28 August 2014

Iowa Soldier Crowd-funds to Refight 'Seven Years' War'

Jason Huffman with "1750: Britain vs. France" at GenCon 2014. PHOTO: Battle Hardened Games, Inc.
Like many soldiers, Iowa Army National Guard member Jason Huffman loves history, loves games and simulations, and loves learning about history through gaming. After months of game design, play-testing, and even demonstrating at the recent GenCon gaming convention in Indianapolis, he and his colleagues at Battle Hardened Games have launched a crowd-funding effort to bring their inaugural game "1750: Britain vs. France" to full production.

Sample graphics from the game "1750: Britain vs. France"
The game "1750" is a 2-player card-based strategy contest, using both dice and cards to fight for control of the board. One player plays as Britain and the other as France, and each seeks to dominate the globe. Players leverage historical events, land and sea forces, generals and admirals, supplies, and allies to control the North American, African, and Indian colonies in the years leading up the American Revolution. The graphics incorporate the paintings, maps, and other artwork of the day.

A Kickstarter page for the project is here. A video is here, as well as below. A Facebook page for Battle Hardened Games is here. Huffman started his game company in 2013, and is trying to raise $28,000 by Sun., Sept. 28, 2014. He has already fronted the graphic design and other developmental costs. If funded via Kickstarter, the game is ready to go into full production.

"My top priority is to deliver games that you'll enjoy playing, whether you are a history fan or not," he writes on his website. "But I do hope that you will learn a little bit about history when playing our games. I also hope that some educators will consider using our games as a framework for discussing history, particularly the leaders, battles, economics, and geography involved."

In 2007-2008, Huffman spent a year deployed to Western Afghanistan as part of an Embedded Training Team (E.T.T.). There, he saw the echoes of empires first-hand. (Also, be sure to ask him about the Taliban chicken.) In his first game design, however, he chose to focus on the 18th century struggle between imperial powers Britain and France—the "Seven Year's War." (In the theater that was to become the United States, the conflict is better known as the "French and Indian War.")

For Huffman, the historical mileu provides an opportunity to explore lessons on scales ranging from the global, to the individual. He writes:
Many British officers that would later play major roles in the American Revolution also fought in the Seven Year's War, with some of the younger officers in the American Revolution going on to fight in other British conflicts of the late 1700s.

There are a few British generals that I find particularly interesting in terms of their legacies from this era. They fought in multiple wars and had very different results in each of them. Growing up in an American school system, our history books didn't really address parts of their careers that didn't deal with American history. Basically they get mentioned within the context of the American Revolution and that’s it.
Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, circa 1796
Take, for example, Charles Cornwalis. Huffman writes on his website:
Basically, looking at American history books, or watching [2000 film] The Patriot, Cornwallis would have been viewed as the biggest loser of the 1700s. He surrendered an army of over 7,000 soldiers, the act that ultimately broke military British efforts to retain the 13 colonies. This same person was hugely instrumental in the ongoing rise of British power in the Indian subcontinent. You can't look back at him and only weigh the Yorktown surrender in judging his performance as a commander [...]
In his "spare time," the entrepreneurial Huffman is an Iowa National Guard signal officer assigned to 734th Regional Support Group (R.S.G.), and recently spent time as a civilian contractor instructing on mission command systems. Huffman is a 2003 graduate of the Reserve Officers Training Corps program at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. "My love of military history was certainly a strong influence in my decision to join the military," he tells the Red Bull Rising blog. "My grandfather was also a medic in the 34th Infantry Division during WWII in North Africa and Italy, and that was always inspiring to me when I decided to join."

And ... what about the war story regarding Pashtun poultry?

"I was driving wearing N.V.G.s [Night Vision Goggles] during an operation to cordon an Afghan village, when a chicken flew at our Humvee, knocking out a tactical satellite that had been zip-tied to the hood and really hurting our communications during that operation."

"That chicken," Huffman says, "was Taliban."

26 August 2014

'As You Were': Veteran Group Re-launches Lit Journal

Military Experience & the Arts (M.E.A.), a veterans- and arts-advocacy non-profit based in Richmond, Ky., has announced that it will re-launch its family of four annual journal titles under a single quarterly banner. The new on-line publication will be titled "As You Were."

Military service members and veterans will recognize the phrase as one frequently heard in drill and ceremony, in which it is used to revoke a preparatory command. (See FM 22-5, Section 2-1, paragraph D.) A nautical equivalent might be "belay that."

