30 April 2013

Book Review: 'DEROS Vietnam: Dispatches from the Air-Conditioned Jungle'

"DEROS Vietnam: Dispatches from the Air-Conditioned Jungle" by Doug Bradley

The word "DEROS" is an acronym, and something of a shibolleth—a word that only members of a given tribe will know. Recent U.S. veterans may not recognize it at all. Veterans of the Vietnam War, however, will likely recall it as "Date Eligible for Return from Overseas," the magical date upon which one would first be eligible to rotate back to the states, getting aboard a government-contracted "freedom bird," and shipping out after 12 months or so of deployment.

Veterans and families who have experienced wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere might find a DEROS analogous to a unit homecoming. During Vietnam, however, service members often traveled in and out of country on their own individual timelines, and didn't experience their wars as members of a single cohort.

Reflecting some of the fractures and facets of that time, Vietnam War veteran and Wisconsin-based author Doug Bradley has published a metafictional memoir of his experiences as a "REMF"—a "Rear-Echelon Mother F---er." As an information specialist, Bradley worked in the intestines of Army journalism, first at the Army Hometown News Center in Kansas City, Mo., and then at the U.S. Army Republic of Vietnam headquarters at Long Binh. He writes:
"That doesn't mean that there wasn't any pain and sacrifice and danger for us REMFs. But it's muted, much like our collective Vietnam voice, because well, most of what we did wasn't glorious or heroic or even very interesting. Trying to unmute that REMF voice is part of the reason why I've been writing about Vietnam for more than 40 years. [...]

Truth is, that's way too noble a motivation for me and this collection of stories. I wrote them mainly for myself because the process of writing has helped me to better understand Vietnam—and to heal myself a little in the process. I need to write, I have to write, to be who I am. There's as much of the non-Vietnam me in here that there is the Vietnam me.

But I doubt that you'll be able to tell the difference.
In 32 short stories, Bradley tells of Iowa boys who learn to respect the farmers and soil of Vietnam; of secret societies of snarky Army newspaper advice columnists; of power struggles over controlling populations of puppies on post. He tells of riots, mutinies, and counter-insurgencies. Some of the latter are tolerated. Some are even sanctioned. Most, however, are squashed by heat and hopelessness.

Because they both take place "away from the action," Bradley's work invites comparison to David Abrams' "Fobbit," the 2012 satirical novel about Army public affairs efforts in the Iraq War. Bradley's objective is less overtly black-humored and over-arching than Abrams' book, however, although funny things do happen. War is like that. No matter where and when you are.

Bradley openly evokes Ernest Hemingway's "In Our Time," a 1921 collection of vignettes thematically focused on the author's experiences of World War I. It was an experimental book, in which readers were left to collect their own understandings and meanings through an apparently unconnected series of short stories.

Bradley also stews together elements of both fiction and non-fiction, an approach similar to that of fellow midwesterner and Vietnam War veteran Tim O'Brien, who wrote "The Things They Carried" in 1979.

"Short or long, writing these pieces has pushed me, after all these years, to complete my own cycle," Bradley writes. "Some is eerily autobiographical, some fictional, and some a little of both. What it all means and how much it matters is now up to you."

Along with co-author Craig Werner, Bradley is currently working on a second book, this one regarding Western popular music during the Vietnam War. "We Gotta Get Out of This Place: Music and the Vietnam Experience," is slated for publication later in 2013. Bradley also writes a blog at the Huffington Post.

"DEROS Vietnam" is available in both paperback and Kindle formats.

24 April 2013

Spring 2013 Iowa Review Features Military Writing

When the family of Vietnam War veteran, anti-war activist, and writer Jeff Sharlet approached The Iowa Review about conducting a commemorative writing contest for veterans and military service members, the editors were uncertain whether they would be able to solicit much response from writers.

The editors eventually received some 268 entries—fiction, non-fiction, and poetry—a virtual wave of papers that nearly overwhelmed the staff during the blistering summer of 2012.

The Spring 2013 issue of The Iowa Review features the work of those writers who submitted to that first contest. Eleven poems of 2013 Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veterans winner Hugh Martin, an Iraq War veteran, are presented, including two that are available on-line: "Ares" and "Memorial Day."

In addition to a 2010 chapbook, Martin has published a 2013 poetry collection titled "The Stick Soldiers."

