24 December 2015

Operation Reindeer Games 2015: 'Antlers & Sequels'

PHOTO: Army Spc. Jess Nemec and 1st Lt. Sarah Johnson/Released

Blog-editor's note: This post was originally published on the Red Bull Rising blog Dec. 23, 2013, and again here at the now-archived mil-blog digest "The Sandbox."
In 2014, we FRAGO'd the dates and the illumination data, and topped it off anew with a holiday shot (above) from the Minnesota National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 147th Assault Helicopter (2-147 A.H.B.), 34th Combat Aviation Brigade (34th CAB). Those Red Bull aviation soldiers were deployed to Camp Beuhring, Kuwait, and elsewhere.

While all Red Bull units are now currently at home, let's remember deployed service members and their families in thoughts and prayers this holiday season! 


I. SITUATION: TASK FORCE SHERPA continues holiday sustainment operations vicinity FOB LIVINGROOM.
1. Enemy Forces: 
Refer to Appendix X, "Naughty List." 
2. Friendly Forces / Attachments: 
a. One (1) soldier, callsign "SCOOP," from TF GI-JOE Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, location OP ELFONSHELF.  
b. One (1) Pathfinder-qualified soldier from 1225th Special Operations Aviation Regiment ("The Night-stockers"), callsign "RUDOLPH," location AO ROOFTOP.
c. Five (1) soldiers from 334th Brigade Support Battalion, 2-34th BCT attached as Forward Logistics Elf Element (FLEE), callsign "WORKSHOP," location AO UNDERTREE.
d. Ten (10) 03s-a-leaping from HHC, 2-34th BCT attached as command-and-control cell.
PHOTO: 34th CAB, Minn. Army National Guard, 2013
3. Weather and Terrain: 
High of 45 degrees Fahrenheit; low of 29 degrees. No effects on current snow cover. Condition WHITE for sleigh-borne operations.
4. Illumination:
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow is not likely to give the lustre of mid-day to objects below. Moonset is 250727DEC15; peak illumination is 99 percent. Civil twilight is 250708DEC15. Sunrise is 250739DEC15. 
As noted in After Action Reviews of past holiday ops, however, SUGARPLUM elements have been known to stir well before light conditions warrant, or even Christmas Reveille.
"TF SHERPA secures LANDING ZONE CHIMNEY NLT 242330DEC14 and conducts resupply via reindeer-drawn miniature sleigh during hours of darkness prior to 250710DEC15. On order, commences opening of presents and distribution of holiday themes and messages."
1. Commander's Intent:
TF SHERPA will conduct safe and secure receipt of Christmas gifts, minimizing boots-on-ground time and distractions for RED-RYDER-6. Endstate is a Happy Christmas to all personnel, and to all a good night.
2. Concept of Operation:
We will start by ceasing all garrison activities, troop movements, and roving patrols beginning 242100DEC15. No personnel should be stirring. Not even a mouse. Stockings will be hung by the objective with care. All SUGARPLUM elements will be nestled all snug in their bunks. 
RED-RYDER-6 will arrive LZ CHIMNEY during hours of darkness, and will successfully evade detection by SUGARPLUM elements and local civilian air-traffic control. 
Following the operation, TF SHERPA personnel will prepare to conduct Key Leader Engagements with both sides of the family. 
Throughout this operation, TF SHERPA personnel will also reinforce themes and messages of "Peace on Earth, goodwill to all" via appropriate official STRATCOM channels, including social media and telephone.
3. Maneuver:
Under no circumstances should unauthorized personnel stir to investigate clatter from exterior areas, including rooftops.
4. Fires:
On order, 1-194th Field Artillery will provide 1.55 cm artillery-delivered tinsel as chaff to defeat detection of TF RED-RYDER by regional air-traffic control radar.
5. Coordinating instructions:
Authorized sleeping uniform is kerchief, cap, or green fleecy hat; MultiCam pajamas; and red-and-white "candy stripe" reflective safety belt. Noise and light discipline will be maintained per SOP. Senior personnel are encouraged to employ red-light headlamps or night-vision devices.
6. Specific instructions:
Headquarters will redeploy public affairs team member SCOOP from OP ELFONSHELF to vicinity LZ CHIMNEY for documentation of gift-giving operations NLT 250700DEC15. Mission focus will be on "telling the Christmas story by telling our Army story."
1. 334th BSB will provide (1) Meal, Ready-to-Eat to RED-RYDER-6. Ranger cookies and shelf-stable milk are appropriate. On order, also provide one (1) 64 lb. bag of Reindeer Chow.
2. Religious services are 241900DEC14, and 251000DEC14.
1. Location of Key Leaders: 
HOUSEHOLD-6 and HOUSEHOLD-7 will be in the command bunker after 242100DEC14. 
2. Succession of command: 
3. Callsigns: 
Holiday callsigns are NOT authorized. Under no circumstances should SUGARPLUM elements refer to HOUSEHOLD-6 as "NUTCRACKER-6." The previously published SOI was in error. HOUSEHOLD-7 is very, very sorry. 
4. Challenge / Password for 24DEC14 is: "SMOKE" / "WREATH." 
5. Challenge / Password for 25DEC14 is: "BOWLFUL" / "JELLY." 
6. Running password is "FIGGY PUDDING."
1. Use ground guides when backing reindeer. 
2. Use drip pans and chocks when parking sleighs. 
3. Don't drink nog and drive. 
4. "Safety first, Christmas always."

22 December 2015

Holiday Traditions: The Annotated '25 Days of Sherpa Family Christmas'

Blog editor's note: This post originally appeared on the Red Bull Rising blog Dec. 25, 2014.

Earlier this month, I started a daily exercise using the following phrase as a writing prompt: "Day X of 25 Days of Sherpa Family Christmas." My intent was to generate (mostly) new material, inspired by actual holiday happenings around the Sherpa family FOBstead. It was like writing tactical fortune cookies while channeling my inner Martha Stewart.

Listed below are collected all of the "25 Days of Sherpa Family Christmas." (Thanks to the Facebook friends of Charlie Sherpa, who inadvertently served as a daily writers' workshop!) For fun, I've hyperlinked to some definitions and explanations. Best wishes to all for a safe and rewarding holiday!

