31 March 2014

New York Citizen-Soldiers Publish Memoirs, Fiction

PHOTO: U.S. Army Maj. Benjamin Tupper
Editor's note: In his role as an assistant Army Public Affairs officer for the New York National Guard's 42nd Infantry "Rainbow" Division, Benjamin Tupper recently filed this round-up of books written by New York National Guard citizen-soldiers.

He himself is an author of two memoirs regarding his deployment to Afghanistan, "Greetings from Afghanistan" and "Dudes of War." Tupper's books have previously been reviewed on the Red Bull Rising blog here and here.


By Maj. Benjamin Tupper
42nd Infantry "Rainbow" Division Public Affairs
New York Army National Guard

More than a dozen New York National Guard soldiers have turned their Iraq and Afghan war experiences into books: either writing about their own experiences or using those experiences as a basis for fiction.

From personal memoirs dealing with the hardships of war, to broad-based historical reviews documenting the achievements of a unit, readers have a wide range of choices should they choose books penned by New York citizen soldiers.

Capt. Matt Zeller’s book "Watches Without Time: An American Soldier in Afghanistan," chronicles his tour on an Embedded Training Team.

Zeller said he was motivated to write for both personal and professional reasons.

“I felt I had an obligation to share my story for the lessons learned. And, I found it therapeutic—it really helped me come to terms with everything I experienced and continue to experience” Zeller said.

Writing also had unintended and unexpected positive benefits, he said. As a result of his book, he was regularly invited to discuss Afghan policy and life as a soldier on a wide range of national television news outlets. He also was a guest lecturer at numerous Universities across the nation, including Harvard.

Retired Maj. John Ready, served in the New York Army National Guard’s 27th Infantry "Empire" Brigade Combat Team and 42nd Infantry "Rainbow" Division, before he went to Iraq as a Civil Affairs officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. He chose a different subject focus from the many Iraq authors who penned works before him.

“Most books on the Iraq War seemed to have the common theme of: ‘We came, we saw, we kicked their butt!’ They were stories of real combat, but I hadn't seen any books detailing the humorous and ridiculous side of war,” Ready said.

His memoir, "Does My Suicide Vest Make Me Look Fat?" infuses the distinctive humor that soldiers develop when facing the stress of war, with a serious look at the challenges faced by Civil Affairs units and soldiers in Iraq.

Both Ready and Zeller strongly recommend that all service members, regardless of rank or duty position or writing experience, consider putting their thoughts and memories to paper.

Zeller advises fellow soldiers and airmen to “start writing and don't worry about whether or not it’s good enough … find a few trusted friends and editors because their perspective on your writing can prove invaluable.”

Maj. Sean Flynn, who now commands the historic 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry “Fighting 69th” Regiment, wrote a third person account titled "The Fighting 69th: From Ground Zero to Baghdad."

Flynn said that writing about and documenting the modern day chapter of the Fighting 69th was an honor in itself.

“There is significant gratification in having captured the modern history of the 69th Infantry and adding to the narrative of this storied Regiment, a unit that my own family has served with since the Civil War,” he said.

Flynn worked with an editorial board comprised of Iraq War veterans, and the final manuscript was approved by the leadership of the 69th Inf. Reg. and 42nd Inf. Div.

He offered a different perspective on writing.

“Memoirs are difficult. I encourage soldiers, especially those still serving, to consider using their experiences to write fictional accounts of this war," Flynn said.

“Fiction gives soldiers far more latitude to explore the deeper meaning of warfare and what it means to be a soldier without disrespecting the service of any soldier the writer may have served alongside of. For those seeking to write a non-fiction account like the Fighting 69th, I recommend using an editorial board process to ensure key events and key individuals are represented accurately and to seek approval from the chain of command at every juncture,” he said.

Sgt. 1st Class John Holmes, who served with the 42nd Inf. Div. in Iraq, is unique among the list of published authors, in that he has mastered two realms of writing: the traditional long book format, as well as a web-based comic format.

With a regular following of over 80,000 readers, his successful comic Power Point Ranger captures the humor of military culture.

“I have soldiers all over the world send me messages saying "Hey, your comic made me laugh when I was really feeling down." That's a great reward,” Holmes said.

Holmes is also the author of the science fiction series of books compiled in ""Irregular Scout Team One: Small Unit Combat in a Post Apocalypse World," which looks at military service after a zombie outbreak.

Holmes offered this advice to prospective writers: “Write. Write. Write. And then write some more. Get into the habit of writing, and then REWRITING what you wrote." Also, networking is extremely important, he said. "Finally," he added, "write for your own satisfaction.”

While most published New York National Guard Authors wrote as a supplemental activity to their regular civilian careers and jobs, some authors, such as Paul Rieckhoff, used their writing as a springboard to starting a new career.

Rieckhoff, who was a member of the New York Army National Guard when he wrote "Chasing Ghosts: Failures and Facades in Iraq: A Soldier's Perspective," went on to found and direct the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (I.A.V.A.), which represents more than 300,000 members nationwide.

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