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.