21 December 2016

OPORD for Operation Reindeer Games 2016

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 251445DEC15; peak illumination is 11 percent. Civil twilight is 250708DEC16. Sunrise is 250740DEC16. 
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 242330DEC16 and conducts resupply via reindeer-drawn miniature sleigh during hours of darkness prior to 250710DEC16. 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 242100DEC16. 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 250700DEC16. 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 241900DEC16, and 251000DEC16.
1. Location of Key Leaders: 
HOUSEHOLD-6 and HOUSEHOLD-7 will be in the command bunker after 242100DEC16. 
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."

14 December 2016

Re-run: 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!"

07 December 2016

A Holiday Postcard from Camp Dodge, Iowa

Last Fri., Dec. 2, I was honored to present a library copy of the recently published "Reporting for Duty: U.S. Citizen-Soldier Journalism from the Afghan Surge, 2010-2011" to the board of directors of the Iowa Gold Star Museum. The museum is located on Camp Dodge, the National Guard post located in the suburb of Johnston, north of Des Moines, Iowa.

The book collects more than 280 news reports and 320 black-and-white photos from the 2010-2011 deployment of the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division. The presentation was made on behalf of the Task Force Red Bulls public affairs team of soldier-journalists, who produced most of the project's content while downrange. As a civilian who once embedded as media with that team, I helped collect, collate, and edit the product into book form.

The board's reception of the book was warm and enthusiastic. The board president even inquired as to how to make the book available for sale at the museum's gift shop. I'll keep you posted!

Just before the meeting, an old friend of Sherpa and the Red Bull gave me an unexpected and priceless gift. To a mutual colleague—and in front of me—he recommended my 2015 book of humorous war poetry, "Welcome to FOB Haiku." He then proceeded to quote a few of his favorite haiku from memory! I'll admit, I blushed a little—no doubt, I turned a deep "Red Bull" red. But it was incredible to hear someone I've known and respected for years, quote me to ... well, me. Needless to say, it made my whole weekend!

Before I left the museum, I browsed a display of three Christmas trees in the building's lobby. Each tree is thoughtfully adorned with ornaments naming those fallen service members with Iowa ties.

The Camp Dodge office of the U.S. Army Survivor Outreach Service, the people who provide long-term care to the families of U.S. service members who have died in the line of duty, apparently maintain the display. Visitors to the museum can leave information of other service members to be remembered.

I stopped long enough to find the names of a number of citizen-soldiers I'd known. It was a lovely way to pause for remembrance and reflection, before making my way back into the noise and cold of the workaday world.

Happy Holidays!

30 November 2016

'White Christmas' (1954) is an Olive Drab Fairy Tale

An epiphany of sorts occurred earlier this week, as the Sherpa household took its first steps into this decidedly snow-less Advent season: "White Christmas" (1954), a beloved movie musical that stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen, has as much to say about civil-military reintegration as it does getting into the proper holiday spirit.

The movie opens in the European Theater on Christmas Eve, 1944. Army Capt. Bob Wallace (played by Crosby) and Pvt. Phil Davis (Kaye) are entertaining their fellow troops of the fictional U.S. 151st Division. Wallace is a celebrated Broadway entertainer. Davis is hustling for a big break. The first song is the movie's titular track—the big guns are upfront. Fire for effect.

Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" manages to deliver the same melancholy as "I'll Be Home for Christmas," a similarly brief 1943 tune composed by Walter Kent, and also popularized by Crosby. Lyricist Kim Gannon wrote the latter based on a poem by Buck Kent. Listening to each song, it's easy to put oneself in the mindset of a soldier deployed far away from home, although only the latter was explicitly written with that intent.

Just in case you don't remember it, Berlin's song goes:
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow […]
While the division's new spit-and-polish commander gets sidetracked on a "shortcut" route back to headquarters ("There's no Christmas in the Army, Colonel!"), outgoing division commander Maj. Gen. Thomas F. Waverly (played by Dean Jagger) says a heartfelt and bittersweet good-bye to the troops. The scene accurately captures the shoulder-chuck joshing and good-natured posturing that is universal among soldiers, in my opinion, as well as the hail-and-farewell affection between officers and subordinates.

(Another example of such humor, later in the film: "We wouldn’t be any good as generals," says the former Pvt. Davis. Waverly gently chides, half-smiling: "You weren’t any good as privates.")

To an upbeat marching tempo, the troops sing a tongue-in-cheek tune called "The Old Man." The title evokes the military custom of informally referring to a commander as "the old man," as long as he is not present:
We'll follow the old man wherever he wants to go
Long as he wants to go opposite to the foe

We'll stay with the old man wherever he wants to stay
Long as he stays away from the battle's fray

Because we love him, we love him
Especially when he keeps us on the ball

And we'll tell the kiddies we answered duty's call
With the grandest son of a soldier of them all
After the war, Wallace and Davis team up on stage to great success. They meet two sisters, who are also entertainers. Eventually, through a series of misadventures, the four encounter the retired general in Vermont, where he owns a failing winter-season resort. There is no snow.

To help bail out their former commander, Wallace and Davis bring their full song-and-dance troupe to Vermont. Wallace surreptitiously reaches out to the division's alumni via an old Army buddy's television variety program. "Remember, then, your objective is Pine Tree, Vermont," says Wallace to the national TV audience. "Synchronize your watches for Operation Waverly!" The troops show up en masse. The girls maneuver the general to wear his old uniform to that evening's stage performance. It is a hugely successful surprise operation. Everyone eats cake.

Appropriately enough, the cake has a tank topper.

