27 June 2013

Director Promises Film on U.S. Embedded Trainers

The director of a documentary that tells the story of a U.S. Army National Guard Embedded Training Team (E.T.T.) in Southern Afghanistan 2006-2007, as well as a parallel story regarding Canadian security forces operating in the same area, Scott Kesterson says he is throwing out previous versions of the film and going back to scratch.

Kesterson recently updated listeners to the "Top Talk" podcast regarding the project, now in post-production under the working title "Bards of War." For an mp3 of the 53-minute podcast, click here.

In that interview, Kesterson says he now plans to separate the two story lines into two smaller, 40- to 60-minute documentaries. The first, regarding the "Red Devils" of 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (P.P.C.L.I.), would be released in early December 2013 via digital download or rental services such as iTunes or Netflix. The other, regarding an Oregon Army National Guard team of embedded trainers, would follow approximately one year later.

"These films are kind of putting [Afghanistan] to bed in very critical sense," Kesterson says. "What we're talking about is two versions of the war. That's why the two stories go together. One is a very kinetic version of the war, and the other is this embedded training, indigenous-type, mentor-advisor combat advisor role, which is a completely different lens on the war. You put those two side-by-side, and you start to, arguably, get a glimpse into what we didn't do right and could do better, and, arguably, is a direction in the future."

Originally shot as "At War" and slated for release in 2008 or 2009, music-rights acquisition and other other production challenges put the film project on the shelf for a few years. (A handful trailers and excerpts from that film is available on YouTube here.) After shooting the film as embedded media, Kesterson subsequently worked in Afghanistan as an information operations consultant. He also occasionally wrote at the Huffington Post.

"['At War'] was an attractive and alluring product, but a lot of that was because of the music," Kesterson says, "When you strip away the music, you don't have much of a film." In the new film, he says, contemporary follow-up interviews with veterans will help place the experiences of boots and bullets on the ground into a larger context.

"There's a very rich amount of material there, of telling just that story," Kesterson says. "That's a story of National Guard citizen-soldiers doing something that historically has never happened before: That's training, equipping, and fielding through combat, a nation's military, a national police force, and a nation's border police force."

24 June 2013

July 15 Deadline for 2nd 'So It Goes' Vonnegut Journal

The editors of the second annual edition of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library's literary journal, "So It Goes," are soliciting new and previously published work on a central theme of "humor." Poetry, prose, photography, and artwork may all be submitted.

Deadline for submissions is July 15, 2013. The printed publication will be released Nov. 9, 2013.

The library's inaugural edition, organized on a theme of "War and Peace," was previously reviewed on the Red Bull Rising blog.

According to press materials:
This year’s theme is humor. The library wants your whimsy, levity, dark satire, political parody, topical tomfoolery, sarcastic spoofs, and wit. Keep in mind that we are looking for your unique voice and not just an imitation of Vonnegut’s trademark humorous humanism.
Submission guidelines include:
  • Both new and previously published works are acceptable.
  • Simultaneous submissions are allowed with notification.
  • Submissions are limited to one work of prose (maximum 1,500 words) or up to five poems, photographs and/or works of art.
  • Submitted materials will not be returned.
Read the complete submission rules and submit electronically here.

Send paper submissions, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope (S.A.S.E.) with sufficient postage for response, to:
Vonnegut Library
So It Goes Submissions
340 N. Senate Ave.
Indianapolis, Ind. 46204.
Questions may be directed via e-mail to: soitgoes@vonnegutlibrary.org.

The library organization maintains a Facebook page here, and a website here.

20 June 2013

'War Stories' Online Writing Course Starts July 29

Jason S. Ridler, an historian and former punk rock musician who now writes mixed-martial arts, professional wrestling, and other genre fiction, once taught at the Royal Military College of Canada. He has a doctorate in war studies from the same institution.

Now, via Writers on the Net, Ridler is teaching an eight-week online literature and writing course titled "War Stories: Writing about the Human Dimension of Warfare." The course begins July 29, 2013.

A second course, "Kick Out the Words! A Punk Rock Guide to Writing Fiction," begins June 24.

Cost for each is $295.

