Captain Phil Esposito and Iraq- Part 4

This is a series I had started on my buddy Phil. He was killed in Iraq, 10 years ago. We have driven halfway from Kuwait to our destination of Tikrit, Iraq. We are about to enter Baghdad.

How Did I Get Here?

Baghdad, February 1, 2005– I made a Faustian bargain to go to war. I volunteered to deploy as an active-duty augmentee to a National Guard unit.

The Headquarters, 42nd Infantry Division, New York Army National Guard was a great unit. It fought with distinction in both world wars and was among the first responders of 9/11.

When I reported in to the unit in the summer of 2004, it was light years from where I wanted to be. If I controlled my fate, I’d be blazing across the Iraqi desert atop an Infantry Fighting Vehicle, raining hate and discontent on Islamic insurgents near some unpronounceable village.

I would be wearing the Combat Infantryman’s Badge that I earned leading my company to glory, while defending America from evil. I’d be smiling from ear to ear like a kid who just scored a date with the prom queen.

Instead, I was assigned to a National Guard Division Staff. One of a dozen Captains assigned the boring job of studying maps, making coffee and useless PowerPoint Slides. I was bored to death, until now.

The Unit

The unit was mostly made up of cops and firemen of New York City. We had a healthy mix of mechanics, teachers, and even a few lawyers in the mix. Like most Guard units they came from every walk of life. Phil was a Wall Street stockbroker from a working middle-class neighborhood.

They had seen a lot and done a lot since the war started.

Most of the men were in their late 30’s to early 40’s and had 20 years or more in the National Guard. Most were Irish, Italian, Black and Puerto Rican or a mix of all four.

With receding hairlines and a little overweight, it seemed more like a class reunion of over the hill football jocks than a unit at war, I fit right it.

The distinct New York City accent filled the air with sharp edges and lots of “Fuhgeddaboudits” first thing in the morning as we got the vehicles ready. It felt like “The Sopranos” in Iraq.

They were direct, opinionated and confident. They talked a lot and loudly. They were streetwise, kind and self-aware. They came to Iraq to do a job.

Now the job required us to drive north. We were about to roll into the once forbidden city of Baghdad, the center of the war.

Getting Ready

The 3/7 CAV commander was a slender, soft-spoken man with a sharp New England accent. With his retreating black hairline and clipped phrases where he forgot his “r’s” he seemed more like an academic than a military commander.

He and Phil were pouring over a military map that took up half the hood of a Humvee. It laid underneath a plastic lamination cover held to a large clipboard with alligator clips.

It looked like a four year old’s painting gone bad with lines and scribble marks in different colors. The map has no civilian markings, no neighborhoods, and no exit signs just numbers and grid squares.

The Lieutenant Colonel had been here before, two years ago. In 2003, he had been a major blazing away in a tank on the 3rd Infantry Division’s famed “Thunder Run” to capture Baghdad. He remembered the route into the city.

We planned on cutting through the southwest corner of Baghdad.

He points to a jumble of twisting overpasses and off-ramps on Baghdad’s western border. He says, “Here, at this Spaghetti Junction,” pointing to the center of the maze with his pen, “this will be where we head east and you head north.”

Phil agreed and said to roll in 30 minutes.

It was 3:30am. We were 30 miles south of Baghdad and about to get our war on.

Baghdad

The black night sky gave way to the harsh glare of the desert sun as dawn approached. In a vast desert landscape Baghdad was an oasis of flowing rivers and green trees. We were back in civilization.

The training wheels had come off. We were on the edge of one the largest cities in the Middle East.

Baghdad was a world unto itself as it began to wake-up. It was a relentless visual blitz of new sights, sounds, and smells all competing for your attention. The city was coming alive with the activity of a new day, call of pre-dawn prayers and vendors opening shops.

It was a spectacular mix of sounds, eye-popping new sights and cringing smells.

We past blue Arabic signs with white English writing on the bottom. The pungent smell of the dead hung low mixed with the sick, sweet odor of burning garbage. You could taste, burning plastic.

The men wear colorful head dresses of red and white wrapped across their faces, it can’t keep out the smell. We see families digging through piles of rubble and debris.

