The worst hit

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Just came across an article with very good news- John Hopkins Hospital has just performed the world’s first successful total genital transplant on a wounded soldier. An unknown donor gave someone an amazing gift- the chance for normal urological and sexual function.

This is very big news, and I decided to write a bit about it.

How can I describe what it is like to advance into a wall of lead, knowing you could be hit at any second? How to bring across the night before a fight, the dread that you may be hit and maimed, or killed?

Guys would sit and talk about all the ways you can be hit, and the conversation inevitably came up about what is the best, if you have to be shot or shrapped. Me, I always preferred a hit to the upper arm or lower leg. Not in the hand or foot. Definitely not in the inner thigh. Gut shot is bad, spine shot is worse. Some feared blindness or a maimed face, but all feared, without exception, being hit in the groin.

One time I was blown up by an RPG- what was the first thing I did? I reached between my legs and felt for my balls. When I felt them, I blew a sigh of relief, picked up my rifle, and pressed onwards. Everything else could wait, and it did.

That hit ranked highest in terms of fear factor. Losing your penis and testicles- the absolute worst for a male soldier. And up until now there was no real fix for it.

But now there is, sort of.

Of course, what’s best is not to be hit at all. Or never to be in a firefight. But sometimes your luck just runs out.

Three cheers for those involved in medical research.

 

 

Devils or time travel?

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Yeah, it’s an old photo, but you get the idea. Sitting at a desk, slaving over a keyboard. These days though, it’s not slaving. I enjoy what I do- writing is great fun and a challenge.

So today I have a question for my readers (you).

I’m juggling some balls at the moment- a few projects that have begun are collaborations. You all will see those sooner than another independent work from me. The collaborations are very exciting, and should turn out well. They’ve been in process since last August and will continue into the foreseeable future.

But in the meantime, I’ve thought of some material that’s just me.

Long time readers will know that I used Amazon’s CreateSpace to develop the original Valley Trilogy, my military sci-fi stuff. Unfortunately, CreateSpace no longer does author services such as the all-too-crucial copyediting, formatting, e-book conversion, etc. This is the stuff that makes for a quality book reading experience as opposed to a typo-ridden and poorly formatted mess. Which is what you’d get if I tried to publish a book without any outside help. Fortunately, another avenue has come along for getting my books out there- big thanks to the person who has stepped up to steer me in the right direction.

Self-publishing can be a dizzying rabbit hole. A simple search will reveal dozens of options. There is a confusing array of businesses that are quite willing to take your money for various parts of the book-making process. One can easily spend 10k USD to produce a novel. Thanks, but no thanks. 3k is about right, 10k is ridiculous. This is why losing CreateSpace was bad- for all their faults, they were all costs up front, one-stop shopping. I had a very good experience with them until they abruptly closed their doors.

So here is the question I have for my readers.

I’ve got some decent ideas for a novel and they come down to two options. Devils or time travel. Yes, I understand that neither subject is exactly original, but I think I can crank out a pretty good yarn using one or the other pretext. And it’s not a matter of one or the other, both books will probably get written. It’s a question of priorities.

So which should I do first- devils or time travel?

Would like to get some feedback from you all.

Cheers, Jason L.

Writing preview!

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Hey all, I figured I’d drop a sample out here of something that’s in process right now. Don’t know when it’ll be available for general circulation, but it’ll happen sooner or later- promise!

***

In full view of the BMP, Jack stood up. Fourier began to fire at the dismounts immediately, his 240 cut loose in long bursts. Jack watched them tumble as he put the LAW on his right shoulder. His left hand held the front of the tube, his right hand curled around the top, where his middle finger rested on the rubber button that would fire the weapon. He lined up the two circles on the sights, and placed the circles on the center mass of the BMP.

In a detached fashion, he watched as the vehicle’s turret swung in his direction. Within a second he would be cut to shreds, if the dismounts didn’t get him first.

