28 January 2015

Let's Not Joke About Ebulla

This past weekend, U.S. military officials announced that the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division headquarters, along with hundreds of other National Guard and Army Reserve units from across the nation, were no longer slated to deploy to the West African nation of Liberia this spring. This essay was written prior to that announcement.

Sgt. 1st Class Katz is preparing to go to Africa. It'll be her fourth deployment. The Minnesota National Guard's 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division headquarters has been alerted for the Ebola-response mission to Liberia. The mission is called "Operation United Assistance." I tell her it'll be a good mission—a good story. She tells me something she remembers me saying once, regarding going to Afghanistan with the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (2-34th BCT).

"You said something about how everything kind of fell into place, for both you and the unit," she says. "How the Red Bull boasted the longest-deployed units to Iraq ... the largest deployment of Iowans since World War II ... one of only three National Guard brigades to own battle space in Afghanistan ... This might be the only time anyone would ever see something like this."

In typical sentiment, Katz says she doesn't want to go, but also that she wants to go. I understand the push-pull, topsy-turvy, mixed feelings about pending deployments. It's heady stuff, being called up to help change the world. Citizen-soldiers get to see history in the making. It's also a burden, however. Family and friends worry. Life and job get interrupted. Embrace the suck.

"Still," I remember my father saying once or twice, "it has a certain appeal ..."

I remember Papa Sherpa coming off a U.S. Air Force Reserve rotation to Operation Desert Shield. Soon after, he put in his retirement papers. He had started his active-duty military career during the Vietnam War, as a navigator on a C-130 Hercules, flying tactical airlift missions. After a variety of other platforms and missions, he ended his career in the same way.

After his paperwork had already been filed, however, the military mission to Somalia popped up. At the time, I was relatively new to the service, and was wearing Army greens. Off at months of Army training, I'd missed the war in Kuwait. That was on my mind when I asked Dad if he regretted putting in his papers, and potentially watching his former colleagues lift off without him. "You know," he said, "this might have been one to miss ..."

"All this has happened before, and all this will happen again." The same Army officer who once tagged me with the "Sherpa" nickname was the one who recommended that I watch the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, while we were both deployed to a peacekeeping mission to the Sinai Peninsula. From that science-fiction program, I first learned the mantra of the eternal return: "All this has happened before, and all this will happen again."

Of all the lessons I learned in the Army, that phrase explains the most.

After I graduated, I swore that I'd never come back to Iowa, but I did. I returned to Iowa after Army communications school, and joined the Iowa Army National Guard. I worked a couple of community and metro newspaper jobs, and made the jump to trade magazines by the mid-1990s.

My first editorship? I kid you not: It was a trade magazine for managers of corporate, hospitality, healthcare, institutional facilities and campuses. The now-defunct publication was was called—again, I am not making this up—"Maintenance Executive."

How's that for high-falutin'?

My interest in writing about best-practices and lessons-learned stems from that experience. Twenty years ago, I was writing about the threats of Ebola, as well as other emergent diseases, on behalf of those professionals most likely to clean it up. In one memorable columnist's portrait, I was photographed wearing a suit and tie and my M17A2 protective mask. I'd borrowed the latter from my locker at the National Guard armory.

For magazine cover-story, I interviewed Richard Preston, author of the non-fiction book "The Hot Zone." Preston tells stories of three strains of Ebola, each named after the place of its discovery: Ebola Sudan, Ebola Zaire, and Ebola Reston (Va.). My family and friends took to naming the seasonal flu after the person who'd first discovered it: Ebola Jeff, Ebola Scott, Ebola Sherpa ...

Hilarious, no? I kill me.

So, Katz is off to war again. And Ebola doesn't look like as much of a joke as it was when I was young and immortal. But the Red Bull is, once again, present at the fulcrum of history. People like Katz don't want to go, but they don't want to stay at home, either. This will be the first time I'll see a Red Bull friend of mine move out smartly, post-Afghanistan.

It's not a war, but neither is it business as usual. The Red Bull is again on the attack.

Two thoughts haunt my hours:

"This one might have been one to miss."

"All this has happened before, and all this will happen again."

23 January 2015

Each 'O-Dark-Thirty' Packs Punch, Prose, and Poetry

Portions of this Red Bull Rising blog post originally appeared Oct. 2, 2013.

In the current literary terrain, there are dense, fine-printed journals that cover war and themes of war. There are also imposing anthologies of war fiction and fact. Also combatting for the public's attention are war novels, memoirs, and journalistic explorations and exposés.