"I've worked and lived with soldiers for a good part of my life, and spent a decade teaching them," Ridler says via e-mail interview. "I've found military affairs compelling and important since I was a teenager, but knew very well that I was too strange and anti-authoritarian to join any military service. And yet, I'm compelled by their work! I'm a walking contradiction!"

Ridler is also a contributing editor to the "Journal of Military Experience."

According to the "War Stories" course description, veterans of all ages are welcome, as are spouses, journalists, and all those interested in understanding how best to write about the human dimension of military affairs. By the end of the course, participants in Ridler's online workshop will:

  • Demonstrate an appreciation for the unique nature of war writing through exercises based on readings and/or experiences.
  • Apply theories, tools, and concepts about war writing to their own written work.
  • Develop a voice as an author of war stories through the creation of a final essay.

"[War stories] are important to me because they offer others the chance to recreate experience and examine it. This can be done in fiction or memoir," Ridler says. "In either case, that re-creation allows for not just the value of expression for the writer, but a point of connection to the reader. There's a belief in some circles that reading the perspectives of those different than creates empathy and understanding, critical elements in reducing violence. I believe that for most people, reading and writing war stories also accomplishes that goal. "

Ridler takes pains, however, to ensure students regard the course as a literary or academic opportunity, rather than one for healing wounds. The course outline, for example, contains the disclaimer that he is an historian and writer, not a therapist:
While the course may be cathartic for many students, it is, in no way shape or form, a substitute for therapeutic aid for those suffering from trauma or any other illness. Those with such concerns should find help through medical professionals, veterans organizations, and other aid services.
For more information on how to enroll in either of Ridler's online courses, click here.

For more information on Ridler's work and writing, visit his "Ridlerville" Facebook page or blog.

17 June 2013

July 1 Deadline for 2nd 'Proud to Be' Mil-Writing Book

Deadline for submissions to a second volume titled "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors"—an anthology of military-themed fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, oral histories, and photography—is July 1, 2013. The project is open to all military personnel, veterans, and family members.

According to the call for submissions, entrants can submit to a contest in which each category carries a first-prize of $250, or submit to the anthology alone. All entries will be considered for the anthology. There is no entry fee to the contest or publication.

Through the efforts of the Warrior Arts Alliance, the Missouri Humanities Council, and Southeastern Missouri University Press, the first "Proud to Be" volume was published in November 2012.

According to the Warriors Arts Alliance website:
[T]his series of anthologies preserves and shares the perspectives of our military and veterans of all conflicts and of their families. It is not only an outlet for artistic expression but also a document of the unique aspects of wartime in our nation’s history.
For a 2012 Red Bull Rising interview with "Proud to Be" editor Susan Swartout, click here. Volume No. 1 of "Proud to Be" was also discussed here.

To submit only to the 2013 anthology, mail previously unpublished work with self-addressed, stamped envelope (S.A.S.E.) for notification to:
Warriors Anthology
Southeast Missouri State University Press, MS 2650
Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63701
To submit to both contest and anthology, e-mail previously unpublished work to: upress@semo.edu. Also note:
  • Entries must be sent electronically as Microsoft Word files (.doc or .docx).
  • Keep poems in one document (with 1st poem as title).
  • Put your name and contact info on first page and nowhere else on the manuscript.
For all submissions, whether mailed or electronic:
  • Limit one submission in each category per person.
  • Poetry: up to 3 poems (5 pages maximum).
  • Fiction, essay, or interview: 5,000-word limit.
  • Photography: up to 3 good-quality photos (will be printed in the book as black and white).
  • Submissions exceeding the limits will be disqualified.
  • Include a biography of 75 words or less with each submission.
  • Winners and contributors will be notified by Nov. 1, 2013.

13 June 2013

Polk County is First on Muralist's 'Freedom Rock' Tour

Photo: Iowa Remembers Inc.
In a tradition started in 1999, Ray "Bubba" Sorenson annually paints patriotic scenes and symbols on the Freedom Rock, a 60-ton boulder located near Menlo, Iowa. Now, as part of a recently announced "Freedom Rock Tour," the artist to bring the Freedom Rock franchise to each of Iowa's 99 counties.