Before Santa Crosby shows up, and before the cast sings "White Christmas" one more time, the cast performs a number called "Gee, I Wish I was Back in the Army":
[...] When I mustered out
I thought without a doubt
That I was through with all my care and strife
I thought that I was then
The happiest of men
But after months of tough civilian life 
Gee, I wish I was back in the Army
The Army wasn't really bad at all [...]
There's a double-romance in the movie, too, of course, with lots of understandings and misunderstandings along the way. That alone is usually worth the price of admission. Then again, I've had a crush on Rosemary Clooney since I was my son's age. But for me, at least this year, the primary story was that of the general. And the tribe of old soldiers that deployed themselves to do a good deed for an old Army friend. Because they love him.

God bless our buddies everywhere. God bless us, everyone.

22 November 2016

Book Captures 'Red Bull' Stories from Afghan Surge

At the height of the Afghan Surge, more than 100,000 U.S. and coalition troops were committed to a counterinsurgency (COIN) mission of "clear, hold, and build" on behalf of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan: Clear the countryside of insurgent fighters. Hold the terrain, alongside Afghan security forces. Build infrastructure, commerce, and rule-of-law.

As part of this wave, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) deployed more than 3,000 citizen-soldiers to Eastern Afghanistan. It was the largest call-up of Iowa troops since World War II—and one of the only times a U.S. National Guard brigade was designated as a "battlespace owner" during Operation Enduring Freedom. They called themselves "Task Force Red Bulls."

Johnston, Iowa-based Middle West Press LLC announces the November 2016 publication of "Reporting for Duty," an historical collection of U.S. Army public affairs articles and images released during the 2-34th's 2010-2011 deployment as Task Force Red Bulls. The fully indexed, 668-page trade paperback features more than 285 easy-to-read articles, and more than 360 black & white newspaper-quality photos. Retail price is $27.99 U.S. The book is available via national on-line book vendors, such as Amazon here.

A 60-second promotional book trailer is here, and below this blog post.

"Task Force Red Bulls Public Affairs produced an amazing amount of content while in Afghanistan—easily more than 1 million words, and hundreds of images," says book's editor Randy Brown. Brown is a retired member of the Iowa unit and a former Iowa community newspaper editor. In May-June 2011, Brown also embedded with the 2-34th BCT for a few weeks in Afghanistan. "During the deployment, readers of individual news articles probably couldn't appreciate the scope and the scale of the missions at hand. Each story related to the larger "clear, hold, and build" mission of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan."

"It's been amazing to pull all of those narratives together, and to re-order them chronologically," Brown says. "With everything collected as a book, the Red Bull's deployment year becomes this epic story—with a beginning, middle, and end."

While digital archives such as the Defense Video and Image Distribution System (DVIDS, pronounced "DIH-vids") continue to operate, Brown notes that many deployment-specific websites and social media channels have proven less permanent. "Websites such as 'IowaRedBulls.com' and 'CJTF-101.com' simply no longer exist," he says. "This on-line history needed to be preserved in print."

With assistance and new insights from former members of the Task Force Red Bulls Public Affairs, Brown compiled, edited, and indexed 2010-2011 Army news coverage from "Area of Operations Red Bulls," which includes Parwan, Panjshir and Laghman provinces, along with a portion of Nuristan.

Also included is similar coverage from Paktya Province—"Area of Operations Lethal"—where Iowa's 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment (1-168th Inf.) was deployed "Task Force Lethal" under a different brigade's control. Coverage includes a full-spectrum of activities and actions by Red Bull units and their partners, including Provincial Reconstruction Teams (P.R.T.), Agribusiness Development Teams (A.D.T.), Embedded Training Teams (E.T.T.), and more.

"I'm particularly pleased that we were able to successfully index the coverage," says Brown. "Readers can look up soldiers by name, to find family and friends in every story or photo in which they're mentioned. This is a great research tool. I particularly hope this book finds its way into community, school, family, and museum libraries."

In 2017, the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division celebrates its 100th anniversary. "Middle West Press will be looking at additional projects involving Midwestern voices and history. And continuing to tell the Iowa National Guard and 34th Inf. Div. stories will, no doubt, be a large part of that effort," says Brown.

Middle West Press LLC is a Central Iowa-based independent press, with a mission of preserving and promoting new voices and visions of the American Middle West. For information:
Middle West Press
P.O. Box 31099
Johnston, Iowa 50131-9423
Or visit: www.middlewestpress.com.

16 November 2016

Veterans Day Delivers Cornucopia of Literary Promise

In the United States, Veterans Day has become an annual center-mass for publishers of books and journals that regard military experience, personal history, and the relationship between our armed forces and our civil society. If you're in the market for some good reading over the upcoming U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, and into the New Year, however, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more target-rich environment. In fact, it can seem a little overwhelming.

In the spirit of many Red Bull briefings past, what follows is a quick once-around-the-world. Each of the following titles is notable, and worthy of further consideration and review. I look forward to doing my part—to further digest and disseminate these—in the coming weeks and months. That includes other military-focused titles or projects, too, such as those forthcoming from "War, Literature & the Arts" and "Drunken Boat."

Some of these listed publications appear on-line, some are print-only. Many, gloriously, are FREE. Regardless of cover price, however, I'd encourage you consume and to contemplate these words and pictures, and to consider making purchase or donations where possible. Veterans Lit is a community effort, and every little bit helps.

(Full disclosure; Careful readers will detect my own byline appearing in a few of these projects. While I'm very proud of that, I'll leave specific mentions for another day. Let us celebrate the group, not the individual.)

The on-line literary journal "Collatoral" recently published its inaugural edition. Created by students and staff at the University of Washington, Tacoma, the free publication features poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and art. "Collateral explores the perspectives of those whose lives are touched indirectly by the realities of military service," write the editors. "Numerous journals already showcase war literature, but we provide a creative platform that highlights the experiences of those who exist in the space around military personnel and the combat experience."