On the edge of the city we pass, low-built clay houses. In the pre-dawn light kids are carrying buckets of water and the houses are dark, so they have no running water and no electricity.

The remains of a dead loved one are placed in a pink floral comforter and carried off down the road. Kids play with makeshift toys made from cans and leftover items from trash on the side of the road.

A bulldozer beeps in the distance.

IED!

Suddenly there is a loud explosion in the southbound lane. A parked small car the size of a Toyota Corolla bursts into flames. A fireball erupts, sending a big cloud of black smoke billowing into the sky.

Our convoy slows from 40 mph to 20 mph as we maneuver around a collision barrier. The steady chatter on the radio grows frantic and speeds up. Instantly there is a loud burst of machine gun fire. It’s all training and adrenaline as we react.

The sounds of combat are like industrial sound effects. Reviving of engines and loud unexpected noises. The only constant sound is the rat-a-tat beat of machine gun fire resembling a metal press and men yelling over chaos.

We have no casualties. Phil’s calm voice on the radio urging everyone to push past the burning car.

This was war in living color. A blur of suspicious eyes, push broom mustaches and upraised hands, screaming in Arabic while drinking steaming cups of tea. We pass them quickly, shocked looks cross their faces.

Cars in the southbound lane screeched to a halt or drove onto the shoulder and abruptly stop. Iraqi cars are leaking fuel, spread a trail of liquid following them as they drive down the road hurrying to escape the confusion. This is nothing new for them.

We pull over to the side of the round half a mile away from the explosion. Gunfire has died down, shots released in pent up rage and fear.

At the head of the column Phil hears from me and the other serial commander that we have no casualties or damage to our trucks. I am still pinned to my seat. The explosion was less than a minute ago, but it seems much longer. So much has happened, so much has changed.

A Blackhawk helicopter flies over and we hear another, smaller explosion in the distance. I look around where we pulled over, I see more clay houses. Squat, one story buildings with beige walls. Shards of broken glass at the base of the buildings from blown out windows.

There are flip-flops, shreds of clothes, broken clay blocks, and pieces of twisted metal caked with dirt. Explosions are nothing new for this small corner of the war in Iraq.

In the courtyard I see black flags and light brown colored walls with groves of date palms and thick underbrush but no people. I am trying to slow my breathing.

Welcome to Baghdad

A complicated, academic argument of why we’re in Iraq has is reduced to the mind numbing terror of survival.

Without excitement each day of a deployment is an eternity. I got what I wanted- the high octane mix of adrenaline, excitement and ceaseless action and now I want to go home. I am scared witless with no idea what to do.

All thoughts of a brave, calm response left my brain and body with the confusion and noise of the explosion. I am deeply ashamed at my lack of courage. I remind myself I have a job to do. Thank God, no one was hurt.

I assure myself, it will be different next time. The only difference will be the size of the explosion and the country. My cowardly response is always the same.

Not for the first time I think, “What I am doing here? This is not the place I should be.” This is a constant mantra throughout my military career.

The blinding, white heat of the sun just popped over the horizon. The sun is so bright it makes the grass yellow. This experience, although small and unromantic, had seared itself into my brain. We rally and continue to drive north.

“Welcome to Baghdad,” I thought.

Captain Phil Esposito and Iraq- Part 3

National Guard vs Active Duty

Camp Buehring, Kuwait, January 28, 2005 – We linked up with 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart, GA. The unit was headed to Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah in southeast Baghdad.

They joined us, taking our convoy from 64 trucks to over 90, stretching a mile long. 3/7 CAV had a storied history. Two years earlier, in the initial invasion, it was the lead element of the 3rd Infantry Division’s charge across Iraq, ending in the capture of Baghdad.

Now, the Squadron was “light cavalry,” replacing their tanks with trucks. The combat veterans of the Battle of Baghdad were not happy “escorting” a National Guard unit.

Just out of earshot, they called the citizen-soldiers “the Nasty Guard.”

The active army thought the part-time soldiers of the National Guard were only half as good as “real active-duty soldiers.” Controversies over the Guard state of readiness and active-duty double standards for mobilized Guardsmen fed this impression.

