

"As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end—for the sake of our national security and to strengthen American leadership around the world," Obama said. "After taking office, I announced a new strategy that would end our combat mission in Iraq and remove all of our troops by the end of 2011."

In other words, "mission accomplished." Again.

The 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division, however, is still engaged in the fight, with approximately 2,600 soldiers of the Minnesota National Guard's 1st Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry Division (1-34th BCT) deployed to Kuwait since May.

Given Obama's words, Minnesota's Red Bull families were quick to add two and two together to get 2,600 back by Christmas. But Uncle Sam doesn't work that way.

Early Saturday morning, Minnesota National Guard public affairs officer Lt. Col. Kevin Olson had to counter the rumors via Facebook: "There is no indication that today's announcement by the President will affect the Minnesota National Guard," he wrote. "More than 2,600 Soldiers with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, stationed in Kuwait, are expected to remain until May 2012 performing their important duties of providing security for bases in Kuwait and facilitating the draw down of US military forces and equipment from Iraq."

It's political snipe-hunting season in the land of the caucuses, and hacks and critics quickly claimed that Obama was deserting the Iraqi people, abandoning the strategic advantages presented by locating troops on Iraqi soil, and dishonoring the memories of more than 4,000 troops killed during the U.S. occupation.

Diplomats have been negotiating for years regarding the political and legal status of U.S. forces in a post-2011 Iraq. The sticky-tipping point proved to be whether U.S. troops would be subject to Iraqi law. What would happen if U.S. troops were required to defend themselves in court every time they defended themselves with bullets? On the other hand, why would a host government struggling to impose rule of law subject itself to indefinite occupation?

Yes, it smells. But it smells like democracy. It's a republic, if they can keep it.

Let the pols and pundits argue over campaign scraps. For Red Bull Nation, Obama's decision is neither a big win or an epic fail. It's just another day overseas, on the road and on mission. For example, as of earlier this month, Minnesota's Charlie Company, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor Regiment (1-194th C.A.B.) has traveled more than 100,000 miles in Iraq and has escorted over 4,000 trucks safely through the desert land of Iraq.

“It was one of those things that I wouldn’t change for the world,” said Army Spc. Luke A. Peterson, an armor crewman from Duluth, Minn. “Twenty years down the line when I’m talking to my kids and grand kids I can tell them where I was on the 10th anniversary of 9/11—in Iraq, helping to finish this war.”

“We will never forget the lives lost that September morning ten years ago,” Capt. John M. Hobot, Charlie Company commander. “We are going to finish the job we started here last deployment during the troop surge and leave proud with what we have accomplished in Iraq. Today is a day to reflect on what we really have in the United States, a society that accepts political differences and diversity among it’s people which is protected by the blanket of freedom and democracy. I wish the same for the people of Iraq during this transitional time as they move closer to a democratic free society.”

Approximately 50,000 troops remain in Iraq, along with their equipment and vehicles. They need to move out in less than 90 days.

Last Red Bull in country, be sure to turn off the lights.

20 October 2011

Red Bull Soldiers Testify on Vets and Jobs

A U.S. House subcommittee investigating civilian employment issues facing veterans and military reservists conducted a field hearing in Waterloo, Iowa, Monday, Oct. 17. The event was one of two such hearings. A second is slated for Wednesday, Oct. 19, in Northeastern Indiana.

In addition to those representing governmental agencies and Iowa employers, three members of the Iowa Army National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) offered their insights on helping citizen-soldiers find employment. In July 2010, an estimated 25 percent of that unit's roughly 3,000 members reported they would be unemployed upon their return. Other states' National Guard units have similarly experienced above-average unemployment rates.

The U.S. National Guard's 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division has historical roots in the American Midwest, originally consisting of citizen-soldiers from Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota. That tradition continues with multiple "Red Bull" units located in Iowa and Minnesota. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee.

Minnesota's 1st Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry Division (1-34th BCT) is currently deployed to Kuwait and Iraq. Rep. Timothy J. Walz, D-Minn., is also on the subcommittee.

Col. Benjamin Corell, commander of the Iowa's 2-34th BCT, brought the big-gun, big-picture perspective:
This last decade has been a long, tough fight for our military forces. I, like others have personally answered the call to duty time and time again. I have witnessed our hard-earned success in both Iraq and in Afghanistan. I have seen the sacrifice required by our men and women in uniform and by our families. Reserve and National Guard employers have quietly sacrificed at great costs with little thanks and no financial incentives to hire and retain our veterans. [...]