The 2016 fiction, non-fiction, and poetry anthology "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors," Vol. 5 is available for $15 directly through Southeast Missouri State University Press here. Previous volumes are also available via the SEMO Press, as well as vendors such as Amazon:
West Virginia-based non-profit Military Experience & the Arts released its Fall-Winter issue of "As You Were," a FREE on-line collection of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and more from military service members, veterans, and family. The energy and purpose of the MEA is evident, I think, in the widening variety of voices and talents evident in these offerings. Some of the writers presented are well-seasoned, and confident in their aim. Others are just starting out, probing carefully into the gray light. All, however, are engaging their targets with precision, and moving out smartly to face the new.

Edited by "O-Dark Thirty" non-fiction editor Dario DiBattista, along with introduction by Veterans Writing Project founder Ron Capps, the newly published anthology "Retire the Colors" presents essays from 19 veterans, each exploring themes and experiences of homecoming. Want more info? Check out this book review from the always-insightful Andria Williams at the Military Spouse Book Review.

The Wisconsin-based Deadly Writers Patrol has released its eleventh issue of its literary magazine, which features fiction and poetry from military veterans of all eras. You can purchase your copy for $10 from the group's website here.

The non-profit Veterans Writing Project, Washington, D.C. recently released its Fall 2016 issue of its "O-Dark-Thirty" literary journal. Available FREE on-line here as a PDF, you can also subscribe to a print version here. Moving into its sixth year, Publisher Ron Capps promises that the journal will continue to tell stories of military experience through poetry, prose, interview, and art.

In introducing the latest issue, Capps writes: "We’ll be looking to publish works on a wider variety of subjects. Several times in the past we’ve published themed issues: the ghost issue, an all fiction issue, and a women’s writing issue. That will continue. This year’s theme will be 'identity.'" Capps also announces a VWP anthology project, planned for Fall 2017 release.

That's something, certainly, to which to look forward. Perhaps next Veterans Day?

02 November 2016

Intel Report: War-Writing Topics at AWP2017

A searchable, on-line schedule for the 2017 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (A.W.P.) national conference was released this week. The annual event brings together approximately 12,000 writers, educators, students, editors, and publishers, and travels to different cities each year. A concurrent bookfair showcases more than 800 exhibitors. The 2017 event will be held in Washington, D.C., from February 8 to 11, 2017. It will be the 50th anniversary of the event.

At his Time Now blog, military-lit critic and U.S. Army veteran Peter Molin has posted After Action Reports from earlier AWP conferences. He often comments about a growing cohort of "war writers," who leverage the AWP as something of a moveable feast. Here are some of his reports:
While the motivational value of networking with fellow travelers and cocktails with friends should never be discounted, much of the intellectual energy of the conference is to be found in panel discussions and presentations. Good topics challenge our perspectives and presumptions, and it is particularly notable that AWP2017 includes potential conversations about transnational, multimedia, gendered/queer, poetic, regional, and "imperial" interpretations and applications of conflict, both past and present.

In the spirit of Sherpatudes Nos. 1 and 15, here's what we know so far about "war writing" panels, presentations, and readings at AWP2017. After a quick-and-dirty Internet search, some of the authors below are linked book listings at Amazon. I have also annotated Military Writers Guild memberships in brackets. I look forward to filling in more biographical information in the weeks to come—each of the panelists, I believe, are worthy of seeking out, regardless of an easy hyperlink. Also note this list does not include off-site events, which can be expected to grow in number and intensity in the months to come.

One final caveat: The writer of the Red Bull Rising blog is participating in two of the following panels.

Please direct corrections and suggested edits/additions to: sherpa AT redbullrising.com.

***** THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 9 *****

Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017: 9:00 to 10:15 a.m.
Archives, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four 
R121. Writing in a Time of Terror and Environmental Collapse.
(Imad Rahman, Jacob Shoes-Arguello, William Wenthe, Anne Sanow, Jacqueline Kolosov) How do writers give shape to the experiences of war, terrorism, and the disregard for life endemic on this planet? Muriel Rukeyser believed that denying the responsiveness to the world could bring forth "the weakness that leads to mechanical aggression... turning us inward to devour our own humanity, and outward to sell and kill nature and each other." Given global terrorism and the spoliation of the planet, the stakes in being able to respond are terribly high. Writers working in poetry, prose, and hybrid forms, will discuss their ways of meeting this challenge in their works past and present, including the difficulties they face and the sources from which they take inspiration.

Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017: 9:00 to 10:15 am
Room 101, Washington Convention Center, Level One
R122. What Journalists Can Teach Literary Writers. (Yi Shun Lai, Valerie Boyd, Steven Levingston, William Gray, Moni Basu)
In nonfiction, is it ever okay to fudge facts, timing, or quotes? For journalists, the answer is no, but literary authors can struggle with the balance of craft and facts. Nonfiction storytelling is an increasingly hybrid form, yet few creative writing students learn the journalism basics—how to interview people, attribute sources, or successfully incorporate research. This panel of print and broadcast journalists emphasizes the magic combination of accurate reporting and literary technique.

Thurs., Feb. 9, 2017: 10:30 to 11:45 a.m.
Supreme Court, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four

R144. Citizen-Soldier-Poet: Using Poetry to Bridge the Civil-Military Gap. (Randy Brown, Tessa Poppe, Frances Richey, Susanne Aspley, Eric Chandler [MWG member])
With a boot on each side of the civil-military divide, America's citizen-soldiers and their families are uniquely positioned to bridge the gaps between our armed forces and the society they serve. Five civilian and military-veteran writers of poetry, memoir, and fiction read from their works and discuss how they have specifically used poetry in published, practical ways to promote peace, respect, understanding, and empathy.