1. "This is our Christmas tree. There are many like it, but this one is ours."

2. Poncho liner makes surprisingly effective field-expedient tree skirt.

3. Three cups of Peppermint chai before one talks of holiday business.

4. First test of homemade MICLIC rocket for deploying holiday lights across perimeter of FOB Sherpa. Essayons!

5. Tinsel works as a festive and fabulous ghillie suit. Chaffs a bit, though.

6. Lutefisk is the MRE omelet of the holiday-food world.

7. Ask your chaplain if she'll accommodate Saturnalia services on the 17th. 'Tis the season!

8. Lesson-learned: Infrared twinkle lights require night-vision egg-noggles.

9. "Over the river and through the woods" should not require a formal convoy clearance. An extraction plan, however, is recommended.

10. In the mailbox today: "Season's greetings from the IO section."

11. Glitter is a persistent agent. Deploy it wisely.

12. Tactical Advent wreath? Use IR chemlights as candles.

13. Mistletoe can also be ordered in bulk as a Class IV barrier material.

14. "We're dreaming of a Red Bull Christmas."

15. Sherpa kids initially not interested in crafting pine-cone birdfeeders using peanut butter and suet this past weekend. Told them we were making festive sticky bombs instead.

16. You know something? Engineer tape makes for some darned fancy ribbon!

17. "Treat Christmas like a Key Leader Engagement."

18. Santa's challenge coin is the one that rules them all.

19. Psyop section always has the best holiday music playlist. And they'll DJ.

20. Just like ACU trousers, Christmas stockings can be used as floatation devices in the unlikely event of a water landing. "Knowing is half the battle."

21. Notes and maps left for Santa should be red-light readable. Santa is tactical. And an aviator.

22. Roasting chestnuts by an open MRE heater is ... not recommended.

23. Trail camera mounted on Christmas tree. RC drones on stand-by. Sherpa kids have put Santa on the HVT list this year. Then again, like they say, "the jolly old elf also gets a vote."

24. Airborne Santa says: "Geroni-mo-ho-ho!"

25. Message of the day: "Peace on earth! Goodwill toward all personnel!"

16 December 2015

Review: 'Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors' 4

A rule of thumb, in both newsrooms and Tactical Operations Centers, is that "two times is a coincidence, but three times is a trend." Four times? Four times must make something an institution.

Now in its fourth consecutive volume, and published annually on or near Veterans Day, the military-writing anthology series "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors" is arguably the high-point of the 12-month veterans-lit calendar. In partnership with the Missouri Humanities Council, the series is published by Southeast Missouri State University Press, Cape Girardeau, Mo. Comprising short fiction, non-fiction essays, interviews, and photography generated by or about military service members, veterans, and families, no other book publishing effort so regularly portrays the scope and depth of U.S. military experiences.

World War II is here. Korea and Vietnam are here. Iraq and Afghanistan are here. The home front is here.

The Navy is here. The Army is here. The Marines are here. The Air Force is here.

The memories of 80-year-old veterans are here. The words of a high-schooler from Gilman, Iowa are here.

It's all here. Every year.

In reading across the most recent edition's 270 pages, one is struck by the chorus of voices. One hears harmonies in times and places. One hears differences in experiences, but never dissonances. In short, the book seems to embody the sentiment: "Everybody has their own war; no one has to fight it alone."

Keeping with the choral metaphor for a moment, the solo performances are stand-out. Each issue features a winner and two honorable mentions in five categories: fiction, essay, interview, poetry, and photography. (Disclosure: The writer of the Red Bull Rising blog was a runner-up in this year's poetry category.)

For example, photography winner Jay Harden's image, "Planning for Peace," graces the cover of the book. Harden was a B-52 navigator on 63 missions over Vietnam.

This year's fiction contest winner, Christopher Lyke, weaves a braided narrative of loss and return and fighting against—or maybe for—the routine. A former infantry soldier, Lyke is a Chicago-area writer, musician, and teacher. He is also the co-editor of the literary journal "Line of Advance." You can hear the Chicago in his prose, in story titled "No Travel Returns":
He woke up and ran the dog and showered. He dressed and woke up the kids. This kept happening. Then he made breakfast for the kids and woke up his wife. This happened every day, too. He made it happen, this routine.
Essay category winner David Chrisinger delivers a profile of U.S. Marine Brett Foley, an Afghan War veteran. Chrisinger, a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, interviews Foley and Foley's wife, and grounds the resulting conversation in grief theory. Chrisinger is the son of a Vietnam-era veteran, and the grandson of a World War II veteran. He teaches a student-veteran reintegration course on campus, and counts Foley as his best friend. The resulting exploration is, then, both personal and professional:
What helped to increase Brett's resilience and help him move toward a productive and purposeful life was talking about his trauma and remembering the good men he served with. Only then could he move on. And even though he never discovered the complete and final truth of his experiences—no one ever really can—Brett did create meaning out of them by organizing his memories and creating a coherent narrative. […]
In the winning poem, titled "nights," Navy officer Nicholas J. Watts writes an hypnotic, rhythm-infused ode to sleep and memory:
I visit dark places
where war still rages
and I didn't fight
like I should have
where whiskey flows
from plastic jugs into Salvation Army cups
to be cast away
like dead children from suicide bombs
or Talib cattle shot for sport […]
Such exemplars are indicative of the qualities to be found throughout the book. In a poem titled "TBI" (which stands for "Traumatic Brain Injury"), VA nurse Susan K. Spindler delivers a punch to the gut with lines such as:
[…] A brain weights three to four pounds.
It floats in a fluid that protects it.
You floated in me once, Josh.
I gave up pot and booze and moved
us far away from the man that was half of you.
I thought you would be safe. […]
In a war story titled "How I Almost Lost the War for the U.S.A.," Korean War veteran and former U.S. Marine George Fischer tells a hilarious and harrowing tale. He was driving a WWII-era amphibious truck called a "Duck," one laden with ammunition destined for the front, when he ran over a long-haul communications cable presumably used by much-higher headquarters. The Duck gets stuck. He walks over to a nearby artillery unit, to radio for assistance:
While I waited for that wrecker, the 155 guncrew listened on the phone to announce the next target. Some of the crew asked me how the hell did I get to this howitzer emplacement. I pointed to where my truck rested in the dark across the meadow at the road. They were amazed and astonished as they told me that field I had walked on was thoroughly mined.
In her introduction to this year's volume, series publisher Susan Swartwout describes some of her lessons, taken from four years of compiling, editing, and producing "Proud to Be":
Just a few of the things I've learned include that some veterans carry their stories inside and won't speak their war burdens to friends and family—but they will write them to the world when the have a place and invitation to do so. […]

