ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Shoutout: Janz, Sangiovani and Hirshberg

I've had my nose to the war machine out here in Afghanistan so I apologize for not being keyed in and part of the community like I usually am. I do want to take a moment and talk about three folks.

First of all, big congrats to Mary Sangiovani. I was there when she was talking about submitting her new novella to Cemetery Dance early in 2017. Now that she's actually taken the time to write it, get it edited by an army of garden gnomes and then turn it in, I'm happy to say that the powers that be at Cemetery Dance have gladly accepted it and it will be part of their prestigious Novella Series.

Second, I wanted to make sure everyone was tracking Jonathan Janz. Who is this guy? Jon and I were both guests at Scares That Care last year and I had the honor of listening to him talk about his works in progress. It brought me back to when I was first starting out and I couldn't wait to tell everyone about the demons crawling with ice picks and hammers through my mind. Jon had that same energy. If I'm not mistaken, today marks the first birthday for Janz's 10th novel, Exorcist Falls. Janz writes with a certain violent glee reminiscent of Richard Laymon. Not that they are even the same author, but Janz's characters' naive rollicking through darkness can't help but remind me of how one of the greats approached his own spiked walls of fear early on in his career. Not sure if Exorcist Falls was or is on your radar. If it's not,then it should be before it passes you by.

Finally, I'd love to give a shutout to Glen Hirshberg. His collection The Ones Who Are Waving was born a few days ago from Cemetery Dance Publications. Glen is a writer's writer. I love reading his work. He's won the Shirley Jackson Award and the International Horror Guild Award and even gets consistent love from Publishers Weekly and that never happens unless the words Oprah Book Club appear printed on the front cover of one of your books. Oh, shit. Now I've done it. All of you are going running because you think Glen is a Bridges of Madison County sort of writer. He isn't, but so what if he was. He writes beautifully and dark and his sentences take me wholly unexpected. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of his newest collection.

So there you have it. Reporting from Afghanistan. Three folks who are doing awfully well. Do the world a solid and go read something of theirs, especially if they have something that just came out. Remember, what sells in the first two weeks of publication matters to the future success of authors. So go do your thing and support them.

Now back to the War Machine.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

February Tried To Knock Me Off

AFGHANISTAN VOL_5-2018. February Tried to Knock Me Off. (Disclaimer: Because of of the safety and sensitivities during this deployment, I will not be divulging my exact location or my mission. Nothing spooky, but because there are fewer American's deployed into the Afghan Theater than in 2013, the threat to life and limb is greater. Please do not ask me questions in relation to those issues I require to keep to myself. What I can tell you is that I am safe behind thousands of pounds of concrete somewhere on Bagram Air Force Base.)

February has been a beast and shows no signs of letting up. We’ve gone twenty two rounds so far and I’ve been pummeled and kicked and head-butted crotch-smacked. For some reason she doesn’t want me around. I’m not sure if it is here in Afghanistan or life in general. Whatever her reason, I will not go down without a fight. Still, as I sit here and write this I am punch drunk with trying to defend myself. I’ve been close several times to being medivaced out of the war zone and I won’t have it. As I told one supervisor, “you’re going to have to strap me down to a pallet to get me out of here because I will not go willingly.”

I arrived at Bagram, Air Force Base at the end of January. Bagram has been a base in Afghanistan since the Soviets (for you Millennials- those were all the countries that used to have been banded together by Russia who wanted to kick the Western World’s ass). They left behind tons of broken junk, not to mention the usual cauldron of toxic metals associated with air bases worldwide. Now Bagram is a U.S. and NATO base and we've brought our own brands of toxicity. 

And it’s winter. Why does that mean anything? Because in winter the weather is cold. Afghans do not have a great electrical grid. Families find it continually challenging to heat their homes. So what do they do? They burn anything that doesn’t move—feces, tires, garbage, dead animals, did I say feces, etc. This adds to the crazy toxic hydrocarbons in the air creating a lovely aromatic cocktail for your lungs. So what did I get? Some type of rare Venetian Bronchitis exacerbated by the horrendous quality of the air. I coughed and hacked my way through my first ten days in country. Some call it The Crud, but by the way I got looks, I had The Exponential Crud

This is from an article in Wired Magazine called Leaked Memo: Afghan 'Burn Pit' Could Wreck Troops' Hearts, Lungs: Any visitor to the sprawling Bagram airfield knows the burn pit – if not by sight, then by smell. It's an acrid, smoldering barbecue of trash, from busted furniture to human waste, usually manned by Afghan employees who cover their noses and mouths with medical breathing masks. Plumes of aerosolized refuse emerge from what troops refer to as "The Shit Pit," mingle with Parwan Province's already dust-heavy air, and sweep over the base.