The National Guard had an inferiority complex. They felt they got little recognition for their sacrifices when, on short notice, they were uprooted from the civilian lives to serve as soldiers. Both stereotypes had grains of truth.

Very Different Units

The two units were very different.

The new trucks of the 3/7 CAV had only a dozen miles and seemed to sparkle with freshness in the desert sun. They had modified Humvees with improved armor, high-grade steel plating, ballistic glass and .50 caliber machine guns.

The Guard had hand-me-down trucks with tens of thousands of hard miles. Armed with wielded scrap metal doors, Kevlar vests, sandbags and plywood we looked like Mad Max cars headed to a demolition derby. We had 6 gun trucks for over 60 vehicles.

Everything had was begged, borrowed and “found” at Camp Buehring. Despite running the same dangerous missions, incurring the same casualties the National Guard got antiquated equipment that was inferior to our active-duty counterparts.

Just across the border of Iraq, 3/7 CAV’s vehicles started to break down. One of the Humvees was left at Camp Cedar, our first stop. The batteries weren’t keeping a charge, the truck was losing communications.

Another 3/7 CAV Humvee had problems with its transmission. As we started to move again, another truck overheated.

Phil led a group of “Nasty Guard” mechanics over to the vehicle. The vehicle couldn’t drive. A Guard Humvee hooked a chain to the broken 3/7 CAV truck to tow it and we were off again.

Maintenance issues, morale problems and boredom were taking their toll on the “Liberators of Baghdad.” All our secondhand trucks kept on driving.

I heard the radio chatter of different voices. The dialogue was straight out of a war movie. “Bravo 1, sees a man on the side of the road.” Phil answers back, “Roger, Bravo 1.”

The constant babble of the early morning was now clipped and crisp. We were learning and getting better.

Camp Scania

Shortly after 4pm, we pulled into Camp Scania. We had been on the road for nearly 12 hours on what should have been a 6 to 7 hour drive. We were exhausted.

Scania had the ambiance of a landfill. It was a walled community, like a prison, but here the guards faced out instead of facing in. The camp was only the size of three football fields. One side of the base was the fuel point and the other side was the logistics center.

It existed only as a truck stop along MSR Tampa on Iraq’s main highway. American convoys stopped here to refuel, use the small PX, take a short shower, sleep and get on the road again.

No luxuries like candy bars or cappuccinos.

We pulled the vehicles into a vacant large and parked side-by-side. Some soldiers slept on vehicles, others on cots. We looked like a Gypsy camp spread over a field.

Our temporary parking lot took up a third of the camp. We refueled, set up cots next to our trucks to sleep out in the open, under the stars. We grabbed a quick dinner and settled in for another grueling day tomorrow.

I looked around and saw soldiers shaving, talking and heating coffee on small fires made from old MRE containers. We were here for a few hours so everyone was prepared to move on a moment’s notice. I sat on my cot with the sound of the engine ticking and cooling beside me.

The War Movie Experience

Phil came by. Without his helmet and body armor he looked small, almost frail, the exhaustion and the grime on his face made him look old. He had a big smile.

He said, “How do you think today went?” I smiled back and said, “It couldn’t have been better.” I was impressed, by Phil, by our soldiers and how well things were going.

I marveled at what we had done. We were here, in Iraq, we had seen it and done it. It was hard to believe. We felt like a group of salty, grizzled, combat veterans who had survived our first battle.

The truth was we had only driven 200 miles into Iraq, something that hundreds of thousands soldiers did every day. But at the moment we felt elated.

It was strange that a group of Guard soldiers would travel 4,000 miles to experience this. It seemed like a war movie, surreal and exciting but disappointing with boredom and heat.

We jumped from civilian life into the army. A quick shift from a daily life of families and a job, to uniforms, guns and Iraq. Now the comforts of home were long gone. Your ear had to reacquaint with the foreign language of acronyms the army loves. Sleeping out in the open with a gun made it real.

As our small parking lot got dark you heard the sound of deep, loud snoring of exhaustion.

We were 60 miles south of Baghdad. From Baghdad, we would head north for the last 85 miles to Tikrit.