I've learned that a veteran's coming home to loved ones and civilian life can be yet another battle with its own version of firestorm. […]

And I've learned that many veterans and military personnel have an awesome sense of humor, brilliant with word play and pranks.
Sherpatude No. 26: "Humor is a combat multiplier …" And thank goodness for it. World War II veteran Bill McKenna was an infantryman with the U.S. 24th Infantry Division in the Philippines, when his buddy took off, suffering from the "G.I.'s" (gastrointestinal distress). A Filipino leading a squad of Moro tribesmen happen upon McKenna. After a wary stand-off, they mention in passing to McKenna the recent death of the U.S. President:
For every G.I. in a far-off battle zone, it's great to hear from home—a letter from Mom, Sis, or Sweetheart. But today I got news delivered first-hand to me on a Philippine jungle road. Not the usual way to hear the news, I suppose, but damn, it was exciting.

Later, I learn that the news of the Roosevelt's death was delayed for troop morale considerations.
Where else are you going to hear a story like that? Who else but a veteran would be the one to tell it?


For information on the 2016 military-writing contest and anthology, click here.

A Facebook page for the project is here.

A St. Louis-area book launch event is planned for 1 to 4 p.m., Sat., Dec. 19, 2015. The event is free and open to the public. Information here.

11 December 2015

'Patriot Place' to Provide 50 Veterans' Housing Units

Des Moines, Iowa architects ASK Studio has previously designed other patriotic-themed buildings, including the Iowa Gold Star Museum, located on Camp Dodge, Johnston, Iowa. PHOTO: ASK Studio
Editor's note: The following is a news release issued by Healing Our Heroes, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It is presented here for news purposes only. No endorsement by the Red Bull Rising blog or author of the blog is necessarily implied.

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA—Healing Our Heroes, in partnership with Seldin Company, is holding news conference and reception to introduce the "Patriot Place" veterans' permanent supportive housing project. The announcement will take place 12 noon Fri., Dec. 11 at the historic Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The approximately $9 million, veteran-specific, low-income housing facility will provide 48-50 apartment units with an additional approximate 10,000 square feet for veteran supportive services. Ten percent of the units will be set aside specifically for homeless prevention.

The project will be funded by a non-competitive Iowa Finance Authority (I.F.A.) tax-credit award. Additionally, the Cedar Rapids City Council has already passed a resolution of support granting a 10-year tax abatement. A capital campaign to raise $1.5 million to cover the funding gap is already underway.

In addition to unveiling the architectural rendering provided by architect Brent Schipper of ASK Studio, Des Moines, several area agencies will also be present to highlight a few supportive services that will be available to residents. The facility will be located directly behind the VA Outpatient Clinic located on the corner of Wiley Blvd. and Wilson Ave.

Founded by Executive Director Kelly Ridenour, the non-profit Healing Our Heroes is located at the Veterans Memorial Building, a facility managed by the Veterans Memorial Commission. Ridenour thanked the commission for its support. "As the wife, daughter and granddaughter of men who all raised their hand in service of God and country, I am proud to have the opportunity to be of service as well. The Veterans Memorial Commission has provided us with the resources needed to serve our veterans and we look forward to continuing that service with this exciting new endeavor,"
says Ridenour.

Seldin Company is multi-family management organization headquartered in Omaha, Neb. The company manages and leases more than 17,000 apartment homes across seven states, focusing on innovative, locally integrated projects that promote sustainability and community growth. "This project was a natural partnership," says Jim Rieker, executive vice president of Seldin Company. "Homelessness and helping veterans is a soft spot for us and, when approached, it was something we wanted to be a part of and feel honored to help."

The Healing our Heroes board will also be involved in making sure the community engages with the project going forward. "I'm so pleased to be involved with a project that will enhance the services provided in our community by serving those who have served our country," says Ashley Hinson, Healing our Heroes board member. "It's great that the community can get on board with supporting this project's ultimate goal of keeping our veterans engaged and off the street. We as an organization will continue our work to make sure we repay those debts to our vets."

09 December 2015

Minnesota Rises to Question Civil War Art in Capitol

"The Second Minnesota Regiment at Missionary Ridge, November 25, 1863" by Douglas Volk. SOURCE: Minnesota Historical Society
After Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton proposed moving or removing military art and artifacts depicting the state's American Civil War history to less-visible locations than the reception room outside his office, a state capitol preservation commission has opened the matter to public discussion. The governor reportedly questioned whether the five historical military-themed paintings best depicted the diversity of experiences in the state.

Rep. Dianne Loeffler, a Democrat who represents part of Minneapolis, was quoted as saying in support of the move, "We have enough battles in here that I think some rooms should not have as many victims visually portrayed."

The proposal takes place within the context of a multi-year building project. The Minnesota state capitol building, built in 1905, is currently closed to the public for renovation and restoration, and will not be re-opened to the public until early 2017. Legislative and executive branch business continues as scheduled in the building.

Maj. Gen. Richard C. Nash, adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, has fired back that "war is no less horrible now than what it was in 1861," and argued for the preservation of the artwork's current pride of place. The former commander of Minnesota's 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division has even gone on television and participated in a Dec. 7 public hearing on the topic.

The paintings in question include those titled "The Second Minnesota Regiment at Missionary Ridge, November 25th 1863” by Douglas Volk, and "The Battle of Nashville" by Howard Pyle. (More about the historical battles they each depict here and here.)

Minnesota's Civil War history runs early and deep. The First Minnesota Regiment was the first state unit to be offered to federal service in defense of the Union, sustained the highest casualties of any unit the war, and is much celebrated for its actions on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Although not displayed at the state capitol, the First Minnesota has been depicted in a "National Guard Heritage Series" painting and print by Don Troiani.

