Thursday, October 28, 2010


Below is a message from Matt Burden, of Blackfive. I've joined Team Army for this fundraiser and hope that some of you are able to contribute to a great cause - Soldiers' Angels is an amazing organization that does wonders for wounded warriors, including one of my former guys, Hot Wheels. Read on and feel free to press that forward button!

Donation Quick Link


Today marks the beginning of the annual Soldiers' Angels Valour-IT competition.

Project Valour-IT began when Captain Charles "Chuck" Ziegenfuss was wounded by an IED while serving as commander of a tank company in Iraq in June 2005.

During his deployment he kept a blog. Captivating writing, insightful stories of his experiences, and his self-deprecating humor won him many loyal readers. After he was wounded, his wife continued his blog, keeping his readers informed of his condition.

As he began to recover, CPT Ziegenfuss wanted to return to writing his blog, but serious hand injuries hampered his typing. When a loyal and generous reader gave him a copy of the Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred software, other readers began to realize how important such software could be to CPT Ziegenfuss' fellow wounded soldiers and started cast about for a way to get it to them.

"At that time I had no use of either hand. I know how humbling it is, how humiliating it feels. And I know how much better I felt, how amazingly more functional I felt, after Soldiers' Angels provided me with a laptop and a loyal reader provided me with the software. I can't wait to do the same, to give that feeling to another soldier at Walter Reed." - Captain Chuck Ziegenfuss at TC Override (wounded in Iraq)

Project Valour-IT, in memory of SFC William V. Ziegenfuss (Captain Chuck Ziegenfuss' father), provides voice-controlled software and laptop computers to wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines recovering from hand and arm injuries, amputations, eye or brain injuries, at major military medical centers. Operating laptops by speaking into a microphone, our wounded heroes are able to send and receive messages from friends and loved ones, surf the 'Net, and communicate with buddies still in the field without having to press a key or move a mouse.

Folks, I've witnessed several wounded soldiers set up their laptops only to email or Skype their friends and comrades in the war zone to let them know that they are okay.  Keeping them in communication with loved ones increases the possibility of a successful recovery exponentially.

In order to fund the thousands of laptops we have distributed and need to distribute, we have an annual competition.
Valour-IT's online fundraising competition begins today! Let's see who can raise the most money to help reconnect our wounded warriors with the world!

WHAT: Friendly fundraising competition for Valour-IT.
WHEN: October 28th through Veterans Day, November 11th .
WHERE: Based in the blogosphere, spreading everywhere else.
WHY: Because giving wounded warriors with hand and arm injuries access to a computer supports their healing and puts them back in touch with the world.
HOW: Blogger teams will be divided along military branches, with civilians "up for grabs."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Support the Troops? Then Senator Reid is the only option

I hope most of my readership understands that I try to keep this blog as apolitical as possible. I dislike dividing people in that way, and not just because some of my best friends from high school, college, and the Army disagree with my politics. I'm a liberal, sure, but I love God, guns, and freedom as much as the next American. (I'm being 100% serious about all of that.)

So why am I posting this? Because Sharron Angle scares me that much.

It's not her politics. Nor is it her cultivated persona. I simply don't find her to be a person of substance, and that infuriates me as a Nevadan and as an American citizen. Being a United States Senator is a BIG deal. Whether we send our best and brightest to Congress is a different issue altogether, but that's what we should aspire for. And after watching her hollow, shallow, and yes, tacky, performance tonight at the debate with Senator Reid, I decided to post this piece here. I expect some ugly "discourse" in the comments section between anonymous assholes, because hey, that's what makes the Internet great. Just do me a favor, and read this piece understanding the perspective of the person who wrote it - a young veteran from Nevada who wants those that govern him to be for something, rather than against everything.

One last note: I submitted this to every major newspaper in the state of Nevada, and it is structured for such a format. I never heard back from a one of them. Maybe it's because I'm no longer living there (though still voting there!), maybe it's because their editors hate Irish people, or maybe it's because the piece exceeded the maximum word count for a letter to the editor by 800 or so words. Who knows.