 

 

Captain Phil Esposito and Iraq- Part 2

The Plan

As the convoy commander Phil planned our adventure according to a schedule set far ahead of time. He knew it had to be timed, for everything to mesh.

The first part of the plan was tough. We had started with 70 soft-skinned trucks and Humvees. By the time we got done cannibalizing for parts we ended up with 64 vehicles in the convoy, dived into three serials.

Outfitted with “hillbilly armor,” our trucks had an add-on of steel-plated doors and “Gypsy racks”- steel cages to protect the gunner. A lot of our material came from a local landfill where we found scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to armor-up our trucks.

We put sandbags in the foot wells to stop any debris from explosions. With the armor, our bags tied to the outside of the vehicles we looked like a dozen versions of the Clampett truck from “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Every third vehicle in the convoy had heavy machine guns for protection.

As the plan came together Phil said, “This is some Mel Gibson ‘Road Warrior’ stuff.” I had to agree.

We were bound for Tikrit, 85 miles north of Baghdad. We would use Main Supply Route Tampa, the military’s main supply route in Iraq, passing through Iraq’s largest cities including Baghdad.

He thought of every detail on a timetable from fuel, to rest times and ammo. He got ideas from everyone- his mechanics, his men and, most important- his First Sergeant.

Lance was a grizzled, salty soldier, a bear of a man who talked like a truck driver, straight and profane. Later, he would be one of my greatest friends.

Moving Out

It was a 20 mile stretch of unpaved, bumpy road from Buehring to the four lane super highway leading to Iraq. We moved to “Navistar.”

The ride from Camp Buehring took about an hour. The excitement about going to Iraq came to a halt while we refueled.

Navistar is the last stop in Kuwait before going over the border to Iraq. It looked like a huge American truck stop in the middle of the desert with dozens of fuel pumps, wash racks and tire changing stations.

The terrain surrounding Navistar was just more desert located about a half mile from the main highway.

Phil and I went into the Navistar Office to pore over last-minute reports. We got updates about roadside bombs and ambushes in the last 24 hours.

We set the trucks in a long line. It reminded me of waiting to pay a highway toll. The soldiers got out of the trucks and took off their body armor and adjusted gear that had shifted on the drive from Buehring.

“Get some sleep. We’re leaving at ‘O Dark Thirty’,” Phil said, using the army’s fictional time for the middle of the night. We grabbed some chow and laid down for a nap.

Everyone dug into their packs for the keepsakes that soldiers always carry with them. They took out Bibles, notebooks, novels, toothpaste and razors to take care of hygiene and pictures of loved ones.

The Shia in Southern Iraq

Our convoy stretched for more than a half-a-mile. Phil set a pace of 30 mph to conserve on fuel and allow for a reaction time if anything happened.

The war was almost 2 years old when we crossed from Navistar, Kuwait into Iraq. Anderson, my driver, said, “This place looks like a beach with no ocean.” Driving through pitch darkness in the middle of the night is tough. You can’t see anything in front of you or out to the sides.

As dawn hit flat, empty desert turned greener as we traveled north. Southern Iraq is brown, dusty and barren, but not as desolate as Kuwait. At first, we saw nothing but the occasional shepherd and flocks of sheep, goats and camels.

This is where the fleeing Iraqi Army was destroyed on the “Highway of Death.” Burned out hulks of trucks and shell-shattered vehicles with personal belongings were strewn all over the sides of the roads. There was garbage everywhere.

I smelled burnt kabobs, burning plastic all mixed in with the sick, sweet smell of a landfill. I wore a bandanna around my nose and mouth to keep out the dust and odor of the place, it didn’t help. The air tasted metallic like diesel fuel that made it hard to breathe.

 

The convoy had to dodge rocks, mounds of garbage, blocks of concrete and tires all placed in the road to slow us down. Not to blow up, but for us to pass stuff out.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, shoeless, dirty Iraqi kids lined the roads with hands out as though on drill. They greeted us with smiles, peace sounds and screams of, “America is Number 1,” or “We love Georgie Bush,” as we drove past.

Anderson said, “Look at their feet. These kids don’t have any shoes.”

