Extinction

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My eye caught a news article the other day which should have been pretty big news, but wasn’t. It seems that we are losing our global biodiversity at an alarming rate. This phenomenon has a name, it is the Holocene Extinction. Apparently it is the sixth mass extinction event in our planet’s geologic history, and we are behind it. Ever since our distant ancestors discovered that wooly mammoths made for tasty treats, we have left a trail of barbecues behind in our march to global ecological dominance.

Well, we have dominated the planet. With some eight billion members, our species sits firmly entrenched across the food chains of Planet Earth. This has come at a price- nearly all the megafauna are gone, and the other small animals are under pressure from habitat loss.

You can clearly see this where I live. It is routine to see a number of different species dead at the side of the road, their forests are bisected by high speed avenues through the woods. Where car and wildlife meet, roadkill happens. A lot. On a daily basis, one can see dead groundhogs, raccoons, possums, chipmunks, foxes, turtles, chipmunks, and whitetail deer. I’ve never seen a statistic for roadkill, but I’ll bet it easily exceeds the numbers lost to hunting, trapping, disease or natural predation.

A memory that sticks with me is the night I was driving my daughter to a band concert. We were traveling along a steep, curvy road on the side of a hill. It was pitch black. I saw movement in the road ahead, as we drew closer I realized that it was a deer that had been struck by someone, her legs and back had been broken. She was going to die, there was no doubt. Painfully, slowly. I couldn’t stop and finish her off because of how dangerous that section of road was. All we could do was look.

And that’s one instance out of thousands.

Come to think of it, I’ve been to few places on Earth that were truly wild. Out of the 43 countries I’ve visited, the hand of man was omnipresent. Even the national parks weren’t wild. In fact, those were some of the worst places. Yellowstone? Long convoys of tourists forming traffic jams to photograph a few tiny herds of bison, where those herds were once millions strong. The Smoky Mountains? LOL, worse crowds snapping pictures of token elk.

I think of countries I’ve visited. A few examples. Egypt, with its teeming masses concentrated along the Nile. At first I thought the mountains in the Sinai were snow-capped, it turned out to be drifts of plastic trash. Holland and Germany- perfectly manicured pasture and forest. Wild? Not at all. Islands in the Caribbean; beautiful beaches awash in medical waste with desperate poverty hidden outside of gated resorts. Afghanistan- a land as remote as any on the planet. Stripped bare until you get to truly impassible mountain regions. The United States? Nearly all of the Eastern virgin forest gone.

There is a long litany of things we’ve lost. The passenger pigeon. The chestnut tree. The Irish Elk. This list could extend for thousands of pages. I’ll spare you that, you surely get the idea.

What is to be done?

I don’t know. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to set aside some more land for habitat. Also, we need to do more with aquaculture as opposed to wild harvests in the sea. And the development of the rain forests is crazy; those last bits of virgin forest are literally the lungs of our planet. Denuding them for short term economic gain makes no sense.

There is a solution which dovetails nicely into the theme of this website. Extrasolar exploration and colonization. Unfortunately, I don’t see us sending waves of colonists into interstellar space within my lifetime, but it would be an elegant solution. All of our eggs would no longer be in one basket, and we’d reduce the population pressure on Earth. And let’s face it, humans will not fail to exploit anything. So we may as well spread out some.

Maybe the next time we land upon virgin ground we’d treat it with more care, having learned the lesson of what happens when you ruthlessly exploit the one planet you are given. I’ve read in places that capitalism is to blame for all of our ecological woes. Surely this is partially true, one need think no further than the near-extinction of Eastern US waterfowl at the turn of the 20th century. It seems that plumes of feathers were the height of fashion, so market hunters went out and shot millions of migratory birds. Strict hunting regulations and a change in fashion saved our geese, but it was a close-run thing.

However, communism bears plenty of ecological fault as well. Simply reference the Chernobyl disaster, massive strip mining in Eastern Europe, and the Aral Sea. These are but a few examples. Look, and you’ll find them everywhere, like termites in a damp basement. Whether socialist or capitalist, people are still people.