In the first such installation, a new Polk County Freedom Rock will be dedicated in a ceremony Fri., June 14, 3:00 p.m. at the American Legion Post 396, 315 2nd St NW, Bondurant, Iowa.

Because June 14 is also Flag Day, the post will also conduct its annual ceremony for disposal of unserviceable flags following the Freedom Rock event.

The Polk County rock depicts an honor guard of U.S. service members from all eras, including a contemporary soldier wearing a 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (34th Inf. Div.) shoulder patch. The obverse of the rock depicts a version of the Iowa state flag, which features an eagle superimposed on the French tricolor. In its beak, the eagle carries the state motto, "Our Liberties We Prize, and our Rights We Will Maintain."

The Polk County project is underwritten by Iowa Remembers, a non-profit organization that also helps fund an annual retreat and workshop for families of Iowa's war dead. Every September, the organization conducts an 5K "Remembrance Run" as part of its fund-raising efforts.

According to the group: "This is the first time Bubba has incorporated the Iowa flag into a Freedom Rock. He has captured perfectly the vision we have at Iowa Remembers by honoring and remembering Iowans from all branches of the service especially our fallen heroes. Always Remember ... Never Forget."

Photo: The Freedom Rock
The 2013 version of the original Freedom Rock, located in Menlo, depicts a female figure laying at the tombstone of Staff Sgt. James A. Justice, an Iowa National Guard soldier who was killed during the 2010-2011 deployment of 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Inf. Div. 2010-2011 to Eastern Afghanistan.

Waiting out some bad summer weather in Bondurant, Sorenson also recently sketched a tribute to the 34th Inf. Div. and posted it to the Freedom Rock's Facebook page.

"For those not familiar with them they are a storied division of our National Guard," the artist wrote. "I had a thought of a soldier crouched in attack position with the spirit of a large 'Red Bull' turning to attack as well, representing all the Red Bull Veterans that have come before him. Hope you enjoy it!"
Photo: The Freedom Rock

11 June 2013

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a National Guard Advert!

Faster than you can say "borrowed interest"! Slightly more resonant than that old "Army of One" recruiting slogan! Possibly able to leap the chasm of American indifference toward joining the U.S. Armed Forces!

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's the National Guard's "Soldier of Steel" advertising campaign, which is linked to the upcoming Superman film "Man of Steel." Coming soon to theaters near you June 14, 2013!

In a time of diminishing budgets and decreasing troop levels, the U.S. Armed Forces have noticeably cut NASCAR sponsorships and other high-profile branding efforts. But, with Superman on our side, what could possibly go wrong? Particularly when we reach out to our country's 17-to-34-year-olds demographic. Because Superman is cool! Right, kids?

Directed by Zack Snyder, "Man of Steel" looks to be a potential improvement to the Superman story, particularly when compared to the lackluster "Superman Returns" (2006). Snyder has previously helmed other comic book movies such as "300" (2007) and "Watchmen" (2009). Unlike the 2006 film, which was something of a sequel to the first couple of 1980s Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve, "Man of Steel" is a full reboot: New characters. New stories. New costumes.

(Topic for future barracks discussions: Superman changes uniform designs more frequently than U.S. military changes camouflage patterns.)

Through a series of Superman-themed movie trailers, workout videos, and (possibly) even comic books telling the National Guard story, the new advertising campaign awkwardly welds the "Man of Steel" film to a "Soldier of Steel" theme: "Two American icons who put on the uniform when duty calls."

The narration to the minute-long Theater Spot No. 1, for example, reads:
They are in your community ... perhaps, in this very theater: Seemingly ordinary people ... who know the uniform they wear ... makes an extraordinary difference. People who always answer the call for help ... revealing who they truly are ... capable of extraordinary feats. These are the citizen-soldiers of the National Guard. Learn how one American icon inspires another, at 'Soldier of Steel' dot com.
A second, shorter spot updates a classic "grab your musket" or "run toward the sound of the guns" Minuteman moment with some super flag-and-cape-waving.