With my lungs already compromised, I resorted to wearing the mask the government assigned to me and the affects were immediate. I’ve sat in traffic on the 405 in L.A. with a marine layer and 90 degrees in the shade and know what pollution is. I’ve driven New York, Chicago, Phoenix, and any number of U.S. cities and know what the smell of pollution is. I’ve been to Beijing in the winter where you can see the black specks of coal dust in the air and can’t help but breathe them. I’ve even been to Kabul, having deployed there in 2013. Here’s a missive from Senator Ron Wyden (Oregon) to then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in 2012 describing what a scabrous shit hole Kabul really is:

For all of you who think you know what this is like based on something you've experienced in the States, let me just say that no matter how bad it has been for you, this is worse in spades. Not trying to one up anyone. Just stating fact.

So what else did February do to me, you ask.

I had a dark bloody night of the soul. I'm not going to get into it, but by the end of the night, I was all but packed and ready to go, knowing that my evacuation would be swift and efficient. It was a terrible twenty hours, but in the end, everything corrected itself.

Then I sprained my knee. I've tweaked my knee and wrenched my knee, but never really sprained it. I suppose this is what happened. I'd worked out in the gym a couple of times. Once my cough went away, I knew it was time to get down to business, so I began to hit the treadmill. I wasn't running. I was walking. Impact was virtually zero. To crank my heart rate up I increased the elevation to five. In front of me young military studs were running on setting eleven and I was barely walking at setting four. It seemed like something I could do.

I felt a twinge on the side of my left knee. Think more a quick slice from a back alley switchblade that was there one moment, then gone the other. I finished working out. I went back to work. Afterwards, I went to bed. Then I woke up and could barely walk. Okay, this was something new.

My base is long and narrow. It's roughly two football fields from my hooch to my work. It's another football field from my work to where we generally eat. And my left knee? I could barely put any weight on it. The first thing I did was hobble to the med clinic. They gave me an elastic brace, which I wore religiously. Then I began to hobble around.

I knew enough about my body that I needed crutches, or at the least, a cane. But this is a war zone. Such things draw attention and if I need crutches, then maybe I shouldn't be here. So I perfected the art of the hobble. Bless those who went to chow with me because they walked at my speed. I could only take the stairs one step at a time and distances seemed to take forever. I began to chew great gobs of 800 mg Motrin. A senior civilian came by and asked if I needed medivaced. He's the one I told would have to chain me down to get me out of here.

For nine days I hobbled, then on the tenth my knee began to get better. After roughly four more days, my knee was mostly fine.

Then I got part two of the bronchitis. This one starred a crusty cough that loved to bring up bits of
multi-colored phlegm. What began as the plague, leveled out and became a morning and evening cough. I still can't shake it. Just when I think it's gone, I cough up a few crusty molecules. The boss made me go back to my hooch for eighteen hours, during which, they sanitized my work area. Still, it lingers.

But it's March now and I truly feel like I've survived something.

I still have a crusty cough, but that's bound to eventually go away.

My knee only hurts a bit and that's a dull pain. In fact, I'm almost ready to get back to working out.

And me... what about me? I've lost 20 pounds so far and have a very healthy appreciation of my own mortality. I'm aching to get back to where I can run and do yoga, but I know it's one step at a time. Just as I know that February tried to kill me, I also know that March could be a sleeping assassin. I want to keep it that way. Quiet. Sleeping. Looking the other way. Until, finally, I can sneak away and start doing what I came here to do.

Live well.

So I can live more.

~ ~ ~

To read the rest of my Afghanistan Posts:

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Afghanistan Food Supplement: Mexican Food

AFGHANISTAN VOL_4-2018. Afghanistan Food Supplement: Mexican Food (Disclaimer: Because of of the safety and sensitivities during this deployment, I will not be divulging my exact location or my mission. Nothing spooky, but because there are fewer American's deployed into the Afghan Theater than in 2013, the threat to life and limb is greater. Please do not ask me questions in relation to those issues I require to keep to myself. What I can tell you is that I am safe behind thousands of pounds of concrete somewhere on Bagram Air Force Base.)