Jack pushed the rubber button down, the weapon fired, and he dropped back in his hole without looking. There was a sharp explosion. Immediately, he grabbed his M4 and popped back up. Fourier was firing continuously, his belt raced through his gun.

The BMP was smoking, the remains of a man were hanging out of the top of its turret. Jack barely registered the fact, he was too busy shooting at darting figures. More BMPs were crossing the pond; many more were destroyed. They just kept coming. Jack felt as if he were in one of those nightmares where he shot and shot at the Germans, but his bullets seemed to have no effect.

No matter how many of them he killed, there were always more.

One smartass was hidden behind a tree, he kept popping up and letting bursts loose from his AK. Jack fixed him with a grenade. Another fellow was actually trying to swim across the pond. After half of a second of disbelief, Jack put a round in him. The man stopped swimming and sank.

The 240 stopped firing. Jack looked over and saw that Fourier was dead. He had stopped something, at the moment Jack didn’t know or care what. The gun needed to run, but it was smoking, shells and links lay everywhere. Calmly, with supreme detachment, Jack hit the change lever on the side of the gun, swung the handle up and jerked the barrel out. He tossed it to the side. While whistling a happy tune he reached over, grabbed the spare and popped it into place. He felt rather than heard three clicks as he locked it down with the handle.

Hell, he couldn’t hear anything. A BMP climbed out of the pond catty-corner to his position, to the south. He nestled behind the blood-spattered gun and waited to die. For the moment, there was nothing to shoot at, so he didn’t shoot. And then, out of nowhere, a Russian dropped into his hole.

An intense rush came over him; it felt as if someone had dropped a grenade into his central nervous system. He rolled back from his gun in shock; the Russian seemed to go through something similar. In a flash, Jack noted his green camouflage uniform and his garrison-capped head. He saw the red enamel star on the hat with brilliant clarity, and the soldier’s brown eyes and farmer’s face. In slow motion, Jack watched the man bring his weapon to bear.

But Jack got there first. His .45 seemed to grow from his hand. With the speed born from mortal danger he swept the safety off with his thumb and fired. His first round missed, but the next four didn’t. He barely felt the recoil, he watched the man jerk and die.

Time stretched like taffy, Jack pissed his pants.

As if in an echo chamber, he heard the nearby squeak of tank treads.

This, thought Jack, was it.

***

Hope y’all enjoyed it, there’s more where that came from.

Lady Death- a review

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I gave a bit of thought as to what photo to add to this review. I wanted a picture of Lyudmila Pavlichenko, of course, but not the usual images that are associated with her. She had often been posed for propaganda photos by Red Army photographers, so there are some striking images of her holding a rifle and doing this-or-that. As her book makes clear, she hated those types of dog-and-pony shows. So I chose a photo of her that showed her for what she was- a killer who wanted to get back to work.

In the image above, one can almost see her impatience with standing around and being photographed. Also, there are traces of her shaved forehead to be seen under her garrison cap. She had received an ugly shrapnel wound, her scalp was shaved and stitched. She looks weary and pissed off, a natural side effect of combat operations. I chose to include the image of a Hero of the Soviet Union medal next to her, because she was exactly that in all literal senses. She was awarded the USSR’s highest decoration in 1943.

Lyudmila shot a confirmed total of 309 enemy soldiers. She estimates in her book that the actual number probably exceeded five hundred.

I don’t doubt this. “Lady Death” is her memoir, it is translated from Russian in clear, plain prose. It is devoid of boasting or flowery language. In this respect, it reminds me strongly of Sledge’s “With the Old Breed,” another master work of first-hand military history.

This book gripped me from the beginning. It grabbed me by the nose and didn’t let go. From a description of her childhood and early marksmanship training through her enlistment in the Red Army, it did not bore. She described the frontier battles of the Southern Eastern Front in July of 1941, through the sieges of first Odessa then the culmination of her combat experiences in Sevastopol. She was wounded frequently, and she witnessed the death of her great love Alexei. Lyudmila dueled with German snipers, she halted advances by deliberately targeting men in the second ranks with gut shots; the screaming was intended to dishearten the advancing soldiers.

