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.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

My Fourth of July, Star Wars, and Patriotic Butter Molds

This is the second Fourth of July I've spent in a War Zone. The first was 2013 and in Kabul at ISAF Headquarters. I remember the celebrations. I remember that Ollie North took over the top deck of our National Security Element for a press conference. I remember how majestic our flag waved in the cool July night. I also remember later on that evening when I was rucking around the compound. I happened upon General Dunford, commander of all forces in Afghanistan at the time. Our course intersected. He asked me how my Fourth was. I said that it was great. He asked me what I was doing. I told him I was trying to work off the great food I had by exercising. He asked, so late? I said, yessir. Then I asked him where he was going. He said to his room so he could finally call his family and wish them a Happy Fourth, after his sixteen hour day. He told me to continue working out. I told him to enjoy his family. He said Huah! I said Huah! Then we parted and went our own ways. I'm sure he forgot our meeting, but I remember ours, and it was the civil simplicity of the moment in the middle of a war zone that stayed with me.
Five years later I found myself at RS (formerly ISAF) Headquarters during the Fourth of July once again. Much of it hasn't changed a bit. It's the same set with different actors. During the day, after several meetings, I had an Italian pizza and a Coke at Cianos and a latte at the coffee shop. The feeling now is different than back in 2013. There's less of a visceral threat. We've just come off a ceasefire and many of those fighting are tired. But the sheer amount of armed and armored men and women wouldn't illustrate that. But there is a different feeling in the air. Either the fear is less, or we've just become that used to it.
During the evening, our cooks prepared what they termed to be a Patriotic Meal. We had roast and ribs and hotdogs wrapped in bacon. We had fruit and vegetables. We had breads and cookies. We had six kinds of ice cream. We even had a butter mold in the shape of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. As wonderful as everything was, we weren't home. We weren't with our families, sitting somewhere on lawn chairs near green grass that has never been dusted with the remnants of a bombing. We didn't tip a beer or a glass of wine or a scotch sitting in a yard that has never had bullets flying through it. We didn't get sunburned playing lawn games with our children or grandchildren near a road where there's never been an IED buried. We didn't even have fireworks. Although had we, watching explosions in the air commemorating a battle in 1812 in a war zone 206 years later would have been a grave punctuation for an uncertain testament on the martial history of our country. Then, later that night, after doing military work, I returned to my room and watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi, an immensely popular and profitable series of films (now owned by Disney) that also promulgates the idea of an intergalactic war, celebrating the sacrifices of those would put themselves in harms way so that the good guys can have a chance to beat the bad guys.
Still, what I remember what resonates with me most this Fourth of July was the butter mold. I found it charming that our foreign staff took the time to try and make our country's birthday memorable and as close to home as possible. They truly went over and above all of my expectations. Patriotic colors were everywhere, from the flags, to the banners, to the red, white, and blue cake that was our centerpiece. But the four foot by two foot butter mold of Mary and Joseph holding a baby Jesus stays with me. Many didn't notice it because on first glance, it wasn't out of place. To add this to our American celebration begged the question whether or not our staff felt that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were American. Truly, our voice has been loud enough for many to believe it is. But in this case, delving deeper, their supposition could have been that Christianity was an American export and something we brought with us to Afghanistan.
If I was a writer, I'd find something interesting to say about that, but instead of Academic critical disassembly, I merely enjoyed the idea and was charmed by the gigantic efforts of our staff to try and make us feel at home. One reason is that I realize how lucky I am. Many of you (and I appreciate it) and many strangers send me emails, texts, letters, cards, etc thanking me for my service and for the hardship I'm putting myself through.
Is it hard? Hell yes.
But it's harder for so many others. I'm an older, pretty senior fella stationed in a city that is the capital of our current war zone. So many are at other sites where an MRE was last night's meal and cold water was all they had to drink. They didn't go back to their room to watch Star Wars. They went back to their bunker to watch for attack.
As I record these thoughts, a movie plays in the background - We Were Soldiers --based on the Vietnam War novel called We Were Solders Once... and Young. The novel, as the movie, isn't a glorification of war, but a reminder of how we thought war was until we actually were part of it. I'm aware that the events of both the movie and the book take place in 1965, the year that I was born.
As it turns out, I am a writer. One of the ways I pay it forward is to write realistic military characters who aren't cliched t-shirt advertisements. I don't write walking patriotic memes. My characters, like those with whom I serve, are multi-dimensional, layered, complex human beings-- as complex as anyone you know -- who just happen to have served in the military and like anything of substance one encounters, are changed by it.
My characters, like real people, begin their military careers highly energized and fight for so many reasons. But no matter how one prepares, they aren't prepared for the toll being in a war can take, both on the mind and the body. Some things one encounters are so terrible that the images of them echo through one's life. Other things are so wonderful that they serve as touch points to a military career.
So when one is presented with a giant butter mold of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as a thank you for protecting their country and a commemoration of everything it means to be an American, I gladly accept it in the spirit in which it is given. And I say, Happy Birthday, America. Keep trying to do what is right. Keep working at being that shining city everyone is trying to get to. And keep trying to protect those who need protecting.
(Copyright 2018 - Weston Ochse)


  1. Excellent post, Wes! And to borrow a term from the era of We Were Soldiers, I hope your DEROS is coming up quickly and you are now a short-timer. Hang in there, and stay safe.

  2. Thank you patrick! Yes. My DEROS is soon. :)