Whatever the genre, however, too few of these are easy for readers to infiltrate. By force of page-count alone, too many tomes seem ready to overwhelm or intimidate—often driving away civilians who are, ironically, often considered the high-payoff targets of military writing.

Not so, however, the Veterans Writing Project's journal "O-Dark-Thirty."Launched in 2012, the print journal is published quarterly by the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit, along with occasional on-line dispatches of additional prose and poetry, essays and interviews. As the journal's mission statement reads:
In our seminars we give participants the skills and confidence they need to tell their own stories; O-Dark-Thirty is the platform to put those stories and others in front of readers. This is not a peer-reviewed professional journal, nor is it a judged literary contest. Our editorial style is more curatorial than other journals. [...]
Each print edition averages less than 100 pages, and provides a brief burst of covering fire from each category of writing. It's accessible and approachable, easy-to-digest. It can also be indelible, however ... unforgettable.

In short, it's short. A quick hit of literary adrenalin. A mini-bottle of inspirational Tobasco. Each issue debuts new voices, demonstrates the versatility of each writing form, and depicts the military experience in new and provoking ways. Then, it disappears into the night. [...]

Stick a copy "O-Dark-Thirty" in your right cargo pocket, or hand it off to a brother or buddy. Better yet, use a subscription as a regular reminder to keep writing. A 4-issue subscription costs only $30; individual copies are $10.


A 2012 e-mail interview with Veterans Writing Project founder Ron Capps appears here. Also, click here for additional background on the group's useful differentiation of writing-as-therapy and writing-as-expression.

For submission guidelines to "O-Dark-Thirty,"click here.

21 January 2015

Update: New Deadline for 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Book

This Red Bull Rising blog-post originally appeared on Feb. 3, 2014. The new deadline for submitting to this anthology project is Oct. 1, 2015.

PHOTO: Vicki Hudson
The phrase "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was used to describe the 1993 U.S. Department of Defense policy that discouraged gay Americans in uniform from openly acknowledging their sexualities. The policy remained in place until Sept. 20, 2011.

In a new anthology, editor, poet, photographer, and 33-year U.S. Army veteran Vicki Hudson has taken on the mission to collect stories of the aftermath of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

The book is tentatively titled "Repeal Day—September 20, 2011, When DADT Became History."

"The Repeal Day collection is meant to tell the story of what was that first year was like, from the moment the repeal was finally 'live' and all through that first year," Hudson says via e-mail interview.

"I want to acknowledge the courage for those in the military that first year that went ahead and came out," she says. "The repeal did not change culture in an instant, and those that were out in the beginning were breaking down huge barriers. Their families, their comrades in units, their commanders all have some part to tell."

To further inspire writers, the Submittable page for the project is peppered with potential prompts:
  • Did you take part in a celebration, make a point of coming out to those you work with, do a small yet significant or symbolic action (like try and update your DD 93 with a change of ‘friend’ to ‘spouse’) that marked the requirement from forced in the closet to finally able to be yourself and true about those who are your family?
  • What is your story of how you experienced Repeal Day? What was the significance of the day for you and your family? How does the repeal affect you?
  • In the months following September 20th, what was life like for you in the service? What was your experience in that first year? What are your thoughts, opinions, emotions, and observations for you and your family during this historic first year when LGBT service members were finally visible?
  • Are you an ally? What was your experience of your compatriots no longer having to hide? Were you a leader? How did this impact your unit or leader responsibilities?

Deadline for submitting to the anthology is [NEW DEADLINE: Oct. 1, 2015]. Hudson seeks essays from 700 to 7,500 words in length. As an editor, she is willing to work not only with experienced writes, but also those who are still developing their own voices.

"As an editor, you aren't just asking for stories and then you print whatever shows up in the mail box," Hudson says of creating, collecting, and publishing anthologies. "Often, what I have received are short snippets of an experience well written in military writing style. [...] Part of my role as the editor is help that story be fleshed out a bit, and bring the person who had the experience more present in the story. This helps make the recounting of a memory turn into a compelling narrative which reflects and resonates for the reader."

The project will acquire first-time world anthology rights in English and translation, as well as audio and e-book anthology rights. Beyond that, writers retain copyright to their works, although mentions in any future publication of a given work would be appreciated.

For a full set of guidelines, click here. Submissions may be made electronically here, or via postal mail:
MRD c/o Hudson
P.O. Box 387
Hayward, Calif. 94543
Hudson has a history of encouraging writers to creatively and honestly take on tough topics, and resourcing her fellow editors to do likewise.

Hudson is also author of 2012's "No Red Pen: Writers, Writing Groups & Critique,"
a cargo-pocket-sized manual that's packed with tactics, tools, and techniques for optimizing workshop processes.