The historical lineage of the First Minnesota is maintained by the Minnesota National Guard's modern-day 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment, a unit that is aligned with the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Inf. "Red Bull" Div. (2-34th BCT).

The public is invited to continue to comment until Dec. 18, 2015 regarding the Civil War paintings and the Minnesota capitol restoration by sending input via e-mail: capitol.art@state.mn.us; and/or by participating in an on-line survey here.

The Minnesota State Capitol Restoration Commission will incorporate all public input into a report due to be published in January 2016.

02 December 2015

'A Few of Sherpa's Favorite Things': Holiday Gift Ideas

ARTWORK: Christina Fawn
The mailroom at FOB Sherpa has been working overtime this week, with both outgoing and incoming parcels. The past year has been a productive one for Task Force Sherpa, judging by the November arrival of three books featuring by-lines related to the Red Bull Rising blog. I hope you'll indulge me and my inner Oprah if I include them on this year's list of favorite things:

The most obvious, of course, would be the just-published "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire." Early reader response has been overwhelming, and I am wonderfully surprised and wholly grateful.

A number of reviewers have suggested that "FOB Haiku" might be a good holiday gift for veterans, but I also hope that veterans might share it with family members and friends. Maybe my small book can be a way to open conversations with others. Give the book to a friend or loved one, and then talk about it afterward. That way, your discussion doesn't have to be uncomfortably centered on you, but on the types of experiences described in the book.

Also, I hope that some of them make you laugh. (Check out some examples at: www.fobhaiku.com.)

Published annually on Veterans Day, the anthology "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors" ($15 U.S.) is now in its fourth volume. I'm proud to have work featured in this year's volume, and prouder still to see the names of friends, colleagues, and fellow travelers. The best part of receiving this literary care package, however, is discovering new voices and perspectives in civil-military discourse.

There's something here for every reader, from every branch and era, including short stories, poems, non-fiction essays, photographs, and interviews. A joint project of the Missouri Humanities Council and the Southeast Missouri State University Press, Cape Girardeau, Mo., no other book series engages the world with such precision, passion, and professionalism. I look forward to offering a more complete review in an future Red Bull Rising post, but for now, here's the bottom line: For a great holiday gift—one certain to inspire much reflection and conversation—"Proud to Be" is a clear and present choice.

To spread such literary joy over an entire year, consider giving a $40 print subscription to the Veterans Writing Project's "O-Dark-Thirty" journal. Each 80-plus-page issue delivers a curated blast of the best of current military writing. Spring 2016 will see the publication of a special issue, one focused on the stories and perspectives of women veterans.

A third book newly arrived is "No, Achilles" ($15 U.S.), a 75-page collection of poetry published earlier this year by WaterWood Press, Austin, Texas. The book collects 64 poems witnessing the experiences of war. My own "night vision," inspired by 2011's "Operation Bull Whip" and other air-assault missions like it in Afghanistan, first appeared in the publication. Unfortunately for Internet-clickers like me, the book is not available on-line. Orders by check or money order to: WaterWood Press, 47 Waterwood, Huntsville, Texas 77320. Include $1 per book shipping and handling.

Sherpatude No. 26 starts with "Humor is a combat multiplier …" And no creator delivers so regularly on that premise than DoctrineMan!!. When he isn't busy trying to draft retired U.S. Marine Gen. James Mattis (Callsign: "Chaos") to run for president in 2016, the mysterious DoctrineMan!! continues to crack wise from his undisclosed location, posting his pithy comics on Facebook and elsewhere.

He, too, has recently issued a fourth print volume, this one titled "Up in Smoke: An Illustrated Memoir of War (The Further Adventures of Doctrine Man!!)" This year's cover features a tech-suited warrior pulling picket-stirring duty in some foreign land. As I like to say, "All this has happened before, and all this will happen again." And DoctrineMan!! makes me laugh, again and again. He's always (wait for it) ... stirring things up.

Speaking of Mattis, writer, artist, Iraq War veteran and former Marine Christina Fawn has made a "Chesty vs. Mattis" vintage boxing poster art print available for sale at her on-line store at Society6. There are a variety of sizes and formats available, including 10x8; 17x13; 21x17 inches. Available framed or unframed. The perfect gift for any Marine, whether "Old Corps" or "New Corps"!

(Bonus question from an old Army guy: Aren't they all Marines just "Hard Corps"?!)

PHOTO: RangerUp
Another artist-veteran friend of Sherpa, Aaron Provost, sells a variety of artwork and (at Society6) merchandise featuring his signature black-and-white illustrations of military equipment, logos, and scenes. His was the pencil illustration of the Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected truck that now graces the cover of "Welcome to FOB Haiku." I love how his work makes you see military machinery in new ways.

In his day job, Provost also works for the volcanic creative collective that is RangerUp gear and apparel. Trying to keep up with these guys is like running a 3-minute mile. There's always something new on their website. My personal favorite of their current line-up? The "Bagram Hiking Club" vintage T-shirt. On the back, it reads "Tread lightly."

There's a similar one for Iraq-deployment enthusiasts: "Bagdhad Summer Camp: You'll have a blast!"

25 November 2015

A War Poem of Thanks: 'Grace, Ready-to-Eat'

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO by Sr. Airman Cameron Currie
This poem first appeared in the online literary journal "Ash & Bones" on April 15, 2015. It also appears in the newly released collection "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire" by Randy Brown and Charlie Sherpa. Buy it today for $9.99 print or $5.99 e-book. For more information, visit: www.fobhaiku.com

Be safe this (U.S.) Thanksgiving holiday! Be warm. Be responsible. Be kind to others. And "Attack!"



Give us this day, some shelf-stable bread,

and potable water enough to drink

and to activate the chemical heater.

And maybe a “rock or something” on which
to lean the steaming mess, entrée and all,
as depicted and described in this diagram.

Forgive us our trespasses,
for we have trespassed a lot today—
kinda goes with the territory, and the job.

And deliver us from evil,
particularly that which we have done
unto others. See also: “trespasses,” above.

For thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory.

And ours is 1,200 calories of brown-bag easy living.
"Every day is a holiday. Every day is a feast."
Just go easy on the crackers. And don’t eat the Charms.

Because those are bad luck.