Women approached, but were almost completely covered, the only thing you saw were small parts of their dusty faces. Men walked by wearing red and white checkered head scarves, full length threadbare white gowns and tattered sandals. They were missing teeth or fingers giving us thumbs up or smiles up as we went north.

Dogs were everywhere. They wandered around pitifully looking for food. They trotted back and forth sniffing old garbage. Sprawled grotesquely on the roadside were bodies of dead cats and dogs in the sand or half hidden by garbage and sparse grass just beyond the road.

Two hours into the drive, we hit Camp Cedar, the first stop just outside Al Nasiriyah. Here we saw palm trees, bright green bushes and larger, healthier farm animals with fewer kids begging for water. We passed mud huts and torn tents large enough for a family.

Al Nasiriyah is where Jessica Lynch was captured and the Marines fought a hard battle in the beginning of the war. We stopped at Camp Cedar, for fuel and took a small break before heading north to Camp Scania near Babylon.

Baghdad is where the fun began.

Phil

Phil was a modest man. He thought of this mission as the most important thing he would do, a small step on the long staircase of getting his soldiers home.

There was real nobility in what Phil did. It seems that war denotes nobility, yet in his actions deep nobility was there. It was about caring for his soldiers, making sure they came home with their bodies and minds intact.

Captain Phil Esposito and Iraq- Part 1

Camp Buehring, Kuwait- January 2005

Writing about Phil so many memories have crept in. I want these posts to be a gritty, uncompromising account of my time in Iraq and a way to remember a friend.

I admired his ability to plan and motivate soldiers who were in the same situation he was. He could relate to everyone. He had the common touch.

Phil was an everyday man, an ordinary man living in extraordinary circumstances. He was a stockbroker born and bred in New York City. He had a young family of a loving wife and little girl. He was a modest man who did something important and impressive.

Remembering the Fallen

Sometimes we place the dead on high pedestals. Grief, time, and the adding of heroic virtue all blur the memory, flatten out the flaws and sharp edges. Phil was brilliant and hard working. He was also quiet and had a stoic gentleness.

Phil was never a guy to stand-up and beat his chest. He was the guy you almost forgot about while he worked hard. With the job done, he shook your hand in his bone crushing grip, smiled and went on to the next task.

Camp Buehring, Kuwait- January 2005

Camp Udairi was named Camp Buehring when we arrived in Kuwait. It was located 40 miles from the Iraq border. The sprawling desert camp is far from home and the friends and families back home. We feel like we are on the far side of the moon in the middle of nowhere.

Since opening in January, 2003, it has been a busy hub for supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Camp Buehring had a transient feel to it. The chow-hall is one of the largest facilities on the camp. It feeds several thousand troops at every meal. The line nearly always extends several hundred feet beyond the entrance and, despite six food lines. Sometime you endure a long an hour long wait to eat.

Vehicles sat in about a two dozen single-file lines on a sandy staging behind the camp. Despite waiting to go north to Iraq, we were never idle. While at Buehring we use the time to conduct briefings about upcoming missions in Iraq, do some training, and stock up on stores and ammo.

What I remember most about Phil is his idealism and earnestness. While looking at a parking lot of broken down Humvees and trucks in Kuwait he told to me we were driving them north.

We were to fly to Iraq. I looked at him and said, “Phil, you a have a company of clerks, mechanics and cooks, not infantrymen. You cannot take them north in these pieces of junk trucks. They can’t do the mission.”

He looked at me solemnly and said, “Dom, this is the mission. We got to do it and we got to do it with these vehicles. I need your help. You can sell ice cream to Eskimos.”

Phil was asking a friend to help him in a tough mission, but also a company commander using all his resources. A war gaming session with Phil and a handful of key NCOs made an initial inventory of what resources we needed, and a roster of personnel. After four hours we had a plan to drive to Tikrit.

At first, everyone was against the plan for the same reasons I was. Phil let everyone have a say, he addressed their concerns, made lists and talked out each point.

By the end of the meeting he didn’t just have everyone’s buy-in, he had us all excited about the amazing adventure we were on. He said, “This is the first and most exciting thing we will do in Iraq. The rest of the tour will be downhill.”

