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.