A little bit about the food here in Afghanistan. I’ll probably come back to this topic a few times as interesting things come about; people always want to learn how other people eat. Let me also assure you that I am not suffering in Afghanistan. The food provided by the military here is far more than what most folks in the world are able to eat. Please know that I realize that my comments here are purely first world problems, so take them as such.

The last time I had the luxury of an all-expenses-paid tour to Afghanistan, I was stationed in Kabul and had the pleasure (sic) of eating at the Supreme Dining Facility at ISAF Headquarters. My normal meal was to have soup and salad for lunch and then at night, eat something light like baked chicken breast with a vegetable and a salad. I supplemented the food from the dining facility with my absolute favorite brand of canned salmon, fruit, and various crisps (chips for you dorky Americans). The meals were predominantly fine except for Wednesdays, which were deemed Mexican night.

Admission: I might be a Mexican food snob. I think I’ve earned it from living in Southern California and Arizona. Okay. Fine. I am a Mexican food snob.

When I think of Mexican food, I don’t think of the Chimichanga or Fajitas. The Chimichanga was allegedly accidentally invented in Tucson in 1922 at El Charro Restaurant and Fajitas were cattlemen food in South and West Texas at the turn of the 19th Century. These are Tex-Mex dishes and aren’t real Mexican food. Basically, if it’s served at Taco Bell it’s not what I consider Mexican Food; although if someone wanted to open a Taco Bell in Afghanistan, I’d be the first one in line because it’s scrumptious food in general—just not what I consider Mexican.

What do I consider Mexican food? Because I live just north of the Mexican states of Sonora and am close to Baja, consider that those are my major Mexican culinary influences. So think fish tacos and shrimp burritos. Meats including carne barbacoa, cabeza, and adibado (my favorite). Birrierias that specialize in lamb like the ones in Aguascalientes, Mexico, are incredible. My sister’s unbelievable Red Chili Posole is definitely on the list. Any variation of a grilled meat or fish with pickled vegies on a small soft tortilla makes a great street taco, especially the ones at Lechón Mi Güero in Aguascalientes.

Taco from Lechon Mi Guero
Too often we think of Mexican food as heavy, weighed down after a plate of deep fried chimichanga with fries and refried beans. Although platters of green or red sauced enchiladas can be found at virtually every Mexican family get together, these are paired with grilled meats, limes, lemons, various chilis and both fresh and pickled vegetables. I find most Mexican food to be bright, simple, and terrifically tasting.

Even back in 1991, when I was in Beijing, I managed to find the only Mexican restaurant in the city
(maybe the country). Back then (was it 26 years ago?), China was just beginning to throw off its communist yoke and beginning to embrace the parts of Western Culture that would allow it to eventually become the economic superpower it is today. Back then, I hung out a bar called the Mexican Wave. Owned by Peter, son of the exiled crown prince of Uganda, this was a place for expats to come, socialize, let our hair down, and on Friday nights, eat Mexican food cooked by a Mexican woman who spent her days cleaning for diplomats. I remember the tacos tasted like they were in Mexico, small, using soft tortillas, but bright and light and succulent. I never did ask the provenance of the meat. Probably better that way.

My family at Lechon Mi Guero
This is my long way of getting around to talking about eating Mexican food in Afghanistan. For Supreme Dining Facility, Wednesday nights were Mexican food night. Tacos and enchiladas were the mainstay. They also served grilled chicken, which is a universal taste, dependent on what is added to it. In the case of Supreme, they added a homemade salsa/hot sauce that had a weird funk to it. I remember a tang that I could not place that wasn’t at all pleasant. And they poured this salsa on everything, topped with sour cream, and finished with handfuls of shredded cheddar cheese. All of my NATO friends ate this version of Mexican food with gusto. I might have stuck with it had the sauce not had that funk. I could have maybe toughed it out had one night's taste resulted into seventy-three visits to the bathroom.