What we planned made me excited and scared. We all knew once we got to Tikrit, we would be pushing paperwork. Phil had set the tone for the whole thing.

A True Believer

He wanted to keep his soldiers safe in Iraq. Iraq was to be his last mission. Once he got home, he was going to leave the National Guard.

Phil and another man named Lou Allen were murdered on June 7, 2005. I never knew Lou but I loved Phil.

My admiration for him made me take his awful job as Company Commander of HHC, 42nd Infantry Division when he died.

I charged the man who murdered him and I oversaw his company for the remaining six months in Iraq. In 2008, his murderer was acquitted at Fort Bragg, NC.

It was a devastating blow for both me and the families of those brave men. It made all the sacrifice in Iraq seem almost worthless and all for nothing.

Phil’s Story

Phil took a National Guard company of clerks, cooks and mechanics in broken down, second hand vehicles through Iraq. This was not an elite unit of the “tip of the spear” soldiers, but a group of American citizen-soldiers far from home.

It was the Headquarters Company of a National Guard Division. He did it with style, grace and a little bit of luck.

Phil got his entire unit 500 miles from Kuwait to Tikrit, Iraq in 4 days of harrowing adventures and close calls. He did it because he was a great leader.

The Why

This is a retelling of the war people hardly ever hear about. The point of view of the National Guard soldier on the ground: the non-commissioned officers and company grade officers doing a vague mission with inferior equipment.

Phil’s story is a universal war tale, it captures the heart of what it meant to be a National Guard soldier in Iraq- a good man swept up in a violent conflict in a turbulent era of our country’s history.

The nature of the war changed dramatically the year we were in Iraq. We faced indicators of what was to come: insufficient supplies, conflicting orders, unknown enemies, a growing insurgency with civilians caught in the middle.

Phil’s story is particularly impressive. He was an every man who came to stand for the qualities that I associated with universal man at war- brave, tragic, idealistic, and dedicated.

By writing about him I am attempting to find meaning in my own experiences. My time in Iraq almost mirrored the war itself in 2005- a constant change in strategy, a few days prep time in Kuwait, a hell-bent drive north, the atypical use of National Guardsmen.

This is not about politics, it has no purpose here. Phil’s story is about how the brave men and women of the National Guard to respond to the crisis, just as they have done since 9/11.

The Drive Up

Our drive to Tikrit was like a dysfunctional family road trip. Phil was the dad who kept the road trip on schedule. I was the mom who chattered and nagged. The rest of company were our kids, impatient to get to Tikrit and get “their war started.”

There were fears and humor as I reflect back on our Gypsy way of life heading north in our collection of Clampett trucks from “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Humor was the coping mechanism for the extreme situations we faced, it’s how we beat boredom mile after mile in the heat and the desert of Iraq.

Painting with words

Painting with words

The real purpose of these posts to share my life with my readers. I want it want to be a canvas where I can paint my picture every day. An old Picasso trick was to take out some paint and splash it around before getting down to the “serious work.” Another metaphor for from my buddy Mike would be to fire a couple of rounds to “warm-up” up your gun, lol.

The task of trying to write a book has paralyzed for me a long time. Especially a book about my Team in Afghanistan in 2008. Just the size of the task is daunting. Trying to take coherent shapes of half-remembered times, peoples and heartbreaking emotions is hard. Putting all those events in order to make an enjoyable book that does honor to my friends is a tough job.

I finally feel ready and up to the task. It took six years, four moves and more than a little heartbreak to get here. But here we are and I wanted to mark the journey every day “to splash a little paint around.”

I have always loved to write. Words have always come naturally. All of my poor readers know how much I love to talk. Well words have always flowed, but now, with the book, it is not the time to “let it all hang out.” It is time to get to work. To do what I feel like I was born to do- To tell a story.

The one condition I have above all is to tell the truth. Any historian, writer or good man wants to do that. I see myself in this task in the order listed above. I will strive towards that goal. I will make it my handrail throughout this historic and significant endeavor.

Editing

The most laborious is not actually writing, but what Hemingway called his, “… endless pruning of words.” Rewriting is the essence of writing. Good writing becomes great writing through exhaustive editing.