In his editor's note to the spring 2013 issue, Russell Valentino analyzes some of the literary terrain covered by military writers:
We know return is one of the most powerful themes in all storytelling, that the memory of what is still or perhaps no longer there intensifies when one is here, and the projected possibilities of what was there then make what is here now radiant, or excruciating, or both. 
We know how the distances, imagined or real, physical or temporal, both separate and unite in such stories, and how our sense of what we can or should do now or tomorrow turns out so clearly contingent on who we find ourselves with, where, when, and, then again, sometimes on none of that, and nearly on nothing at all—a glitch, a harsh word, a miscue, a silly thought, the whims of the gods. 
We know such stories have been with us for a very long time, and that they show us how little our choices can mean in some circumstances, and how much they can mean in others.
"With veterans and non-veterans writing in such overlapping ways—about home, technology, power, peace and violence, intimacy and estrangement," he concludes, "we realize how much war and the legacy of war shape us all."

The issue's cover features the work of The Combat Paper Project.

The 3,000-circulation publication is produced in Iowa City, Iowa, a UNESCO City of Literature, and home to the University of Iowa and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Subscriptions are $25 per year, $45 for two years, and $60 for three years (add $15 postage per year for foreign addresses).

The Sharlet family provided seed money for three annual contests of military writing. Announcement regarding this year's contest, including rules and deadlines, is pending.

22 April 2013

The Sherpatudes: Words to Live and Write By

Last week, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Tom Ricks graciously featured "The Sherpatudes" on his "Best Defense" blog at Foreign Policy magazine.

I had written those 26 fortune-cookie-sized lessons in March 2012, in an attempt to distill my advice for working in a Tactical Operations Center ("TOC"). Even though it's one of the least sexy jobs in uniform, working the radios and computers in the TOC was always one of my favorite duties. That's probably because, with all the television screens and radio chatter and information feeds, it's a little like working in a newsroom.

The TOC isn't so much the brains of a military unit as it is a reactive cluster of nerves. Working together, the TOC workers process and pass information, monitoring events as they happen, focusing their collective attentions on the "here," the "now," and the "what happens in the next 15 minutes."

Ricks' readers are nearly always insightful and intellectually challenging. I was humbled by the great responses generated by the post there. One reader said, "I guess most of these rules also apply to any profession. And #3, #25 and #26 are mandatory if you want to live happily in any society."

Another noted, "something for posters to consider as they critique events/situations [...]"

Even as I saw my own words in a different light and venue last week, I didn't realize at the time was that I'd soon have a chance to follow my own advice. It was Monday morning. The bombs at the Monday's Boston Marathon weren't yet on my radar. As the day progressed, however, I found myself fighting impulses to speculate online regarding the developing situation.

Consider, for example, Sherpatude No. 3: "Never speak with complete authority regarding that which you lack direct knowledge, observation, and/or suppressive fires."

Or Sherpatude No. 15: "The first report is always wrong. Except when it isn't."

Or Sherpatude No. 17: "Exercise digital/tactical patience. Communications works at the speed of light. People do not."

A couple of days later, I'm glad I followed my own advice. I didn't jump to conclusions (No. 15: "The first report is always wrong. Except when it isn't"), and I didn't crack jokes (No. 26: "Humor is a combat multiplier. Except when it isn't").

For years, I've tried to come up with a list of best-practices for mil-bloggers, something akin to a "code of conduct" from my days in newspaper and magazine journalism.

During an otherwise dark and stormy week, I was pleasantly surprised that the Sherpatudes held up to such an application. Even with the usual caveats about how "your results may vary," my TOC-inspired tips and techniques might just serve as general recommendations for mil-blogging and mainstream media practice.

In other words: words to live and write by.

19 April 2013

April 19, 1775 and 2013: Today is Patriots' Day

Patriots' Day is a state holiday in Massachusetts, as well as Wisconsin and Maine, although the apostrophe shifts with the geography. In Massachusetts, the holiday is observed on the third Monday of April. The holiday commemorates April 19, 1775, and the first battles of the American Revolution, Lexington and Concord.

The iconic image of the American Minuteman, featured on U.S. National Guard and Reserve symbols, also comes from these times.