In 2016, Hudson plans to collect an anthology of poetry and prose focused on a theme of military clothing and gear.

16 January 2015

Feb. 1 Deadline for Med School Lit-Journal's War Issue

This Red Bull Rising blog-post originally appeared Sept. 23, 2014.

Published by the New York University School of Medicine, the twice-yearly Bellevue Literary Review has announced that its Spring 2015 issue will focus on war-related themes. Deadline for submissions is Feb. 1, 2015.

Under the thematic banner of "Embattled: The Ramifications of War," editors are seeking previously unpublished fiction, non-fiction, and poetry on themes of war and military experience. More generally, the journal focuses on themes of health, healing, illness, the mind, and the body.

The special call for submissions reads, in part:
War is one of the necessary realities of our world. Since the beginning of society, people have pitted against each other, putting their lives on the line for a cause. It pushes the human body and mind to their limits. While war can be seen as an expression of mankind at its worst, it is also war that brings out the most visceral elements of life itself: strength, power, love, death, sacrifice, and the will to survive.

In many ways, experiences of battle capture the most fascinating and inherently powerful paradoxes in our world: the balance of life and death, of soft and hard, of quiet and loud, of fear and bravery. Understanding war is crucial to understanding how we, as humans, live. Literature brings these feelings to life—on the page and in our lives.
Submission guidelines include:
  • Submit via this web-based tool. In special cases, a postal address is available for hardcopy submissions.
  • Word count for prose is 5,000 words.
  • Poetry submissions should include no more than three poems, incorporated into one document.
  • "Previously published" is defined to include works in print or available to the public on the Internet. Exceptions for previous appearances on personal blogs and other on-line venues may be made on a case-by-case basis.
  • Simultaneous submissions are accepted. Editors ask for notification of publication elsewhere.
  • The journal acquires first-time North American rights. After publication, all rights revert to the author.
A Facebook page for the Bellevue Literary Review is here.

14 January 2015

Eastern Iowa Mil-Writing Workshop is Feb. 27-Mar. 1

Detail of Grant Wood-designed stained-glass window at Veterans Memorial Building, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. PHOTO: www.redbullirising.com
A "Writing My Way Back Home" weekend writing workshop for military service members, veterans, and families will be conducted in Eastern Iowa, 5 p.m. Fri., Feb. 27 to 1 p.m., Sun., Mar. 1. This is the sixth iteration of the event. This year, the venue is again the renovated Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The free 3-day workshop offers an opportunity for writer-veterans at all levels of experience to exchange ideas and information. Military family members are also welcome to attend. The focus is on exploring military themes and topics through fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and more.

Attendees may choose to attend all sessions, or opt to use some of the available time to work with others on writing projects. The atmosphere is usually relaxed and low-key. Given the volunteer-run, no-cost venue, be prepared for programming, instructor, and other last-minute changes. Total attendance typically fluctuates around 30 people. Attendees may have opportunities to share some free meals prepared at the venue. Also, there is often a scheduled reading or performance event open to the public.

For more insights into the potential "Writing My Way Back Home" workshop experience, see these Red Bull Rising blog posts regarding the 2011 and 2013 events.

While the event is free, on-line registration is requested via an EventBrite page here.

A Facebook page for the event is here.

A organizational Facebook page for the "Writing My Way Back Home" non-profit is here.

Veterans Memorial Building exterior. PHOTO:
Originally constructed in 1920, the Veterans Memorial Building also served as the Cedar Rapids center of government until floods damaged the structure in 2008. The building is located on May's Island, in the middle of the Cedar River. After a $20 million renovation in 2014, the reopened facility is now home to the Iowa Veterans' Welcome Center, Midwest Military Outreach, and other veterans-service organizations, and contains office, exhibit, meeting, and performance spaces.

The address of the building is: Veterans Memorial Building, 50 2nd Avenue Bridge, Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401.

The building's exterior features a sculpture of an eternal flame atop the structure. Inside, there is a stained glass window designed by American regionalist painter Grant Wood, a Cedar Rapids native.

12 January 2015

'War Stories' Comic Now Tracks '73 Israeli Tank Crew

"War Stories" No. 4 from Avatar Press, wrap-around cover variant
In addition to more fantastic stories featuring such characters as Nick Furyand The Punisher, comic-book writer Garth Ennis has a long personal history of telling gritty, realistic, and fact-filled tales of war.

