30 June 2014

'Scintilla' Publishes Special 'Literature of War' Issue

With their Spring 2014 issue of "Scintilla," editors of the on-line literary magazine published their first collection of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry dedicated to a single topic. The "Literature of War: At Home and Abroad" issue features writers with both direct and indirect experience with the military.

Founded in 2011, the magazine is published twice yearly, and is available to readers FREE online here.

In the new issue's introduction, Editor Tim Lepczyk calls it the "best [...] most challenging issue we’ve published."

He writes:
[...] I’m in awe of the meaning these writers have brought forth, the vision, painful at times, that they have shared. For many of us, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have played out in a vacuum. If Vietnam was the first televised war, what were, what are these wars? The overlooked? The distant?

[...] Of the twenty-two writers whose work we published, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq mean different things. For some, there may be overlap, and for others, their viewpoints may be diametrically opposed. What we have though are the ways in which people have been affected. We have stories. We have poems. They add to the larger narrative, and perhaps, together, create meaning.
The short stories in the issue are risk-taking, format-breaking, and invite multiple readings. For example, Robert Wallace's "A Brief History of the Universe" is a consciousness-bending and -blending tale that reveals itself to be less about homecoming, and more about the nuclear bonds between soldiers. It's "Thelma and Louise" meets "Band of Brothers," by way of "Rashomon."

In the issue's singular non-fiction feature, New York Air National Guard airman Julio A. Olivencia's "Fine Dirt and Dead Birds," the writer offers an impressionistic series of scenes, ranging from a ho-hum homecoming to cruising down Bagram's notorious Disney Drive at rush hour.

Olivencia's observations of war as a daily routine may take some readers by surprise. This is neither adrenalin-fueled action nor over-the-top service comedy:
"Me and Teddy found the perfect song for driving down Disney in the morning," Mike says, as we pull onto the main drag of Bagram Airfield. We start the morning crawl with "Shiny Happy People" coming out of the speaker in the cup holder.
For some, war is hell. For others, it's a commute.

It is in the issue's center-mass of 23 poems, however, that readers will encounter a rapid-fire salvo of hard-hitting—and sometimes humorous—provocations and perspectives.

Two poems—"Non-Combat Related Incidents and Other Lies" by Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes, and "Private" by Adam Berlin—indelibly engage the topic of sexual assault in U.S. military ranks. These are words that should be read, and discussed widely.

In his editorial, Lepczyk mentions that he was partly inspired to produce the war-themed issue as early as "Scintilla" No. 2, when the publication featured a poem by U.S. Army veteran Paul David Adkins. That poem was "War Story #164: Explaining Why I Brought to Iraq But Couldn’t Open Weldon Kees’ Collected Poems."

Three more of Adkins' poems are featured in the "Literature of War" issue. Adkins' work often seems rooted in a low reality of TOC dispatches and SIGACT reports, which explode into the consideration of things more sublime. His "Iraqi Army Unit on Camp Striker, Baghdad Iraq," for example, offers a gritty, sh--ty little anecdote—the circumstances of which might be recognizable to anyone involved in training host-nation forces.
Their colonel met our colonel inside
the TOC to build
     a partnership.
His troops waited outside,
lit fires by their Humvees,
cooked chow and laughed.
Sparks swirled as if they conjured a genie.

They acted like they never used
a porta-john before.
Each Soldier filed in twice,
emerged doubled
with guffaws. [...]
In keeping with the oral tradition of "war stories" maintained by soldiers everywhere, the poem builds to a spectacularly scatological pay-off. This is a poem to pass around the barracks ... or the next staff meeting.

There is differently dark humor to be found elsewhere in the issue. In "Iraq Reflection," for example, Charity Winters delivers some clever wordplay and poetic construction using acronyms such as "IEDs and EFPs." To this reader, when viewed as a whole, the poem becomes a calligram, taking on the distinctive shape of a concave plate of copper—a component of the deadly Explosively Formed Penetrators (E.F.P.) mentioned in the work.

There is poignancy and pride to be found as well. In "Hanging Gardens," Massachusetts-based Iraqi-American writer Nora Alsahlwhi writes evocatively of her family's home country:
I write about Iraq
when her skin was
carmine, perfumed with
freshly picked celosias
wild pear petals in the morning,
and crushed saffron by noon [...]