Minutemen were citizens who stood ready to leave their families at a moment's notice, in order to defend their neighbors, farms, and businesses. (Note to my warrior-princess second-grader: There were Minutewomen, too.)

I joined the U.S. Army in the late 1980s and '90s. When I didn't get active duty, I joined the National Guard. Some people say they joined the military to answer the call of "God and Country." I like to say I joined the National Guard to answer the call of "God, Country, and Community."

After all, while they train to serve a wartime mission overseas, the citizen-soldiers of the National Guard also muster at the order of their respective states' governors, and respond to events of national crisis or natural disaster. We are not first responders, but we are there to back up local law enforcement, emergency medical, public health, and transportation officials. We surge to our own backyards.

I had my first opportunity to volunteer for state active duty in 1993. The city hall had been built on an island in the middle of the Cedar River, and the flood waters were rising around it. My battalion commander said that, in his 20 years since Vietnam, it was the first time he could remember getting called up like that. He asked for volunteers. He almost had too many.

I guess you could say that we ran to the sound of the rapids.

During my two decades in uniform, I filled sandbags in Cedar Rapids. I monitored levees protecting my old high school haunting grounds along the Mississippi River. From the Joint Operations Center ("JOC"), I tracked the locations of power generators, emergency shelters, and rescue teams during blizzards. I got plenty of chances to serve, to answer the call of community, to help my neighbors.

When I retired, my wife observed that I'd finally be around to help shovel the driveway, particularly when there was a blizzard. She was joking, but only a little.

When citizen-soldiers support local law enforcement and emergency personnel, it's always the civilian responders who take the lead. The National Guard is rarely, if ever, put a position of first-response. Local firefighters or police arrive on site, take command, make assessments, and start working the scene.

We used to joke that we're more like "first-and-a-half responders"—there only if needed, to flow into any gaps the civilian agencies needed to cover. And that only happens through a complicated and deliberate conversation among elected and appointed officials, at local, regional, and state levels.

There's one exception to this, and that's when a National Guard soldier is on the scene and able to respond to save life, limb, or eyesight. And that's where 20 Massachusetts Army National Guard members found themselves on Mon., April 15, 2013, at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

First Lt. Steve Fiola, 1st Sgt. Bernard Madore, and 18 other soldiers from the Massachusetts Army National Guard's 1060th Transportation Company, Framingham, Mass., were participating a "Tough Ruck" intended to benefit the Military Friends Foundation, a Boston-based non-profit. Two other soldiers also participated in a shadow event, while serving downrange in Afghanistan.

The organization serves National Guard and Reserve service members, and families of the fallen. "Through generous donations made by individuals and companies," the group's Facebook page states, "we have been able to provide over half a million dollars to Massachusetts military families in times of need."

There was an explosion in Boston last Monday, near the finish line. Then, there was another.

The citizen-soldiers had just come off rucking the marathon—26 miles wearing boots and full backpacks.

Then, along with others, they ran to the sites of the blasts.

You can read more about their actions here, and here, and here.

No doubt, Fiola and his fellow citizen-soldiers will be recognized for their efforts. Depending on the still-to-be-determined circumstances of the attack, the Soldier's Medal might be one possibility.

They were not the only heroes that day, of course. I do not mean to place too much focus on their example. Our thoughts and prayers and support should go to all those affected by the April 15 attacks. And yet, I am particularly comforted by the sight of those modern-day Minutemen. It means we haven't forgotten our roots.

Some see the American Minuteman as an icon of individualism: One man, one musket, a singular resolve. That doesn't do justice to the full narrative, however. The Minuteman isn't a loner; he's part of a unit. Not only that, but he stands ready to answer a call of service not from a distant land, but from his neighbors.

Today is Patriots' Day. This is a day when we celebrate those who run to the sound of the guns, who leave without hesitation the comforts of home and family, who put themselves at risk without reservation or second thought.

Remember Lexington and Concord. Remember Oklahoma City. Now, remember Boston.

Do not let those who seek to undermine the meaning of this day gain purchase in our hearts, or in our thinking, or in our respect for the law and care for each other.

We are bound together, under one Constitution. We are neighbors. We are a community.

Stand ready. Stand together.

Today is Patriots' Day.