Good writers welcome the gift of the word processor where they are able to endlessly fuss over their sentences- revising and reshaping- without the drudgery of retyping. The real secret is to keep it simple while trying to convey something profound.

Using short, declarative sentences with an athletic prose is what I am trying to do. To be good at something, you just have to practice a lot. You guys are the start of that each and every day. All while using a terse, direct and simple style that is a pleasure to read (hopefully- followed by Dominic’s nervous laughter).

Writing as a vocation

There are schools of writers out there that believed to be a true “artist” you have to suffer. You’re agonizing over your work is a sign of your commitment and enduring as a true “professional.”

Others think that writing is a fun and easy. I tend to land in both camps. There is a little honesty in both ideas, but the truth falls in the middle.

Writing can be hard and lonely. There are times when the words seldom flow. The editing sucks because it’s like “… killing your darlings,” to quote Mr. Hemingway, but it is always worth it.

One of the easiest ways to understand something is to use a metaphor. That’s what makes stories and parables so fun and attention getting. Writing is like doing Insanity or P90X (… more about that later). It is tough while you are doing it, but you are always glad later that you did.

The professional writer must establish a daily schedule and stick to it. Writing is a craft (I actually believe it is a “calling” of a higher order), not an art. You can’t run away from your craft when the going gets tough. Just because you lack inspiration you write every day because it is your job. You learn to do just like any other job.

Where the readers, come in

I am a Soldier. Long before I wanted to do this “writing thing” I was a Soldier. I need the structure and discipline of military life more than ever. I respect, trust and admire all of you. I know I am a moderately talented writer, but I have squandered my gift for far too long. I need some help.

I would like these posts to act as a sort of cadre and accountability for me to write every day. I know that what I say and write will stay here. For my amigos in Afghanistan it will be a daily dose of Oto. For the guys in the States it will serve to keep me on track when I periodically post.

I will also try to go through in a little literature to increase our knowledge. It will force me to prep these emails. Before you know it, I will have you all droning on like Frasier Crane to his brother Niles about the Opera and Literature.

Endings

Endings are important. An entire movie or novel can be ruined by a disappointing ending. How something ends is usually how you remember it. So tying up loose ends, whether it is in a book, plot or simply an email is important. Every great beginning should have an awesome ending.

In these posts I will attempt to establish my literary greatness. So later when I am crowned “The Monarch of American Letters,” have won the Nobel Prize for Literature and wrote the definitive history of the American Military Adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan (which I will receive the Pulitzer Prize, of course) you can show them you got a daily email from “The Man.’

‘The Dark Tower’ by Stephen King- “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

I am going to use an old Hemingway technique for writing. He would always stop by leaving a sentence unfinished. The Dark Tower by Stephen King is important because….

 

Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities program

EBV and the MHV Website

I got accepted into the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities program last year. It offers cutting edge training in entrepreneurship and small business management to disabled veterans who served in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The intent of the EBV Program is to open the door to entrepreneurial opportunity and small business ownership to veterans. It does it by developing the participants’ competencies and activities associated with creating an entrepreneurial venture.

My buddy Alex, a 2013 graduate of the program, suggested I apply and I got in.

I always wanted to write full-time. Blogging professionally allows me to do both.

I have been writing on several niche sites as a “guest blogger” for a year with mixed response. A friend recommended a book and the rest is history. My website is:

www.militaryhistoryveteran.com

I call it MHV for short.

I built it using a program called “Wordpress.” It is still a little rough. All the emails I send to you will find their way to MHV, in one form or another. The website has five categories:

  1. Military History 2. Writing 3. Small Business Info 4. Veteran Issues 5. Book Reviews

The Idea of a Blog to Make Money

I know that blogging is an unconventional business idea, but there are direct ways and indirect ways to make money from one’s blog.

Direct Monetization:

>>Advertising- By selling ad space on your blog.

>>Sponsorships- I am endorsed by several Veteran Advocacy Groups.

>>Affiliate commissions- As my blog content grows I have attracted a following and other places that I write.

>>Paid reviews- I have a request in with Amazon to become a book reviewer of military history books.