"Our title also connotes a hearkening back, an exploration of the self and the past," the editors write. "We're interested in those words and works of art that are brave enough to cut through rank and time, presenting military experience honestly, free of the white-washing that is so common in today's war literature and art."

The group will continue to foster a collaborative culture and methods. "We've published six volumes since 2011, providing each contributor—regardless of whether that contributor has published 25 words or 25 books—with some form of one-on-one consultation."

The re-launch comes soon after the announcement of a May 2015 symposium to be held in Lawton, Okla., which will welcome artists, advocates, and veterans to military experience through the expressive arts. Registration for the event is open here.

Previously, literary titles published annually by Military Experience & the Arts included:
Submission instructions for "As You Were" have been consolidated here. The organization now uses the on-line service Submittable to manage submissions. Editors seek artwork, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Scholarly articles will no longer be considered.

21 August 2014

In Nat'l Guard Mag, Mil-blogger Revisits Korean War

In the current issue of GX Online, journalist and mil-blogger Susan Katz Keating delivers a fast-paced, fact-packed article about Korean War history that was inspired by her citizen-soldier father, Norman Katz. GX Online is an official magazine of the U.S. Army National Guard.

Keating chronicles National Guard mobilizations including California's 40th Infantry "Sunshine" Division (40th Inf. Div.) and Oklahoma's 45th Infantry "Thunderbird" Division (45th Inf. Div.). Between Aug. 14, 1950 and Feb. 15, 1952, she writes, the National Guard contributed approximately 138,000 reservists to repel North Korea. Norman Katz was a member of the 40th Inf. Div., and a Purple Heart recipient.

Troops fighting in Korea braved sub-zero temperatures, unforgiving mountain terrain, ubiquitous spies, and inferior supplies and equipment. One pharmacist veteran describes for Keating how he'd mix codeine into syrup, to suppress coughing that would give away their fighting positions. Another tells of being welcomed by a group of liberated Korean and Chinese prisoners of war while on a supposedly secret mission—informed by their former jailers, the prisoners knew more about the mission than the U.S. troops.

The issue is available FREE as a PDF file here. Keating's article, "Enduring Courage," appears on print pages 58-63, and PDF spreads 30-33. You can read her blog post about the GX Online article here. Her Facebook fan page is here.

19 August 2014

Book Review: 'If You're Reading This'

'If You're Reading This' by Trent Reedy

Former teacher and Iowa Army National Guard soldier Trent Reedy deployed to Afghanistan in 2004-2005. Trained as a combat engineer, Reedy and his fellow soldiers found themselves providing security for small outposts then still under development. During his time overseas, he encountered a local girl with a birth defect, whose story would later become the foundation for Reedy's first young-adult novel, "Words in the Dust," published in 2011.

With the soon-to-be-released "If You're Reading This," Reedy revisits his time in uniform with the fictional story of Michael Wilson, the high-school-aged son of an Iowa citizen-soldier killed 10 years earlier in Afghanistan.

Growing up in Riverside, Iowa, Wilson attempts to navigate his mother's overprotectiveness, his desire to play football, and his friendship with an art-loving Muslim girl. Along the way, Wilson begins to hear from his dead father, via a series of letters and videos the soldier had prepared while downrange. (An Army buddy anonymously carries out instructions to send the letters before the teenager's 16th birthday.) Through those messages, Wilson's father offers burst transmissions of advice, family history, and encouragement to execute a few life-changing "missions."

The mix of sports and war themes will build bridges to avid readers of each genre, while Wilson's struggle to better understand his friends and family will appeal to those who like psychological mysteries. The narrative connects briefly to Reedy's previous book about Afghanistan, "Words in the Dust," but each work stands on its own. Midwesterners will appreciate the clear-eyed depiction of life in a 21st century small town—places where people still come back home to coach football, where people still remember you from high school, and where people keep secrets while also watching out for each other. Yes, Virginia, there is a place called Iowa.

Most of all, Reedy's plainspoken realism will resonate with those who have served in uniform, those who have had a family member serve, and those who may serve in the future. The lessons are present, but never preachy. The language is accessible and conversational—just like hundreds of such letters written by real-life parents downrange. Wilson's father writes in one letter:
Some nights Ortiz and me and some of the guys get together to smoke cheap cigars and talk about life, politics, women, the war, and everything. We call this group the Gentlemen's Smoking Club. The GSC were talking on our first night in Farah, and we were all feeling kind of down. There we were, on this base that wasn't even close to finished. We don't have many guys, we have few weapons, and we don't even have tactical vehicles yet.