Of course, making the Man from Krypton your battle buddy carries with it some risks. What happens, for example, if the movie isn't any good? At least one critic has already commented that other general-purpose, non-National Guard-themed movie trailers make the film "look like a car commercial about a Bible story. Everyone is so moist-eyed, staring poignantly off into the middle distance as if Krypto is being hit by a Kryptonite car right off camera, while a voiceover like an insurance company remembering 9/11 talks about Humanity."

That description doesn't exactly get one's patriotic pulse pounding, does it?

And the "Soldier of Steel" title seems danger-close to repeating the mistake of the active-duty "Army of One" recruiting campaign, circa 2001-2006. "Army of One" is a silly, self-serving concept. There is no "I" in "team," and neither is there in "Army." Citizens don't put on the uniform to make themselves a singular hero; ideally, they join to become a part of something larger than themselves: A country. A community.

Finally, as in previous National Guard advertising campaigns, there are no bullets or even weapons to be seen in the "Soldier of Steel" videos. There are ground ambulances, and rescue helicopters—but nothing that would suggest that serving in the National Guard might also involve occasional deployment to a combat zone overseas. That's not exactly truth in advertising. Only Superman, after all, is completely bullet-proof.

Despite the potential for going over-the-top or getting things wrong, however, the "Solder of Steel" website's offerings are generally helpful, responsible, and compelling. Hosted by Gym Jones founder Mark Twight, for example, the themed workout videos successfully blend seemingly disparate messages about "transferable conditioning," the "Army values," and even some behind-the-scenes techniques involved in shooting the "Man of Steel" movie itself. Click here for an introduction, a warm-up, and a workout.

The campaign goes from good to goofy in a couple of other places, however, including one video segment in which director Zach Snyder asks a conference room full of soldiers, "What would you do if you were Superman for a day?" Luckily, one fast-thinking Army NCO saves the day. Rather than the usual answers about curing cancer, flying, seeing the world, or saving on gas money, Staff Sgt. Aparicto smiles knowingly at the camera.

"I'd probably confuse my son," he says, "because he already thinks I'm Captain America."

07 June 2013

Update: 'Tilt-Shift' War Comic Book to Ship Soon

Creators of "Tift-Shift Vol. 1: The Quiet Profession," a comic book series regarding the true-to-life experiences of a combat photographer shadowing U.S. Special Operations soldiers in Afghanistan, have announced they are abandoning plans to find a traditional print publisher for the work, and will re-focus their efforts on digital distribution this summer.

The project was last mentioned on the Red Bull Rising blog during the team's September 2012 crowd-funding campaign. Using Kickstarter, the project successfully over-funded at $11,798 of the original $10,000 objective.

A recently released video "trailer" teases the project's storyline on Vimeo here.

Via Kickstarter, e-mail, and the Tilt-Shift Facebook page, the creators recently shared their frustrations at not being able to find a traditional print publisher for their work.

They did commit, however, to delivering printed and/or digital copies to those who had already contributed via the Kickstarter effort. Other consumers will be able to download the publication for $2.99 from a soon-to-be-named online provider.

In a previous message, the creators had lamented last month that neither comic-book nor book publishers were ever able to pull the proverbial trigger:
It seems that, though war comics have been the comics industry's bread and butter in the past, there is little interest on the part of some comics publishers to "work in that story-space." The saddest thing is, we are not getting rejections. Editors praise the hell out of the book! But then these same editors have been asking for a character bio here, wait a month, then they want you to clarify part of the synopsis, wait a month. We never get a definite answer, though.

Here comes the catch-22: The issue is DONE and we have the money to print the books ourselves but apparently that would seriously compromise our chances of any kind of distribution.

We are working with a top literary agent. He sold veteran Kevin Powers' National Book Award finalist novel, The Yellow Birds. He feels this is a sort of a pocket veto being enacted by these editors. They do not want to compete with the book or be the one who let it get away, but they do not want to make war comics (unless, of course, you're fighting dinosaurs in space, rising up against the man in some dystopia or getting ambushed by vampires). It seems that if you want a book done in color, super-heroes, sci-fi and speculative fiction are about all anyone wants to see.
The Tilt-Shift creators announced that they will contribute half of any profits to the Wounded Warrior Project. The group is also looking to partner with other comics and media professionals to create an art auction benefiting wounded veterans.