Thurs., Feb. 9, 2017: 1:30 to 2:45 p.m.
Monument, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four

R209. From Verse to Stage and Screen, Veterans Adapt. (Brian Turner, Benjamin Busch, Maurice Decaul, Jenny Pacanowski, Peter Molin [MWG member])
This panel features four war writers who are adapting verse and memoir into more public modes of expression: stage, screen, opera, and performance. The panelists will discuss the challenge of moving beyond the word to theatrically present the events and emotions inherent to combat and military life. Offering insight into issues of craft and collaboration, the panel explores how private modes of literary representation can be transformed into dramatic artworks produced and experienced socially.

Thurs., Feb. 9, 2017: 4:30 to 5:45 pm
Liberty Salon N, O, & P, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four
R279. The Politician as Writer: The Rise of the Political Autobiography. (Rachael Hanel, Jesse Goolsby [MWG member], Keith Urbahn, Stephanie Sheu-Jing Li)
Cash donations, an advising team, focus groups—and a book? Barack Obama’s 2004 book, Dreams From My Father, started the recent trend of politicians who first hint at a national campaign by releasing an autobiography. Join the discussion as a literary agent, a novelist and former Pentagon speechwriter, and professors who study English and public relations critically examine these books from literary and marketing perspectives. Can a book be promotional and still have literary merit?

***** FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 10 *****

Fri., Feb. 10, 2017: 9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.
Marquis Salon 6, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two

F110. The Middle Americans: How Flyover Country Responds to War. (Randy Brown, M.L. Doyle, Kayla Williams, Matthew Hefti, Angela Ricketts)
By various measures, rural Americans are more likely to enlist in the US armed forces. Despite isolation from traditional centers of publishing and military power, voices with Midwestern roots have sprung forth like dragon's teeth to deliver clear-eyed, plainspoken views of war, service, and sacrifice. The civilians and veterans of this stereotype-busting panel of published writers offer their insights regarding themes, trends, and markets in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Fri., Feb. 10, 2017: 10:30 to 11:45 a.m.
Capital & Congress, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four

F150. Workshopping War: The Challenges of War Writing in the Classroom. (Whitney Terrell, Jayne Anne Phillips, Matt Gallagher, Teresa Fazio, Anne Kniggendorf)
Narratives about war and military life present unique challenges in workshop. How does personal trauma become a story? How can a teacher with no military experience advise a veteran? Or vice versa? Should war writers be encouraged to consider, say, the stories of Iraqis? How do gender and race enter the conversation? The panel pairs teachers of writing with students at work on narratives about war and the military. All have experience in MFA programs or veteran workshops like Words After War.

Fri., Feb. 10, 2017: 1:30 to 2:45 p.m.
Marquis Salon 12 & 13, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two

F207. U.S./Pacific Poets Confronting U.S. Empire. (Collier Nogues, Brenda Shaughnessy, Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, Lehua Taitano, Lyz Soto)
U.S. military infrastructure in the Pacific enables both global US imperialism and the militarization of local communities there and throughout the US. Join five poets with ties to Okinawa, Guåhan (Guam), Vietnam, the Philippines, and Hawai‘i as they invite the audience to collaboratively envision how writers can use language and performance in our local, national, and international literary spheres to resist the linguistic and cultural violence of military imperialism.

Fri., Feb. 10, 2017: 1:30 to 2:45 p.m.
Virginia Barber Middleton Stage, Sponsored by USC, Exhibit Halls D & E, Convention Center, Level Two

F224. Voices of Main Street. (Katie Manning, Yehoshua November, Colin D. Halloran, Leslie McGrath, Charlie Bondhus)
Five winners of the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award from 2009 to the most recent will read from their books. The reading will be moderated by Main Street Rag's publisher.

Fri., Feb. 10, 2017: 4:30 to 5:45 p.m.
Marquis Salon 3 & 4, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two

F272. 90 Years and Counting: A Reading Celebrating Prairie Schooner. (Ashley Strosnider, Brian Turner, Kevin Simmonds, Safiya Sinclair)
A perfect time capsule of the diverse, experimental trends in American literary publishing, Prairie Schooner’s ninety-year legacy of uninterrupted quarterly publication charts the course of a little journal on the prairie and its path to becoming a key player among literary journals, publishing major contemporary American voices alongside an increasingly global list of contributors. Hear poets and fiction writers read work that speaks to where we’ve been and where we’re headed next.

***** SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 11 *****

Sat., Feb. 11, 2017: 9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.
Room 202B, Washington Convention Center, Level Two

S128. I Wouldn’t Go there if I Were You: Literary Journalism and the Craft of Writing Dangerous Places. (Benjamin Busch, Jennifer Percy, Elliot Ackerman, Deni Béchard)
When writers of poetry, creative nonfiction, or fiction serve as overseas correspondents, the narratives they craft are deeply felt and unique. From travel and interpreters to notes and drafts, these writers ventured to the fringe to experience their stories. This panel explores how four writers chased curiosity into endangerment to bring back stunning portraits of war, disease, humanity, and environment in crisis and how they teach ways to write literary reportage in workshops and MFA programs.

Sat., Feb. 11, 2017: 10:30 to 11:45 a.m.
Room 102B, Washington Convention Center, Level One
S154. Translating Iraq. (Alana Levinson-LaBrosse, Neil Shea, Heather Raffo, Andrew Slater)
Since before the Iraq War began in 2003, Americans have worked to understand Iraq: a country incomprehensible to many of its own citizens. The major and minute divisions and the competing desires can overwhelm even the most conscientious observer. The participating American writers of this panel have lived and worked in Iraq. Bringing home Iraq's realities, whether through poetry, fiction, documentaries, Instagram, plays. or operas, is an act of delicate artistic and cultural translation.