The aggregate unemployment rate for our veterans is habitually higher than the national average rate of unemployment. I need your help to correct this. All of the job fairs and resume writing workshops in the world will only get my fellow veterans so far. I believe that we need to review and update the 1994 Cold War-focused Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. Concurrently we must develop and implement legislation that will provide real incentives to the business sector and for those veterans that own small business or private professional practices. Once that is completed, we need to market it to employers and ensure that it is enforced.
Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Rose of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, a senior at the University of Iowa, noted the difficulties of balancing life as both a student and a citizen-soldier:
The [G.I. Bill benefit I receive] is actually enough, when coupled with my drill pay every month, that I do not have to work. I am able to concentrate completely on my studies, which any senior will tell you, is a hard thing to do.

I, however, do not have all the obligations that a number of soldiers I know have. I have no wife, no children, no car payments and so on. Many National Guard soldiers cannot go to school full time and take care of their family with tuition assistance and GI Bill alone, especially if they have not been deployed and receive a smaller pro-rated amount. This forces them to work while attending school. There is nothing wrong with working while going to school but for some soldiers I know personally they have had to stop going because they needed to move to full time at work, their grades were slipping or they weren’t spending as much time with their family as they wanted to.
Capt. Aaron Robinson of Urbandale, Iowa, discussed the difficulties he and other citizen-soldiers face in transitioning to civilian employment:
For example, an enlisted soldier friend of mine was the database manager for our unit’s personnel records pertaining to security clearances. (That’s 500 records—the size of a good-sized company.) However, now that he’s back at home, civilian employers don’t seem to recognize his abilities to learn new computer systems, and to manage highly sensitive data on a daily basis. To add insult to injury, he can’t even find work in his old civilian occupation–he’s a welder.

I’ve faced similar challenges to that of my friend, trying to figure out how to translate military language into civilian Human Resources-speak. After some resume coaching, I found my work in intelligence most closely applies to business analysis and project management. However, unlike my purely civilian counterparts, I’m not necessarily versed in the latest business acronyms and buzz-phrases, which decreases the likelihood of getting through H.R. filters. Also, while I am proficient in military computer software and hardware, I am not specifically trained in systems most-familiar to potential civilian employers.

Employers, politicians, and even the media talk up certain ideas about veterans: that we’re hard-working and motivated, that we’re mission- and people-focused, and that we handle pressure extremely well. Beyond this, however, and the occasional job-fair and “welcome home” PowerPoint show, veterans don’t seem to get a lot of practical help in getting hired.
For Des Moines (Iowa) Register coverage of Monday's hearing, click here.

For Waterloo-Cedar Falls (Iowa) Courier coverage, click here.

For full transcripts of testimonies presented at the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs' Oct. 17, 2011 "Hiring Heroes" field hearing, click here.

18 October 2011

'Ironman' Gunners Invent Ammo-Carrier

A team of Iowa Army National Guard "Red Bull" soldiers was recently credited with inventing a system that allows an individual to carry 500 rounds of belt-fed Mark 48 machine gun ammunition on his back, allowing him to provide sustained and deadly fire while on foot. Without it, a dismounted machine-gunner must be assisted by another soldier, who helps to carry equipment and ammunition, and to feed the weapon belts of bullets.

"When we first arrived in theater in late October [2010], we were issued the Mk 48 7.62 mm machine guns," said Staff Sgt. Vincent Winkowski in a recent Army news article. "This was a new piece of equipment for us, and we struggled to come up with a solution for carrying and employing ammunition for it, due to our small size and the inability to have a designated ammo bearer [...]

"The ammunition sacks that came with it made it too cumbersome and heavy to carry over long, dismounted patrols and especially when climbing mountains. Initially, we came up with using 50-round belts and just reloading constantly, which led to lulls of fire and inefficiency."

Winkowski, Spc. Derick Morgan, and Spc. Aaron McNew got the idea from the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie "Predator," in which actor, wrestler, and former Minnesota governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura wields a manpackable Minigun. McNew first employed the system in combat in February 2011.

The design is a mash-up of previously issued equipment: A rucksack frame, a couple of modified ammo cases, and a 27-inch feed-chute assembly (cost: $1,710) borrowed from a Common Remotely Operated Weapons System ("CROWS") vehicle mount. (A CROWS allows soldiers to aim and operate machine guns and other weapons with a videogame-like interface, while seated safely inside an armored vehicle.)