I write about Iraq
when missiles began to rain down
on doctors treating the diseased
and politics ravaged villages
full of hardworking descendants
of Nebuchadnezzar, and Sargon the Great [...]
Provocative, poetic, poignant, Scintilla's foray into the literature of war deserves the considered attentions of both our citizens and our soldiers. Give your eyes time to adjust. Let the issue serve as an illumination round, parachute-floating briefly overhead, casting shadows so that we may see others—and have others see us. We are frozen for this moment.

When it gets dark, we shall start moving again.


Note: "Scintilla" No. 6 also features "leaving empty," a poem by the writer of the Red Bull Rising blog. The poem regards the 2001 destruction by the Taliban of two giant statues of the Buddha located in Afghanistan's Bamiyan Province. In 2009, the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) was preparing for a deployment that included that province. The mission changed before the unit arrived in country.

27 June 2014

Minnesota's 'Veterans Voices' Nominations Due July 9

The Minnesota Humanities Center has called for nominations for the Second Annual Veterans' Voices Awards, which will recognize past and present military service members' engagement in their communities. The awards will be presented in September. Deadline for nominations is 11:59 p.m., Wed., July 9.

According to the center:
The 2014 Veterans' Voices Award recognizes, amplifies, and honors Minnesotans who have honorably served, are thriving, and making extraordinary contributions to their communities. These actively engaged, former and current military service members go above and beyond to make exceptional, positive contributions that improve the lives of people across Minnesota.
Nominees selected to receive an award will be notified by July 31.

There are two categories for nominations: "On the Rise" (40 and under) and "Legacy" (41 and over).

Nominations may be made with or without the knowledge of the nominee. Nominations must be accompanied by a 500-word narrative describing the nominee's achievements in support of the award. Questions to be answered include:
  • How do you define the community that this individual has made a significant and exceptional positive contribution to?
  • How is this individual actively involved in the community? How does her or his involvement go above and beyond what one might expect?
  • What is this individual’s significant and exceptional positive contribution to the community? What lasting impact has this had within the community?
  • Is there anything in this individual’s background that is important to know?
Download a nomination form as PDF here, or complete a nomination on-line here.

For examples of previous recipients, see the biographies of the 25 awardees from 2013 here.

The overall Veterans' Voices effort is a long-term initiative to illuminating the stories and contributions of Minnesota veterans through the humanities. In addition to the annual Veterans' Voices award, it supports plays, art, discussion groups, and other projects.

A Facebook page for the Minnesota Humanities Center Veterans' Voices project is here.



In related news, the state of Minnesota recently became the first state to dedicate an entire month–October–to honoring veterans through the arts and humanities. According to the Minnesota Humanities Center, "This law will not only honor and celebrate the accomplishments of Minnesota Veterans, but will also educate all Minnesotans by sharing and studying Veterans’ experiences. Minnesota Veterans will be encouraged to share their stories through art, essays, and poetry in an effort to assist the public in understanding this unique military culture."

25 June 2014

Traveling 'Citizen-Soldier-Artist' Previews June 26-27

The traveling "Citizen-Soldier-Artist" exhibition was first previewed to the public at Mid-America Arts Alliance headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. earlier this month. It will be available for public view again June 26-27, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For a Facebook slideshow, click here.
"Citizen-Soldier-Artist," a traveling adaptation of artist-veterans' work, will be previewed at the Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA) headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., Thurs., June 26 and June 27., from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The address is 2018 Baltimore Ave., Kansas City, Mo.

The "Citizen-Soldier-Artist" exhibition features drawing, painting, print-making, photography and more by artist-veterans who are geographically located or originating in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, or Texas. Also featured is the poem "Welcome Home," by writer Jason Poudrier of Oklahoma.

As part of its mission, the M-AAA develops traveling exhibitions to be featured in its "ExhibitsUSA" or "NEH on the Road" touring programs. The original 2013 exhibition was presented in Michigan City, Ind., at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts' Hyndman Gallery, Michigan City., Ind. Independent scholar, archivist, and art consultant Tara Leigh Tappert curated the works presented in each effort.

According to the arts organization:
Citizen–Soldier–Artist is an exhibition exploring how veterans in the United States are using the arts to constructively process and heal from the physical and psychological wounds of war. In addition to the images, music, and poetry they produce, a grassroots network of organizations has also grown to nurture and support these artist veterans.

This show, which is in early development for a touring exhibition, offers a compelling and moving look at the person inside the uniform as they struggle to reintegrate into civilian life.
A slide show of the exhibition preview is available on the M-AAA organizational Facebook page here.