I was trained as a geologist at the university. One of the first things I learned is that “if you don’t grow it, you have to mine it.” There is no such thing as a free lunch.

We are running out of wild resources. The sixth extinction is upon us. We have been blessed with intelligence, it’s time to start really applying it toward this problem. Because it is a problem, and it affects us one and all.

Who wants to go for a walk in the woods and see no animals?

Not I, and probably not you, either.

 

 

Progress

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OK, so years ago I was blown up by an RPG, sustained some blunt force trauma injuries and a TBI. As a result, I’ve had a medical issue or two. When I returned to the ‘States, it was nothing but one hospital visit after the next. Eventually I was medically retired, and the Army and I parted ways. A lingering aftereffect of that period was that I had become sedentary, unsure of what I could safely do in the manner of exercise. Also, after so much bad food overseas, delicious ‘Stateside food (Taco Bell, I’m looking at you) became a real crutch. I was eating like a horse with little exercise.

You see where this is going, right?

I packed on the pounds and lost all my conditioning. After a lifetime of heavy physical activity, I turned into a couch potato. It was pretty bad. My doctors at the VA saw what was going on and threatened to put me on statins for high cholesterol.

It was as if someone dragged a needle across a record. No way was I going to take more pills if a change in lifestyle would reduce my pants size and my cholesterol count.

About a year ago, I started running again, then I ran into issues with a trick knee. I had injured it on a winter ruck march in 2006, it plays up from time to time. Well, high impact wasn’t going to work out in the long term; I really don’t want a knee operation or a joint replacement.

So I looked at my options and evaluated my lifestyle.

First, it was time to lay off on the delicious fatty foods. So I did that. Not only better for the waistline, it helps the wallet, too. Second, I grabbed every chance I could get to walk. Set up a new rule. If I have business in my hometown, I walk. Trips to the post office, the bank, the car garage, everywhere. Finally, I experimented with an activity that I enjoyed from the service, ruck marching.

Strangely enough, I always enjoyed walking with a pack. Most people hate it, but I never did. Mile after mile with “the big green tick,” or the ALICE pack. Some of my fondest memories of the service were doing those long walks. I think the furthest I ever walked in one go was some twenty odd miles, I was carrying the 240B that day. I remember when my feet lost their callouses- I had an appointment at the hospital, they were checking me out for something. A nurse glanced at my feet and said “Wow, you’ve done a lot of walking.” It was true, the hard skin was peeling off my feet six months after I left Afghanistan.

So sometimes I put on an ALICE pack and walk a few miles in the park by the house. I’m mindful of the nerve damage to my neck and shoulder, so I don’t load very heavy, maybe 30 pounds. It’s enough to work up a sweat and remind my body that it’s not time to quit.

And it feels good when I’m done. I always had the idea that you need to push yourself to the limit when exercising, and that’s fine for a young soldier. However, I had to adjust my perspective after I was hurt, and that took some time. I think that I’ve got a pretty good plan now, and it seems to be working. Next month I go in for another check-up, and I’ll be curious to see where my cholesterol is at.

Hopefully my numbers are down.

Re: writing. At the moment I’m in a bit of a tactical pause. Catching up with my reading, some of which is in preparation for a pretty cool classified project slated for this winter. Also, there’s a new book out that shows much promise, “Blood of Heirs” by Alicia Wanstall-Burke. I bought a copy and I’ll read it soon. Give it a look, y’all.

JL

Life out there

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One of the great points of speculation in both science and science fiction is the question of “are we alone in the universe.” I’d say not, simply judging by the sheer number of planets and stars in space. It’s a numbers game. Even if life arose in as few as one out of million cases, there would be millions of inhabited star systems.

So it was with great interest that I read an article about the possibility of life on Mars this week. It seems that there may be enough oxygen on the surface of Mars, or in the close subsurface, to support Earth-analogue lifeforms.