Lyudmila does not gloss over the ugliness of combat. She describes cruelty in detail, for to her this is the nature of war. Some things bothered her. She always referred to her victims as “targets,” and she avoided looking at their faces. However, she never hesitated to pull the trigger. Her combat record is impressive, to say the least, and after being wounded a final time she was recalled to Moscow where Josef Stalin took a personal interest in her and her career as a tool of Soviet propaganda began.

Thus begins the second half of the book, which to me is as interesting as the first. Some are attracted to first-hand combat reporting, but what I find most interesting is a description of a combat soldier’s life after they have fired their last shots. She was dispatched to the US for propaganda purposes, and she developed a long-term personal relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt. She travelled to Canada and the UK, and eventually returned to Moscow where she was personally ordered by Stalin to train future snipers.

Lyudmila was disappointed that she wasn’t returning to the front, but she dared not ignore a direct order from the Supreme Leader.

One aspect of Soviet life that was glossed over or only alluded to in this memoir was the omnipresent threat of arrest, for everyone. Lyudmila well knew that a hero could become a victim in the blink of an eye. After all, her father was an officer in the NKVD, and she had lived in the Ukraine during the famine. Also, somehow her father had escaped the Great Purge of 1937– by what means he had managed to escape is unclear and she does not address the subject in her book.

As an unrepentant Stalinist and Communist, Lyudmila was still very much apprehensive in an episode in the book when she feared arrest. She breathed a sigh of relief when her unexpected NKVD visitors did not take her pistol- a Hero of the Soviet Union was by no means immune from Stalin’s cruel whims.

Eventually, Lyudmila was medically retired from the Soviet Armed Forces as an effect of her “shell shock” and “combat neurosis.” She remained active in veteran’s organizations and served as an advisor to the Izhmash Arsenal in the development of the next generation of Soviet sniper rifles. Her input, along with others, was instrumental in developing the SVD rifle. Her book says nothing about it, but she struggled with alcoholism and eventually died in her middle age.

Her book ends with thoughts of her lost love, Alexei.

I think Lyudmila’s heart remained in Sevastopol, where his body lies.

This book is worth reading. It lies bare the myth that women are unsuited to combat, and it tells the remarkable, unvarnished tale of one woman’s struggle in the merciless fighting between two of the most despotic regimes the world has ever known.

Highly recommend.

In the loop

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Hey, everybody. It’s been a bit since I posted so I figured I’d put out a blurb today.

What’s up with the picture of the Russian sniper rifle? Well, one of the things I’m doing is furthering my understanding of the fighting on the Eastern Front in WW2; it has a direct bearing on one of the projects I’m working on- those of you who are on my newsletter (click on Contact in my website to join) know what that entails.

I’m gathering facts at the moment, impressions. There’s tons of information out there about the German perspective of the Eastern fighting, but Soviet sources have been tough to come by until lately. One excellent book is Ivan’s War by Merridale, another is the book I’m reading right now called Lady Death, a memoir of Lyudmila Pavilichenko. She is one of the most prolific snipers in history, and the number one female sniper ever.

“Lady Death” makes for harrowing reading. I plan on posting a review once I’ve finished it. Highly recommend the book for those who wish to know about the sniper’s craft, the Eastern Front in general, or who question the suitability of women in combat.

In other news, you all know I follow developments with Space X closely. They have recently successfully launched and recovered the final iteration of the Falcon 9 rocket, the Block 5. These rockets are designed to be re-used up to ten times each- Space X’s goal is to radically reduce the cost of lifting objects into orbit. At the moment, they are succeeding. I wish them luck, of course.

What they are doing ultimately benefits us all.