23 June 2014

Chicago-area Veterans Sought by The Telling Project

Playwrights from The Telling Project are seeking Chicago-area military veterans of all branches and eras, as well as military family members, for oral history interviews leading to a November 2014 production of "Telling: Chicago." Since 2008, the Austin, Texas-based non-profit has put more than 90 actors on stages in 15 states. In each production, cast members share their own life experiences in their own words. Casts typically comprise from five to seven performers.

Interviews in Chicago will be conducted June 29 to July 2. For more information, e-mail: info AT thetellingproject.org.

No previous stage or theatrical experience is required. The development process begins with interviews, the transcripts of which are then distilled into a unique script for theatrical production. Participants in interviews have the option of not taking the stage. All interviews are archived by the organization.

The organization's mission statement reads in part:
The most direct path to understanding veterans’ experience is person-to-person contact. With the dramatic decline in the numbers serving in the military—less than one percent of the population over the last eleven years of war—this contact will not happen through day-to-day life. It must be created and supported. Through performance, The Telling Project puts veterans and military family members in front of their communities to share their stories. We give veterans and military family members the opportunity to speak, and their communities the opportunity to listen.
In the weeks and months leading up to performance, cast members will receive training by theatrical professionals. Performances of "Telling: Chicago" will be Nov. 7-9 and Nov. 14-16 at the Filament Theatre.

"Telling: Chicago" is a partnership among The Telling Project, the Bob Woodruff Foundation, National Veterans Art Museum, as well as artists and volunteers in the Chicago community.

In the Midwest, past projects include "Telling: Iowa City" (2011); "Telling: Des Moines" (2013); and "Telling: Minnesota" (2014). The latter was presented in a February 2014 encore performance.

Other Telling Project productions and performances scheduled for 2014 include:
  • "Telling: Portland, OR 2014": September 10-13, Portland Center for the Performing Arts, Brunish Theater
  • "Telling: Baltimore, MD 2014": September 11, Johns Hopkins Medical University (additional performances TBA)
  • "Telling: NYC 2014": dates, times, and venue TBA
For updates on these dates and venues, monitor The Telling Project website.

20 June 2014

Public TV Project to Tell of 'Red Bull' in WWII Italy

A World War II dog tag of U.S. 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division citizen-soldier Bernard Bonnema, great-grandfather of Staff Sgt. Dillon Jennings. A current member of the division, Jennings recently toured the Italian battlefields seen by his Bonnema. Jennings was joined by a Twin Cities Public Television team, which is producing a documentary called "Through a Soldier's Eyes," due in November. PHOTO: Twin Cities Public Television
Twin Cities Public Television producer Luke Heikkila recently appeared on the network's weekly news magazine show "Almanac," and briefly described an upcoming documentary project regarding the U.S. 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division" in World War II Italy.

Originally organized of citizen-soldiers from Iowa, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota in 1917, modern units in the Iowa and Minnesota National Guards continue to wear the "Red Bull" patch.

The 8-minute segment of the June 13 TV program is available FREE on streaming video here.

Heikkila followed Staff Sgt. Dillon Jennings and other current members of the 34th Inf. Div. on a recent trip to Italy. The group toured battle sites such as AnzioMonte Cassino, Volturno River, Hill 810, and others. The resulting documentary, "Through a Soldier's Eyes," is slated to air in November 2014, around Veterans Day.

Jenning's great-grandfather, Bernard Bonnema, served in a "Red Bull" unit in World War II Italy. "I don't have any service photos of him. I remember him more as a grandpa than his military service," Jennings tells Heikkila in the "Almanac" report. "My grandfather was probably a pretty good reflection of guys who served in that war—you know, the quiet professional—who never really talked about what they did. I don't fault him for that. I wish I had a chance to pick his brain about it, knowing what I know now. But I think he left enough for us to get a sense of what he did when he was younger, and I think this'll be pretty important for our family in the future ..."

A veteran of two overseas deployments himself, Jennings didn't make the connection between his own service and that of his great-grandfather, until after participating in the record-breaking 22-month deployment of 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Division (1-34th Bde.) to Iraq in 2006-2007. He tells Heikkila:
When I first got in, the 34th Division was just the unit I happened to serve in. [I]t just didn't happen to have any have any special meaning to me until I got back from my first deployment. That was 22 months long, so it was a very long deployment ...