Now, we’re not talking about intelligent life, or majestic kingdoms of humanoids. What may be possible in brine pockets would be some type of primitive sponges, or bacteria. If such animals were found, this would be big news.

Finding life on Mars would demonstrate conclusively that life in the universe is a constant, that it can arise in the most unlikely and inhospitable conditions, and such a discovery would say conclusively that we are not alone.

I think there’s a 99.9 percent chance that the universe isn’t sterile. I leave the .1 in there because I can’t prove that I’m right. Not yet, not now.

It would be nice to have this fundamental question answered within my lifespan. I’m optimistic that it will be.

 

And this is a good idea, how?

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We’ve all seen Terminator. You know, rampant murderous robots on a mission to kill us all, blah blah. Well, some genius is trying to bring this rosy vision of the future one step closer. Check out this article and video.

This creeps me out. With the advances being made in AI and robotics, I don’t think we’re too far from producing an autonomous infantry killing machine. Going up against a robot as seen in the video would be fearsome.

Imagine, you shoot at a machine that keeps coming no matter what. You hit it again and again and it sprints forward unless destroyed. When it shoots back, it does so with accuracy and reflexes that are literally inhuman. It would destroy without mercy, it would kill without qualm.

Someone will put these things on the battlefield, I do not doubt. They don’t need to be fed, paid, or trained. All they need is programmed, powered up and reloaded.

There is an answer to the Terminator, though. It’s the powered fighting suit, as featured in Starship Troopers, The Forever War, or my own books. This would pair a controlling human with a complimentary AI and a fighting machine. Humans would regain the ability to fight machines with such a powered armor suit.

Without powered armor and your own personal AI, have fun fighting the Terminator.

I wonder if there’s as much research going into powered suits as there is into humanoid robots. Somewhere on the internet I’ve read that DARPA is messing around with powered exoskeletons- but that’s just the unclassified that’s filtering through to us poor slobs.

This is the next generation of infantry fighting. We have reached the limits of what a human can do with old-school training and modern equipment.

For better or for worse, we’ll see the rise of the machines soon.

The question is, are people already thinking ahead with an effective counter?

Writing sample no. 2

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Hey, Readers. As you all know, I’ve been keeping pretty busy writing. I thought today I’d release another snippet of what we’ve been working on- an alternate history. Here goes…
Brilon-Wald, Germany. End of June, 1955.
 
Jochen supposed he should be happy with what had been accomplished so far, rather than being angry that he and his boys were manifestly failing to keep the Reds from encroaching further into Germany. It was the evening of another lousy day at the front; rain dripped from his peaked cap and ran down his neck.
 
The major action a week earlier by Kassel had started off so well, then things had gone south for the Allies. Their armored thrust had gone into the shoulder of the Red salient ten kilometers along Route Seven, and then very powerful Soviet blocking forces had been encountered, along with belt upon belt of hastily laid anti-tank mines.
 
Before their own penetration was pinched off, Corps had decided to head northwest and hold onto Highway 44. They were partially successful, Jochen’s presence in Brilon-Wald testified to that fact. It could also be, he thought, that the Reds are behind us and no-one has bothered to tell me. In which case they had deep problems.
 
He decided to do the smart thing, which was to focus on what he could control, and not worry about what the higher ups were doing. Today his plan was to ambush the attacking Soviets on road 251 northbound, to sting them and frustrate their advance toward Brilon.
 
The residents of Brilon-Wald, the town along the Korbacher Street, had been less than thrilled when Jochen and his men showed up. In fact, they had run like hell. The sight of his company’s panzers were a sure sign that the front had arrived, and there were plenty of veterans around to spread the word that you really didn’t want to be around when the lead begins to fly.
 
Jochen had at least sent Hänke into the house to check for any stay-behinds when he decided to use a favorite trick. He drove through the back of the residence, and used the façade as cover for his tank. It was pretty decent rough camouflage in an ambush such as this. He had a clear view through a window of the intersection of the 251, the railroad tracks, and the L743 that ran off into the woods on the right.
 