Sat., Feb. 11, 2017: 1:30 to 2:45 p.m.
Marquis Salon 9 & 10, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
S206. The New Normal in Nonfiction: Diverse Voices in Nonfiction from The Normal School. (Jericho Parms, Jaclyn Moyer, Sarah Minor, Steven Church, Matthew Komatsu [MWG member]) Four nonfiction writers representing diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives consider questions of race, identity, family, culture, and consciousness. Representing emerging writers, students, farmers, first-book authors, and tenured MFA program faculty, the panel members have all been published recently in the literary magazine The Normal School. They celebrate a variety nonfiction styles, from the more traditional narrative essay to lyric essays and research-driven work.

Sat., Feb. 11, 2017: 3 to 4:15 p.m.
Room 202A, Washington Convention Center, Level Two

S258. The Art of War: The Power and Role of the Writer in Times of Crisis. (Pireeni Sundaralingam, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Lidia Yuknavitch, David Shields)
As an increasing percentage of the world is plunged into conflict, our panel brings together award-winning novelists, poets, and nonfiction writers to explore how creative writing can shape, distort, and challenge the way we understand war. Drawing on examples from our own work and the work of others, we will discuss the power of the written word in relation to image and other forms of propaganda, and share our personal experiences of how our books have influenced a wider political discussion.

Sat., Feb. 11, 2017: 4:30 to 5:45 p.m.
Marquis Salon 12 & 13, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two

S272. Writing War, Teaching Craft: Veterans & Cadets in the Creative Writing Classroom. (Mary Stewart Atwell, Kevin Powers, Ron Capps, Benjamin Busch, Katey Schultz)
The upsurge in literary work by veterans has sparked an interest in teaching writing to this population, but a less-noted phenomenon has been the recent increase in course offerings in creative writing at service academies and military colleges. A panel of writers and teachers who have worked with both veterans and cadets—those returning from war, and those preparing to serve—put these two groups into new and enlightening conversation.

Sat., Feb. 11, 2017: 4:30 to 5:45 p.m.
Liberty Salon N, O, & P, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Fou
S277. Poetry in the Age of the Drone: A Reading. (Corey Van Landingham, Solmaz Sharif, Philip Metres, Nomi Stone, Jill McDonough)
How does poetry function in the age of the drone? Can poets avoid the anesthetizing remove enacted by the drone when writing about political subjects from a safe distance? What is the role of poetry in a time of perpetual war—does it, as Auden says, make nothing happen? Five poets read work that shows the different ways poetry reacts to, and interacts with, the idea of the militarization of the drone, targeted killing, and the difficulty of writing about war from afar.

26 October 2016

Poetry Book Review: 'Uniform' by Lisa Stice

Book Review: 'Uniform' by Lisa Stice

Lisa Stice is my favorite kind of war poet: One who interrogates differences among civilian, service member, and spouse. One who offers explanations, as well as explorations. One who constructs bridges with curiosity and compassion, but who remains clear-eyed and short-form in her engineering.

Stice is a U.S. Marine spouse. An equal partner in patriotism. A practical shield-maiden. In a poem titled "On Duty," she writes …
walk on your Marine's left side

the protected place
opposite the theoretical sword

you may hold his left hand
if he's not in uniform […]

be his shining medal
always faithful

to love all things holy
in this sacred institution

be respectful and kind
in your wooden fearlessness.
Reading her words, she's definitely someone want you'd want to have fighting on your side—if not in same foxhole, then at the same table at one of those insufferable military formal dinners. She's got a keen eye for observed detail and custom, a bayonet-sharp sense of snark, and a field-stripped ability with the written word and line break. I want to sit with her, near the punch bowl, and lob thought grenades into the night.

"I am married to the Marine Corps," Stice briefs in a one-page introduction to her poetry collection "Uniform," published earlier this year by Aldrich Press. "It's quite a different sort of marriage than the one with my husband, who was already a Marine when we married […]" She continues:
The Corps culture promotes silence and leaves little to no room for compromise. I understand that some silences are justified within the Corps, like not disclosing where and when my husband will deploy […] Other silences I do not understand. For Marines and their families, speaking up about frustrations is viewed as unsupportive and, sometimes, as unpatriotic. My husband can even face consequences for my speaking up.

I would like to begin the long-needed conversation …
Stice often experiments with something akin to erasure poetry, stringing together phrases not entirely unravelled from their original contexts. In a timely poem titled "Concerning Politics," for example, she collects threads of officious advice regarding acceptable Corps behaviors. Note how the breaks create poetry out of the prosaic, and how the last line lands with a boom:
[…] no campaigning for partisan candidates
no fundraising activities or canvasing
no service in clubs or speeches at gatherings
no uniforms when acting as spectator

partisan posters and signs should not
be visible to the public at your residence
take care not to post or link material
with opinions about public officials

but you may vote for whomever you choose.
In approximately 50 poems, three sections, and little more than 80 pages, Stice distills life on the home front of a military marriage before, during, and after deployment. Stice plays deftly with language and layered-meaning, and just as proficiently with sparse jargon and vocabulary. Her work is accessible and her impacts immediate. Her rounds are on target. These are poems that help illuminate what military life is like—without glorification, and with plenty of humor. Any one of her poems would be the start to a beautiful and useful conversation.

I leave you with a personal favorite, titled "Hush-a-Bye." Again, watch how she rocks the breaks. Again, listen for the (distant) boom:
26 miles away
Marines play drums:
missiles and mortars.
My heart,
my daughter's breath
our rocking
fall in with the
at ease.