So Mexican nights became Pizza Nights. We were fortunate to have the Italian PX called Ciano’s on ISAF which imported all of their ingredients from Italy and cooked the best real Italian pizzas. My favorite was their Gorgonzola pizza. I’d order a large, eat about three huge pieces, then take it to the office and leave it for the rest of the folks. Mexican night soon became Weston Is Bringing Pizza Night, because that’s how I rolled. (Except for that time we were traveling and had Cianos in Herat -  I could have moved into the bathroom the amount of time I spent in there. I know. It's the water.) 

Currently, there's a dedicated Mexican night at a nearby dining facility that I can go to. But I've heard that their Mexican lasagna, tacos, and enchiladas were questionable. I've heard the sauce has a funk to it. And alas, there's no Cianos. So, I guess I'll have to wave Mexican nights and let the rest of the folks fake the funk.

Until then, I'll eat the other things on offer. But one thing I will do as a nod to my beloved Mexican food is add metric tons of jalapenos to whatever food I am eating. God bless the folks at the dining facility. They don’t scrimp on fresh jalapenos. I add them to my tuna melts, to my salads, to my spaghetti, and to my soups. I add them to about everything.

I guess until I get back to my corner of the world that’s the closest I will get to Mexican food. Until then, I will pine for a Filliberto’s shrimp burrito, an adibado taco with lemon, my sister's red chili posole, and pork tacos with my family at Lechón Mi Güero.

Those are memories I can culinarily embrace.

~ ~ ~

To read the rest of my Afghanistan Posts:

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Why I Want to Go to War

AFGHANISTAN VOL_3-2018. Why I Want to Go to War (Disclaimer: Because of of the safety and sensitivities during this deployment, I will not be divulging my exact location or my mission. Nothing spooky, but because there are fewer American's deployed into the Afghan Theater than in 2013, the threat to life and limb is greater. Please do not ask me questions in relation to those issues I require to keep to myself. What I can tell you is that I am safe behind thousands of pounds of concrete somewhere on Bagram Air Force Base.)

I’ve been asked many times why I’m in the military. I have several pat reasons I can monotone deliver with a thousand mile stare that will satisfy most folks:


The flag.

Founding Fathers.

Apple pie.



Words that makes people nod, experience brilliant red, white, and blue rainbows, and become filled with warm fuzzy jingoistic electric feelings of goodness and belonging. Those reasons are all appropriate, I suppose, but they don’t get to the soul of my belief system.

Who I am can’t ever be represented by an NRA sticker.

Nor can it be codified by a mantra shouted at a rally.

Nor is it represented by your favorite stove-piped news channel.

Trying to define why I do what I do is like attempting to quantify the feeling one has when petting a dog or climbing to the top of a hill and looking out at the far horizon.

In order for you to completely understand my belief system you’d have to extract and study it. The problem is, once extracted, what remains would dissolve into a noxious bowl of primordial dross, destined to eventually swirl down the drain into irrelevancy. So, you’ll have to take my few words on the subject as the Gospel According to Weston.

Bottom line is that I am a humanist. I spent the entire introduction of my military story and essay collection FUBAR explaining what that means to me, but for you ne’re-do-wells, here’s the CLIFF NOTE version for those of you who don't have it.

  • I believe in the idea of good and evil;
  • I believe in the little guy, those who can’t protect themselves. This is not only exemplified by me helping a person, but it extends to societies helping those who can’t help themselves- what the French once called Noblesse Oblige;
  • I believe in my brothers and sisters in arms and will do whatever I can to protect them. I fight for them and my family. I rarely find myself fighting for politics.
  • I believe that as human beings we have an obligation to do what we can to protect every other human being and the planet where we exist.

I can see some of you shaking your heads. You either think I’m a simpleton or a romantic. If it makes it easier to swallow, call me a simple romantic. I’m fine with that. It’s just who I am. I can also see you equivocating and pointing out that some of my beliefs might contradict each other. To that I ask what doesn’t contradict? I didn’t pretend to be simple, that was a label given to me. Actually, I am very complicated.

Enough of the background. You want to know why I’m in Afghanistan. Why is a successful author intentionally knee deep in hand grenade pins instead of knee deep in wine corks in America?

I blame it on my grandfather.

I blame it on my mother.