My mom had actually given me all the paperwork for my great-grandfather, and I'd come across my his discharge paperwork. I found out, in reading, that he had been with the 34th Infantry Division. At the end of our deployment, there was a big emphasis on the connection between our unit and the 34th in World War II—because ours was the longest deployment in Iraq, and theirs was the longest deployment in World War II.
For his part, Heikkila was struck by the dramatic terrain that Midwestern troops once fought and crossed. "As a flat-lander, I just love elevation," he tells "Almanac" hosts Eric Eskola and Cathy Wurzer. "You look across the valleys, and it's just stunning. But then you realize that the Germans were entrenched in those mountainsides. They really had the advantage of elevation. As the allies were coming across those valleys, they could really see them coming for days."



In a later "Almanac" segment, Heikkila shared with Dave Gillette a few insights about embedding with military units in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 5-minute chat is available FREE via streaming video here.

"When you're over there without a weapon you're called a '+1,' because you're a guy without a weapon, and someone with a weapon needs to look out for you," Heikkila tells Gillette. "You walk on his or her right-hand side, always walking slightly behind them, because if they swing around with a weapon, you can't be in the line of fire. I'm a +1, always walking about half-a-step behind someone whose job it is to keep the TV dummy safe."

18 June 2014

Revisiting Iraq on the Blogs—and the Big Screen TV

The evolving situation in Iraq—often featuring words such as "collapse" and "implosion"—has generated a lot of commentary from veterans on-line and in print, ranging from "I told you so" to "Is this what my buddies died for?"

These are valid questions. And I'm glad we're belatedly engaging them as a country.

After all, war is what you make of it. Some people take it personally. Some people take it politically. I'd argue that the conversation is more important than individual conclusions. In the remainder of this post, I've taken the liberty of excerpting and linking to a few notable, and sometimes contradictory, opinions.

Who says the blogosphere is dead?

Meanwhile, I've personally found myself watching a lot of Iraq War-themed dramas and documentaries. First, my Kickstarter copy of "Year at Danger," which will be released later this fall. (You can pre-order it here.) And "Gunner Palace" (2005), "Brothers at War" (2009), and the 2008 HBO mini-series "Generation Kill." None of these explain the current mess in Iraq, mind you, but they sure as heck seem to foreshadow it.

In "Operation Iraqi Sh--storm," artist and Marine Maximilian Uriarte writes:
I’ve seen a lot of Iraq veterans express remorse over their lost brethren in the country, given the current state of affairs. Many of them feel like it was all for naught at this point. Some might see this as being selfish, caring more about our own than the country we were fighting for. This is not the case. This emotional response is the result of genuinely caring about the state of affairs in the country. We want Iraq to succeed because it gives us closure. Knowing that Iraq is better than it was is the only thing that we have.

It was the bad war. It was the war that no one wants to take credit for. It’s the war everyone tries to forget.

Yet myself and thousands of others were there, and we can’t forget.
In "Mosul's Civilization and Its Discontents," former M-2 "Bradley" platoon leader Michael Carson writes:
We’d come to civilize the cradle of civilization. To us, it looked like a backward dump.

Because, you see, the joke is, civilization had nothing to do with Mosul. Civilization was a strip mall in Wisconsin. Mosul, logically, had no civilization, for if they knew how to act civilized, we wouldn’t have been there at all. Civilized cities don’t have wars in them. This assumption, by and large, was a fair one, justified by our particular experience. Civilized cities don’t need to be stabilized. They don’t need American soldiers training former prisoners how to fire rifles. They don’t need curfews. They don’t need a big rich country like ours to help them.

Civilized countries have their act together.

I doubted many things my superiors told me, but I believed this: someone had to get Mosul back on its feet, put it on the path to civilization.

So we set to work. [...]
In "Iraq veterans: Learn to stop worrying about ISIS and love life at home," blogger Alex Horton writes:
[M]any of my fellow veterans have missed an important point: this war was always about Iraqis, not American troops. Since the 2003 invasion, violence along sectarian fault lines threatened the stability of the nation as US troops fought, and died, to create strategic and diplomatic space for a stable government. We could only triage on the ground—it was up to the government in Baghdad to create permanent solutions. And Nouri al-Maliki's brutal sectarian policies ruptured US gains since the moment we began leaving in earnest.