12 October 2016

Update: Soldier Sets New Sights on Seven Years' War

Jason Huffman with "1750: Britain vs. France" at GenCon 2014. PHOTO: Battle Hardened Games, Inc.
Editor's note: This post is an update to a Red Bull Rising post that ran Aug. 28, 2014. While the effort to meet that earlier, $28,000 goal proved unsuccessful, the game designers have recently launched a smarter, leaner attempt at funding the project. With more than 25 days to go, they seem well on their way to making their $12,000 objective.

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

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

A Kickstarter page for the project is here. A video is here, as well as below. A Facebook page for Battle Hardened Games is here. Huffman started his game company in 2013, and is trying to raise $12,000 by Wed., Nov. 9, 2016.

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

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

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

There are a few British generals that I find particularly interesting in terms of their legacies from this era. They fought in multiple wars and had very different results in each of them. Growing up in an American school system, our history books didn't really address parts of their careers that didn't deal with American history. Basically they get mentioned within the context of the American Revolution and that’s it.
Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, circa 1796
Take, for example, Charles Cornwalis. Huffman writes on his website:
Basically, looking at American history books, or watching [2000 film] The Patriot, Cornwallis would have been viewed as the biggest loser of the 1700s. He surrendered an army of over 7,000 soldiers, the act that ultimately broke military British efforts to retain the 13 colonies. This same person was hugely instrumental in the ongoing rise of British power in the Indian subcontinent. You can't look back at him and only weigh the Yorktown surrender in judging his performance as a commander [...]
The entrepreneurial Huffman is an Iowa National Guard signal officer, and also spent time as a civilian contractor instructing on mission command systems. He now works for a national healthcare insurer.

Huffman is a 2003 graduate of the Reserve Officers Training Corps program at the University of Iowa, Iowa City.

"My love of military history was certainly a strong influence in my decision to join the military," he tells the Red Bull Rising blog. "My grandfather was also a medic in the 34th Infantry Division during WWII in North Africa and Italy, and that was always inspiring to me when I decided to join."

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

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

05 October 2016

Re-run: The Sherpatudes

Happy U.S. Federal Fiscal New Year! Time to go back to basics, to start cooking the new books, and to visit this popular post from March 2012:

Here is a list of epigrammatic tips inspired by the most recent Red Bull Rising post. It's a mix of maxims regarding organizational analysis, knowledge management, and working in a tactical operations center ("TOC").

Behold, the "Sherpatudes":
1. Continually ask: "Who else needs to know what I know?"
2. Continually ask: "Who else knows what I need to know?"
3. Never speak with complete authority regarding that which you lack direct knowledge, observation, and/or suppressive fires.
4. Never pull rank over a radio net.

5. Let the boss decide how he/she wants to learn.

6. Let the boss decide how he/she wants to communicate.

7. "I am responsible for everything my commander's organization knows and fails to know, learns and fails to learn."

8. Know when to wake up the Old Man. Also, know how to wake him up without getting punched, shot, or fired.

9. The three most important things in the TOC are: Track the battle. Track the battle. Track the battle.

10. Digital trumps analog, until you run out of batteries.

11. Always have ready at least two methods of communication to any point or person on the map.

12. Rank has its privileges. It also has its limitations.

13. Let Joe surprise you.

14. Don't let Joe surprise you.

15. The first report is always wrong. Except when it isn't.

16. The problem is always at the distant end. Except when it isn't.

17. Exercise digital/tactical patience. Communications works at the speed of light. People do not.

18. Your trigger finger is your safety. Keep it away from the CAPS LOCK, reply-all, and flash-override buttons.

19. The warfighter is your customer, and the customer is always right.

20. Bullets don't kill people. Logistics kills people.

21. Knowing how it works is more powerful than knowing how it's supposed to work.

22. Cite sources on demand. State opinions when asked.

23. Work by, with, and through others. It's all about empowerment.

24. Do not seek the spotlight, Ranger. Let the spotlight find you. Then, make sure to share it with others.

25. Both the Bible and "The Art of War" make this point: It's never a mistake to put oneself in someone else's boots.

26. Humor is a combat multiplier. Except when it isn't.

28 September 2016

Contest Solicits 'Lessons-Encountered' Essays

Editors at Small Wars Journal have teamed up with Military Writers Guild to conduct an essay-writing contest focused on lessons-encountered at the tactical and operational levels of war.

Word count is 3,000 to 5,000. Deadline is Jan. 15, 2017. Winners will be announced in March 2017.

According to the announcement, the project takes inspiration from the publication of "Lessons Encountered: Learning from the Long War," a National Defense University project that explored similar theme at the strategic level.

That book, available for FREE in e-book reader formats here, was "intended for future senior officers, their advisors, and other national security decision-makers. By derivation, it is also a book for students in joint professional military education courses, which will qualify them to work in the field of strategy."

In the announced contest, Small Wars Journal editors are soliciting takes on what worked and what did not work in modern wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. They suggest two lists of maxims as a potential launching points, the first from former commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Anthony Zinni, and the second from civilian strategist David Kilcullen. Both lists appear here.

Writers are encouraged to use incorporate one or many of these maxims into their submitted works, and also to base their writing in first-hand experiences, told in the first person.

Functional areas and applicable topics suggested by the editors include, but are not limited to:
  • Insurgency/Counterinsurgency
  • Terrorism/Counterterrorism
  • Stabilization, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction Operations
  • Unconventional Warfare
  • Foreign Internal Defense
  • Civil-Military Operations
  • Information Operations
  • Military Intelligence and Counterintelligence Activities
  • Transnational Criminal Activities that Support or Sustain Small Wars / Irregular Warfare
  • Law Enforcement Activities Focused on Countering Irregular Adversaries
  • Writers may enter in three categories, including: U.S. Military, Non-U.S. Military, and Non-Military (U.S. and Other). First ($1,000), Second ($500), and Third Prizes ($300) may be awarded in each category, in addition to up to 20 honorable mentions ($200).