Most of all, I blame it on my father who introduced me to Shakespeare. Never has there been someone more attuned to what it means to love one’s fellow man than Shakespeare, even when his characters pretended to be women (because at the end of the day, we are all human). And never has he expressed it so well, as in the St. Crispin’s Day speech spoken by King Henry V on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, where the English were massively outnumbered and held little hope for victory. The gist of the speech is that all those who weren’t in the battle will have wished they were a part of the battle, because the outcome was going to be so magnificent.Let's take a moment so that you may listen to it. The speech is magnificent. Some of you might remember a certain chapter in Grunt Traitor where my hero promises his team that he won't so the St. Crispin's day speech, but then ends up doing it anyway.

The irony of it all, I suppose, was that it wasn’t originally Shakespeare who introduced me to the St. Crispin’s Day speech, but rather it was Danny Devito in Renaissance Man. Ever see the movie? It’s about a down on his luck advertisement exec who finds himself training Army privates who have learning disabilities. The scene where actor Lillo Brancato Jr. recites part of the speech while standing in the rain at the bivouac site while a drill sergeant played by Gregory Hines watches on is classic. I actually love that movie. In fact, if you look at my beliefs, they are central to the plot, with Devito’s character learning to embrace them as a placeholder for ourselves.

But not everyone appreciates those beliefs. Even more don’t even like the military. They don’t understand what we stand for and think of us as nothing more than jingoistic arm pumpers ready to kill indiscriminately for the pure joy of it. Although, like in any segment of society, there are those who take matters to extreme, the vast majority of the military doesn’t ascribe to such nonsense. I’ve never been around a band more professional than the military. Period.

That didn’t keep Pico Rivera City Councilman and high school history teacher Gregory Salcido from recently commenting on those who would join the military. His comments went viral, not for their efficacy, but for their idiocy. When confronted by the fact that the reason one of his students wore a Marine Corps shirt was because of his intent to join, Mr. Salcido, who’d also been elected as mayor, verbally whiplashed the young man. The boy wore his shirt out of pride for his uncles and father who’d served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

"You’re freakin' stupid Uncle Louie or whatever,” Salcido began. “They're dumb shits. They're not high-level bankers. They're not academic people. They're not intellectual people. They're the freaking lowest of our low."

It’s clear that Mr. Salcido does not ascribe to my beliefs. He feels that the opportunity the military provides to young men and women through their subsidized college and vocational programs isn’t worthwhile. He also doesn’t understand what it truly means to serve, treating his election as if it was something to be won rather than something to be earned. Finally, he doesn’t understand the fellowship engendered by those who decide to serve in environments hostile in order to help those less fortunate remain safe in their beds is a bond that cannot be bought or sold. And he will never understand because he is an opportunist rather than a patriot.

So to Mr. Salcido, I quote from William Shakespeare, That he which hath no stomach to this fight, Let him depart; his passport shall be made, And crowns for convoy put into his purse. We would not die in that man's company, nor would we want to.

That is not to say that someone cannot disagree. Hold your anti-war signs high. Shout for all wars to end. Make it be heard to the heavens that we shouldn’t be in Afghanistan or Iraq or Korea. You’re voices are your weapons and I respect your fight. My nation was founded on dissent and it should always be held in high esteem. There is no one who despises war more than those who live it. But until you win your war, we have to fight ours. Still, we root for you. I root for you.

To my fellow warriors, those with whom I am currently serving, I say:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen (at home) now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day. 

Danny Devito’s character understood this, as well did his wards.

I understand this, and revel in the words, knowing that my manhood is not held cheaply.
My friends and family understand this, although they might not like it, they respect me for my feelings.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

Why do I do what I do?

I suppose I do it for my brothers.

What about you?

Why do you do what you do and why do you do it?

~ ~ ~

To read the rest of my Afghanistan Posts:

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Preparing Myself for War - The Hearts of Men

Afghanistan VOL2_2018. (Disclaimer: Because of of the safety and sensitivities during this deployment, I will not be divulging my exact location or my mission. Nothing spooky, but because there are fewer American's deployed into the Afghan Theater than in 2013, the threat to life and limb is greater. Please do not ask me questions in relation to those issues I require to keep to myself. What I can tell you is that I am safe behind thousands of pounds of concrete somewhere on Bagram Air Force Base.)

The military trained me. They reminded me how to fire and move and threshold brake. They showed me CQB and other battle drills and how to get off the X. They drilled into me first aid, the proper uses of tourniquets, and how to deal with the heightened anxiety of mass casualty events. They even asked me if I was ready and I said yes.

