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, 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.