     Like most Nevadans, I’ve observed our Senatorial race between Harry Reid and Sharron Angle with great interest and concern. Inevitably, most media outlets chronicle this race in terms of national impact; for Nevadans however, the results of this election will be felt far more locally and personally. As an Iraq War veteran who served in the U.S. Army in Baghdad Province from 2007-09, I’ve paid particular attention to each candidate’s handling of veterans’ issues. And though I’ve had occasional misgivings with Senator Reid’s body of work over the years, I’ve come to realize that his support of military veterans and their families has remained steadfast and clear, while Angle’s understanding of the concerns of a modern all-volunteer force – specifically her recent suggestion that we should privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs, a statement she subsequently backtracked from – leaves much to be desired. As both a voter and as a veteran, it seems clear that if one supports the troops, casting a vote for Reid – and against Angle – is the only viable option. 
     I’m no Reid mouthpiece. I’ve argued heatedly with various Reid supporters on our Senator’s stances over the years, particularly when Senator Reid criticized General Petraeus and the Surge in Iraq in 2007, something I ended up participating in as a scout platoon leader. But though Senator Reid’s opinion on this strategic maneuver differed with mine, his positive impact on the lives of Nevada’s veterans cannot be ignored. His support and cosponsoring of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2008 provided a new generation of combat veterans educational opportunities in line with those provided the World War II and Vietnam veterans; it’s easy to say that veterans deserve more education benefits, but Senator Reid, as the majority leader, made it happen. Further, his campaign to bring a new, state of the art veterans’ hospital to southern Nevada will be complete in 2012. This VA facility will ensure that Nevada’s physically and mentally injured veterans will receive more timely and accessible care. Again, it’s easy to say such platitudes, it’s quite another to produce a pragmatic solution for such. Senator Reid did so.
     Conversely, Sharron Angle claimed she wants to abolish our current VA system, before then stating she had never said such a thing at all. Just to be clear, getting rid of our current VA system would include the aforementioned new facility. When I first read her quotation on privatizing the VA, I was shocked that any serious candidate for political office would ever say such a thing, let alone say such a thing in a time of war. So I sought out the interview and studied the context of her statement. It does appear that her statement was made in passing, and the question of whether or not she has actually given this careful thought lingers. But she broached the topic, nonetheless, so I began to think what such privatizing of the VA would mean. On the surface, it satisfies vague, pithy catchphrases like “big government is bad” and “private healthcare is better than public healthcare.”  But I’m not sure what such a proposition would accomplish beyond that. If Angle's "plan" were to actually go through, standardized treatments and definitions for things like TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) would be left up to subjective interpretation. Veterans at a VA clinic in Reno might not receive as good of treatment as veterans at a VA clinic in Las Vegas, even though the have the same issues, because some local bureaucrat ordered the wrong equipment. And mental health counselors wouldn't all be keyed into a unified community, to swap experiences of what works and what doesn't work - something beyond vital given the rising suicide statistics of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
     The VA is clearly not infallible. Its reputation as a slow-moving institution is well chronicled and deserved. But it does a lot of wonderful things that often get overlooked – I’ve seen it firsthand with some of my former soldiers. When the goal of an organization is to make money, I understand the call for privatization. But while the VA should strive for efficiency, that's not why it exists. One of the greatest benefits of VA hospitals is the veterans’ community it creates; it's well documented that healing in a group environment is vital for vets' recovery processes, be them for physical or mental wounds. Further, regular hospitals aren't necessarily equipped to deal with the unique conditions war veterans bring, while VA doctors, nurses, administrators, and mental health counselors deal with nothing else. I can't imagine how isolated a vet would feel if he went to a local hospital, run by and surrounded by civilians, seen by doctors who may not have any background or expertise with veteran treatment. And that’s exactly what would happen if the Department of Veterans Affairs were privatized.
     I’m sure Sharron Angle has no ill will toward Nevada’s military veterans, and supports the troops in her own way. I’m also inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt and think that her call for VA privatization was either a misstatement or rushed. But she said it, and her subsequent assertion that she hadn’t is both misleading and confounding, considering the interview in question occurred on the record. Even in the best of light, her statement comes across as reckless and dangerous to the veteran community of Nevada. For us, these policies are our lifelines, and why Senator Reid will be getting my vote come Election Day. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Short story sample - The Sheik's Daughter