Army fabricators have dubbed the design for a high-capacity ammunition carriage system the "Ironman"--the traditional nickname of the Iowa Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment (1-133rd Inf.). The unit, as part of the larger 2010-2011 deployment of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT), returned to Iowa earlier this summer. Between October 2010 and July 2011, the 1-133rd Inf. operated in Eastern Afghanistan's Laghman and parts of Nuristan provinces.

According to the Army news release, improved prototypes were shipped downrange approximately 48 days after Army technicians inspected the Iowans' work. And, if budgets and manufacturing contracts allow, the Ironman system could be more-widely delivered to troops sometime in 2012.

"We've already gotten e-mail traffic from [one of] our science advisers that everybody in theater wants one of these--and by in theater, he means his specific area of operation, Regional Command East in Afghanistan--because word has spread," said Dave Roy, an operations analyst with Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (N.S.R.D.E.C.). "That [Iowa National Guard] unit [was] not the only unit on [Forward Operating Base Mehtar-Lam]. As they're walking around the FOB with that piece of kit, very senior people are taking a look at it. They recognize it as a game-changer."

News of the Ironman ammo-carrier design was recently published on the Military.com website, as well as Wired's "Danger Room" blog.

11 October 2011

Film Fest: 8 Docs About War in Afghanistan

Military operations in Afghanistan continue to enjoy some long, hard looks from documentary film makers. These projects provide viewers the opportunities to virtually walk the ground, to experience second-hand some of the emotions and frustrations that soldiers face daily.

In the spirit of a past Red Bull Film Festival blog-post, here's a quick list--alphabetical and chronological by year of release--of recent and upcoming Afghan-themed documentary projects:

"ARMADILLO" (2010)

This film depicts the 2009 experiences of a Danish army platoon located at Forward Operating Base Armadillo in Southern Afghanistan's Helmand Province. Earlier this fall, the film premiered in the United States on the Public Broadcasting Service's (P.B.S.)"P.O.V." documentary series.

The film is subtitled, and rich with post-production saturations of color and manipulations of sounds. Some critics argue that the film blurs the line between truth-telling and entertainment. That said, the soldiers' opinions and daily life are presented without obvious editorial comment, starting with good-byes to friends and family, landing in unforgiving country, and grinding through daily battles, boredom, and emotional fatigue. The troops are regularly frustrated by an enemy who seems always just out of reach, until a fateful and successful ambush of Taliban forces.

As the POV website notes:
Whether they go over the line in killing wounded Taliban is in the eye of the beholder, and the soldiers immediately begin justifying their actions to themselves. The wounded men moved and who could take a chance that they weren’t reaching to detonate a bomb? There is even a suggestion that the shootings were mercy killings for men dying slowly. The most potent aspect of the men’s solidarity in the face of criticism is their own accusation: How could anyone who was not there presume to judge them?
Such questions are guaranteed to generate thought and discussion. There is a lesson-plan based on the film for use by educators.

Internet Movie Database (I.M.D.B.) listing here.

See preview trailer online here.

To be released on DVD Oct. 18, 2011.



In February 2010, in Afghanistan's Helmand Province, U.S. Marines, Afghan, and other forces launched Operation Moshtarak, the largest military operation since the start of the Afghan war, and the first major move since the Obama administration had announced plans to send an additional 30,000 troops to that country.

Centerpiece to the effort was the town of Marjah, a town of 80,000 people in Southern Afghanistan's Helmand Province. The film explores the efficacy of U.S. forces "clear, hold, and build" strategy, as well as the effects of engagement rules intended to minimize civilian casualties.

Journalist Ben Anderson spent two months embedded with the Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. Four months after the success of Operation Moshtarak, Anderson returned to Marjah to find the troops fighting for a shrinking zone of control. "Marines fight battles," press materials quote one marine. "They don't fight wars."

IMDB listing here.

Recently released in DVD and Blu-ray combo-pack.


"RESTREPO" (2010)

This is the proverbial 155-millimeter artillery round of Afghan war documentaries. In 2007 and 2008, author Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington repeatedly embedded with a company of active-duty soldiers of the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Eastern Afghanistan.

Red Bull Rising blog readers will remember that "Restrepo" was previously nominated for an Academy Award in the documentary feature category, and was a 2010 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize recipient.