11 April 2013

Stick a Book of Poetry in Your Left Cargo Pocket

Because I don't have a lot of time or eyesight to read big books these days, I've taken to packing a small book of war poetry in my daily Bag of Tricks. ("It's not a purse, it's a satchel!") I often grab a few lines of sanity, reflection, or inspiration while brown-bagging it in my cubicle at work.

Most recently, I've been sampling from a book of British war poetry, "Heroes: 100 Poems from the New Generation of War Poets," published in 2011. If I still wore ACU pants every day,  the 170-page book would fit neatly into a cargo pocket. The collection is divided into three sections: "Leaving," "Active Service," and "Coming Home." Each poem is presented with the authors' name, rank, and age, along with a unit, time, and/or place of service.

The secret of humor is surprise, and so it is with poetry. I like generous helpings of each. I laughed with recognition upon reading the words of Cpl. Danny Martin, 28, who served with 1st Staffords Battle Group, Iraq (Operation Telic) in 2003 and 2005. His poem "Acknowledgements" resonated with my own conflicted feelings about leaving home and family, and joining one's buddies on a journey that would be a grand adventure, if only people didn't have to die.

Here is the poem is in its entirety:
By Cpl. Danny Martin
My thanks to Hollywood
When you showed me John Rambo
Stitching up his arm with no anaesthetic
And giving them 'a war they won't believe'
I knew then my calling, the job for me 
Thanks also to the recruitment adverts
For showing me soldiers whizzing around on skis
And for sending sergeants to our school
To tell us of the laughs, the great food, the pay
The camaraderie 
I am, dear taxpayer, forever in your debt
You paid for my all-inclusive pilgrimage
One year of basking in the Garden of Eden
(I haven't quite left yet) 
Thanks to Mum and thanks to Dad
Fu-- it,
Thanks to every parent
Flushing with pride for their brave young lads
Buying young siblings toy guns and toy tanks
Waiting at the airport
Waving their flags

09 April 2013

Notes from a Veterans Writing Workshop

Dr. Jon Kerstetter of TheSoldierDoctor.com conducts a seminar
on "Writing the Monster"—writing about difficult times and topics.
How was the military writing conference in Iowa City, Iowa last weekend? Maddening and gladdening. Tearful and joy-filled. Inspiring. Intimidating. Full of surprises, promise, and opportunities.

Like any good happening related to the practice of writing, this past weekend's "Writing My Way Back Home" conference on the University of Iowa campus instilled two dichotomous urges. The first, to linger over conversations and concepts, drawing out the last ounces of various seminars and connections. The second, to immediately isolate oneself, to hunker down and find a quiet place to write.

The exercise of memory, after all, is a fickle and random process. Even when it comes to things that just occurred to you.

In writing about military writing, I have begun to suspect that the endeavor is something of a moveable feast. We are fellow travelers, fellow veterans, fellow writers. More than a few of us have met before. There were cast members of "Telling: Iowa City" and "Telling: Des Moines." There were alumni of previous "Writing My Way Back Home" workshops, as well as from the 2012 Military Experience and the Arts Symposium held on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Kent.

Army aviators say that "any landing you can walk away from is a good one." Thinking along those lines, any writing conference you can walk away from, along with fresh approaches, new friends, and renewed acquaintances is a good one.

The free event was held over three days, starting on Friday night and ending early Sunday afternoon. Sessions were open to current and past military service members, and family members. Hour-long work classes included those on description, writing about difficult topics, poetry, character description, point-of-view, and more. There was even a seminar on blogging and journaling techniques.

There were approximately 30 to 40 participants and volunteer support staff. A number of attendees were from central and eastern Iowa, as well as Wisconsin. Mil-blogger Amanda Cherry, of the Homefront United Network, traveled the furthest distance. She's currently based out of Portland, Ore. The former Iowa Army National Guard public affairs NCO is now the muse behind "Military Martha," a comedic persona she describes as "the love child of General George Patton and Martha Stewart." Y'all can check her out on YouTube here.

Vietnam War and Desert Storm veteran Lem Genovese brought along his guitar, an amp, and his book of original songs about the military experience. In addition to a couple of compact discs, such as "Righteous Reconnaissance," he's penned a 500-page travelogue that covers times in Vietnam, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Honduras, and more. During Operation Desert Storm, Genovese served as a combat medic with the Iowa National Guard's 209th Medical Company, then attached to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division (2-1st Inf. Div.). Although he now resides in Wisconsin, he definitely "has guitar, will travel."