Notes: A "Meal, Ready-to-Eat" (M.R.E.) is a high-calorie field ration developed and used by the U.S. military. The inclusion of "Charms"-brand hard candies in some MRE meals was discontinued in 2007.

18 November 2015

How Sherpa Wrote a Book: 'Welcome to FOB Haiku'

First of all, before you call out the Poetry Samurai (they're like the Grammar Ninja, but more figurative), let me say that, yes, I'm aware of the difference between haiku and senryu. Haiku is a three-line, 5-7-5-syllable Japanese-inspired poetic form regarding a moment in nature. Senryu is similarly structured—three lines, 5-7-5—but focuses on human foibles.

I write about the military. That roots me firmly in the human terrain. (In the U.S. Army, we brief all other forms of nature under "enemy situation.") So, technically, it would be more correct to say that I write senryu. I still call it "haiku," however, because I also know my audience. You don't need an M.F.A. to know what "haiku" is. Even the @#$%ing Infantry knows haiku.

Back in the day, we learned haiku in grade school. We also learned Robert Frost in junior high, and Shakespearian sonnets in high school. Fast-forward to today, and my Fifth-grade warrior-princess and Third-grade video game technician are both accomplished haiku practitioners. They also learned it in school. "All this has happened before, and all this has happened again."

Because people of all ages and abilities recognize the haiku form, it makes it both accessible and (pun intended) versatile. The best haiku deliver a surprise, a shift in the action or focus. Sometimes, it can be enough to surprise readers with the fact that they just read a poem—or that they learned something in grade school that's still useful.

Given the restrictions of haiku, I personally enjoy the technical challenge of finding just the right words and punctuation, to make my poetic shot-group as tight as possible. As a writer, I don't aspire to lyrical greatness—I want my language to be understandable. I want to entertain someone, and maybe get them to think about things in a different way.

I write for my buddies who don't read poetry, after all—guys who sometimes barely read the instructions to complicated things. That doesn't mean they're not open to new ideas, however, or to seeing old things in new light.

For example, I'm pretty sure that a couple of them will find this haiku, written about emplacing an anti-personnel Claymore, to be both familiar and fresh:
Point *this* side at Them.
Spool yourself away from harm.
Click three times and ... Boom.
After a couple of decades away from the practice—during which I wrote daily newspaper and how-to magazine and Army lessons-learned articles—I started writing poetry again in 2011. I was at a free weekend writing workshop on the campus of the University of Iowa, run by Emma Rainey and the non-profit Writing My Way Back Home.

The prompt had something to do about capturing a moment of wonder. I had been stewing for months, having earlier that year embedded with my former Army colleagues deployed to Afghanistan, about an interaction I'd had with my former commander while downrange. I kept wondering what it meant. Rainey gave us a few minutes to write, mental brakes off, with some soothing music playing in the background. I started writing about my first meeting downrange with Ryder-6. Ten minutes later, I had the start of a book.

I didn't realize that then, of course. It took years to admit I might be a poet. In the meantime, I still considered myself a just-the-facts non-fiction guy. Over the years, my journey was shaped and influenced by meeting many fellow travelers, such as poet Jason Poudrier ("Red Fields") at the first (and later, the second) Military Experience & the Arts Symposium.

I also met poet Suzanne Rancourt there—she of the sharp wit and long knives—who led by example and humor, and later convinced me to take over for her as the poetry editor for the group's literary journal, "As You Were." (FREE PDF of the latest issue here!)

At the 2012 Sangria Summit for writers of military fiction and non-fiction, held in Denver, Colo., I learned about independent and electronic publishing as methods to overcome obstacles to market—barriers such as having too narrowly focused a niche. Little did I realize how much of that information would factor into my actions in 2015. More on that in a minute.

I learned to use poetry to dig at the moments and memories that didn't quite make sense, or that didn't immediately seem to support a larger narrative. Sometimes, in my explorations, I found myself at the bottom of an intellectual hole. Sometimes, I found myself at the crest of a hill. Perhaps most importantly, I learned to accept the risks of sharing my work with others.

I started to get poems published in veteran-friendly venues, such as "The Pass in Review," "Line of Advance," the Veterans Writing Project's "O-Dark-Thirty," and the annual anthology series "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors" from Southeast Missouri State University Press, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Later, I began to get traction in non-military but Midwestern-themed outlets, such as the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library's "So It Goes" literary journal, and "Midwestern Gothic." Each of the above titles represents an editorial staff that is open to exploring ways to bridge the gap between civil and military experiences. We need more such bridge-builders.

Earlier this year, I found I had enough poems—published and unpublished—to produce a chapbook. I started to submit manuscripts to chapbook contests and publishers, recognizing that "light-hearted verse about the light infantry" is more of a rabbit- than a fox-hole—a niche within a niche within a niche. (I joke that I've finally discovered a vocation that pays less than newspaper journalist—that of "military poet.") Meanwhile, I added pages. The manuscript grew to book-length.

I began to realize that my poems, collected and curated, roughly reflected the narrative arc of my Army career, from Boot Camp to Bagram and back home again. The sum might be greater than its parts.

Having set a personal 2015 deadline for getting at least one major writing project off my desk, I published this month via Middle West Press LLC, Johnston, Iowa. This was the same entity that had, in 2011, endorsed my freelance media credentials when I applied to embed for a few weeks in Afghanistan. The result is a 90-page trade paperback, which is also available in various e-book formats, including the Amazon Kindle, and others via Smashwords.

The cover design of "Welcome to FOB Haiku" mimics the hardcopy Army doctrine and technical manuals we once shlepped to the field by the truckload: Matte finish. Subdued colors. Comforting and camouflaged. Theoretically fits in a cargo pocket, just like the brigade TACSOP.

The cover image is a pencil drawing by Aaron Provost, the original of which I proudly display in my undisclosed writing location. Long-time readers of the Red Bull Rising blog may remember my crush on the Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected ("M-RAP") trucks that epitomized so much of our country's thinking and tactics during Operation Enduring Freedom. I'm pleased to put that love on display. Even wrote a sonnet about it.

I continue to write haiku, while also working on my non-fiction muscles. A couple of pals from the Military Writers Guild and I are mutually resolved to make 2016 the year of non-fiction. On the Chinese Zodiac, it's also the year of the Monkey. That seems appropriate.