Recently, the film garnered two additional awards: an Emmy for long-form news coverage and another for editing.

Click here for a June 2010 Red Bull Rising review of "Restrepo."

IMDB listing here.

View preview trailer online here.

Available on DVD and Blu-ray.



Deployed to Southern Afghanistan's Helmand Province in 2008, an Embedded Training Team (E.T.T.) comprising 17 Oregon National Guard soldiers was tasked with mentoring an Afghan National Army battalion--a "kandak." Instead, they found themselves assigned to an Afghan counter-narcotics battalion, with whom no U.S. team had ever before worked. The team spent three months in daily firefights out of Patrol Base Attal. One charismatic captain was killed by Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.) in September 2008. Two other soldiers were wounded in that attack. The next year, thousands of U.S. Marines deployed to the area. Directed by Gary Mortensen.

IMDB listing here.

See preview trailer online here.

Available on DVD here. Fifty percent of proceeds go to support Honored American Veterans Afield (H.A.V.A.), a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting disabled veterans with the healing process by facilitating their participation in outdoor sports.



In 2004, National Football League player Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire while serving as an active-duty U.S. Army Ranger in Eastern Afghanistan. Along with his brother Kevin, Tillman had enlisted following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2011. Military leaders and politicians subsequently sought to subvert the truth, as well as Tillman's wishes against being used for propaganda purposes, whether living or dead.

While lacking the richer explorations of Tillman's personality, drive, and beliefs that can be found in two previously published books—Jon Krakauer's "Where Men Win Glory" and Mary Tillman's "Boots on the Ground by Dusk"—the documentary is no less damning of military and governmental sins of omission and commission following Tillman's death.

IMDB listing here.

Available on DVD and Blu-ray.



Not a feature documentary, but rather a 10-hour cable television reality series. The high-definition production follows an 8-member U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (E.O.D.) from stateside training to deployment in Northern Afghanistan.

Previews and press-talk for the show promise plenty of explosions, robots, and helmet-cam video. Could this equal "Hurt Locker" (2008) meets "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare"?

Premieres Oct. 25 on the video game and technology-heavy G4 channel.

Click here for website.



This film tells the story of the U.S. 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment during the unit's 2009 tour in Southern Afghanistan's Helmand Province. Originally built in 2008 by the British Army's Task Force Helmand, Patrol Base Jaker is now an expeditionary base maintained by U.S. Marines.

The film premiered May 2011 at the G.I. Film Festival in Washington D.C., where it won best documentary.

In an August post on the film's Facebook page, director David Scantling is preparing final cut for a Nov. 10, 2011 theatrical release. The movie will also be released on DVD/Blu-ray and Internet/iTunes venues around that same time.

IMDB listing here.

See preview trailer online here.



Theatrically released earlier this month, this Danfung Dennis film flips between 2009 events in Southern Afghanistan with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, and the subsequent homecoming of 25-year-old Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris. According to press materials: "When Sergeant Harris returns home to North Carolina after a life-threatening injury in battle, the film evolves from a war exposé to the story of one man’s personal apocalypse. With the love and support of his wife, Ashley, Harris struggles to overcome the difficulties of transitioning back to civilian life."

Notably, Dennis chose to avoid a traditional soundtrack in the film. "There isn't an orchestra playing when you're running through a battlefield," he said in a recent interview with National Public Radio. "There isn't, you know, huge drums. It's just pure terror." In place of music, Dennis and sound designer J. Ralph manipulated sounds found on the battlefield. "The sound of gunfire, the sound of crying, it's often that you'll hear these sounds and you'll see these images in your mind as if they were a memory," Dennis told NPR. "But they become so intense that you actually stop seeing what's around you and you stop hearing it."

The film received the World Cinema Jury and Cinematography prizes at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

IMDB listing here.

See preview trailer online here.

06 October 2011

The Sucking Sound in Hooverville

Sgt. Schlitz is back from Bagram, and looking for work. The Eastern Iowa toy company for which he'd previously worked has been limping along in the bad economy. He re-joined the U.S. Army after a 21-year break in service, and deployed to Afghanistan with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.) 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division. He's got management and marketing experience, a hearty Midwestern work ethic, and a dogged sense of humor.

"Al Jazeera is hiring a graphic designer," he joked recently on his Facebook page. "Would that be a conflict of interest?"