It was as good of a place as any to jump the Reds. His company dominated the approach into Brilon-Wald; they were guaranteed to stack up bad guys when they came around the bend to the front.
 
And that was part of the problem, he reflected. He had come to really love the M-60 over the past week of combat. It didn’t burn when hit, it was powerful, and the gun was unbelievably accurate and hard-hitting. No, the problem was its ammunition consumption. There were so many Red tanks, and so few of his own. Even though the Red fire-control systems must be scheisse, their main guns were powerful. And if they hit… well, it was curtains if they hit square. From his original fifteen Main Battle Tanks, eleven remained. His company’s performance had been phenomenal, but he couldn’t replace those four missing crews.
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The Reds could, and they did. Jochen had no idea how many smoldering wrecks 2ndCompany had left in their wake, but it was a lot. And today there would be even more, he was sure.
 
Jochen heard a familiar shriek; it was inbound artillery. Jochen thought it would fall short, and it did. He didn’t bother to button up. He kept scanning the road ahead with his Steiners. Intel had it that their latest customers were elements of the 25thTank Division, mixed in with Czech motor-rifle units.
 
What will they do this time, he thought. There was only one good way north, and that was the 251 leading into Brilon. Jochen’s company held the road, it was really a question of how badly the Russians wanted it. If they wanted it, Jochen was prepared to give it to them. But they would have to pay a price. He smiled his patented cold smile. 2ndCompany was prepared to do a leapfrogging break-contact drill all the way to the north of town, they would make the Russians bleed rivers. Also, there was a company of Panzergrenadiere just north of his current position, they had made themselves at home in the houses and forests hereabouts.
 
Brilon-Wald was not going to be cheap.
 
Artillery started to fall around him; the Russians were probing. Jochen remained where he was, standing in his turret, binoculars in hand. To catch the prey, he thought, one had to wait like a hunter. Both sides wanted the same thing; for someone’s nerves to break, for the prey to flee and catch the eye. That’s when the real killing began.
 
Boosfeld spotted movement along the road to the south. He lifted his binoculars slowly while shading the lenses. He felt the old surge of the blood, the taste of iron. There they were- BTR scout cars, coming slowly. They would surely sense they were being watched, he thought. They would also pick up on the lack of civilians in the streets if they had any experience at all.
 
He had four tanks in his forward position, counting himself. No one fired. This did not surprise him; he had been very specific that he would initiate the ambush. The BTRs came to a halt; their little turrets swiveled back and forth. Jochen controlled his breathing, he willed the scout cars to go away and call in their big brothers for an“easy”march toward Brilon proper.
 
He heard the stutter of a machine gun from the forest to his west. Jochen saw the rounds hit the dirt all around the BTRs, a tracer bounced harmlessly off of their armored plate. Who was the idiot of an infantryman who pulled the trigger, he thought. If that soldier lived through today, Jochen promised himself he would have his hide. The BTRs returned fire with their 12.7mm DShK machineguns, then they turned around and ran.
 
They had done their jobs, Jochen thought. Now the Reds knew Brilon-Wald was defended, they just didn’t know by what. He thought some more. Perhaps that stupid kid with the machine gun had done him a favor- it could be that the Soviets would assume that the village was held with light infantry forces. He shrugged. Time would tell, and it probably wouldn’t be a lot of time, either.
 
He was right. Fifteen minutes later, he saw soldiers on foot come around the bend along the road, and there were probably others pushed into the forests to his left and right. The soldiers that he could see were coming on in dashes, they would sprint and hit the ground while others ran by. When the others hit the ground, the ones lying down would get up and run. The Reds had learned, he thought. No human wave attacks with the bone-chilling chant of UHRAAH like the last war. This movement technique was far more effective.
 