So I said to the guys, "Look. We're the Army National Guard. Some of our equipment, like our radios and rifles, may not be the newest and best, but we still get the job done. Out here in the middle of nowhwere, we've had to figure out how to handle things on our own, like cowboys out on the range. We might not always be completely sure how to solve a problem or carry out a mission, but we do it anyway. It's the Cowboy Way." [p. 112]
Reedy dedicates the book to the memory of Sgt. Seth Garceau, 27, of Oelwein, Iowa. Deployed to Iraq as part of Alpha Company, 224th Engineer Battalion, Iowa Army National Guard, Garceau died March 4, 2005 in Landstuhl, Germany, following a Feb. 27 Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.) attack on his vehicle in the vicinity of Ramadi. Through his characters, Reedy notes that the Army Engineer branch motto is "Essayons"—French for "let us try."

Also notable, Reedy sought out permission to have the shoulder patch of the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division appear on the book jacket—the patch that the fictional Sgt. Wilson, like the author himself, wore in Afghanistan.

In short, there are a lot of wholesome, whole-hearted values here, in a world that sometimes seems to be in dire need of some. "If You're Reading This" invites young readers to engage hard questions, not only about who they are and who they want to be, but regarding service to family, country, and community.

"I want 'If You're Reading This' to honor the service of those soldiers who have served in Afghanistan and around the world," Reedy writes in an e-mail interview with the Red Bull Rising blog. "I hope my novel honors their mission. We now have an entire generation of young people for whom there is no memory of the United States not being at war. The de facto state of their existence is that there have always been American soldiers deployed to a war in a distant country [...]"

Reedy continues, "While so many people rightfully thank soldiers for their service, we must also respect the sacrifice of our young people who have done a lot of growing up with their loved ones deployed. This generation of young people has had to sacrifice a lot for our wars, and I believe they deserve to know why. I hope 'If You're Reading This' can serve as part of that explanation."


14 August 2014

Iowa Remembers 5k, Marcus Luttrell Events Sept. 28

PHOTO: Iowa Remembers, Inc.
The Fifth Annual Remembrance Run will be held 10 a.m. Sun., Sept. 28, 2014 at Raccoon River Park, West Des Moines, Iowa.

More than 800 registered runners participated in the 2012 event. Subsequent years have overtopped 1,000 participants.

The run is a fund-raiser for Iowa Remembers, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The organization helps underwrite an annual retreat for families of Iowans who have died as the result of service in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. The retreat is held in the Des Moines area on the same weekend as the run.

Iowa Remembers maintains a list of honored dead. Prior to each year's race, that list is read aloud, along with either a performance of the U.S. National Anthem and/or recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. At this year's event, Iowans killed during the Vietnam War will also be remembered.

In a related event that evening, Iowa Remembers will also host "An Evening with Marcus Luttrell" at the Iowa Events Center, Des Moines, 7 p.m. Tickets are $45 plus a $1 facility fee, and may be purchased at the box office or website. On-line ticket sales fees may apply. Seating is general admission. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Luttrell is a former Navy SEAL, and co-author of the 2007 best-selling book "Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10." Proceeds from the Luttrell event will also go to the annual retreat for military families.

Registration for the Fifth Annual 5K walk/run event is $25 through Sept. 19. Late registration is $30 between Sept. 19-24 (with no T-shirt guaranteed). Both team and individual registrations are available. Children 12 and under can participate for free, but registration is required to receive T-shirt and medal.

Team registration is available for groups that want to honor a particular soldier or individual. Registration costs are the same.

Online registration is here.

For a route map, click here.

Iowa Remembers maintains a Facebook page here. An event page for this year's Remembrance Run is here. An event page for "An Evening With Marcus Luttrell" is here.

12 August 2014

Literary Journal Review: 'Line of Advance' No. 2

The Summer 2014 aesthetic of veterans-lit magazine Line of Advance is a bit punk, rough around the edges in a carefully curated sort of way. The gut feel is boosted by the Pepto Bismal pink cover, which features an ink drawing by Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Kasza, a five-time veteran of Iraq, plus a trip to Haiti.

The drawing, titled "Disgusto the Clown," depicts the apparent love-child of R. Crum and a Juggala. It could easily appear adjacent to the dictionary definition of "grotesque": "Comically or repulsively ugly or distorted." In the background, some balloons are laughing, others are crying. What's all this have to do with the military? Read on.

There are five stories and three poems presented in the publication's second issue, released in digital formats last week. Some of the short stories may be non-fiction—the editors have eschewed labels, or even a table of contents—but most seem to resonate with autobiographical authenticity. These are stories, written by soldiers and possibly for soldiers, even when they do not explicitly mention combat or service.