Iraq veterans should not beat themselves up by attaching their ideas of sacrifice–of worth to a nation–to that broken government we left behind. We did what was asked of us. We held up our end of the bargain. Maliki did not [...]
In "My wars are ending," Alaska Air National Guardsman Matthew Komatsu leverages current events into an exercise of memory, involving specific sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. I like the personal scale of its expressed solution:
Oh, the places we have gone. Each place complete, its own story. The lives we took, gained, saved and lost along the way; the boredom, terror and exhilaration; and the journey home to a placeless destination: all part and parcel of a narrative with no true end. Focusing on the memories eliminates the gray and brings the truth of experience into the foreground. The wars become a question of what we did, or did not do; whether we did too much or too little.

Former Army officer and think-tanker John Nagl, who co-wrote 2005's "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam," wrote a shoot-from-the-hip reaction to Iraq titled "This is not what my friends fought and died for."

For a dose of righteous indignation and counter-battery fire, check out blogger and retired warrant officer Jim Wright's "Absolutely Nothing."

For a nuanced interpretation of the multiple layers of war present in Iraq—and America's inability to fight on all those fronts—read blogger and author Peter Van Buren's "Why American Can Never Win in Iraq." (Van Buren wrote 2011's "We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People." I continue to argue that his memoir, written about Iraq, may be one of the best books I've ever read about Afghanistan.)

Finally, for a news article in which talking heads and usual suspects attempt to apply lessons from Iraq to Afghanistan, read "Iraq army’s collapse may hold lessons for the future."

Grains of salt not included.

16 June 2014

From the Battle Desk: Division Warfighter Haiku

For illustration purposes, Army Tactical Operations Center personnel conduct network integration exercise at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. PHOTO: U.S. Army
In an event billed in news reports as "The largest Warfighter exercise is Army history (based on number of training audiences)," commanders and staffs of 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (34th Inf. Div.) and 10 brigades nationwide have converged on the Mission Training Complex at scenic Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Think of it as The Mother of All "Call of Duty" games, fought via a system of systems, and by a committee of committees. More than 2,000 citizen-soldiers are participating. That's a lot of bandwidth ... and M.R.E. pizza.

According to an Army news release about similar exercise last month, involving Texas' 36th Inf "Arrowhead" Div.: "Over 50 acres of Fort Leavenworth are dedicated to supporting the specialized training environment where fiction and reality go head-to-head. [...] While these scenarios are computer-driven, they offer a level of interaction that test commanders’ and senior leaders’ critical decision-making skills and offer a broader understanding to staff members."

In other words, there are lots of moving parts, bells and whistles, and machines that go "ping."

Given this exercise in command and controlled chaos, I humbly offer an exercise of my own: some simple reflections on such training activities, written as haiku:
Back to force-on-force,
wars like grandpa used to fight.
Europe or Asia?

How many of you
are from out of town? So much
for virtual war.

Trash-talk in the TOC:
"I've got your SIGACT right here—
come and get it, Noob!"

Artillery guys,
who can deliver pizza
on time, on target?

"This is the Help Desk.
Your call's important to us.
Please leave a message."

Keep workstations clean.
The only vermin in here
should be TOC-roaches.

A.A.R. bullet:
We need more comfortable chairs
because ... war is hell.

Don't be a hero—
exercise sleep management.
Battle-Caps need naps.

Let me get this straight:
We can plan large air-assaults,
but fear D.T.S.?! 
For more such amusing (?) musings—albeit at a smaller-unit scale—make sure to check out "your squad leader writes haiku" in the current issue of The Pass In Review.

13 June 2014

4th 'Trolling for Troops' Event Continues Reel Success

The 4th Annual Trolling for Troops event, held last week on Camp Ripley, Minn., continued a 21st century tradition of pairing disabled veterans, recently deployed soldiers, and sports pros for a day of fishing on Lake Mille Lacs and the Mississippi River, according to news reports.

"They get to talking," Camp Ripley spokesman Maj. John Donovan told Minnesota Public Radio regarding the veterans who participate, "and it turns out, different decades, different conflicts, same story. It can be cathartic."

The event is sponsored in part by the Minnesota National Guard.

"This event is modeled after our deer and turkey hunts, which we host at Camp Ripley," post commander Col. Scott St. Sauver explained at the inaugural event in 2011. "When asked what soldiers missed the most during a deployment, the first answer is always family, but the second generally is something along the lines of deer camp or fishing."

Starting with an archery deer hunt established in 1954, Camp Ripley has a long history of hosting hunting and other outdoor sports events. More recently established events include deer and turkey hunts for disabled veterans and recently deployed service members.