But was I?

I'm a true believer in the power of fiction. I'd downloaded a book (The Hearts of Man by Nickolas Butler) a few weeks before I left and was going to read it on the airplane over the thirty hours of my trip to help me prepare for what I was going to do and who I was going to be in Afghanistan. And I did. Starting with the first flight, I began reading and didn't finish the book until I was well over Afghanistan, giving me just enough time to digest the experience before we landed.

I've only been here 44 hours, but I've already worked 30 of them, so forgive me for using the cover copy to describe the book:
Camp Chippewa, 1962. Nelson Doughty, age thirteen, social outcast and overachiever, is
the Bugler, sounding the reveille proudly each morning. Yet this particular summer marks the beginning of an uncertain and tenuous friendship with a popular boy named Jonathan.
Over the years, Nelson, irrevocably scarred from the Vietnam War, becomes Scoutmaster of Camp Chippewa, while Jonathan marries, divorces, and turns his father’s business into a highly profitable company. And when something unthinkable happens at a camp get-together with Nelson as Scoutmaster and Jonathan’s teenage grandson and daughter-in-law as campers, the aftermath demonstrates the depths—and the limits—of Nelson’s selflessness and bravery.
The Hearts of Men is a sweeping, panoramic novel about the slippery definitions of good and evil, family and fidelity, the challenges and rewards of lifelong friendships, the bounds of morality—and redemption.
The Hearts of Men is a grand novel, well-chosen for its purpose. It's a story about a changing time, when the idea of being a Boy Scout is becoming less and less significant. It's about ethics and what to do in bad situations. It sometimes painfully puts its characters in too real places that make you want to stop reading, but just as the characters are performing for you, out of respect, you have to stay through their performance. 

It's a book about the complexity of always trying to do the right thing.

I cherished this book and it indeed prepared me for Afghanistan. I feel it in my chest. I feel it in my head. I was once a Boy Scout. I made it to Life. My father was an Eagle Scout and was a scoutmaster. Both of these things prepared us in our lives. A little reminder helped rekindle those memories and reminded my that being Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent were things to which we should all attain, despite those around us who would devalue these traits. 

Finally, its about being your own man and accepting yourself for who you are.

Yes, this is a book for me. It's a book for war. It's a book for Afghanistan.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Going to War - A la Carte

AFGHANISTAN VOL_1-2018. Going to War - A la Carte (Disclaimer: Because of of the safety and sensitivities during this deployment, I will not be divulging my exact location or my mission. Nothing spooky, but because there are fewer American's deployed into the Afghan Theater than in 2013, the threat to life and limb is greater. Please do not ask me questions in relation to those issues I require to keep to myself. What I can tell you is that I am safe behind thousands of pounds of concrete somewhere on Bagram Air Force Base.)

It used to be one didn’t have to worry about getting to the battlefield. The generals and the logisticians would take care if it all. The soldier only had to worry about staying in line. With the other soldier and all they did was march in formation for days, weeks, or months, then finally get to a place where they’d spend their blood in service of a country an idea or their family. Trudging shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow warriors, there was a certain comradery that would develop as warriors surged towards an uncertain but hopeful destiny. Even in more modern times, warriors would travel by sea, long voyages of pissing and shitting and puking, developing lifelong friendships through the military idea of shared misery. This is still true for large units surging into combat, coming from an indigenous organization and moving as one unit on MIL AIR, but for smaller units and folks like me, it’s purely a la carte.

Like ordering an extra helping of veggies at Outback Steakhouse or a rasher of bacon at Dennys. But instead of food you get a soldier or a contractor or someone else working the military industrial machine.

I remember when I read the DD214 of my dear departed father-in-law. We knew that he’d been picked up by the MPs for something or the other before departing for Korea, but we never really knew what it was. Through anecdotes and a fair deciphering of his DD214 by a VA expert, we were able to find out what the mysterious codes and numbers were.

As it turned out, he was drafted into the army as a tank mechanic. After basic and tech school, they sent him to Seaside, California, awaiting a troop ship to come pick up he and his closest two thousand friends for a free ride to the Land of the Morning Calm. He waited and waited and said, screw this, and took a train back to Chicago where he went back to work as a car mechanic. When the MPs came and got him for AWOL, he said something like, “I wasn’t doing any good waiting in California for the boat to come. At least this way, I was doing something.” And then be began about four months of touring an 8 by 8 cell in a brig somewhere.