Hello, interwebz. I'm finishing up a 30-page short story entitled The Sheik's Daughter, and figured I'd share a selection. You know, for feedback and such. It's like a digital workshop, with anonymity instead of donut holes. Anyways ...

The Sheik’s Daughter
Author’s Note: Do I believe the following events happened? Not really. Not in the way chronicled, at least. I spent a tour of duty in this very same Iraqi village, only a couple years later, and walked the same streets, knew the same people, slept in the same outpost. Some of this will seem dubious, and maybe even impossible. That’s certainly how I reacted when I first heard it. And yet … and yet there’s still a magic there when Shaba’s name gets mentioned. Still a sense of awe, as if saying his name too loudly will bring him back. And it wasn’t just the locals who acted like that. The American unit we replaced did, too. So maybe there’s something to this, after all. And if the people who were there say this is what happened, who am I to say otherwise? When there’s no victor left to write a proper history, those of us still here should simply be thankful that any piece of the story remains.

While the American brushfire wars raged on in late 2006, the men of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment hunkered down for the winter in their combat outpost, a large compound in the center of a village. They knew that their enemy, the nameless and faceless and numberless insurgent, did not like to attack in weather this cold. This village, called Ashuriyah by the locals, sat close enough to Baghdad to be a part of the everlong sectarian battles, but far enough away that any connection with the great Iraqi metropolis, be them guerilla or counterinsurgent, got severed by sand dunes and isolation and apathy. The fact was, no war would be won or lost in Ashuriyah, but the fighting would continue there, nonetheless. Just not now. Not during the winter.
The men of Bravo Company knew this because Farrell had told them so. Farrell was one of their own, a staff sergeant who served as a squad leader for Bravo Company’s first platoon, but the local Iraqis called him “Shaba” – the Ghost. During a late-night mission, one of his many contacts had approached him at a street corner. In a hushed, whispered conversation, the contact explained that both the Shi’a insurgents of Jaish al-Mahdi and the Sunni insurgents of Al-Qaeda had brokered a temporary peace between one another for the upcoming three months. They had approached him, he explained to Farrell, “to learn if Shaba and the Americans wanted this peace, too. It is too cold to fight.”
Unlike every other soldier in Ashuriyah, Farrell didn’t need an interpreter to speak with the Iraqis. He had taught himself Arabic over the course of his previous deployment. It was a part of the reason the locals loved him and the insurgents feared him; they had never known an American who could communicate directly with them. On more than one occasion, he had learned the whereabouts of wanted men, simply by playing dumb and listening to the chatter of the populace, who had grown used to talking about the Americans right in front of their faces without them knowing about it. Due to his sharp black hair and brown skin and slight stature, many in the village even whispered that he was actually one of their own, the son of a rich Iraqi family that bought their way out of the Middle East to escape Saddam and his secret police. Actually half-Bolivian and half-Irish, when asked about his heritage, Shaba sometimes encouraged these rumors with a wink, though never with words. Those who knew him best described him as an emotional jack-in-the-box – no matter what poking and prodding occurred, he rarely expressed himself. When he did, such occurred on his own terms, and usually in a burst of raw spontaneity.
Farrell looked across the street at the two officers on the patrol – Captain Tilsdale and Lieutenant Robbins – and told his contact that, “yes, the Americans agree. We won’t attack as long as they don’t attack us.” Farrell knew that Lieutenant Robbins, his platoon leader, would understand and agree. Captain Tilsdale, Bravo Company’s commander and the ranking man in Ashuriyah, wouldn’t, but Farrell knew he wouldn’t even notice the protracted change in operations. The captain tended to spend his time and energy on preparing PowerPoint slides for meetings with Higher, and spent many days away from the outpost at the large forward operating base, located one hour away, where the comforts of hot showers and large chow halls and the gym existed.