Everything has a price

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There’s some stuff I’ve been tracking lately, developments with some of the research that goes into Traumatic Brain Injuries, or TBIs. Someone I know shot me an email with a pretty good link in it, I thought I would share it with you all.

OK, so they call TBI the “signature wound” of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, but this is actually a story as old as concussions. Old books sometimes describe odd behavior from people who sustained head injuries, and “All’s Quiet On The Western Front” has a scene where a soldier could get away with bad behavior because he had a documented head wound- apparently the German Army in WW1 recognized some of the symptoms of what we now know as a TBI.

Army medicine is still trying to distinguish between combat trauma cases and TBI symptoms, and it is difficult for providers to tell where one starts and the other stops. I know from personal experience that the two go hand in hand- also, those who have been “blown up” are also more likely to have had intense combat experiences.

But there’s a new wrinkle for the medical people. As stated in the above linked article, operators of heavy weapons can be at risk for TBIs as well.

I had a holy crap moment when I read about this. Not only have I been “blown up,” but I’ve fired a lot of blast-heavy weapons as well. A day at the range with stuff that goes boom will make you a little muddle headed or short-tempered, but I never thought anything about it. I don’t think anyone has up until now.

The more that is learned about TBI the worse it gets. Look at the controversy in American football- a sport seemingly designed to cause brain injuries. And now it looks as if even operating heavy weapons leaves a trace in the brains of the crew.

This is going to open a whole can of worms at Veteran’s Affairs.

Another thing I wonder is how many less-than-honorable discharges were caused by blast exposure combined with combat trauma (PTSD)? A guy (or girl) comes home, they are easily pissed off, drink too much or smoke some weed; next thing you know they are in serious disciplinary trouble with the pogues in the rear. How many combat veterans have been hosed by the military justice system as a direct result of their service?

I think back on incidents in my past and the only reason I didn’t end up hemmed up like others was due to good leadership and pure, hardcore luck.

But luck shouldn’t determine the type of discharge a combat veteran ultimately earns. The military needs to do a much better job of diagnosing those who are prone to TBIs and/or PTSD, and being aware of all factors during disciplinary procedures. Real combat experience should definitely be taken into consideration at courts-martial.

TBIs, wounds, trauma, bad experiences come with the territory. There is a price to be paid. As a society, though, we need to keep people from ending up under a bridge, dependent on drugs, or to send them home with suicidal tendencies.

After all, these people sacrificed their bodies and well-being for our society.

The least we can do is to reduce the payments.

Some cool stuff to read

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Yeah, OK, I took a little extra time between posts. The weather’s finally improved over here and some stuff’s been going on. I have a few articles for you all to read today.

The first article is pretty good, it talks about Space X having its first launch of the new Block 5 rockets soon. These rockets are developed with the goal of ultra-reusability, with up to 10 launches possible per rocket. Nice. More flights from the reliable Falcon 9 means more funding for the oh-so-cool BFR.

And you know how at times I get to NASA bashing. Well, they do some really cool stuff as well, it’s not their fault that they are dependent upon unreliable government funding and the whims of their political masters. One really cool project they’ve embarked upon is a mini-reactor for off world exploration. Read all about it here.

And finally, something funny. It seems the thousand dollar hammer fellows at Boeing are pissed to be shown up by the Falcon Heavy rocket, they have been crying that their billions-down-a-drain SLS booster system will outperform Falcon Heavy. Well, in theory it will. When, and if, it ever flies. So far tons of money has been spent for precious little result other than to make Boeing lots of cash chasing pipe dreams. Also, and this is important to note, the Falcon Heavy has already flown as a proof of concept- and it will be superseded by the Big Falcon Rocket within the foreseeable future, while the SLS’s later, more powerful iterations are dependent upon future, fickle, government funding.

So nice try, Boeing, no cigar. Go peddle your thousand dollar hammers elsewhere.