In our own workshop session, fellow mil-blogger and journalist Doug Bradley and I were moderately successful in convincing participants that "blogging" is just another name for "online journaling," or even "online journalism." Inspired on Bradley current writing and research, regarding the music of the Vietnam War, we asked those present to name the song or music they most associated with their military experiences.

The Vietnam-era veterans, for example, agreed that The Animals' "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" ranked pretty high on their lists. So did Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction" and The Doors' "The End."

Miyoko Hikiji is a former member of the Iowa Army National Guard's 2168th Transportation Company, and an Iraq War veteran. Her book, "All I Could Be: The Story of a Woman Warrior in Iraq," is due to be released later this month. Because it relates to the National Guard, her book has been on my personal radar since earlier this year.

When I finally had the pleasure of meeting her, however, I garbled her biography somewhat. For some reason, I'd thought she had been a Military Intelligence (M.I.) soldier, rather than a truck driver. "MICO?" I asked, thinking she'd been in the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division's M.I. company, which is called a "MICO."

"No," she said, patiently. "Miyoko." I didn't catch on the first couple of times. It was a little Abbot and Costello "Who's on First" for a moment or two.

Dr. Jon Kerstetter has also written a book, although he's still shopping it around to publishers. The former Iowa Army National Guard flight surgeon has been recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury (T.B.I.), and says he's not as not as quick as his prose. Some agents, he says, have expressed concerns about his ability to turn around edits in a timely fashion, citing his brain injury. He no longer practices medicine.

Kerstetter taught a workshop on writing about trauma called "Writing the Monster," which was based a chapter in his manuscript. Written over the course of a few years, his creative and compassionate words are delivered with clinical precision and graphic detail. For a tale of sadness and decorum, check out his chapter titled "Triage." For a more bittersweet tale, in which the behaviors of boys from Iowa and Iraq are compared, check out his chapter "Date Palms":
I tell him [an Iraqi man] about my kids and their chokecherry fights and he laughs loudly. We find ourselves laughing together. We tell each other stories of childhood. He talks about how he used dates to pummel his school friends. He laughs even louder and his eyes water.

The date trees ripen in late summer—just like the chokecherries. The terrible heat of August, he explains, is needed in order to ripen the dates. “If no heat, no ripe,” he says. “No hot—no sweetness.”

Note: This Red Bull Rising blog-post about military writing is sponsored by the Red Earth MFA program at Oklahoma City University. This Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program requires 10-day residencies twice a year, in January and July. The program encourages explorations in all forms of creative non-fiction, poetry, screenwriting, and literary and genre fiction. The program has been approved for post-9/11 G.I. Bill funding, and Oklahoma City University appears on Victory Media's 2013 list of Military Friendly Schools.

05 April 2013

Have Mil-Blog, Will Travel ... for a Song

The "Bard of the Red Bull Brigade" is bound for Iowa City, Iowa this weekend, for a military writing conference conducted by the "Writing My Way Back Home" organization and the University of Iowa Veterans Center. In addition to engaging in free-fire zone of writing ideas and inspirations, I plan to capitalize fully on the spring weather, the University of Iowa "Hawkeye" vibe, and the walkable distances to many old haunts and menus. Coffee shops, book stores, art galleries, and ... pubs!

I attended the second 'Writing My Way Back Home" conference in fall of 2011. This time, however, I'll be conducting a workshop--on mil-blogging, of course--as well as assisting other writers one-on-one, and auditing other conference offerings.

My workshop battle-buddy is Doug Bradley, a Vietnam War veteran, author, and Huffington Post blogger. Bradley recently wrote "DEROS Vietnam: Dispatches from the Air-Conditioned Jungle", about his time as a U.S. Army journalist in Long Binh, South Vietnam, from November 1970 to November 1971. The title of the book refers to an acronym: "Date Eligible for Return from Over Seas." The book is also available in Kindle format.

Along with University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Craig Werner, Bradley has also been working on a book about music and the Vietnam experience, titled "We Gotta Get Out of This Place." Together, they have been teaching a course titled “The U.S. in Vietnam: Music, Media and Mayhem.”