Media coverage of the 2014 fishing event also included:
In addition to the Minnesota National Guard, sponsors of the 2014 event included:

11 June 2014

Aug. 1 Deadline for 'No Achilles' War Poetry Anthology

Triumph of Achilles in Corfu Achilleion SOURCE: Wikipedia

WaterWood Press has announced a call for submissions of original and unpublished "war poetry" for an anthology titled "No Achilles." Deadline is Aug. 1, 2014.

The book will be edited by James Adams, who was also editor of WaterWoods' first anthology of war poetry, "Against Agamemnon," published in 2009. In 2007, Adams was a Pulitzer Prize nominee in poetry for "Noble Savage," which featured themes of American Indian genocide and African civil war.

According to press materials, "preference will be given to what poet Carolyn Forché has termed 'the poetry of witness.'" Poems about the attacks of September 11, 2001, however, will not be considered.

To provide further examples of war poetry, the editors point to the anthologies "American War Poetry," edited by Lorrie Goldensohn; and "Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness," edited by Forché.

There are no reading fees for this anthology. Poets selected for publication will receive a copy of the anthology as payment. The publication acquires first and anthology rights. All other rights revert to authors upon publication.

Submissions should be via postal mail. An exception can be made for submissions originating outside the United States, in circumstances in which mailing is cost-prohibitive. E-mail poems in both the body of the message and as attachments to: waterwoodpress@yahoo.com. After checking attachments for viruses, include the notation "virus checked" in the subject line of the message.

All other entries should be mailed to:
WaterWood Press
Attn: 2014 War Poetry Editor
47 Waterwood
Huntsville, Texas 77320
Other guidelines include:
  • Non-English originals must be accompanied by English translations.
  • Maximum 3 poems per poet. Submit three copies of each poem, with each poem identified with author’s name only.
  • No more than 30 lines per poem. Editors will consider one poem of two pages' length maximum.
  • Include a separate one-page cover letter comprising a list of poems submitted; a one-paragraph biography (no more than 6 sentences); postal address; e-mail address; and a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (S.A.S.E.).
Every submission will be read and editors may comment upon each submission.

09 June 2014

'The Pass In Review' Explodes in Surreal Second Issue

The sophomore issue of The Pass In Review, informally organized around a theme of humor, is now available for printing and purchase via Createspace. Availability in electronic formats such as Amazon Kindle is still pending. The 70-page quarterly literature and arts journal features fiction, poetry, visual arts by military veterans, as well as interviews with artists and veterans-arts activists.

The journal has been previously been mentioned on the Red Bull Rising blog here and here.

Featured on the new issue's cover is one of Giuseppe Pellicano's grenade series, a surreal depiction of an anthropomorphic explosive device taking part in a princess-themed tea party. Pellicano crafted the absurdly large grenade from two half-egg-shaped industrial lights and a little sheet metal.

Readers of the Red Bull Rising blog may also recognize Pellicano's work from the Journal of Military Experience, Vol. 3, published in 2013. In The Pass In Review, the remainder of Pellicano's grenade series is presented alongside a "campground-style" Q&A interview. The long-form arts interview is a signature feature in both this and the journal's inaugural issue, and one hopes it will continue in future issues.

Photographs of Pellicano's "War Pigs," a series of ceramic masks, appear in The Pass in Review's coverage. Through Nov. 1, the masks are also currently installed in the National Veterans Art Museum's "Surrealism and War" exhibit.

The grenades, Pellicano says in the interview, are readily accessible symbols not only of how military veterans are depicted in media, but of the emotional and social struggles faced by many people who have experienced trauma. He says:
I think that a lot of civilians can relate to it, too. A lot of civilians have post-traumatic stress too. If you’re a rape victim, obviously, you’re going to have PTSD. If you were mugged and beaten in an alleyway, you’re going to have PTSD. S---, the whole state of New York has PTSD after 9/11. It’s common. And maybe they can see, that even though there might be a disconnect between being a soldier and being a civilian, there is this connection that we are all human. And we all suffer. And we can all find a common ground to talk to one another and help one another.
Other highlights of The Pass In Review's second issue include:

Five haiku poems by the writer of the Red Bull Rising blog. Friends, Iowans, and colleagues may remember my love of subverting the haiku form, and "your squad leader writes haiku" features such tactical and practical advice as this favorite:
Cover stops bullets
and concealment hides from view.
Know the difference.
Two pencil drawings from Christina Beltran, a former Marine and combat engineer who deployed twice to Iraq. Whether working as a writer, photographer, or artist, Beltran injects insight and humor into every subject she sets her eye toward. Her "Halt," depicting a small child with upraised hand as seen from behind a crew-served weapon, stops me in my tracks everytime. And I want a copy of her "Follow the Leader" (at right) to hang in my own creative space. (The bumper sticker is funny, because it's true.)