The Flyer

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Mama Army is coming up with some crazy stuff for our combatants- check out this article about the latest ground transportation vehicle for airborne troops- the Flyer.

This type of vehicle was exactly what I had in mind when I wrote my first book- In the Valley. In that book I had Paul Thompson and his merry gang involved in a counterinsurgency on a hostile planet. They rode around in skeletal trucks to save wear on their armored fighting suits- the Flyer is exactly the type of vehicle I had in mind.

No frills, goes anywhere, extended range, and can carry a whole boatload of ordinance and troops. Check out the youtube video here. If you don’t have the time or desire to watch the video, let’s just say that this little buggy can scoot and shoot- there’s even a dude behind a mini-gun (a rotary barrel 7.62 machine gun) in there. Whoa. Talk about lead on target- that’s one machine gun I’ve never played with but I know they are mean, mean machines.

It can ford 30″/.76m of water. It can climb a 60 degree grade. Its payload is higher than its gross vehicular weight, and you can stuff up to nine soldiers in there. True, it doesn’t have much in the way of creature comforts, but it beats the living hell out of walking. And did I mention that it can go up to 95 miles per hour? That’s really moving in a tactical vehicle.

And oh yeah, it can ride inside a CH-47, and is air-droppable.

Something tells me a lot of airborne officers will want one of these when they go to the field with their troops. Why walk when you can ride? Right? Fetch pizzas for your guys in the latest the Army has to offer- why not.

I am totally jealous of this eminently useful toy. I want one in my garage, right now. This thing would be an absolute hoot to drive around some wasteland in.

Put the Flyer on the list for stuff to bring when colonizing distant worlds.

Courage

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As many of you know, Southwest Airlines just had a major in-flight incident with one fatality. Pilot Tammie Jo Shults is credited with bringing the bird down in relative safety, and saving the lives of the remaining passengers.

It is no joke when a turbine blade lets go, as seems to be the case in this situation. The real wonder is that it doesn’t happen more often- a jet engine is a mass of rotating assemblies, all of which must work perfectly or bad, catastrophic things will happen in the blink of an eye. As the photo above illustrates, the engine “grenaded,” and shrapnel flew everywhere. A chunk hit a window and an unfortunate woman died as the result.

It could have been one hell of a lot worse. But it wasn’t. Why? An ex-fighter jock sat at the controls of the 737, and she immediately acted and got the situation under control. Under  extreme pressure, she dropped the bird to the deck and landed it safely with one dead motor and a compartment full of freaked-out passengers.

The news is full of accounts about her calm demeanor and professionalism.

I’m not surprised by her behavior. I’ve known some of those people, dead-steady professionals who seem to get cooler the worse the situation gets.

I admire such people.

There was the dude who taught me how to clear houses. He learned his trade on the mean streets of Ramadi, he emerged unscathed from a hell hole where many died. I’ll never forget what he told me- “Remember, when you’re going through the house and dudes are dropping from ceilings, shooting from closets, throwing grenades and people are screaming at you from all corners- relax, dude. Take a minute and light a cigarette. Shoot anyone who gets cute, but get on the radio and call for backup. You have time- the defenders don’t.” I don’t know what ended up happening to him, but when he spoke, I listened. His most important lesson was the value of calm. I didn’t forget. Thanks, (name forgotten).

There was another guy who was relaxed, cool as a cucumber. He knew everything about the infantryman’s trade, and was glad to break things down and explain the reasons for everything that was going to happen. Riding or walking next to him, you felt bulletproof, immortal. When we got dipped in shit, I heard his voice on the radio- clipped, calm and professional, and I knew we were going to mess up the bad guys. As we advanced under fire and rugged terrain, his voice propelled me forward, steadied me. He would make sound decisions on the fly while coordinating between hundreds of men and aircraft. At the end of the day, he thought it was no big deal. But it was.