Sadly, he didn’t know that the army didn’t care if it wasn’t doing anything. When it did do something, it did it in a big way which is why right after he was released, he boarded a ship to Pusan and helped push the North Koreans and invading Chinese all the way back up to the 38th Parallel.

When I asked what he did in the service, he was keen to say, “Up a hill and down a hill.“

“What next?” I’d ask.

He’d level his flat Irishman’s stare at me and repeat, “Up a hill and down a hill.”

Although he wouldn’t talk about what he did over there, he did say one word about his experience aboard the ship and it was miserable, the words coming out as if he’d just finished eating a live worm wrapped in a jellyfish burrito. 

Thank god, I didn’t have to travel by a troop transport ship. There’s nothing glorious about such a thing.

Except maybe economy class on a 24 four hours of flying.

Okay, not really. It doesn’t even come close. But that’s the only barometer I have, So I apologize to all of you who have traveled by troop transport.

So, they wanted me in Afghanistan. Just me. An old soldier who’s forgotten more than he remembers. They gave me a one-way plane ticked. It’s like they saw me on a menu, loved the special low price, and ordered up one Weston Ochse. Hello Houston and Frankfurt and Dubai and Bagram. Twenty-four hours of flying with twelve hours of layover in between. I was beside myself with excitement to wedge my ass into pre-formed plastic asswear.

Here are some things I noticed along the way:

  • The difference between economy and economy plus is that the back seat in front of you is nineteen inches from your face instead of twelve, which is a lot;
  • A two-hundred-dollar non-reimbursable upgrade for a ten-hour flight allowed me to stretch over three empty seats;
  • The seven-hundred-dollar non-reimbursable upgrade to business class was probably awesome, but this guy from a trailer park can’t afford that kind of lifestyle;
  • When you tell the flight attendants that these will be your last drinks in six months, it overfloweth;
  • Airplane food is still airplane food no matter the country;
  • Houston hides it’s access to The Centurion Lounge in the back of the Duty Free store near a closet that is really the elevator;
  • You can’t walk anywhere in the Frankfurt, Germany airport in less than thirty minutes;
  • I might have panicked when I saw that the man I was sitting next to in the exit row for a 7 hour flight was twice my size and his shoulders took up half my space;
  • When you panic and are super nice about it flight attendants miraculously find you open aisle seats with empty center seats (Go Lufthansa);
  • During call to prayer in airports in Islamic countries, the airport bathroom sinks are used to wash feet out of respect to Allah;
  • Arabic Quarter Pounder with Cheese tastes amazingly like the American version;
  • The last leg of any trip is the worst.

I have a vision of the future that is much like a Jetsons cartoon. I know, I’m dating myself, you can actually Youtube the entire series for a little fun about what the future would look like from the 1960s. I can see a general, pressing buttons and out comes a solder, recycled and remolded and sent off to war by himself to meet the others of his kind.

We tend to get someone new every day the a la carte way, here in Afghanistan.

Make a selection, press a button, and we’ll find our own way to war.

Just please oh please, if you have any say in it, make sure your deploying warriors fly at least economy plus. It's the very least you could do.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Coincidentalism - Plagiarism - Or Zeitgeist

One of the reasons I started writing was because I kept coming out with these great plot ideas. They'd often come fully formed to me. I just had no way to put them down on paper-- or so I thought. Then six months to a year later a book would appear with my exact same plot and even with some of the  same characters I would have written. I was like, WTF? Is someone reading my brain? And it happened over and over and over. And most of these were best sellers. Finally, I was like... if I'm ever going to be able to capitalize on these ideas, then I need to learn how to write; and fast!

James Davis Nicoll pointed out in a recent article on Tor.com that this isn't a new thing. It seems that it happened to icons of Sci Fi Charles Sheffield and Arthur C. Clarke.

