Working on the Book

Guys,

Dawn is coming up here in Radcliff, Kentucky: its 5:45 A.M. I can hear the rumble of the early morning garbage truck outside my window of my house. A few minutes later, in the distance, I can hear the boom of the cannon marking another day beginning at nearby Fort Knox. Otherwise, things are quiet in the pre-dawn of another warm, summer morning.

From my desk, I can see the rooftop of the Patton Museum. It tells the story of the inspirational leader’s mad dash across Western Europe in World War II.

military_patton

To the right of the museum is the towered rooftop of the fortified vault of the United States Bullion Depository. It looks like a castle with the impression of strength and defiance surrounded by barbed wire fence.

fort_knox

 

Both are symbols of United States’ fortitude and power. I am surrounded and embraced in the American military-industrial complex even as a civilian.

I have been up all night trying to write my first book. My desk has books scattered across the top. I have organized stacks of files next to the books, more files and books are on the floor between my desks and chair. All are about the same subject: The American Experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some of the books tell-all autobiographies from generals all the way down to privates. They give firsthand accounts of the wars at all levels.

Other books are Maoist self-criticisms where the authors note where they were error, and how their experience in either war caused them to stray from their beliefs.

They have all one thing in common- they all seem to have started with “pure” motives, they were eventually “soiled” by their war experience, and now the book acts as a type of confessional for sins committed in the name of service to their country.

Some of them are good and some are cheesy, all are interesting. The books allow for criticism and the questioning of ideology.

Admitting and learning from mistakes is important. It allows you to change course without looking random or unprincipled.

Writing about anything as intimate as war is like writing about a love affair gone wrong, it’s messy and complicated. If the account is honest, it is an educational tool. It allows both the reader and the writer to discuss what happened and what can be done better next time.

It is an open and transparent discussion to share knowledge, admit mistakes and talk about solutions. That is what I am trying to do in the book.

I am about five chapters into the book. The bloody product is the result of about seventy hours of sleepless, foodless nights and high speed editing. It has been a knife fight in a telephone booth. It is the only way I know how to get things done.

I have a self-imposed deadline of six months of trying to get the book done. It is absolute chaos. I am thriving and the book is slowly, painfully coming together. It is a labor of love. A wild mixture of misery and agony, I am loving every moment of it.

Writing

I use my office at home like a work-hole. I hold-up in my room until all hours of the night trying to find the perfect description of what it was like to go to war, to love and to have lost, and to come home again.

I have a powerful aversion of doing anything but telling the truth. My computer is a hobbled together Toshiba laptop bought several lifetimes ago before a deployment. It needs a software update, but the Word option is flowing just fine.

Parts of the book come from an assortment of interviews that were dictated into an app on my phone.  Big chunks of my material come from my mad collection of books, articles and personal memorabilia of noteworthy things that happened in Afghanistan.

Stack-of-books-great-education

When I get writer’s block I start pacing the room, opening up random books looking for inspiration and drop them on the floor when I am done. I rush back to the computer to enter it into the manuscript before I lose the thought.

It goes straight into a cloud file every 10 minutes, so I don’t lose any of the important facts.

The Office

My home office looks like an academic meeting gone bad. I have 5 whiteboards that no one is allowed to touch- not that anyone else would care, lol. The whiteboard sessions help me to get into the weeds on the book and ask, “How and why are you writing this book?”

I thought of writing the book like a military strategy. I developed three lines of effort. One line was research. This included interviews and the checking of facts.

The second line was working on my writing skills. An undertaking of this magnitude deserved a good, solid storyteller to tell this great tale. The last was a systems approach to writing every day. This meant being honest and disciplined in everything I did.

Final Thoughts

As the sun begins to pop up over the horizon, you can tell we will have a blue sky on a hot, summer day. The lawn needs cutting, it is almost a foot high. The wood on my front porch is wet and mushy from the thunderstorm the night before. Kentucky gets hot summers and cold winters, but only a few inches of snow in December and January. This summer has been hot, muggy and wonderful and miserable all at once.

I better get back to work on the book. I have to edit the last few pages I typed. Huge chunks of it makes very little sense. This is the job in all its misery and glory. Miss you guys.

 

Dom

 

Book Review: Bugles and a Tiger by John Masters

Bugles and a Tiger

One of my heroes is a British Army Officer named John Masters. Masters was the fifth generation of his family, and also the last, to serve in India.

Masters was a soldier turned novelist. His lasting memorial is his loving, exuberant memoir of service with the Gurkha Rifles is called ‘Bugles and a Tiger.’ It was written in 1955. It ranks among one of the finest of all warrior narratives.