According to Iowa National Guard officials, approximately 25 percent of the Red Bull soldiers who deployed to Afghanistan didn't have civilian jobs to which to return. By comparison, as of August 2011, the overall unemployment rate in Iowa is 6.1 percent.

The quick math? In round numbers, out of a 3,000-member brigade combat team, approximately 750 are without civilian employment. In the military, that's larger than the size of a battalion. In the civilian world--at least by the Small Business Administration's (SBA) definition--that's "large business" territory.

If a 25-percent unemployment bomb were to explode in the vicinity of a single Iowa town, you'd be looking at some significant economic damage. Because Iowa's citizen-soldiers are spread across the state, however, adding 750 more job-seekers to the state's pool of 101,900 unemployed workers doesn't exactly seem like a flood.

In other words, it's easy for people to say "thank you for your service." It's harder for people to see that there may be a systemic problem when it comes to keeping citizen-soldiers gainfully employed when they're not being deployed.

"I've never met someone who didn't want to help," says Saber2th, who is engaged in his own post-deployment job search. For 24 months prior to his own deployment to Afghanistan, he was on temporary full-time active-duty--while helping the 2-34th BCT prepare for deployment. Now, that mission is over, and the budget money that went with it is gone. "Everybody says civilian employers understand how military skills and attitudes benefit them. Everybody says employers will follow the law, and won't discriminate based on membership in the National Guard. Beyond that, no one seems to know what to do. Job fairs and resume-writing classes can only get soldiers so far."

The funny thing is, Saber2th is pretty sure he could market his specialized military skills elsewhere in the states. Arizona, say--or maybe Virginia. But that would most likely be military-contract work, and the wars can't go on forever. Besides, like Schlitz, he'd like to keep his young family in Iowa.

As a hardworking, capable taxpayer who has repeatedly answered the call of country (two overseas deployments) and community (during the floods of 2008), his fellow Iowans should want to keep him there, too.

Of course, unemployment in the ranks isn't just an Iowa problem: Consider that, in 2010, 20 percent of Vermont's 86th BCT returned to unemployment after the Iowa's Red Bull soldiers took over the mission in Eastern Afghanistan. At the time, Vermont's overall unemployment rate was 7 percent.

According to a recent Army news release, Florida's 53rd BCT returned from a 2010 deployment with 39 percent unemployment.

Following an August presidential announcement on veterans-employment initiatives, a White House press release noted:
  • As of June, one million veterans were unemployed and the jobless rate for post-9/11 veterans was 13.3 percent. [National unemployment rate at the time was around 9.1 percent.]
  • These veterans tend to be young and many worked in sectors that were among the hardest hit by the recession. Post-9/11 veterans were more likely to be employed in mining, construction, manufacturing, transportation and utilities—all industries that experienced significant drops in employment during 2008-2009.
  • And as we end the war in Iraq and wind down the war in Afghanistan, over one million service members are projected to leave the military between 2011 and 2016.
Some cranks and wags will argue that there is nothing new here, that the poor are always with us, and so are jobless veterans. (Forget the Alamo and forget the Maine--anyone remember Hooverville?) According to a Pew Research Center report published this week:
More than eight-in-ten (84 percent) of these modern-era veterans say the American public has little or no understanding of the problems that those in the military face. Most of the public (71 percent) agrees. Many Americans also acknowledge that since the 9/11 attacks, the military and their families have made more sacrifices than the public at large. But even among this group, only 26 percent say this gap is "unfair," while 70 percent say that it's "just part of being in the military."
Seventy percent of America to veterans: "Welcome home. Embrace the suck."


A Veteran’s Job and Resource Fair will be held today, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Iowa National Guard Armory Complex in Iowa City. Sponsored by Iowa City Area Development, more than 50 employers and veterans resource providers will be present. A pre-event workshop, "How to Work a Job Fair," will be conducted 3:30 p.m. at the some location. For more information, click here. For a PDF brochure, click here.


As part of a wider reorganization of the state's employment offices, 42 computer-based "access points" to Iowa Workforce Development services have been installed in Iowa National Guard armories.


As part of a comprehensive veterans employment speech in August 2011, President Barack Obama recently proposed employer tax credits ranging from $2,400 to $$4,800 for each unemployed veteran hired. (An earlier credit of up to $2,400 expired in 2010.) He also proposed similar tax credits for hiring veterans with service-connected disabilities, in amounts ranging from $4,800 to $9,600.