Indirect Monetization:

>>Freelance writing contracts- I write content for several blogs and make $20 to $30 dollars a post.

>>Book deals- I am writing on a book about a National Guard Team in Afghanistan in 2008 and a Marine Sniper in Iraq.

>>Speaking engagements- I have spoken at several gatherings for veterans on about Iraq, Afghanistan and Veteran Issues.

>>Consulting opportunities- I am helping a friend with his business’ social media plan

>>Sell your own products- I am working on producing an e-book for my website.

After reading my business summary the EBV committee became believers that blogging was something to consider as a business idea.

The Crash

I started off badly. I relished my new-found freedom without the restraints of a 9 to 5 job. I began sleeping in every day. I was awake around noon.

I later learned self-discipline, and can now safely say that I am up by about 6am. I try something every day.

Why is self-discipline important? Because it determines your income. The early bird catches the worm. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of not having a weekly or monthly paycheck, but they hate their jobs at the same time.

Not for me. Like any other entrepreneur, I am comfortable with being uncomfortable, and I love every single day of “work” (even if I have to “work” on weekends!)

Purdue University

An important part of the EBV program is a nine-day residency course on the campus of Purdue University. You learn directly from faculty and industry leaders.

Purdue is in the beautiful city of West Lafayette, IN about 65 miles northwest of Indianapolis and 126 miles southeast of Chicago. The Battle of Tippecanoe where William Henry Harrison, the future 9th President of the United States, defeated Indian Chief Tecumseh in 1811, is 8 miles north of the campus.

It is a beautiful campus located at the crossroads of America. It looks a lot like other land-grant universities I have been to.

What made Purdue different was the amount of international students. The student body is more than 31% of international students. Mostly from Asian countries like China, Indonesia and throughout the Middle East. Engineering is the big program at the school.

You can tell because the large buildings override the landscape. All the “other” majors are in these small, efficient one story buildings that look like doctor offices.

The five buildings that make up “Engineering Mall” are these huge four story, state-of- the-art structures that were all built in the last ten years. They truly dominate the skyline at Purdue.

The Drive

The drive from Fort Knox, KY, where I used to live, to Chicago is breathtaking. The change from the green, rolling hills of Northern Kentucky to the open, grass-covered, treeless landscape of Central Illinois is extreme and stunning.

“Prairie” is a French word for meadow bestowed by the early French explorers. They had no word for the vast grassland that occupied Illinois in pre-settlement times. The drive is a great way to see the middle of America.

You get a constant change parade of color and sound. The grassland soil is great for growing things. There are fields of corn, soybeans and wheat grain everywhere you look.

Sprinkled throughout the landscape are small towns, farms and fields. The countryside looks like God had painted a rich tapestry of brilliant colors of red and orange on the leaves.

Chicago

My new unit is in Chicago. I love Chicago because I grew up there as a young child. It feels like a homecoming of sorts.

All my dad’s family lives there. It is great to see them on a drill weekend. The climate is extreme, but the people are friendly.

Chicago is very cosmopolitan. It is the Midwestern version of New York. It has a huge lakefront, tons of culture, diversity, museums, and tons of shopping.

Awesome architecture and the country’s second largest skyline after Midtown Manhattan. It has one of the world’s busiest airports. It has anything and everything you want.

The Team

My team has eight instructors that teach a course called Command General Staff Officer Course (CGSOC). Formerly called ILE, the course instructs army Majors on planning and staff functions.

The Team is called, “the Illinois Team” to designate what geographical area we teach in. The quality of the team impressed me.

Only two of the instructors have taught before, all the rest of us are new. All of them have a Master’s Degree, and are OIF and OEF veterans. There is a perfect mix of operational experience and civilian education.

At lunch, I felt like I was at a meeting of college professors facilitating a panel discussion on current army strategy and military history. They have a variety of backgrounds and this weekend we created a lesson plan of how each person’s area of expertise can benefit the classes we will teach.

The group examined military history, ethics of leadership, and warfighting- basically all the topics we cover in my blog posts. From the first time all of us assembled I knew it was going to be an awesome experience. I seem to have found my tribe!