One of the more remarkable examples of this type of unfortunate concurrence occurred in 1979. Working on opposite sides of the planet in an era long before everyone had email, Charles Sheffield and Arthur C. Clarke wrote novels about…well, let me just quote Mr. Clarke’s open letter, which was reprinted at the end of Sheffield’s book…
Early in 1979 I published a novel, The Fountains of Paradise, in which an engineer named Morgan, builder of the longest bridge in the world, tackles a far more ambitious project— an “orbital tower” extending from a point on the equator to geostationary orbit. Its purpose: to replace the noisy, polluting and energy-wasteful rocket by a far more efficient electric elevator system. The construction material is a crystalline carbon filter, and a key device in the plot is a machine named “Spider.”
A few months later another novel appeared in which an engineer named Merlin, builder of the longest bridge in the world, tackles a far more ambitious project— an “orbital tower,” etc. etc. The construction material is a crystalline silicon fiber, and a key device in the plot is a machine named “Spider”…
What blew me away when I read Nicoll's research was that even the name of the machine was the same. And look at the first names and occupation of the main characters. How can these have been so similar in ages before digital anything? You should go read the article. Nicoll does good work.

Another thing Nicoll mentioned that I was already aware of because of my love of late silver age and bronze age comics was that X-Men ripped off Doom Patrol. There I said it. Or did they? Could it have been the same situation as Sheffield and Clarke? We don't even know what that is? You be the judge as you look at the original covers over in Nicoll's article. Note that Doom Patrol came out three months before X-Men. 

Here we have two teams, their leaders in wheelchairs, who are shunned by normal society. On one hand we have mutants who were born with their powers and on the other hand you have mutants who obtained their powers through accidents. This coincidentalism (new word) takes place a lot in comics. What about Black Cat and Catwoman? Or Scarecrow and Scarecrow? Or Boomerang and Captain Boomerang? The one I love is Hawkeye and Green Arrow. It's also a rare piece of coincidentalism that Hawkeye was paired with Mockingbird, while Green Arrow was paired with Black Canary. You can go on over to Screenrant to see more comic coincidences.

Disney conducted a bit of coincidentalism of their own with the Lion King. Feel free to go and read the whole salacious article over on Cracked, but let's see what you think by this image alone. 

Fast forward to November 2012. Two books were published that month. My SEAL Team 666 book and Alex Shaw's Delta Force Vampire. In fact, my book was published 5 days after Shaw's. Does that make me a plagiarist? Is it coincidentalism? Like I could have come up with the idea, written the novel, and had it published in five days.

Then there's Evan Currie's book SEAL Team 13. That had to be a total ripoff. I had a host of fans come shouting to me that Evan plagiarized my idea. After all, it came out almost exactly a year later. Delta Force and SEAL Teams fighting monsters. Holy Fragmentation Grenade, Batman, there's a whole lot of cheating going on. Get the cheating police! Lock them up!

But it wasn't like that. It wasn't like that at all. If you've read Nicoll's article, which you should, you'll see that Clarke didn't think so either. And me, that guy who was WTFing before he knew how to write because something or someone was stealing his ideas right out of his brain, didn't think so either. While the comic industry tries to keep current with each other and commits coincidentalism on occasion, that's not what Me and Shaw and Currie and Clarke and Sheffield did. Instead, we were victims of the zeitgeist.

Or at least that's what I call it. I've heard others refer to it as the universal unconsciousness or the global mind. Whatever you call it, this zeitgeist is out there. It's entirely possible for people to come up with the same ideas at the same time without knowing each other. It's cultural. It's economic. It's scientific. It's based on learning the same information. It's the way our brain works. I'm sure that Clarke and Sheffield heard something or read something new and being sci fi authors, What Ifed it. Although I haven't talked with Currie and Shaw about this, I'm convinced that we near simultaneously thought about how cool it would be to have special military units dealing with supernatural stuff. And we just put our heads down, digital pen to paper, and came out with something that was popular. Zeitgeist.

Look at the 1950s. Where did all the monster movies come from, especially those who became a monster because of exposure to radiation. The zeitgeist. The world was in fear of a nuclear war so they found ways to express this fear in many ways that were similar.

I contend that this is a thing. My wife and I talk about it all the
time. She comes up with great ideas and I tell her to jump on them. Sure enough, if she isn't able to get her creative juices flowing in time, within six months to a year, some short story or novel will come out with her exact idea. As she says, "It's infuriating!"

Writers, artists in general, are a great tribe to belong to. We don't go around stealing ideas, frankly, because there are enough out there for all of us. But on occasion, a good idea presents itself in the zeitgeist. A few of us are able to pick up on it. An even smaller few are able to do something about it. It's what we do.