05 June 2013

Citizen-journalist Re-takes Normandy by Storm

Mil-blogger, U.S. Army veteran, and citizen-journalist Blake Powers—aka "The Laughing Wolf"—is commemorating the 69th anniversary of the allied landings at Normandy with a shoe-string and bootstrap reportorial tour. He figuratively and literally hit the beaches earlier this month, and reports that he has established an expeditionary base he humbly calls "Camp Laughing Wolf."

Imagine a Euro-sized hatchback with a laptop computer attached, and you'll get the idea. With typical cheek, he's further branded the vehicle the "Blackfive Normandy MediaMobile."

According to an update posted June 2, the hearty Hoosier is surviving by alternating between car camping and cheap hotel rooms. "For the record, I've camped everywhere from the high moors of Norway to the Superstition mountains, even in freezing Iraqi winter nights," he writes. "Last night is the coldest I can remember being. I ran the heater in the rental car for about five minutes, decided to rest a bit, and the next thing I knew it was after 1000 hours."

More seriously, Powers described his current mission in a fund-raising message earlier this year:
While this is not a "big" year, it could be one of the last in which the survivors take part. My goal is to make use of the access I've been granted to document the events, with special focus on any survivors who are present, and create a photographic e-book that documents this year's activities. I will be working closely with Army [Public Affairs Office] on the event, so that I have access to all activities and possibly even some of the "behind-the-scenes" activities as well.
Powers provided further project details in a recent profile at the "News Blaze" website.

Check out Powers' continuing overseas coverage at his "Laughing Wolf" blog-site, his Facebook page, and at the "Blackfive" team mil-blog. Stories recently filed at the latter site include:
Powers is also author of "A Different View: Travels with Team Easy, Iraq 2007," published in 2012, as well as the more recent "Travels to Al Qa'im and Beyond: Volume 2 of 'A Different View.'"

For information on how to contribute financially to Powers' journalism efforts, click here or here.

03 June 2013

Army Truck Driver Tells of Adventure, Romance in Iraq

Once just a "dusty specialist" who drove U.S. Army trucks in post-invasion Iraq, Miyoko Hikiji shows up to the book store in military-writer mufti. The author of "All I Could Be: The Story of a Woman Warrior in Iraq," wears a smart khaki shirt-dress, with an American flag pin on her collar. Still, one gets the feeling that the native Iowan would be just as comfortable swapping her bayonet heels for desert combat boots.

Like most veterans, however, she'd rather be judged on deeds, capabilities, and character, rather than appearances.

"Friends, family, and the people at church know me as a mom and an Army wife, and know nothing of my military career," Hikiji tells her audience, introducing herself to a friendly, platoon-sized gathering at Beaverdale Books, a cozy neighborhood independent in Des Moines, Iowa. Then, reading from her recently published book, she casually drops the F-bomb. Twice. In the first 30 seconds.

The amicable audience settles in for the ride:
The view from left to right for hours was the same—camels, road, sand. Then sand, road, sand. Then sand, road, camels with herder. Road. Sand. [...]

As we approached the first town in southern Iraq, I grabbed a small baseball bat I'd set on the seat and pointed out the driver's side window. In marker I'd inscribed it with "This means get the f--- off my truck in all languages" [...]
Hikiji's Iraq was the one with Desert Combat Uniforms and antiquated trucks, hillbilly armor and makeshift gun turrets. "We didn't have the stuff that you see now on TV [...]" she says. "We didn't have phones, Skype, laundry—the stuff that makes war look like a training exercise."

She and her fellow soldiers received more enemy fire than they returned, Hikiji says, but she delivers her observations with more wit than bitterness. She doesn't shy away from hard topics, including what it means to have women and men serve in the same Army. During the course of a deployment, soldiers routinely form new friendships, alliances, and even romantic relationships. Sometimes those connections bend. Sometimes they break. Hikiji, who was not married when she deployed, certainly kisses and tells. Without falling prey to salaciousness, she accurately depicts the high-school-level hypocrisies and testosterone-fueled minefields faced daily by female soldiers.

One part True Adventure, one part True Romance, then, this is a military memoir that offers something to nearly every reader: Whether soldier or spouse, leader or follower, or friend or foe to women in uniform.