Book-Cover
Book Cover of “Bugles and a Tiger”

After distinguished service in Burma in World War II, at 35 years old he moved to the United States and took up writing.

His military career was notably colorful, but his lasting achievement was to preserve for the British experience in India in the mid-20th century in a succession of books. They are an elegy for Britain’s colonial experience in the subcontinent, and for the old Indian army- that was commanded by British Officers.

At the heart of his experience was his service with soldiers from Nepal who he came to love and admire for their toughness as well as bravery.

John Masters

Masters was born in Calcutta, India and joined the British Army as a 20 year old subaltern (cadet officer) in 1935. He served on and off in the North-West Frontier (modern day Pakistan) until 1939, and commanded a brigade in the Chindit Operation against the Japanese in Burma (same operation as Merrill’s Marauders) all before he was 30.

His dark skin and love for his indigenous soldiers that served with him gave rise to gossip among his enemies that he was not British at all but an Anglo-Indian and possessed of all the social embarrassments of the period, “a touch of the tarbrush,” (Hastings, 2007).

John Masters
John Masters

His forefathers and Masters had served through some of Britain’s toughest times. This slander of being of mixed race was almost too much for a man of his proud attitude to bear.

His sympathetic portrayal of his Gurkha soldiers is the basis for the book. He wrote about them:

“As I write these last words, my thoughts return to you who were my comrades, the stubborn and indomitable peasants of Nepal. Once more I hear the laughter with which you greeted every hardship. Once more I see you in your bivouacs or about your fires, on forced march or in the trenches, now shivering with wet and cold, now scorched by a pitiless and burning sun. Uncomplaining you endure hunger and thirst and wounds; and at the last your unwavering lines disappear into the smoke and wrath of battle. Bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had country more faithful friends than you,” (Masters, 1956).

Masters Experience in the Northwest Frontier, India (now Pakistan)

Some 75 years ago Masters was a young officer campaigning against the Pashtuns. Masters had some choice words in ‘Bugles and a Tiger’ about fighting the grandfathers and great-grandfathers of today’s Taliban, who are fighting American soldiers on the opposite of the Afghan Border.

The British would often recruit a Pashtun tribe to fight against other Pashtun tribes. A lot of the Afghan reputation for duplicity is probably undeserved.  An old Afghan saying is, “A smiling face may belief treachery.”   Another proverb about Afghans from India is, “You can rent an Afghan’s loyalty but you can’t buy it.”

In ‘Kim,’ the classic Kipling tale about India, the protagonist Kimball O’Hara tells his Afghan Mentor, Mahabu Ali the horse trader: “Trust a Brahmin before a harlot, a harlot before a snake, and a snake before an Afghan.”

Masters clearly admires the Pashtuns for their endurance and bravery he said of the Pashtuns that they could cover, “… enormous distances at high speed on foot,” Masters wrote. “Each man carried 30 or 40 rounds of ammunition, a water bottle, a bag of raisins, a few disks of unleavened bread, and a lump or two of course sugar … loping ceaselessly on at five miles an hour” for 20 or 35 miles at a time.

Masters has a lot of lessons to teach us about fighting a war in Afghanistan. Almost a century later, and no matter on what side of the Afghan border the Pashtuns fought, they have really never been restrained or defeated.

Impact

Most of Master’s other works are historical novels set in India. Using his own family history as an outline most of his works portrays the multi-generational members of the Savage family serving in the British and Indian Armies in India.

‘Bugles and a Tiger’ you get a love letter for the last days of the British Raj in India. It is the culmination of a young man learning how to be an officer on the eve of a world war that everyone knows is coming.

Gurkhas
Gurkhas in India

The book details Masters’ time at Sandhurst as a cadet trying to honor his family’s long history of military service. The other half of the book is about his service on India’s northwest frontier on the eve of the Second World War.

‘Bugles and a Tiger’ is among the finest portraits of the profession of arms ever written.

Bibliography:

Hastings, M. (2007). Warriors: Portraits from the Battle Field. New York : Vintage Publishing .

Masters, J. (1956). Bugles and a Tiger. New York City: Viking Press.

 

 

 

 

Captain Jon- The Roman

Jon: The Roman

The smartest man I know is my buddy Captain Jon. One of the great mysterious of studying history is how military leaders motivate people while in combat. His take on this subject is fascinating. He knows how to build and lead effective teams.

Jon’s Brilliance

Jon stands six foot four in his socks, a mountain of a man built like a thick, knobby tread tire that can physically chew his way through the toughest jobs. His size belays his incredible intelligence.