With my past musings about music and Vietnam, Bradley and I should have lots to talk about. We may even take a page from a writing exercise I first encountered at the 2012 Military Experience and the Arts Symposium. In one session there, participants were asked to brainstorm smells and sounds they associate with their military experiences. I'm planning to prompt participants to tell us about their musical military memories.

"What song or music do you most associate with your experience with the military and why?"

Deployed to Egypt in 2003, I first encountered the music of Coldplay's"God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" as the music behind a regional TV commercial advertising shows such as "CSI Miami" and "Alias." Lots of sunglasses and slow-motion explosions. By chance, I later found the compact disc for sale in the Not Quite Right "Force Exchange." As a multinational force, we didn't qualify for an AAFES Post Exchange, and there was a small and extremely random selection of DVDs and CDs.

Yeah, I know: War is heck. So is international peacekeeping.

The bottom line? I now associate Coldplay's "A Rush of Blood to the Head" album with the Egyptian desert, the Red Sea, and Horatio Cain.

At the National Training Center in 2011, while embedded with the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT), I smuggled into 'The Box' a contraband MP3 player, for the express purpose of trying to find a personal music soundtrack that would be appropriate to the experience. I walked out into the early-morning desert a couple of times--not too far, but far enough for privacy--and tried a couple of songs on for size.

The closest I got was a science-fiction version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" and Coldplay's "Viva La Vida." Each, I suspect, had to do as much with the lyrics as the music.

The latter, after all, refers to "Roman Cavalry choirs" and other military-inspired metaphors, while also bemoaning lost power, lost opportunities, or lost times. Remember, at the time, I had been told I wasn't going to Afghanistan.
One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand
My favored version of "Watchtower" sounds appropriately exotic, Middle Eastern, and mysterious:
"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief. "There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief."
The fact that this version comes from the 2004 reboot "Battlestar Galactica" amuses me greatly. A friend of mine from Egypt recommended the series. Although I was skeptical, I got hooked when we got home and started watching it religiously. Later on, a saying from the show resulted in a fragment of sci-fi serenity, oft-quoted during our 2010 preparations for Afghanistan:

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

Said the joker to the thief.

03 April 2013

Author Attempts to Kickstart Second Book on Iraq War

Nathan Webster, an Iraq War veteran, photojournalist, mil-blogger, and author of "Can't Give This War Away: Three Iraqi Summers of Change and Conflict," has launched a Kickstarter funding project to repurpose and update his work.

Webster was featured previously featured on the Red Bull Rising blog here.

"Those stories are only a few of the dozens of moments I captured during my three reporting trips," Webster writes now. "Often, these brief moments existed only within the brief second of the shutter click, and taking up space only as few megabytes of digital memory. But they were all stories waiting to be told. My new project expands on that idea."

Webster proposes to follow up with the soldiers he covered over the course of those three summers, in a manner similar to his recent contributions to The New York Times' "A Soldier Writes" blog. He further describes that work here:
  • "From the Battlefields of Iraq to a Fight in Congo’s National Parks" focused on Spec. William Coppeler, a sniper on Capt. Chris Loftis' "personal security detachment." Out of the Army, he is trying to organize a trip to the Congolese National Parks, to help outgunned park rangers protect themselves against poachers, to better protect endangered gorillas.
  • "In War, Moments Worth Remembering" was published on the Aug. 2 anniversary of Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, that began all the conflict that followed. It offers present day reflections from Kris Vasquez, a California college student, and Chad SeBour, a Baltimore private investigator. Despite all the violence, there were a few good memories from Iraq, too—like Rip-It drinks and Honey Buns.
Through his Kickstarter efforts, Webster is attempting to raise just $950 to produce a photo-intensive book, one that will complement his current volume and explore in-depth some 25 to 30 of his best images. The proposed title of the new work? "Three Iraqi Summers of Images and Memory."

Webster, also a voracious reader and prolific book reviewer, regularly files blog-posts at War on Terror News (W.O.T.N.). His recent criticism of Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" (1987) and the Gustav Hasford's"The Short Timers," the novel on which the movie was based, for example, provided any number of meaty insights for consumers of war narrative. He brings observations of similar weight and quality to his own war writing.
My motivation for "Can't Give This War Away: Three Iraqi Summers of Images and Memory" remains the same as when I produced my first book:

When soldiers return from overseas, they take off their uniform and blend back into society; maybe it will be hard to remember what these men and women looked like when they were young and at war in a place very far from home. I hope these photographs and stories help an audience appreciate and understand what it looked and felt like during these three summers in Iraq where the temperature rarely dipped below 125 degrees and a stubborn enemy rarely stood and fought.