So stay tuned. And thanks for your continued readership. As always, I look forward to your questions, comments, insights, and now ... reader reviews?

Like the Red Bull says: "Attack! Attack! Attack!"


You can buy "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire" in print here and here. ($9.99 U.S.)

You can buy the e-book on Kindle here, or in a variety of e-book formats via Smashwords here. ($5.99 U.S.) More vendors to be listed soon!

11 November 2015

Sherpa's Rules of Engagement for Veterans Day

Meme courtesy of the Internet
Call it a safety briefing, or some half-baked Sherpatudes, or just some friendly advice ... Here are few truths and truisms to keep in mind this November 11th. Take what you can use, leave the rest:
  1. Crossing the civil-military divide means meeting people halfway. Free appetizers and utterances of "thank you for your service" represent, in most cases, sincere and heartfelt attempts by civilians to bridge that gap. Don't make them work too hard. Don't put obstacles in their way. At least they're trying.

  2. You're a veteran now. Be civil.

  3. Remember how we were once supposed to win "hearts and minds" in someone else's country? Veterans day is about the hearts and minds of your fellow citizens. Don't screw it up.

  4. Have a response plan. What are you going to say when someone says, "Thank you for your service"? Be gracious. Be polite. Be concise. One of my go-to phrases? "It was an honor to serve."

  5. If someone calls you a "hero," let it go unremarked. Yes, you may not feel like a hero. You may, like other veterans, reserve that particular term for those who have been formally recognized for valor, or for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Being someone's hero isn't about you, however. It's about the other person. Everyone has their own war; everyone chooses their own heroes.

  6. There is no such thing as a free lunch. If someone—an individual or a business—picks up your tab, make sure you still tip your waiter or waitress. Thank them for their service.

  7. "All you can eat" doesn't mean you should.

  8. Don't be pedantic. Yes, Veterans Day is technically for celebrating those who have served in the U.S. military. Memorial Day is about remembering those who have died in military service to their country. And Armed Forces Day is about celebrating those who currently serve. You don't have to put your inner drill sergeant on display, however, every time someone doesn't say something in exactly the right way.

  9. "Pedantic" means "precise, exact, perfectionist, punctilious, meticulous, fussy, fastidious, finicky, dogmatic, purist, literalist, literalistic, formalist, casuistic, sophistic, captious, hair-splitting, quibbling, nitpicking, persnickety." Don't be that guy.

  10. You know who's "pedantic," by the way? The freaking Taliban.

  11. There is no apostrophe in "Veterans Day," but you don't need to get all grammar Nazi about punctuation. If you fought to protect the First Amendment, you also fought for someone's right to express themselves' incorrectly.

  12. Know that there are different definitions of "veteran," by state law, federal agency, and organizational custom. In active-duty military culture, a "veteran" is often thought of as someone who is no longer in uniformed service. I've heard current service members argue up and down that they are not "veterans." In the National Guard and Reserve, however, a "veteran" may be legally defined as someone who has deployed overseas for a period longer than 6 months. Yes, they get a DD-214. (Former guard and reserve members who have retired from the military, usually after 20 or more years of service, are also labeled veterans, regardless of overseas deployment.)

  13. Don't ask to see someone's DD-214.

  14. Don't ask to see someone's military ID.

  15. Basically, don't be a dick.

  16. Veteran Outrage Syndrome is real. Know the signs, in yourself and in others.

  17. Don't be anti-social on social media.

  18. If you suspect that someone is wearing a uniform in public inappropriately, perhaps to collect on the offer of a free hero sandwich or falafel, take a knee and a deep breath and a big swig of water. Count to ten. If you still feel the need to make a citizen's correction, do so discretely and without making a scene. Don't threaten to call the police. Don't make physical contact. Don't engage in verbal abuse, public shaming, or witch-burning. You're better than that. We're all better than that. If we're not, the terrorists win.

  19. Most important: Perform your buddy checks and maintenance before, during, and after Veterans Day operations. Not all who wander are lost. Not all who served are broken. But it never hurts to ask if someone is doing OK.

21 October 2015

Final Call: Women-Veterans Issue of 'O-Dark-Thirty'

Editors of a special Spring 2016 women-veterans issue of the literary journal "O-Dark-Thirty" are nearing the end of their submissions window. Deadline is Oct. 31, 2015.

Jerri Bell—along with juggling her own research, writing, and blogging—is managing editor of the journal:

"We’ve received four or five times the usual number of submissions for a quarterly issue, and the quality of the ones I've read so far has been high," she writes at "Presumption and Folly," her own military-themed blog. "We’re excited to be able to publish some of the work, and we expect that the themed issue will be longer than usual."

"We're closing the window for submissions for the issue at midnight on October 31. This will give our editors time to read everything carefully before selecting work for both The Review, our quarterly print journal, and The Report, our core online publication. Women veterans who write—if you haven’t yet submitted work, please consider doing so! Short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry submissions are welcome, and the work doesn't need to be on a military subject. If you don’t make the deadline for the themed issue, don’t worry: we read submissions year-round and would welcome a chance to read your work at any time."

Editorial guidelines are here.

14 October 2015

'Consequence' Magazine Extends 2015 Contest Dates

Editors at Consequence Magazine have extended the deadlines of their publication's annual fiction and poetry contests to Oct. 31, 2015. The contests opened September 1.

In keeping with the annual magazine's mission, the contest guidelines read: "Entries must capture the nuances of the cultures and consequences of war; the topic is not limited to military operations, but includes social, political, cultural, and economic issues."

Entries will be judged anonymously, and all will be considered for publication.

Simultaneous submissions are acceptable, provided notification of acceptance elsewhere is timely and forthcoming. There is a $10 non-refundable entry fee, payable via PayPal.

The fiction category is to be judged by Jesse Goolsby, author of "I'd Walk with My Friends If I Could Find Them." Send new work up to 15 double-spaced pages in length.

The poetry category is to be judged by journalist and poet Tom Sleigh, author most recently of "Station Zed." Send up to three new works.

The magazine is anticipated to reopen for regular submissions starting Feb. 1, 2016.