As he watched, he heard the sound of incoming to his front, a round detonated on the far side of the bend. Must be friendly artillery, he thought. Half a minute later, another round landed between the advancing Red infantry and his position. Jochen recognized a fire bracket when he saw one, and he could tell that a 155 battery must have gotten this call for fire. The next round, he knew, would be right on top of the poor bastards to his front. It was, and it was followed by a series of explosions that rattled Jochen’s teeth.
 
After a few minutes, the explosions stopped. None of the Red footmen had approached Jochen’s position, and he started to wonder if the Soviets would try their luck somewhere else. Then he heard the distant roar of diesels. The Reds were pushing tanks forward at high speed; they must have decided that Brilon-Wald was held by infantry. According to Jochen’s thinking, they would push forward, accept losses and mix in with the Panzergrenadiere position. This would neutralize the friendly artillery.
 
Jochen saw the lead tank. He noted that it was an older design, and not the latest armor. He pressed his lips together. One thing that had not changed from the last war was that the Russians were cold-blooded bastards. That old tank was clearly pushed out there to draw fire, while the Soviet commander kept the good stuff for higher priority tasks. Behind the lead tank was an armored personnel carrier, a BMP. They were moving fast, they would pass Jochen’s trigger point, the intersection, soon.
 
He knew what he would do, it came to him in an instant. More tanks and APCs came around the bend, this could be the spearhead of a battalion-sized push. The more, the merrier, Jochen thought. He allowed the old tank to pass the intersection, and then the BMP. The panzergrenadiere opened fire with their anti-tank weapons, the BMP was hit and started to burn fiercely. The lead tank, the T-55 type, stopped and fired wildly in the direction of the German infantry. At the intersection, the rest of the column had to slam on their brakes. This was the moment Jochen had waited on, there was a brand-new T-72 parked on the southern side. He spoke once, briefly, into the company net, and then to his gunner.
 
“Initiating.” A pause.“Target, tank. Get the T-72 on the other side of the intersection.”
 
“Identified.”
 
Seconds later, Jochen’s gunner turned the T-72 into a flaming wreck; his other tanks opened up and methodically began to dispatch the Soviet armor like so many chickens. The Russians tried to scatter and return fire, Jochen watched as a Soviet tank tried to escape via the railway bed.
 
“Gunner, why don’t you hit our railroader, there.”
 
“Identified.”
 
That Russian died, too. Jochen knew that this fight was his. And then it all went to hell.
 
Jochen heard a screaming noise followed by an explosion and a clang, much like the world’s biggest church bell. He looked over at what he knew was the tank on his right flank, Leutenant Strohmeyer. He saw greasy black smoke, and heard booms as his ammo cooked off.
 
He scanned the remains of the Soviet armor to his front; had one of the tanks gotten off a lucky shot? As he watched, one of his tanks fired and another BMP died. There were no other threats in sight.
 
Then he heard a roar like a buzz saw in the air, followed by a sound much like bullets striking a steel target at the range. To his rear, he heard another explosion and he knew in his gut what was going on. It had been exactly what it sounded like- except the bullets had been monstrous 30mm armor-piercing slugs.
 
There was a Sturmovik out there, or a pair of them. He scanned the sky, but he saw nothing. He placed a call.
 
“All Lehr Two elements. Air attack!” As he placed the call, he felt the old horrified, completely helpless feeling from the last war, when this sort of thing had been far too common. To make matters worse, the incoming artillery started to really pick up, and he spotted more tanks coming around the bend. The lead Soviet tank was a T-72, and it was firing as it moved. So were the tanks behind it.
 
This, thought Jochen, was a losing proposition. He placed a call on the company net.
 
“First platoon, leapfrog per SOP to the rear. Second platoon, support.”
 
If he stayed in place, he knew that he and his company would die. It was risky to move, breaking contact was always difficult, at best. Moving targets would make things hard on the Frogfoot that was out there, however, and it would buy him time. Night was coming, and 2ndCompany might live to fight another day if he did this just right. He started to play his losing hand masterfully, but part of him was boiling.
 