Having enlisted in the U.S. Army for college benefits in 1995, Hikiji had returned to her home state of Iowa and joined the National Guard while a journalism and psychology student at Iowa State University. When Iowa's 2133rd Transportation Company (2133rd Trans. Co.) was notified for federal mobilization in 2003, she was three days away from the end of her enlistment with the guard. She chose to re-enlist for another term, she says, because "I didn't want to miss the opportunity. I wanted to do what I'd been training to do for so many years."

In addition to writing personal letters and the unit newsletter, Hikiji kept an extensive journal and mission log while on the 18-month deployment. "I had thousands of pages when I got home." Still, she didn't start actively writing a memoir until 2010—more than five years after deployment, as well as getting married to a fellow National Guard soldier.

"I only started writing after I found I was empowered, that I could help make a difference," she says. "Before that, I was just trying to figure out what [the war] meant to me."

As part of her new mission to explain soldier and veteran life, Hikiji also seeks to celebrate two 2133rd Trans. Co. soldiers who died during the unit's deployment—Spc. Aaron J. Sissel, 22, and Pfc. David M. Kirchoff, 31. Two others were seriously injured while overseas. "It is very important to remember that, in all my healthy days, they and their families had a very different experience than the rest of us," she says.

After five months of training at Fort McCoy, Wis. and in Kuwait, the Iowa unit was attached to 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Western Iraq. While based at the former Al Asad Air Base, the unit's 2-soldier truck crews could spend hours, days, or weeks out on missions.

"When I first joined the National Guard, I didn't like it," admits Hikiji. "It didn't feel like the Army. It was too relaxed."

"Then, I found out that the truck drivers on active duty Army just drove trucks. The truck drivers in the National Guard, however, were also electricians, plumbers, firefighters, teachers. We were always fixing stuff up. Vehicles, living quarters. The active-duty units eventually figured out: If you needed something fixed, you came over to Hawkeye."

(Members of 2133rd Trans. Co. wore the Iowa National Guard's "Hawkeye" patch, the shape of which is based on the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division's patch.)

Something of a Swiss Army knife herself, the author-mother-veteran is also an occasional actor and model. She appears on the cover of her own book—a woman contemplating a composite image of dog-tags and a female soldier. Hikiji took a professional risk and paid for the photography out of pocket, then sent the cover to her publisher for consideration. "They could have said 'no,'" she says. Better to ask forgiveness than permission.

At the book event in Beaverdale, Hikiji deftly navigates through hot-potato questions, some of which seem like they could easily cook off like grenades:
  • Given the backdrop sexual assaults in the military, would she recommend military service to young women and men today? "I would never tell someone they couldn't serve [...] but I'd want people do their research and know the risks. There's such a variety of experiences, and much depends on local commanders."
  • What was the Iraq War really all about? "I know people who were involved in the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction," she says, "but I was just a dusty specialist."
  • Don't all veterans have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.)? Hikiji replies that PTSD has three components: The experience of a traumatic event; stressors such as joblessness, homelessness, and social isolation; and lack of a support network. "All of you are now part of my support network," she tells the audience.
  • Most of all, how are friends and family going to react to the book, particularly since you openly discuss love and sex downrange?
"I wouldn't want someone to reject me based on the person I was then," she says. "That was a necessary person."

Her own preschool-aged daughters can read the book when they're 14, she says. "Otherwise, they would never have the opportunity to know the person that I was then."

What about the people at church?

She shrugs, leans back on the desk, and smiles the big smile: The happy warrior. An everyday iconoclast. The veteran next door.

"I guess I'll find out Sunday."


"All I Could Be: The Story of a Woman Warrior in Iraq" is available in trade paperback
and Amazon Kindle formats.

An official book launch event is planned for Fri., Jun. 7, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Iowa Gold Star Museum, on the Camp Dodge military installation near Johnston, Iowa. Contact the author via e-mail (m_hikiji AT yahoo.com) not later than Thurs., Jun. 6, to reserve a seat at the catered event.

For information regarding this and other "All I Could Be" events, as well as a blog written by Hikiji, click here.