Many returning Red Bull soldiers may be using their G.I. Bill benefits, rather than look for work. Reported in a Cedar Rapids Gazette/KCRG-TV9 article earlier this week, approximately one-third of those returning from Afghanistan planned to go to college rather than seek employment.


A statewide "Hiring Our Heroes" job fair for veterans and military spouses will be held 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Nov. 8, at Hall "C" of Hy-Vee Hall, Des Moines, Iowa. The event is free. Registration is not required, but registrants will receive advance notice of exhibitors. Click here for a registration page. For more information, contact Iowa Workforce Development's Jeff Johnson; jeffrey_johnson AT iwd.iowa.gov; 515.281.9708; Gloria Cano; gloria_cano AT iwd.iowa.gov; 515.281.9649.

03 October 2011

Never Bring a Pen to a Knife Fight

There's a long-standing oral tradition within the U.S. military that originates in Murphy's Law--the assumption that "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." When dressed in military mufti, any list of Murphy-inspired rules usually starts off with "Murphy was a grunt," then steps off smartly toward truisms such as "'friendly fire' isn't" and "if your attack is going really well, it's an ambush."

Science-fiction writer and "Schlock Mercenary" creator Howard Tayler maintains a similar list and tradition with his slightly out-of-this-world "Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries." Two samples: "A Sergeant in motion outranks a Lieutenant who doesn't know what's going on" and "That which does not kill you has made a tactical error."

Tayler, by the way, gamely posed for a friend of the Red Bull Rising blog at this year's Gen Con in Indianapolis. I know I've identified myself as a fan before, but let me tell you, when I saw this photo in my in-box, I laughed, I cried, I squee'd. It was better than a tactical "Cats!"

Inspired by Murphy and Schlock--as well as some recent news items regarding military writing--I've culled my Afghan notebooks for some similar aphorisms. After the bullet points die off, you'll see what started all this amusing musing.


  • Writing can be therapeutic, but it ain't a therapy. The same goes for drinking and shooting stuff.
  • Write what you know, but not if it's classified.
  • "The first casualty of war is truth." A corollary? "The first truth of war is casualties."
  • Any sociologist or soldier will tell you: The military is a tribe. It is best understood on its own terms, within its own cultural contexts, and by living among them.
  • Food and hygiene are cultural contexts.
  • In casual conversations and military briefings, "Inshallah" means either "God willing" or "if we feel like it." Either one can get you killed.
  • "Soldier" is also a verb.
  • False motivation trumps no motivation.
  • Words are like bullets. They can fragment, ricochet, mis-fire, hit the wrong targets. Remember to breathe, aim, and squeeze.
  • Journalism is the first draft of history. People today think we don't need a draft.
  • The fog of war never goes away—it fades into memory. Clarity is a moving target.
  • If you don't know how to read a uniform, you are functionally illiterate in garrison.
  • If you don't know how to read the terrain, you are functionally illiterate in the field.
  • "Cover" stops bullets. "Concealment" shrouds your actions from observation. Know how to apply each concept, tactically and rhetorically.
  • Those who failed history class are doomed to repeat it in practicum.
  • History is often said to be "written by the victors." More likely, however, it will be written by the quiet guy in the corner. The one taking notes.
  • All of us is smarter than some of us, but over-reliance on networked automation makes us stupid.
  • The pen may be mightier than the sword, but never bring a pen to a knife fight.
  • Not all veterans are crazy, but it helps. According to some, so does drinking and shooting stuff.


The Missouri Warrior Writers Program has issued a call for submissions (deadline: Dec. 30, 2011) for a national anthology of poetry, non-fiction, and fiction by veterans and service members about their wartime experiences regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the organization's website:
This experience includes deployments and those who have never been deployed. Transition back into civilian life is also a topic of interest for this anthology. The contest will award $250 each to the top entries in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. All entries will be considered for publication in the anthology. There is no entry fee.
Click here for guidelines.

Click here for a related Sept. 22, 2011 National Public Radio interview with author Mark Bowden, who will judge non-fiction submissions to the anthology.



A free 3-day writing workshop will be sponsored by the University of Iowa's Veterans Center Oct. 14-16, 2011. Location for the event is the UI Communications Center, 116 S. Madison St. (between Washington & Burlington), Iowa City, Iowa. The workshop is open to all current and former military personnel—whether they were in combat or not, and no writing experience is required.

To register for the event, click here. Enrollment is limited to 40 participants.

For more information regarding the workshop's content, staffing, and purpose, click here.