By daylight, Brilon-Wald would be in Soviet hands, and another chunk of Germany would have fallen. He couldn’t stop the Red Army; he could only delay them.
 
The delay was paid in lives.

Writing Method

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As you all may have gathered, I write fiction. In a given work, there are usually numerous characters. Each character has to be carefully tracked, and interwoven with the others. This can be a chore if you don’t have a plan.

Today I’d like to talk a little about how I lay out and execute these outlines, plans, or arcs.

It all starts with a cup of coffee. Before I commit a single word to the computer, I pace about, usually early in the morning, and visualize where I’d like to go with the book from start to finish.

Once I have a decent idea about the start and end point, I write up an outline using a basic formula. I’ve pasted a loose example below. Note: this is not original to me. For the full, fleshed out version read an excellent little book called “Save the Cat!”

Beat Sheet for notes.

Act I  First 25 pages

Opening Image– “Snapshot of the world before the story begins.”

Theme Stated– State what your story is about before the adventure begins.

Set Up– Show the hero “at Home, at Work, at Play.” Tell us about his world.

Catalyst– Something that sets the story into motion

Debate– Where a hero doubts the journey he must take.

Act II Page 25-85 Act two is 2x size of others

Break into Two– The hero must make a proactive choice to step into Act Two.  This is where he makes the now-or-never decision to go forward.

B-Story– The person that assists the hero, and teaches him the lessons of the journey. Often a love interest.

Fun and Games– This is the poster of the movie. Explore new world hero has entered.

Midpoint– No turning back. Stakes are raised. False victory, or false defeat. Time clock. Pace picks up.

 Bad Guys Close In-Pressure is applied either internally (hero team problems), or externally (bad guys tighten grip).

All is lost– Something dies. Hero transforms- sloughs off old skin. Mentors, etc. die here. Stripped of everything that makes him feel safe.

Dark Night of the Soul– “Why hast thou forsaken me?”

Act III

 Break into three– Thanks to new info, hero steps to new level and goes all the way.

Finale– Final exam for hero. Act one, hero has problems. Act Two, learned about problems and some small part of him dies. Act three, final test to see if he’s learned his lessons.

Gather team, load up. This is the “swords sharpening” scene.

Storm the castle. After a couple of minutes of righteous ass-kicking, the bad guy springs his trap.

Hightower surprise. The Emperor strikes.

Rally! Where brains are eaten, and the hero digs deep.

Execute new plan. Use the force, not your puny radar.

Final Image– Snapshot of the world after, the mirror image of opening scene. Think butterflies.

Now, I do try to incorporate these “beats” into my arcs and stories, but keep in mind that this is a guide, not a technical manual to be followed lock-step. Also, you CAN write a book without such a “beat sheet,” but the results might be messy. For example, my very first book (In the Valley) was written without an outline, let alone the deliberate story template posted above. Personally, I think it shows. My next book, “The Captain’s Cauldron,” was planned, but I still wasn’t satisfied. By the time I had reached the final book in the trilogy, “Immolation,” there had been enough accumulated reader feedback and experience that I could not only draw up a decent outline, but I knew what readers wanted, specifically.

The School of Hard Knocks, “Save the Cat!,” reader input, and the crucial advice of a friend, author and mentor led to the “Beat Sheet Cheat Sheet” that I posted above.

It works, and these days I take it into account when I lay out and plan books and arcs.

OK, I read back through this post, and I don’t think I described “arc” well enough. An individual character arc is one character’s journey through the narrative. It doesn’t have to hit all the beats (because those can be covered by other characters), but it does need to conform with the central narrative. A story is a tapestry, everything needs to intertwine. It’s crucial to have a plan. I learned this the hard way, and if there are new authors out there reading this, I can’t stress this enough.

