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.