07 October 2015

Book Review: 'Combat and Other Shenanigans'

Review: "Combat and Other Shenanigans" by Piers Platt

Much of military-themed contemporary non-fiction targets the horrors and chaos and policies of war, or dwells in the psychological mine fields of coming home, or blows up real heroes into caricatures of themselves. In his Iraq War memoir "Combat and Other Shenanigans," however, former U.S. Army Armor officer Piers Platt delivers a light-hearted but heartfelt depiction of what it means to go to war with your friends.

To pile onto Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's well-known quote: War may be hell, but it can also be fun.

Seriously. I say this as a comedy geek, an enthusiast of modern military memoirs, and a fellow veteran: This book made me laugh out loud. Repeatedly.

(And, of course, it also validates Sherpatude No. 26).

Platt's writing style is conversational, affable, and fresh. Civilians with little familiarity with the military will easily understand his breezy explanations of, say, arcane military procedures and unit configurations. Veterans, however, will appreciate the skill with which he describes old traditions and pranks, such as dispatching privates to search for soft spots in tank armor, or for cans of radio squelch. Even if you think you've heard it all before (and you haven't), you'll still be entertained.

Platt starts his story as a tank platoon leader preparing for a 2004 deployment in Schweinfurt, Germany, along with his fellow soldiers of 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment (1-4 Cav.), a.k.a. "Quarterhorse." Cavalry soldiers are notorious for pushing boundaries and breaking rules, often with hilarious results. Platt quickly demonstrates his tactical and technical storytelling proficiencies by recounting their adventures, even during routine training:
Because live bullets are being fired, Range Control enforces extremely strict safety procedures, violation of any of which will result in the range being shut down temporarily and the NonCommissioned Officers (NCOs = sergeants) or officers in charge being "de-certified" (unable to supervise training and continue to run the range). The rules get a bit ridiculous at times, especially in Germany, where following the rules is the national pastime […]

At one point, Nicholls and I were running a range together, he as Range Safety Officer, and me as Range Officer in Charge. Out of the squadron’s nearly 30 tanks, just one final tank was left on the range, preparing for its gunnery qualification run. But we were about two minutes away from "dry time" in the afternoon, when the range had to be shut down, and there was no way this tank was going to finish in time. In addition, our medics (who by regulation need to be present every time a tank main gun is fired), had orders to move elsewhere as soon as dry time rolled around. Nicholls was pissed.

"Switch out with me, sir."

"What? Switch out as Range Officer? Why?"

"Because I’m about to get decertified."

It was too deliciously bad to refuse. We switched out (calling it in to Range Control, who maintains a log of who is in what position on which range), meaning that technically, he was now both the Range Officer in Charge and the Range Safety Officer, which was illegal. It wouldn’t take Range Control long to realize that administrative violation, and more importantly, they would hear our last tank merrily blasting away during dry time from all the way across the training area. It all came down to whether or not that tank could get enough rounds off before someone from Range Control physically showed up—Nicholls had already turned down the volume on the Range Control radio so we wouldn’t hear their inevitable attempts to contact us. The race was on.
Later, in Iraq, readers are treated to a similar scene of decisive action in the face of friendly bureaucracy, again featuring the exploits of Sgt. 1st Class Nicholls:
Nicholls had made contact with a tank, alright—an ancient rusted Russian hulk which obviously had been used for target practice many times by the Iraqi tank unit that had been stationed at the base before we invaded. His exact report to the command center was: "Ramrod X-Ray, Bulldawg White 4. I have identified the tank. It is a T-54/55 with more holes in it than my underwear." 
Apparently failing to pick up on the sarcasm about the holes, the command post became fixated on the "T-54/55" part of Nicholls’ transmission. Nicholls was implying that he wasn’t sure the specific type, whether it was a Soviet T-54 or T- 55, which are nearly indistinguishable, especially after being shot at for years. Somehow, the command post missed that nuance, and came to believe that there were two tanks: a T-54 and a T-55. Apparently delirious at the prospect of reporting on the most significant combat action of the post-invasion period, they ordered him to engage the enemy tanks.
After a book filled with convoy hijinks and a few lucky breaks on the battlefield, Platt wrestles with the potential lessons of his experiences. Like any good leader and humorist, he keeps his boots on the ground, acknowledging the sacrifices and experiences of others. (While Platt's platoons lost no soldiers, the larger troop had three soldiers killed during the deployment: Pvt. 1st Class Owen Witt, Pvt. 1st Class Anthony Dixon, and Sgt. Armando Hernandez.)
"Trying to summarize my experiences is difficult, partly because there was nothing conclusive or absolute about Iraq. I’m almost ashamed of my time in Iraq, compared to the experience of other veterans in history—it wasn’t like the accounts I have read of Vietnam, or World War II, it wasn’t epic or particularly life changing or at all typical of the wars I had studied. I was attacked a number of times, had a handful of close brushes with death, and killed one unknown enemy from several hundred yards’ distance, but otherwise spent most of the tour bored and frustrated, and returned unscathed. 
That's not to generalize for all those who have served in Iraq—I know there are soldiers who wish their experience had been a lot less traumatic, many in my own unit. I am grateful for having avoided that, but I feel unfulfilled, like a minor-leaguer who never gets his at-bat in the big leagues. I've been there, and I've done that, but … not in the way I expected."
Available in print and electronic formats through various retailers, Platt is currently offering "Combat Shenanigans" as a FREE ebook! (Details at link.)

Platt calls his 181-page book an "absurdist memoir," and, in e-mail newsletters to readers, worries that "I'm not sure a memoir about the stunts my soldiers and I pulled in Iraq is really a good way to get a feel for the kind of books you can expect from me in the future." His website offers a number of other non-fiction and fiction titles he's written, some of them also free for the sampling. A science fiction novel is coming soon.

A Facebook page for his books is here.

30 September 2015

Website Aims to Inspire War Poets, Conversations

Poets and War, a website dedicated to the preservation and propagation of war poetry, has been launched by editors Stephen Sossaman and Leonore Wilson. The website features new and reprinted war poems from all perspectives and eras, as well as articles and reviews. Poets and writers are invited to submit via Submittable for a $3 fee, most of which goes toward site upkeep.