   Later that night, while standing on the outpost’s roof, alone, Farrell explained the brokered deal to his lieutenant. He liked his platoon leader, but like he did with most officers, he found Lieutenant Robbins to be lazy and prone to utilizing delegation as a crutch.
“Sir,” Farrell said, “we only have five months left. This will cover most of that time. Bravo Company has already lost twelve men. We’ve done our part.”
“Hmm.” The lieutenant muttered while thinking, and hoped it made him sound pensive. He did not care for the war or about the war. He simply wanted to get home to his wife and two young sons, and get his soldiers home, too. He considered joining the military the biggest mistake of his life, and looked forward to crunching numbers mindlessly in a cubicle someday. Unlike the captain – who told all of his junior officers that true leaders of men were the biggest and strongest guys around – Lieutenant Robbins also didn’t care much for lifting weights. His body type resembled that of a roly poly, and the members of his platoon affectionately called him “Lieutenant Bitch Tits,” something he didn’t necessarily mind. He had heard worse nicknames for officers from soldiers.
“We’re not really setting up the next unit for success,” the lieutenant eventually said.
“Sir, you know how it is. They’re gonna get tested and blown up that first month, no matter what we do. It always happens. It happened with us and it’ll happen with them and it’ll happen with the guys that replace them.”
“Hmm.” The lieutenant tugged at his bottom lip and stroked his slung rifle. “Think they’ll stick to it?”
“The bad guys. Al-Qaeda. Jaish al-Mahdi. Think they’ll stick to it?”
Farrell leaned back, shrugged his shoulders, and pulled out a pouch of chewing tobacco. After putting a pinch in his mouth, he offered some to Lieutenant Robbins, who said no and shook his head. Farrell took a deep breath and then spoke in a slur, due to the wad of tobacco nestled in his cheeks. “I don’t know about the Shi’as. Jaish al-Mahdi – at least here – isn’t very well organized. But I think the Sunnis will. Sheik Ahmed made the call on this, not al-Qaeda. They’ll just have to go along with it. Even they won’t defy him.”
In an effort to avoid eye contact, both men looked out into the black, beyond the T-wall barriers and mazes of razor wire that surrounded the outpost. Pale, blinking lights were scattered sporadically across the village, as only those locals wealthy enough to purchase their own generators received consistent electricity.
   A blood moon hung over Ashuriyah, staining the horizon in a crusty splotch. Farrell remembered the last time he had seen a moon like this, back in Afghanistan, sometime in 2003. Or had it been 2004? The deployments were starting to blur.
“You trust Sheik Ahmed?” Lieutenant Robbins asked.
The lieutenant snickered, the type of snicker that betrayed a feeling other than amusement. “Be careful, Sergeant Farrell. Even though I’d swear under oath that I don’t, I know what’s going on and where you go at night after missions.” He rubbed his own arms and shivered, even though the winter’s chill this night could hardly be described as such. “It’s cold. I’m heading back inside. Remember, tomorrow morning’s patrol brief is at 10.”
Farrell avoided the temptation to blink, counted silently to three, and then spoke. “Hey, Sir,” he called out to the backside of his lieutenant, who subsequently turned around. “Listen to the village. No gunfire tonight.”
The lieutenant nodded. “I noticed. It’s a welcome change. But the guys will all figure it out. Don’t think they won’t. You should be the one to explain it to them, so they hear it from you and trust the change.” Then he spun back around and walked into the outpost. Farrell stayed on the roof.