A very funny short story by Christopher Clow, a former citizen-soldier in the Oregon and Washington National Guards. His "Five Most Dangerous Things in the Army" is a series of vignettes in ascending order of rank, hilarity, and truth— starting with "A Private saying ... 'I learned this in Basic,'" and ending with "A Warrant Officer saying ... 'Watch this s---.'"

A short story titled "Roadkill," from Canadian-born Michael Starr. The fictional tale seems based on his experiences as a former member of the Israel Defense Forces (I.D.F.). In the story, a squad attempts to make sense of an inscrutable interpreter's apparent vendetta against ... porcupines. The Pass In Review has notably opened its calls for submissions to include members and former members of any nation's military, and the transcendent humor evident in Starr's story demonstrates the universality of the uniformed experience.

An interview with United States Veterans Artists Alliance (U.S.V.A.A.) Executive Director Keith Jeffreys. The Los Angeles-based organization supports military veterans' involvement in the arts, humanities, and entertainment. The group's work includes gallery installations, theatrical productions, and other endeavors.

Submissions for The Pass In Review's next issue are open until Aug. 3, 2014. Click here for more information.

06 June 2014

On Surrealism: Fishing for Bombs in Minnesota

An exhibit of paintings, sculptures, and other artwork by nine U.S. military veterans, titled "Surrealism and War," recently opened at the National Veterans Art Museum (N.V.A.M.), Chicago. The event runs through Nov. 1, 2014.

"Resort" by David Keefe
Surrealism was first an early 20th century cultural and artistic movement, in which dream-like images and imaginings were juxtaposed as response to rational thought.

Or, as the exhibition catalog puts it: "Surrealism is an attempt to revolt against the inherent contradictions of a society ruled by rational thought while dominated by war and oppression. Surrealism seeks expression of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason and free of aesthetic and moral preoccupation."

Got that? Crazy stuff.

Works presented in the NVAM event include that of U.S. Marine veteran David Keefe, who enlisted in 2002 and served in Iraq in 2006-2007. Among other images, his painting "Resort" co-mingles swimming fish and mortar rounds, frozen lakes and desert sand.

"I start with certain imagery, whether it’s a memory from childhood or experience from Iraq, and all of a sudden images and time collapse," Keefe says in an interview presented on the NVAM website. "I grew up fishing in Minnesota, and that’s where 'Resort' comes from: ice fishing. So it's an ice fishing scene with me as a little boy in the very front. But under the ice are these bombs that I remember from Iraq, these mortars. So the fish become bombs and the bombs become fish. [...]"

For Keefe, surrealism is a way to find similarities among cultures, as well as to make the past a more-immediate—almost explosive—presence for viewers. He says:
Simultaneously as a young child ice-fishing and as a young adult fishing for bombs in Iraq, my memories are no longer the past and develop into a new present tense. This unstable paradigm seemingly becomes a labyrinth of simulated possibilities presenting a world for my characters to contemplate and choose their destiny, yet their fate is as fragile as the convergence of bombs and ice. These paradoxes create a visual tension, and nonetheless, these bombs could explode this fragile world of ice and ruins, blowing it all sky high. In a blink of an eye, my memories, experiences and reality could all cease to exist.
PHOTO: National Veterans Art Museum
The exhibition features the work of Korean War veteran Jim Leedy, whose "Atomic Skull" and "The Earth Lies Screaming" are nearly overwhelming in size and scope. Each appears to be constructed of mud and bone.

Vietnam-era artist-veterans include William Dugan, Stan Gillett, Mike Helbing, and Richard Yohnka.

Besides Keefe, artist-veterans who served during recent conflicts include Robynn Murray, Giuseppe Pelicano, and Erhen Tool.

Pictures of the opening reception for the exhibition are posted on the NVAM Facebook page here. The organization's website is here.

Founded in 1981 as the Vietnam Veterans Art Group, the organization took on the purpose of including artists from all wars in 2003. The organization was re-named the National Veterans Art Museum in 2010. Its Portage Park neighborhood location houses the work of more than 255 artists—more than 2,500 pieces in all. An on-line collection of artist-veteran work is here.