There are, for example, two four-issue mini-series with the title "War Stories," published by Vertigo in 2001 and 2003. And there are more than eight collected volumes of his "Battlefields" series, published by Dynamite Entertainment starting in 2008—each comprising quirky, fact-filled stories about lesser-known aspects of history, driven by memorable characters.

In three of those "Battlefields" volumes, for example, appeared stories of British tank crews, each headed by a veteran sergeant whose Tyneside dialect was thicker than the armor that protected them.

Seriously, Sgt. Stiles's dialogue is harder to interpret than reading Shakespeare. But much more fun.

The crew appears in three series or volumes, each written by Ennis and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra:
The armored pedigree is important, insofar that it demonstrates not only that Ennis knows his way around a story, but that he knows his way around a tank as well. This is fiction, but fiction with a point—and the point is to illuminate history. Ennis aims toward realism, not sensationalism. These are not books for children.

"War Stories" No. 4, standard cover
Now arrives from Ennis a newly launched "War Stories" series, this time published by Avatar Press. In issue No. 4, on stands Jan. 7, starts "Children of Israel," a 3-part story of an Israeli tank crew on the Golan Heights in early October, 1973. The artist is Tomas Aira, who delivers serviceably expressive characters, along with technically appropriate military equipment. Nothing kills a war comic like in inaccurately rendered weapons.

The tank is again a Centurion, but its commander is a yet-unnamed sergeant who was a boy during World War II. The character remembers seeing the inside of a German tank—most likely a Panzer III—while living the Warsaw Ghetto, as well as being liberated by Soviet T-34s in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The first issue is heavy with exposition, but Ennis makes it all clank together nicely. The sergeant talks with his captain about the current strategic and political terrain. The latter has helpfully drawn a map in the sand for some visiting journalists. "You shouldn't talk to reporters, Captain," the sergeant advises. "It only encourages them."

The sergeant also talks about his crew, made up of reservists with no previous experience of war. In NCO staccato, he observes:
Chaim's the driver, a little bullet of a man from Nazareth. Not much seems to shake him [...] Gunner Daniel is a lethal shot, but lacks imagination. Independent action is beyond him. He'll never be promoted, never wonder why. The loader, Shlomo, is a nervous wreck.
Given the approachable ways that Ennis communicates military history, one hopes that he continues his armored march toward present day.

The "War Stories" series is currently only available in monthly issues. Check your local comic store, or on-line retailers. or digitally via Comixology. Note that there are multiple variant covers.

09 January 2015

Muzzleland Press Aims for Afghan War-themed Fiction

Muzzleland Press, usually a publisher of "horror, weird, speculative, and alternative fiction, with a literary bent," is collecting short fiction pertaining to the 21st century war in Afghanistan. Plans call for the anthology, titled "Quiet Desert, Lonely War—Short Stories of the Afghanistan Conflict," to be published in late 2015.

There is no deadline specified for this project; submissions will be open until the anthology is filled. Word counts should be between 1,000 and 6,000. Any genre is acceptable, including literary fiction, horror, fantasy, and/or science fiction.

Payment to authors is either $15 or five contributor's copies.

Simultaneous and previously published submissions are acceptable, with notification.

The submission guidelines read, in part:
Veterans, translators, civilian contractors, military family members and friends—they all have a story to tell. If the first casualty in war is the truth, the truest way to tell a war story is through fiction. Stories of combat, homecoming, goodbyes, tragedy, comedy—anything related to the U.S.-Afghanistan conflict is welcome in this anthology.

All stories must have a setting, theme, or characters that relate to the Afghanistan War. Authors should have some relationship and connection to the war. Military veterans are especially encouraged to submit.
Questions may be directed to: editor AT muzzlelandpress.com

A website for the press is here.

A Facebook page for the press is here.

07 January 2015

Dance Troupe to Showcase at Veterans-and-Arts Event

New York-based Exit 12 Dance Company also performed at the inaugural Military Experience & the Arts Symposium held 2012 in Richmond, Ky. PHOTO: Military Experience & the Arts
Telling stories with military themes through the art of ballet, New York-based Exit 12 Dance Company will be showcased at the Military Experience & the Arts Symposium (M.E.A.S.) to be held at Cameron University, Lawton, Okla., May 14-17, 2015.

The dance company was also featured at the first such symposium, conducted in July 2012 in Richmond, Ky., and will appear at the 2015 event thanks to a recent grant from the low-residency Red Earth Creative Writing MFA program at Oklahoma City University.

"It's essential that veterans’ stories are heard," says Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, director of the Red Earth MFA program. "Writing serves as one kind of emotional therapy to help with after effects of service. The stories themselves are part of the American story. New stories add to the ancient genre of veterans' and soldiers' writings, which include parts of the Old Testament, trench poetry from World War I, writings by Kurt Vonnegut (among others) on World War II, and Vietnam stories and poems."