Then there was Matt, the guy who taught me about explosives. Another Iraq veteran, he had spent his tour breaching one structure after the next. Rolling a high-rise? Matt would stay up all night making water-impulse charges, or doorknob-donuts. Attacking a walled compound? Matt would creep up to the walls with a satchel-charge. Think a bomb was in your path? Call Matt. He’d have a look and come up with a solution. I remember Matt well, a regular guy in a field in Missouri. His hands would turn purple if exposed to the cold, he hid this for fear of being ratted out to the medical people. I’d watch his purple hands knead C-4 to make an improvised Bangalore charge, and he would talk. About his close calls, his raids, his life. All in a calm, reminiscing tone, none of it was a big deal. I never served in combat with him, but I couldn’t see him acting any different when the lead was flying.

These people had courage. The real deal. They weren’t pilots, but I can see each of them acting just like Captain Shults. Calm, professional, and doing the right thing at the right moment.

We ask one hell of a lot from our combat servicemen/women. And we should. There are no good excuses when lives are on the line. Sometimes these demands pay highly visible dividends such as in this incident with Captain Shults.

But don’t be amazed when one of the alumni of the school of hard knocks pulls off some shit like this.

Courage and quiet professionalism= people who go home alive.

 

 

Steaks

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First off, I would like to apologize to my readers who abhor the thought of eating steaks. If you are one of those people, you might as well stop here.

Ok, for everyone else- I love steaks. I was reminded of this by the latest offering of John Birmingham’s Alien Side Boob; it’s his subscription-only newsletter for those who would like to laugh their butts off reading JB’s distinctive brand of acidic wit.

Today he did a pretty funny bit about preparing steaks.

Lord, I do love me some steaks. Strangely enough some of the best ones around come from a dining chain called Outback- it fancies itself to be a sort of Australian inspired eatery. An Aussie friend says he’ll stop by one of these days, maybe I’ll take him there and he can judge for himself how close to the mark they come. Where I live, I’ll bet a hundred dollars that he’d be the first real Australian that the staff have ever met. Such things amuse me- years ago when I lived in Europe it was always fun to go to American restaurants and see how American they really were- sometimes they were close, but one thing that was never right was the serving size, or free refills.

But I digress.

Have I mentioned that I love a good steak, preferably a ribeye cooked medium?

Years ago, I was indifferent to steaks. Then I spent some time as an advisor to indigenous forces and ate a LOT of their food. I had a months long case of dysentery that only cleared up when I finally returned stateside.

Have any of you seen a meat market in a land chronically short of electricity? Nothing to get you salivating like seeing a sheep carcass hanging in the sun, covered by flies. And right next to it is a kebab stand, where the friendly gentleman (and it’s always a gentleman) will be happy to sell you a heaping portion, redolent of sheep-shit smoke. Yes,  fires are frequently made from dung where wood is a precious commodity. Everything that you eat gets a certain taste to it- impossible to replicate in the West.

Boy did I eat a lot of locally procured food over there. Greens of unknown provenance, spicy cauliflower served in sheep fat, tons of rice dipped by hand from a communal bowl, you name it. Melons. Lots of melons.

But don’t get me wrong- the food was good, and it was the best they had. It wasn’t my host’s fault that my guts weren’t used to their bugs. But I was ever so glad to eventually return home and eat familiar foods.

That’s when the steak binges began. I don’t know why, I don’t know when, but I got back and I had a craving for delicious, slightly crispy steaks. It’s been nearly seven years since I returned and I’m still caught in the thrall of steaks.

Steaks, truly a hallmark of plenty. It’s an amazing world that we in the West inhabit. Food upon demand, good food, excellent food. Food that doesn’t routinely make you sick, clean water, adequate sewage disposal. Electricity. Internet. Safety. So many things to be grateful for, so many things we take for granted.

Maybe that’s it. Steaks as a symbol of the good life.

Because our lives are pretty damn good.