For more information:
National Veterans Art Museum
4041 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Second Floor
Chicago, Illinois 60641 
Phone: 312.326.0270
E-mail: info@nvam.org

04 June 2014

Is this a Dude Ranch, or a Forward Operating Base?

Back in 2012, I wrote a post comparing and contrasting "Summer Camp"—what old citizen-soldiers in the National Guard still jokingly call annual military training—with "summer camping."

Recently, the Sherpa clan rounded up the extended family for a week's vacation in southeastern Arizona. Soon after getting boots on ground—faster than you can say "Huachuca"—I began to notice potential comparisons between daily life on a Dude Ranch, and that of living on a Forward Operating Base ("FOB") downrange.

In other words, I felt right at home.

Here are a few of my notes:


  • If you are eating regularly in a "chow hall," you are on a Dude Ranch.
  • If you are eating regularly in a "dining facility," you are on a FOB.

  • If you are on constant lookout for rattlesnakes, you are on a Dude Ranch.
  • If you are on constant lookout for camel spiders, you are on a FOB.

  • If you observe people who are playing cowboy wearing white Stetsons, you are on a Dude Ranch.
  • If you observe people who are playing cowboy wearing black Stetsons, you are on a FOB.

  • If you are living in a pink building and shooting at tin cans, you are on a Dude Ranch.
  • If you are working in a pink building and living in a tin can while other people shoot at you, you are on a FOB.

  • If "clearing barrel" means executing a successful maneuver on horseback, you are on a Dude Ranch.
  • If "clearing barrel" means a safety device into which you pull a trigger, you are on a FOB.
  • Bonus tip: If "Trigger" is your horse, you are on a Dude Range.

  • If drinking water is plentifully supplied in plastic bottles, you could be on either a Dude Ranch or a FOB ...
  • If the plastic bottles are re-supplied daily by Housekeeping to your room's refrigerator, you are on a Dude Ranch.
  • If the plastic bottles are stored in bulk and located under a plywood lean-to near a corner of your building's exterior, you are on a FOB.
  • Bonus tip: If there is an ice machine where those bulk plastic water bottles would be located on a FOB, you are on a Dude Ranch.

  • If there are A-10s flying overhead, you could be on either a Dude Ranch or a FOB ...
  • If the A-10s sound friendly and outgoing, you are on a Dude Ranch.
  • If the A-10s sound angry, you are on a FOB.

02 June 2014

Mil-writing Non-profit Seeks Opinion Writers for Web

While submissions to its four annual military-themed literary journals—one each for fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and Post-Traumatic Stress narratives—are still on a summer hiatus, the editors of the Kentucky-based non-profit Military Experience & the Arts (M.E.A.) have opened a call for short opinion essays regarding topics related to military service, working with veterans, expressive arts and writing, and more. The opinions will be featured on the organization's home page.

In a recent Facebook post, the organization offered additional guidance:
These pieces can be written by veterans, active duty personnel, military family members, or civilian professionals working within veteran communities.

Polished, relevant works will be published directly to the MEA website and shared through our various social media platforms. By submitting his/her work, the author acknowledges that he/she has all rights to publish the material and that it is original work. Author should send at least one image for us to feature in the preview pane, a bio less than one paragraph in length, and a picture to go with the bio.

These works need to be ready to publish upon submission. If citing statistics, events, or quoting you should include links to the relevant sources. We will not do more than basic formatting to get these onto the website. Pieces not meeting the above standards will be rejected.
To submit a short opinion essay to the MEAS, e-mail: president@miltiaryexperience.org

The MEA organization regularly provides military veterans, service members, and families with supportive environments in which to develop and share their talents in writing and visual arts. For example, the MEA annually publishes four free on-line journals:
The group has frequently been featured on the Red Bull Rising blog, including at least two previous mentions this calendar year, here and here.


Note: This content regarding military-themed writing is underwritten by the Interlochen Center for the Arts' Summer 2014 series of 4-day writers' retreats, including Matt Gallagher's"From Blog to Book: How to Expand Your Web Log into a Book Manuscript," June 16 to 19. The Interlochen campus is located 15 minutes southwest of Traverse City, Mich. In addition to other published work, Gallagher is the author of 2010's non-fiction "Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War." For more information on all of the 2014 writers' retreats, click here.