    Full details, including submissions formats and process, are to be found here.

    21 September 2016

    Deadline for 6th Veterans-Lit Anthology is June 1, 2017!

    Deadline for submissions to a sixth volume titled "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors"—an anthology of military-themed fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, oral histories, and photography—is June 1, 2017. The project is open to all military personnel, veterans, and family members.

    According to the call for submissions, entrants can submit to a contest in which each category carries a first-prize of $250, or submit to the anthology alone. All entries will be considered for the anthology. There is no entry fee to the contest or publication.

    Through the efforts of the Warriors Arts Alliance, the Missouri Humanities Council, and Southeast Missouri State University Press, the first "Proud to Be" volume was published in November 2012.

    "[T]his series of anthologies preserves and shares the perspectives of our military and veterans of all conflicts and of their families," reads the Southeast Missouri State University Press contest page. "It is not only an outlet for artistic expression but also a document of the unique aspects of wartime in our nation’s history."

    With second, third, and fourth issues, the press established itself as a leading venue for "veterans-lit," consistent in both quality and quantity. In 2014, the press also published "The Shape of our Faces No Longer Matters," a poetry collection by U.S. Marine veteran Gerardo "Tony" Mena.

    Red Bull Rising blog reviews of past issues of the "Proud to Be" anthology appear here and here.

    For a 2012 Red Bull Rising interview with series editor Susan Swartout, click here.

    To submit only to the 2017 anthology, mail previously unpublished work with self-addressed, stamped envelope (S.A.S.E.) for notification to:
    Warriors Anthology
    Southeast Missouri State University Press, MS 2650
    Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63701
    To submit to both contest and anthology, e-mail previously unpublished work to: upress@semo.edu. Also note:
    • Entries must be sent electronically as Microsoft Word files (.doc or .docx).
    • Keep poems in one document (with 1st poem as title).
    • Put your name and contact info on first page and nowhere else on the manuscript.
    For all submissions, whether mailed or electronic:
    • Limit one submission in each category per person.
    • Poetry: up to 3 poems (5 pages maximum).
    • Fiction, essay, or interview: 5,000-word limit.
    • Photography: up to 3 good-quality photos (will be printed in the book as black and white).
    • Submissions exceeding the limits will be disqualified.
    • Include a biography of 75 words or less with each submission. Explicitly mention author's connection to military.
    • Winners and contributors will be notified by Nov. 1, 2017.

    14 September 2016

    Charlie Sherpa ... LIVE! (Portions recorded)

    Together with British mil-poet and memoirist Barry Alexander ("On Afghanistan's Plains"), I recently participated in an audio conversation regarding how we remember and write about war, hosted by the Military Writers Guild's Adin Dobkin. You can find "The Pen and the Sword" podcast here at this link, or on iTunes.

    Brew up a cuppa—either tea or coffee will do—and have a listen!

    The discussion was far-flung and wide-ranging, as you might expect. You can practically hear the mental tank gears stripping in the background, as we try to keep up with ourselves. One bonus takeaway: 1970s military service-themed sitcoms, such as "Dad's Army" and "Hogan's Heroes," might be credited (blamed?) for our respective military careers.

    This may be the first recorded historical instance of Sherpatude No. 26: "Humor is a combat multiplier …"

    Alexander has a thoughtful reflection on the podcast conversation at his own blog, posted here. You should also read his book. Here's why.

    A couple of other audio and video recommendations:

    Dobkin and his pseudonymous colleague, Angry Staff Officer, have been experimenting with a narrative-style podcast called "War Stories," which can also be found in the Military Writers Guild podcast feed. In their inaugural season, they're exploring the evolution of cavalry. It's filled with music, sound effects, and insightful storytelling. Make sure to check it out!

    Also, earlier this summer, I was honored to engage in a video conversation with fellow war-writer Katey Schultz ("Flashes of War"). Check out our discussion here. You should also read her book, and—particularly if you're an aspiring or working writer—check out her on-line courses in flash fiction and non-fiction, and literary stewardship!

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

    07 September 2016

    Funny Veterans Video Launches: 'Soldiers Period'

    A short Internet video featuring the opinions and experiences of women U.S. military veterans pulls no punches—period—particularly when it comes to a May 2015 RAND Corp. report, titled "Considerations for Integrating Women into Closed Occupations in the U.S. Special Operations."

    The Not Suitable For Work (Unless You Work with Veterans) result is a hilarious mash-up of soldierly sensibilities—sort of like a Ranger Up! movie meets "The Vagina Monologues."

    The video opens with an animated proposal to weaponize Premenstrual Syndrome (P.M.S.) by deploying platoons of hormonally synchronized soldiers. "Once synchronization has occurred, at the peak of PMS," the narration states, "these women warriors will be deployed as the fiercest fighting force in military history."

    Later, four women veterans give voice to a collection of social media comments, delivering a blistering barrage of sarcasm and spit-takes. One of my favorites? The eminently quotable, "Watch out ISIS, here comes my vagina!"

    The video released earlier today, Wed., Sept. 7, 2016. You can watch it FREE on Vimeo here:
    http://vimeo.com/180313801. More background on the project is here.