Jon is the finest historian I know. His brain is like a computer that sifts through facts and figures in record time. He comes to a conclusion in lighting speed.

Talking to Jon is like getting a class from an astronaut. He can explain gravity, physics and the time-space continuum in one breathe and then transition to organizational management and how it relates to an important, historic battle.

To say he is brilliant is an understatement.

Truth Teller

Jon is one of the most controversial and puzzling personalities I have ever met. He is a strong believer in the need for things to be efficient and direct. Jon takes on projects like like his life was preparation for Olympic trial.

Jon’s main problem is what people see as a lack of consideration or tact. In reality, it is a gift to tell the absolute truth despite the cost.

People are offended by Jon’s abruptness. Especially among his military peers or superiors who cannot match his quick and analytical brain.

He was the most intellectually satisfied and happy while in graduate school. He is a standout an unusual circle of friends. But he is one of the greatest friends I have ever had.

Traditional Guardsman

Jon is the embodiment of the traditional National Guardsman- a solid, middle-class guy who is the best of what the National Guard is all about. He was born and raised in Oregon.

He is the ordinary man that comes forward to lead armies of citizens against the enemies of America in a time of war.

Jon constantly talked to me about ideas of modern war. Not just tactics but organization of an army and the method of thinking of how to win a war in a counterinsurgency environment.

The Profession of Arms

Jon was a zealot convert to the profession of warfighting. He looked at war as a school that would teach him honor. He thought of it as a religious order. His only concern was leading his men well. He knew they were an irreplaceable treasure.

Jon learned his profession from an inspired mentor.

Major Doug Sloan

Major Doug Sloan was a rising star in the army. Sloan was the Commander of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion 32nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, NY. Jon met him in Afghanistan in 2006.

maj-douglas-emory-sloan
Captain Doug Sloan

It was in the Waygal district in Afghanistan’s far eastern province of Nuristan, where Jon learned about war. It was a region that had common roadside bombings, attacks and ambushes from seasoned, well-coordinated insurgent fighters.

The enemy was disciplined and attacked the remote American outposts almost daily.

Small contingents of Americans were advising Afghan Soldiers, acting as advisors to a battalion in the Afghan National Army.

The small, combat outposts were miles from the large, coalition military base at Camp Blessing. Almost daily the American and Afghan soldiers came under indirect fire that from a traveling mortar tube that was fired from the bed of a Toyota Hilux pick-up truck.

Map of Waygal
Waygal Valley, Nuristan, Afghanistan

The combat outposts were the size of small parking lots. The goal was to connect and provide security to the local populace while disrupting Taliban activity from the nearby Pakistan border.

The combat outposts had a handful of M114 armored Humvees. The Humvees had mounted heavy weapons- .50 caliber machine guns and MK-19 40mm automatic grenade launchers.

With their radios the Americans could call for many combat-multipliers- aircraft, artillery fires and plenty of reinforcements.

In military history, you find that the winner of battles is not the side that had the most tanks or fighting on the ground. In many cases, it was the commander who was better able to utilize the other “toys” he had to play this (Baillergeon & Sutherland, 2006).

In the end, it was these other toys that shifted the balance between losing and winning.

Lots of firepower in the outposts, but Jon learned that the most important weapon was visionary leadership.

Lessons from a Visionary Leader

Human capital is the productive potential of the individual’s knowledge and actions. It comes from selection of the right people. The second is to take an interest in the development of leaders.

Social capital comes from resulting from strong relationships, goodwill, trust and cooperative effort. Both of these are connected through organizational learning. In the army it is learning about how to lead men in tough places and bringing them home safely.

Sloane taught Jon that people, both individually and collectively, are the key to any organization’s success. Great units are great because the culture of the unit have resolve and humility. The key to great organizations is sustaining this culture.

He saw this potential in Jon. Spending time with him was an upfront investment in time and effort. Sloane knew it was a valuable expenditure of time. It was important because leadership is what makes the difference.

Characteristics of a Successful Leader

Sloane was a dynamic leader. He was mischievous and charming in equal measure. He was a charismatic jokester who loved sophomoric humor.

The other side was a calm, cool decisive leader who set the standard for the men in his command. This included a lone 2nd Lieutenant from the Oregon Army National Guard on his first combat tour.

Sloane spent hours teaching Jon the “big picture” of the strategy of Afghanistan. How it related to this small, forgotten outpost surrounded by mountains where they got shot at every day.