So after coffee drinking, I lay out the given arc using the Beat Sheet Cheat Sheet. There is a master outline for the entire book with individual character Point-of-Views (POVs) described for each beat (this is created first), then there are the individual arc outlines. I usually describe each beat with a short paragraph, then I step back and look at the whole to see if it makes sense. Using this method, I try to avoid plot holes or unresolved characters.

Once this is done, it’s time to write. Writing goes a lot faster when the planning is done beforehand. Also, there is much less waste. Nothing sucks worse than spending all day on something, and then having to throw it away (or having your document crash. Save always and often. And back it up on a geek stick).

Alright, that’s my bit for today about writing. Hopefully this is helpful to someone- I wish I would have seen something like this before I started on “Valley.”

And yes, I am currently involved in doing what I have described above.

No brainer

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I recently came across an article that discussed the need for the US DOD to come up with a new rifle for its combatants. Wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the need for a new US infantry weapon discussed.

Look, the M4/M16 series of rifles is pretty darn good. But they’re not foolproof, and they require a high degree of training and discipline to keep running right. I may have mentioned this before, but I have witnessed what happens when you give more-or-less untrained soldiers the M16a2 in combat- a whole lot of stoppages and pissed off, endangered troops.

It always seems to come down to the same thing with the M16. The gas-impingement system “shits where it eats,” i.e. hot gasses are ported directly to the bolt for semi-auto or automatic function. This results in a buildup of carbon on the bolt and in the chamber area which will cause the weapon to perform sluggishly, or not at all.

The cure? Rigorous maintenance, daily care and cleaning. Every day, every mission. Without fail.

My M4 worked every time I pulled the trigger. However, others have had different experiences.

It shouldn’t be this way. There is <zero> excuse for the world’s best funded military to have a rifle that is prone to fail if neglected somewhat. The HK 416, otherwise known as the M27, seems to solve a lot of the M16’s problems, while capitalizing on its strengths and logistics.

I don’t see why this is an issue. The USMC has already begun wide-scale adoption of the M27, in my opinion the Army should too.

It really is a no-brainer.

In other news, I am typing like mad on my current project(s)- there’s about 31k words done on one book alone. I think I’m putting out decent product from feedback I’ve received thus far, but I await a broader audience during the beta phase of the project. That phase is still some months away as of yet. This is going to be a big book, and I believe it will see the light of day next year.

And of course, there is the exciting news about Hayabusa2, the Japanese spacecraft that landed on an asteroid! How flipping cool is that? Click on the link and check it out.

Cheers, J

Tourists and Big Flippin’ Rockets

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When Elon Musk tweets (or does interviews), people listen. Of course, that’s a double edged sword. Today Mr. Musk tweeted out some cool stuff.

Whoa, check out the latest rendering of the BFR spaceship from Space X, it’s a peek at the next generation in spacecraft from the ambitious company. Mr. Musk just put this out, and he intends on announcing the world’s first moon tourist today, the 17th of September 2018, at 6PM US PST.

But don’t let me go on and on. Check out this article for a deeper look at what’s happening and some more images of the BFR.

In other news, just attended a reunion of Advisor Team 1.6, it was good to see the guys. I am floored that seven years have gone by since Afghanistan, it seems to have happened in the blink of an eye.

Also, I’ve been working non-stop on a collaboration that spans three continents, it’s quite a project. Learning a lot.

At this stage I can say with confidence that nothing with my grubby prints will come out before the new year, but 2019 should be pretty good.

Cheers, JL

The End of the Road

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The Final Installment of the Special Forces Series.

We wrapped up the interview with Howard’s final mission, leading a team of combat advisors in Afghanistan.

I asked him what the most memorable moment was.

He said, “Actually, it was you (JL) getting into that firefight.”

“Arzangan. I remember the night before Arzangan, we had those shitheads that we knew had tried to put that IED on the road for us when we went in…I wonder some of the shit that was going on in there…whether we got the full story on some of those assholes.”