Military Experience & the Arts is a Kentucky-based 501(c)3 non-profit that seeks to gather and empower military veterans, advocates, arts practitioners, and others interested in exploring healing, history, and communication through the expressive arts. The organization's inaugural 3-day symposium  comprised workshops, demonstrations, and performances by an engaged and diverse group of veterans, advocates, and artists. This year's event promises to be a similarly empowering environment.

Iraq War veteran Jason Poudrier, author of the poetry collection "Red Fields," is the local coordinator of the MEA symposium in Lawton, as well as an instructor of writing at Cameron. The MEA continues to seek corporate and organizational sponsors for the 2015 event, in addition to individual donations.

Proposals for workshop presenters and facilitators are also welcomed. The group is also seeking volunteers to assist with activities at the event. Direct queries via e-mail to David P. Ervin: president AT militaryexperience.org.

For a non-refundable $20 fee, military veterans and spouses can register via Submittable for the May event. At minimum, the event will provide:
  • Daily workshops and classes in the creative, healing arts.
  • Breakfast bar and at least one hot meal per day.
  • Mightly events. performances, and speakers.
  • Accommodations for individuals with disabilities.
  • Booths and tables from veteran service organizations.
  • Free writing and art supplies.
Other information about meals, lodging, and other accommodations is still pending.

Past "Red Bull Rising" blog coverage of the MEA organization and its related literary journals is collected here. A blog post reflecting on the 2012 symposium is here.

Disclosure: The Red Earth MFA in Creative Writing program is also a past sponsor of the Red Bull Rising blog.

05 January 2015

Red Bull Round-up: 'While We Were Out ...'

Happy New Year! Like you, we're busy getting back into the swing of things: putting away holiday decorations, getting the kids back to school, clearing off the desk, and resolving to get back to work.

Meanwhile, here are a few notes from news that occurred over the holidays:

'GO FOR BROKE' ON ROSE PARADE FLOAT: World War II veterans of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, Japanese-American veterans who at one point fought in Italy while assigned to the U.S. 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division, were honored while riding a float at this year's Rose Parade. The veterans weathered near-freezing temperatures during the parade. The float was sponsored by the city of Alhambra, Calif. For YouTube video, click here.

THE 'RED BULL' WINTERS OVER IN JAPAN: Members of Bravo Company, 100th Battalion/442nd RCT Reenactment Group, who study and demonstrate what life was like for 34th Inf. "Red Bull" Div. soldiers while fighting in World War II Italy, conducted their annual winter camp on Jan. 2-3 in Shizuoka, Japan. For photos, click here and here.

NEW BOOK BY DOCTRINE MAN!!: At his mil-blog "The Pendulum", the ever-snarky Doctrine Man!! posted an annotated Year in Review. He also released his third collection of military-themed cartoons, titled "Fifty Shades of Multicam", available through Amazon here.

NEW 34th INFANTRY DIVISION ASSOCIATION CHAPTER: The "First Minnesota" chapter of the 34th Infantry Division Association was recently granted charter. There's a Facebook page for the new organization here. The lineage of the "First Minnesota"—named after a unit of Minnesota volunteers during the American Civil War—is maintained by the modern Minnesota National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment (2-135th Inf.), headquartered in Mankato.

'WOMAN VETERAN' LICENSE PLATES AVAILABLE IN MINNESOTA: Minnesota vehicle license plates inscribed with the words "woman veteran" are now available. The design features an American flag, and a silhouette of a female service member against an outlined state of Minnesota. Applicants for the plates should bring copies of a DD-214 or other discharge papers as proof of their service.

WRITER-VETERAN REPORTS FROM LIBERIA: Brian Castner, author of "The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows," recently filed a New Year's report from the African nation of Liberia, where U.S. military forces are assisting in efforts to control Ebola. Members of the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Inf. Div. headquarters, as well as other National Guard units nationwide, are slated to deploy to the "Operation United Assistance" mission there later this spring.

OH, YEAH ... WE ALMOST FORGOT: WAR ENDS IN AFGHANISTAN. Maj. Gen. John Campbell, current commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, cased the colors of the International Security Assistance Force ("ISAF") mission there on Dec. 28. The "non-combat" mission there is now called "Resolute Support."

Readers of the Red Bull Rising blog may remember that Campbell was previously the commander of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), to which the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Inf. Div. (2-34th BCT) was assigned during its 2010-2011 deployment to Afghanistan.