We've left Iraq. We've handed control back over to the citizens of that star-crossed country. But we can't wash our hands of this past decade of war; we might think we can, might think we have—but this war is yours and mine, for many years to come. We can't give this war away.

01 April 2013

No Foolin': Blogger Announces 2013 Mil-Humor Awards

Despite today's date, this is not a drill. This is not a joke. I take military humor very seriously.

I grew up on a diet of military cartoons and humor. In the 1970s, I read Bob Stevens' "There I was ..." comics, which were located on the last pages of my father's issues of Air Force Magazine.

I read "Humor in Uniform" department in Reader's Digest, long before I could fully appreciate some of the jokes.

I read my grandfather's "Beetle Bailey" paperbacks whenever I visited him in Arizona.

After I grew up, I joined the U.S. Army. During my time in uniform, based on marketing insights gained as a civilian magazine editor, I learned to sneak jokes and humor into lessons-learned communications. Alongside "DOTMLPF" topics such as "Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership and education, Personnel, and Facilities," I would include messages and stories overtly labelled "Humor." No encryption. Everything in the clear.

When confronted regarding the technique, usually by senior-ranking officers or NCOs, I'd tell them this: "If someone says something was funny, I know that they've read the document and might pass it along to a friend or colleague. If someone says it wasn't funny, at the very least, I know they read the document closely enough to find it."

To my superiors' credit, much more than my own, I was never told to knock it off. They got it. Or, at least, they got it enough to go along with it. Who says you can't institutionalize humor? Or use humor to promote institutional change?

As with every lesson, however, the usual caveats apply: "Sample of one, N of one. Your results may vary. Void where prohibited. And choose your targets and moments carefully." Above all, remember Sherpatude No. 26: "Humor is a combat multiplier. Except when it isn't."

Readers of the Red Bull Rising blog are already familiar with the observation that there is no apparent venue for recognizing military-themed parody, satire, or other quality commentary found on the Internet. In the past, discussions have gotten hung up on issues of format, rather than intent. How does one compare military-themed blogs and websites, for example, to web comics, comic strips, and editorial cartoons?

By focusing on the humorous ends, and not the means.


***** General rules *****

  • Entries must have been published or posted on the Internet between April 1, 2012 and April 1, 2013. Posting on Facebook or other social media sites is an acceptable form of publication, as long as the hyperlink provided is accessible.
  • Entries must be submitted by the copyright holder of the work by sending a 9-line entry format message (see inset, at right) to: awards@redbullrising.com. Deadline for submission is May 1, 2013.
  • Only one entry per category per author or artist.
  • Entries will be judged on factors such as originality, creativity, humor, and effective delivery of a military-appropriate moral, message, insight, argument, or criticism.
  • Given the experimental nature of this project, there is no entry fee. But there will be prizes.
  • By submitting the entry form, all contestants agree to allow their work to be displayed on the Red Bull Rising blog free of any obligations to the copyright holder of the work.
  • All parties, regardless of military, veteran, or civilian status, are encouraged to participate. Prize-winners, however, must have a U.S. mailing address for prize delivery. APO addresses are acceptable.
  • Judges' decisions are final.
  • The judges reserve the right to substitute awards, or to decline to name winners in one or more categories, should circumstances require.
  • Winners will be announced not later than Sept. 1, 2013.

***** Categories *****

  • Best Humorous Short Video on a Military Theme: Submit links to videos of 7 minutes in length or less.
  • Best Comic Strip or Cartoon on a Specific Military Topic: Submit three examples of a cartoon, editorial cartoon, or comic strip related to a specific military topic of the creator's choice. Examples: "drones," "Reflective Safety Belts," "counterinsurgency doctrine."
  • Best Military-themed Comic Strip or Cartoon: Submit three examples of a cartoon, editorial cartoon, or comic strip that represent the creator's best work during this period.
  • Best Short-Form Humorous Writing on a Military Theme: Submit humorous work of 750 words or less. Essays, blog posts, short fictions, poetry, and war stories are acceptable.