"I started Poets and War to discover good war poems, encourage poets to write war poems, and perhaps connect war poets to each other without regard to their politics, nationality, or experiences," writes Sossaman, in a recent e-mail interview with the Red Bull Rising blog. He envisions site's role as a conversation starter, about both the subject matter and the craft of the poet, rather than simply a place to publish poems.

Sossaman is a poet and professor emeritus of English at Westfield State University, Westfield, Mass, and now resides in Napa, Calif. Wilson is a poet and teacher of creative writing based in San Francisco. Additional editorial roles on the website are anticipated to be filled later this year.

The website's mission statement more formally echoes Sossaman's intentions:
Poets and War intends to publish the best available poetry about war and about human experiences central to war—without regard to the poets' politics, nationality, gender, or professional status—and to facilitate discussions about the historical and contemporary relationships between poetry and war.
Says Sossaman: "My assumption is that a great number of interesting, well written, and potentially memorable war poems await publication, but might never be published. We must look for the good poems, but also publish poems that might not be to our personal taste. […] [Also,] many literary journals have a print run of 500 or a thousand copies, so being published in print is no guarantee of being widely read. Poets and War is willing to republish poems so that they do not die a lonely death on a handful of book shelves."

Placing war poetry into historical and literary frameworks, Sossaman says, will be just as important as creating a platform for presenting poetry about war. By creating opportunities for poets to share work and notes on craft, he hopes to help shape how future generations come to regard contemporary conflicts.

"Some time in the future, young Americans may very well decide that they know what the war in Afghanistan or Iraq was about, and what being there was like, in part because one film, one poem, one short story, or one novel came to dominate high school curricula," he says. "We do not know that if that poem has been written yet, which should be good motivation for poets with something to say and the skill to say it."

23 September 2015

Comics Seeks to Capture Tale of 'Tiger on the Storm'

Perhaps facing similar funding odds as the beloved A-10 itself, a group of comics creators is developing a graphic novel about the U.S. Air Force's 23rd Fighter Group during Operation Desert Storm. The unit continues the lineage of the famed "Flying Tigers" of World War II.

Based on her work on previous war-themed projects, including "Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan" and "Korean War, Vol. 2", comics writer Valerie Finnigan was approached by the daughter of U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. David Sawyer at the 2014 Salt Lake Comic Con regarding the project. The general was a former commander of the 23rd Fighter Group, which flies the A-10 aircraft.

The A-10–formally named the "Thunderbolt II," but more commonly called some variant of "Warthog"–is specifically designed to provide troops on the ground with Close Air Support ("CAS"). The aircraft, which went into production in 1977, the low- and slow-flying aircraft notably features a titanium bathtub for pilot survivability, and a gatling cannon that delivers up to 3,900 rounds of 30mm ordnance per minute.

In defense-policy circles and on the Internet, there are on-going debates whether the U.S. Air Force can continue to support ground troops using expensive, high-flying, multipurpose aircraft such as the F-35 "Lightning II." Critics argue the Air Force is actively squashing stories of the A-10's continued successes in Afghanistan and other theaters, for political reasons.

Finnigan quickly got to work on the project, now titled "Tiger on the Storm," researching the unit and the aircraft:

"The aircraft themselves also proved a bit of a challenge," she writes on her blog. "Appearance counts for a lot in a visual medium like comics, which is probably why A-10 Warthogs such as those flown by the 23rd [Tactical Fighter Wing] don't appear often in comics. The civilian public wouldn't line up by the hundreds or thousands to see them in an air show like they would for much prettier F-18 Hornets. While Warthogs are maneuverable enough to do their jobs, they look ugly and sound downright obnoxious."

"Get to know them though, and you just may fall in love as much as anyone can with aircraft," she continues. "In talking with veterans who served on the ground as well as in the air, I learned why the Warthogs are so feared by enemy forces and strongly beloved by our troops. This is why I’m glad to have 'Korean War' penciller Dan Monroe on board doing pencils and inks. His ten years in the Army helped him learn a healthy appreciation of good close air support such as the Warthogs provide."

In addition to Finnigan and Monroe, "Korean War" team members Eric White (colors) and Tom Orzechowski (letters) are also potentially participating in the "Tiger on the Storm" project. Via Indiegogo, the crowd-funding effort seeks up to $50,000 to cover production, printing, and distribution costs. For more information, click here.

16 September 2015

$20K Helps Iowa Remembers Warm Up for Sept. 27 5K!

Iowa Remembers, Inc., a Des Moines-area non-profit that funds an annual retreat for surviving military families of the Global War on Terror, was a $20,000 beneficiary of fund-raising efforts at the Sept. 9-10, 2015 annual convention of Group Benefits, Ltd., Urbandale, Iowa.

Iowa Remembers is best-known for its annual 5k Iowa Remembrance Run fund-raiser, which draws fields of more than 1,000 runners and walkers to West Des Moines' Raccoon River Park.

The 6th Annual Iowa Remembrance Run event is Sun., Sept. 27. Race start will follow ceremonies commencing 9:45 a.m. A signature array of flags and memorials lines the path to the finish line.

The public and media are invited to attend the event. Pre-race activities include a roll call of more than 100 Iowans who have lost their lives in service to their country since 2001. This year's speaker will be Mysty Stumbo, mother of U.S. Army Spc. Daniel L. Sesker, who was killed in action in Iraq April 6, 2006.

Registration for the run is open until Sept. 24. There is no day-of race registration. Click here to register on-line.

Sponsors for the race event include:
  • American Legion Riders
  • Casey's General Stores
  • Enlisted Association of the National Guard – Iowa
  • Fareway Stores, Inc.
  • Green Family Flooring
  • Group Benefits, Ltd.
  • Iowa National Guard Officers Auxiliary
  • MidAmerican Energy
  • Nationwide Insurance
Contributing organizations include:
  • American Legion Post 396, Bondurant, Iowa
  • RoadID
  • Fitness Sports, Des Moines
Volunteer organizations include:
  • American Legion Riders – Post 232, Polk City, Iowa
  • Wells Fargo Veterans Team Member Network
  • Team Red, White and Blue
  • Nationwide Insurance
In addition to survivor family retreats, Iowa Remembers also funds and organizes arts projects that commemorate and support Iowa service members and military families. For more information about the 501(c)3 non-profit organization, or to make a donation, e-mail: iowaremembersinc@live.com