    The veteran cast includes those from the Cold War and Operation Desert Storm, through to Operation Iraqi Freedom. A press release from the video's directors reads, in part:
    From athletes at the Olympics to these women warriors, women are going public about menstruation. The rawness of the women's responses reveals the misogynist nonsense they confronted while serving. Their responses were not scripted.
    The short was directed by Patricia Lee Stotter and Marcia Rock, the film-making team that delivered the 2011 full-length documentary "Service: When Women Come Marching Home." That work eventually aired on more than 87 percent of PBS stations nationwide, and via the World channel. A bipartisan group of four women senators even hosted a screening of "Service" on Capitol Hill!

    I wonder if anyone will have the ovaries to do the same with "Soldiers Period"?

    31 August 2016

    Film Review: 'Citizen-Soldier' Documentary

    Film review: "Citizen-Soldier" (2016)

    Before I offer a few insights and impressions regarding the new documentary "Citizen-Soldier," a few caveats up front:

    1. The movie explores a recurring theme in U.S. history: How citizens routinely pick up their muskets to become soldiers. This is a theme fraught with tensions, between state and federal powers, and between those who argue that the United States must at all times maintain a large, standing, "professional" military, to those who who argue for a smaller active-duty military, augmented by citizen reservists in times of need. This is a central engine that drives much of my own research and writing.

    2. The documentary depicts a unit that replaced the Iowa Army National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division shortly after my media embed with the latter in May-June 2011. For a 9-month period, Oklahoma's 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (I.B.C.T.) was made responsible for all U.S./coalition missions in Eastern Afghanistan's Laghman Province. Together with Iowa's 2-34th BCT and Vermont's 86th IBCT, this represents the only times a brigade-sized U.S. National Guard unit was assigned as a "battlespace owner" during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

    3. There are other connections. Afghanistan was not the first time, for example, that the Red Bull and Thunderbird fought and trod the same ground. In World War II, both units were at the battles of Anzio, Solerno, Sicily, and Mount Cassino. To my particular delight, each unit boasts unique artistic pedigrees, too. The Red Bull shoulder patch was designed in 1918 by Marvin Cone, a citizen-soldier who would later become a well-regarded regional artist. Famous World War II cartoonist Bill Mauldin was a Thunderbird.

    I am, in short, a big fan of the 45th IBCT. I am probably genetically predisposed to like this movie.


    I like this movie. A lot.

    That's not to say, however, that it's easy to watch. Or even fun. It is, however, necessary.

    Released earlier this week on DVD and Blu-ray, the documentary "Citizen-Soldier" accurately captures the trials of people just like you and your neighbors—police officers, marketing directors, X-ray technicians—who are routine trained and transformed into soldiers. With this deployment, they tasked with fighting waves of unseen enemies, while traversing unforgivingly brutal terrain. Along the way, they adapt, improvise, and overcome.

    "[O]ne thing the Guard is able to do very effectively," says Sgt. Jared Colson, who is a corrections officer on the civilian side. "We're able to look at things practically, and not just according to a manual."

    Members of Oklahoma's 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment (1-179th Inf.), deployed to Combat Outpost ("COP") Najil in Laghman Province. Through footage shot by Oklahoma and attached combat camera soldiers, as well as other sources, "Citizen-Soldier" tells the story of a few platoons, follows them through various dismounted and mounted patrols, as well as an air-assault—Operation Brass Monkey, into the Saygal Valley. There are laughs, and there are tears.

    An important note: Not everyone introduced at the beginning of the film survives the deployment. It does need to be said, however, that the violence is edited tastefully, and the reverence and respect Oklahoma has for its fallen is apparent throughout the journey home. These are sights that may be unfamiliar to active-duty communities: Patriot Guard motorcycle escorts and flag-bearers. Highways lined with Guardsmen and women, rendering final salutes. Citizen-soldiers have their own traditions, their own customs.

    The "Citizen-Soldier" project was managed by the directors of "The Hornet's Nest" (2014), which told stories of Eastern and Southern Afghanistan through the eyes of an embedded civilian reporter. The Oklahoma documentary, however, is framed by two elements: First are scenes of present-day Thunderbird soldiers taking part in a live-fire training exercise, which provides a thematic connection to the National Guard's "Minute Man" history and culture.

    Toward the end of the exercise, and at the end of the film, Command Sgt. Major of the Army National Guard Brunk W. Conley addresses a group of Oklahoma soldiers. "Think about 1775 […]," he says. "'The British are coming, the British are coming.' And blacksmiths, and inn-keepers drop their hammers, drop their plates and towels and bedding. They drop what their doing. And they run to the greens at Lexington and Concord […]"

    "We've been doing this stuff since 1636 […]" Conley tells the troops. "We need you […] to keep the title of 'citizen-soldier.' There is something noble, something honorable, something romantic about that term."

    The second framing device is an off-duty gab session among former platoon mates. A casual conversation alongside a river creates a space for reflection. There, the soldiers joke, for example, that their mobilization station of Camp Shelby, Miss.—a relatively flat place located near the Gulf of Mexico—was exactly like Afghanistan, except for maybe the all the mountains.

    As Colson says earlier in the film, "Everywhere is up. Everywhere you walk is up." And the bad guys hold the high ground.

    If you are an adult friend or family member of a U.S. National Guard or reservist who deployed to Afghanistan, you will want to see this film. If you are a veteran of Eastern Afghanistan, you might also enjoy the added bonus of seeing some of your old stomping grounds. (The usual trigger-warnings apply, however: While the film is rated "R" only for language, there is plenty of bang-bang and roadside boom here. The kind that might keep your mom up at nights. Depending on your own deployment history, maybe you, too.)

    If you are a U.S. citizen and taxpayer, seeing this film should be a requirement. This is what you sent your neighbors to do, on your behalf: Leave their jobs, their friends, their families, the comforts and safety of home. Engage an enemy. Climb mountains. Search out bombs. Build a nation.

    More important than what they did, however, "Citizen-Soldier" shows you who they are.