Major Sloane was killed by an IED while showing his replacement around the battle space. The fierce care he had for his soldiers was recognized and felt by all those that served him. Men like him are the kind that America’s sends to war. They are the best our nation as to offer.

Jon never forgot him what the easy-going Major taught him. He spoke of those lessons often.

Doug with his family
Doug with his family

Jon’s Lessons:

  1. Professional Reading

Jon taught me that as a leader you can never spend too much time thinking about your profession as a leader of soldiers. What General Shinseki said was, “There is no better way to develop the knowledge and confidence required of that vocation than a disciplined, focused commitment to a personal course of reading and study.”

  1. Study the Past

He taught me to examine the past to consider the future. Professional readings deepen our understanding of the timeless constants of the Army’s values and traditions.

The human face of battle is an enduring dynamic of your our future. The knowledge gained through reading history gives you the potential to apply those lessons the profession of arms and in your daily life.

  1. Compassion

Jon told me about one book that changed my view of leadership. Jim Collins’ book ‘Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t’ is illuminating. Jon once told me, “Compassion is a mental awareness of a concern for the suffering of others. What a leader should aspire to do is to see that suffering is relieved.”

  1. Loyalty

Jon’s greatest and most noble trait is his loyalty. Loyalty has many synonyms- trust and commitment. All of these are the glue that holds relationships together. All teams as well as organizations hang together or fall apart because loyalty.

March 2010 to April 2012

I spent two years in Afghanistan. Jon sent me a package once a month. Once a week he sent a letter and constant Facebook updates. I never felt forgotten. It showed the best side of Jon.

I am proud to call such a great man my friend.

The Indiana World War Memorial

Indianapolis, IN- January 5, 2015

Guys,

This weekend I was in Indianapolis and went to the Indiana World War Memorial Plaza. The highlight was the War Memorial Building that is the centerpiece of the plaza. It is a patriotic memorial with a shrine room, auditorium and a first-rate military museum.

The Museum

The War Memorial Building is a huge monument with several stories- more about this later. On the lower level of the monument is the museum. The museum chronicles and honors Hoosier (Indiana native) service men and women from the American Revolutionary War to our modern conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Civil War, World War I and World War II are the wars most prominently featured. Throughout the exhibit are pictures, flags and firearms from all our nation’s wars.

The museum director, Mr. Ethan Wright, was generous enough to give me a three hour tour of the museum. He showed me over 30 of the 400 flags from the American Civil War, an impressive exhibit of the USS Indianapolis which includes original equipment from World War II, and decorations and materials donated from several states. I was humbled and awed by the tour.

Indywarmem
The Indiana World War Memorial Plaza

The Shrine

The majority of the monument is the Shrine Room. It is a 100 feet high and 60 feet on four sides. It’s accessed from the main foyer. This part of the museum has large marble floors and Art Deco Egyptian themes so popular in the 1920’s.

The marble walls bear all the names of Hoosiers who fought and died in World War I. On the sides are paintings are all the leading generals of the Allied Powers. Surrounding the room is a marble frieze depicting World War I.

Hanging above the room is a huge 17 foot-by-30 foot American flag. Above the flag is the Star of Destiny- a huge chandelier made of Swedish crystal which represents the future of the nation.

It was an impressive and humbling sight. It is a fitting memorial to those who served in World War I.

Indy War Memorial Shrine Room
The Shrine Room

The American Citizen-Soldier

The citizen soldier is and has always been the mainstay of the military might of the United States. Some emergencies are too great for the regular forces to handle. The concept of the National Guard started on the frontier of the growing country of the colonial United States more than 200 years ago.

Today’s National Guardsmen can trace his military ancestry back to the Revolutionary War. Historical documents are spotty. Semi-literate farmers had better things to do than keep records.

In many frontier states before and after the Revolutionary War took on the formal status of forming local regiments of companies. All males from16 to 50 were eligible for call-up.

There didn’t wear formal uniforms and had to provide their own arms. Men would meet for on occasional Sunday mornings to drill for a few hours before attending church. Militia duty was considered a serious duty in a society under constant Indian attacks.

The militiamen would attend church fully armed. Men who were absent from drill were fined .50 cents. Men who had an interest in public office gravitated to leadership positions. Small units had their officers elected by their men.

Dozens of men who served in these early units become influential men in public life, many of them were our first Presidents all the way through the Civil War.

Inspiration

I love the museum. It shows the valor and sacrifice of the Hoosiers who had rendered impressive service to our country. The museum helped to inspire me. It gave me a true understanding and appreciation of the privileges of being an American.