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!"