Repeating a technique established in their inaugural issue, the Line of Advance editors have also peppered their pages with paragraphs from earlier writers about earlier wars. Not to worry, however: There is a strategy and craft at work here, rather than just padding the page count. (For the record, the issue weighs in at 72 pages, including the cover.) The interstitial pages add both grist and gravitas, and careful readers are rewarded with historical insights and experiences that resonate with present-day military life.

In one example, Winston Churchill writes, "We are told that the British and Egyptian armies entered Omdurman to free the people from the Khalifa's yoke. Never were rescuers more unwelcome." [p. 28] Sound familiar?

In another example: Xenophon of Athens notes, "[T]he point to consider is, how we may get the fewest wounds and throw away the smallest number of good men ..." [p. 35] Roger that. We need more thinking like this.

The weighty classics also serve as touchstones to the 21st century writing featured in the issue. When George Orwell mentions an anecdote about a 12-year-old militiaman throwing a hand-grenade into a campfire "for a joke" [p. 53], for example, readers can make connections to the title of Mickey Tissot's short story "Obsessed with Spain," and also with Chris Whitehead's "American Soap."

Tissot's story illuminates a young teacher's attempt to navigate the garrison-like bureaucracy of his employment, where he encounters a series of grotesque characters recognizable to both teacher and soldier. And, like any good story about war stories, Whitehead's tale reads either like a sitcom narrative or a non-fiction piece. It's probably both:
A guy in Frank's team wanted to cook some food so he walked over and found a good place to start a fire. He lights a little starter fire and starts prepping his food. Everything is fine until he sees the fire start to flicker in the wind. Luckily a few feet away there are some crates he can use to protect his fire.

"That'll work," he thinks to himself. He stumbles over and picks up a box. It's kind of heavy.

He weighs it in his hands.

The box was heavy because it was full of mortar ammunition. [p. 34]
Absurdity and grotesquery are infused throughout the magazine: Former Air Force pilot David Buchanan tells a Hemingway-esque story ("The Colonel") of hunting alongside a murderous troll of a field-grade officer. Former sailor Travis Klempan relates a frustrating and familiar tale ("The Mule Whisperer") of waiting for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (E.O.D), in the company of an innocent animal. The story resolves suddenly and almost magically.

Poet David Pointer's narrator describes a journey from a home plagued by poverty and crime and dishonorable discharges, to proud peacetime Marine, to standing uneasy at the gates of Welcome Home. Anguish Cavanaugh begins a story ("The Blackness of Night") at Combat Operating Post Najil, Afghanistan, and ends confronting the Devil himself.

Line of Advance No. 2 is, in short, surprisingly cohesive and sophisticated, behind the pulpy comic-book garb. Sometimes dark, sometimes humorous, it most importantly delivers on its editorial promises, which were voiced again by co-founders Chris Lyke and Matt Marcus in the issue's editorial:
Sometimes, it’s easier to tell a story to a stranger, and trust that you’ll never see them again. This phenomenon has been captured many times on the page, but [we] think the following passage is on the mark. Hemingway once wrote a story about a vet named Krebs, and in it he said:

"Later he felt the need to talk but no one wanted to hear about it. His town had heard too many atrocity stories to be thrilled by actualities. Krebs found that to be listened to at all he had to lie, and after he had done this twice he, too, had a reaction against the war and against talking about it."

Line of Advance is not the only place, but we believe it to be the best place to tell these stories. Stories about anything really; the shopping, the job, the war, sometimes even ghost stories, without the need for vets to embellish, or feel disgusted, or as though they’ve cheapened themselves. [p. 5]
Line of Advance is right on target. Fire for effect. Tell your stories.


Disclosure: The writer of the Red Bull Rising blog also has two poems, "carry on" and "your convoy leader writes haiku," featured in this issue of Line of Advance.

07 August 2014

G.I. 'Shmo' Runs Trails for Wounded Warrior Charity

Minnesota Air National Guard F-16 pilot Lt. Col. Eric Chandler shows Army Pfc. Kyle Chandler around the aircraft while deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. PHOTO: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris Axelson
Writer Eric "Shmo" Chandler, a retired Minnesota Air National Guard F-16 pilot, constant outdoorsman, and current denizen of Duluth, Minn., recently reflected about escorting a wounded soldier around the aircraft one day while downrange in Afghanistan. Here's an excerpt from his blog post on the subject:
In 2012, we were in Afghanistan. Flying operations took place around the clock. Manpower was stretched thin. At any particular moment, there might be only one pilot who had a “day off.” One day, I was off. The only thing worse than flying in Afghanistan is not flying in Afghanistan. Having time off just made time crawl.

Then I learned a Wounded Warrior was going to tour the flight line. A memo went out looking for pilots to volunteer to lead the tour. I tried to hide initially. Then I finally raised my hand to help.

I gave a tour to Private First Class Kyle Lynch. I went over to a room in the maintenance facility and he was standing up wearing a Wounded Warrior t-shirt and shorts. Somehow, he brought it up and I said, “Well, I wasn’t going to ask, but ... what happened?”

He was in a firefight and thought a hot piece of brass fell inside his body armor. It had probably happened before. But then he couldn’t breathe. It wasn’t hot brass. He caught a bullet in the chest. He was at Kandahar recovering and was about to go back out to his unit. Get shot, heal up, and go back to the fight. There’s a war on. Remarkable.

We walked around and looked at some jets. We looked in the cockpit. We looked at the 20mm cannon that was opened up for some maintenance. He wrote the name of his unit on one of the bombs. We parted ways.

It was one of the best days of my life. I tell my kids to conquer their fear. For years, I couldn’t take my own advice. When I finally volunteered, it was gratifying.

People who thrust out their chin and say they have “no regrets” are either stupid or lying. I have regrets. Here’s one: I should’ve helped at the hospital every day I had two legs to walk on.
Chandler has pledged to run the whole length of the 275-mile Superior Hiking Trail as a fund-raiser, with proceeds going directly to the Wounded Warrior Project. (Click here for a link the "North Short Schmo" fund-raiser page.) He reports that he's already completed 15 trail segments, and he has 250 miles to go before October 31.

Onward and upward!

05 August 2014

Remember 'Red Bull' Soldier at Aug. 30 Poker Run

The 3rd Annual Donny Nichols Memorial Ride and Poker Run will be held in Eastern Iowa Sat., Aug. 30, 2014. The fund-raising event commemorates Iowa Army National Guard Spc. Donny Nichols, 21, of Shell Rock, Iowa, killed April 13, 2011 in Laghman Province, Afghanistan. The event will start and finish in Shell Rock.

In 2010, Nichols was deployed with 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) in Eastern Afghanistan. Nichols was a member of Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment (1-133rd Inf.), which is based in Waterloo, Iowa.

Each year, event organizers direct funds to military-themed projects. Proceeds from this year's event, for example, will benefit Flags for Freedom Outreach, a Lake of the Ozarks, Mo. non-profit that supports and remembers wounded soldiers during recovery and reintegration.

Among other supporting groups, the 34th Infantry Division Association (34th Inf. Div. Assoc.) will staff a booth during registration for the ride. The organization will donate $5 for every individual who displays an item of "Red Bull" swag to booth personnel—stickers, tattoos, patches, association membership cards, flags, etc.—displayed by any poker run attendee or participant, up to a total of $500. While there, make sure also to register for a giveaway of two replica 34th Infantry Division flags!

In a poker run, registered participants are dealt random cards. While many motorcyclists are anticipated, organizers emphasize that "all types of wheels" are welcome. At the final stop of the day, the participant with the highest poker hand wins a pot of cash. Raffles, T-shirt sales, and other fund-raising efforts will also take place during the event.

Ride shirts may be pre-ordered and pre-paid ($15 each) by Aug. 22, 2014. Contact Jeanie at 319.464.2050. A limited number of shirts will also be on sale at the event.

This year's T-shirts feature a red, white, and blue color scheme. On the front is a photograph of an Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (M.R.A.P) All-Terrain Vehicle, the crew of which is proudly flying the American flag while downrange in Afghanistan.

Registration is Sat., Aug. 30, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at The Cooler, 201 South Cherry St., Shell Rock, Iowa. The ride will begin approximately 11 a.m. Start times may be staggered if numbers warrant.

Each poker "hand" is $15, and dealt at The Cooler. There will also be a 50-50 raffle at the start and possibly (details pending) at the finish. Other raffle prizes will be awarded at the finish, time pending.

Here is the route for the poker run:
  • Start: Shell Rock, Iowa at The Cooler
  • 1st Stop: Hudson at Federal Pub
  • 2nd Stop: La Porte City at PNBS
  • 3rd Stop: Waterloo at Buzz's
  • 4th Stop: Waverly at Dirty Dog
  • Final Stop: Shell Rock at The Cooler
For a Facebook page for the Aug. 30 event, click here.