“But I remember thinking OK, we know we’re going to go into Arzangan, I remember sitting and having a talk with Charles Bronson (nickname, JL), (REDACTED), who was in charge of the police and Colonel Safi. (REDACTED) said, yeah, it’s my own guys who are spillin’ it. They’re telling the bad guys that we’re comin’.  And it was he who said, let’s set a trap. We’re going to tell them (the Afghan National Police, JL) we’re going north, but what you guys need to do is in the middle of the night go south, on foot. Surround the little village, and once you’ve set up a cordon, we’ll call them (the ANP, JL).”

“I remember that we had had that talk…I went out on a mission with Hajzer that got cut short…I remember that’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to set it all up.”

“I had to make a couple of calls that night, and one of them that I regret was that we didn’t have enough interpreters to go around. I didn’t have a ‘terp with me. I had some people who had a little English, but it wasn’t good enough. It was a risk, it ended up not being a problem, but had I to do it again, I would have done something different.”

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“Also, I would not have used Goddamn guides. ‘Cause we had a guide who said “oh, I know where to go” and he took us some circuitous route (I laughed, my final combat mission got screwed up by a guide as well). Trying to get on top of the hill, it’s barely light and we realized we’re about a klick off. ‘Cause you guys were way down in the valley. And we were supposed to be looking directly down on where you guys were and we were out of position. The Afghan company commander pushed some guys down there, so we had some bodies out there, but we didn’t have the entire company.”

“And then I remember the fire starting. The firefight starting. And the immediate “OK. We’ve done this before, we know what we’re doing,” and then the wheels began to turn. Fuchs and Buettner (our JTACS, or forward controllers) started getting everything together. I turned to them and said “get me some air.” I waited before I called you, because you were just developing the situation. But, of course, back at Camp Barata they’re going “What’s going on?” in Hungarian, which was very helpful.” (Combat operations in four or five different languages could be convoluted. English, Hungarian, German, Dari and Pashto.)

“Thankfully, we had the gringo channel, and we all dropped down to the gringo channel so we could talk. I did have dual comms, which was a very big thing we had learned from our first firefight. But then having that rolling, and then talking to you I was just realizing that having gotten everything moving in the right direction, there wasn’t anything else for me to do but stand up there.”

“I remember asking you whether you needed illum (illumination flares), you said “No, we know where they are.” And I thought this was going to be fun getting those idiots back there to fire illum mortars… Yeah, just standing back waiting for the situation to develop.”

“It felt surreal. Watching the fight go on and thinking “What else should I be doing? What else needs to be happening right now?” Everything was already turning, everything was moving in the right direction. And then the firefight started to subside, and I started getting more information from you, pushing people in the right direction. The Police were already on the way, cause they had gotten tipped, but they still didn’t show up for another hour.”

“It was a little while after that I got down into the village. I didn’t get to the site of your fight, but I did get to where they were holding all the other shitheads. You know, the same thing we were talking about…the lamentations of their women. But our kids were going off to prison, or whatever they ended up doing with them.”

“I dunno. There are a million things I’d do differently, but I couldn’t tell you the first thing.”

I thanked him for the interview, held on the 26thof August, 2018 from roughly 1100hrs to 1300.

As long as I live, I’ll never forget this remarkable man, or the others I served with on Team 1.6.

It’s been an honor to share LTC Pearce’s tale.

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Eritrea

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Part five of a six part series.

The moment when Howard went from being “the lieutenant” to “Sir” was when his team was called upon to serve in Eritrea.

“It was in East Africa, no-one had been in Eritrea in forever…just three years earlier they had won a civil war, they had won their independence from Ethiopia…We were dealing with the Eritrean fighters, they were some hardened warriors. I’d equate them very much with the Afghans we worked with…They knew what they were doing.”

“These fuckers moved faster at night then they moved during the day,..I remember getting the team out and then realizing, I am six hours from the nearest gringo, I am out here with 200 of these cats and four Americans. We’re it. Our plan in case we got an American hurt was coming up on the SATCOM and seeing if there was a carrier group in the Red Sea; that was our exfil.”

Howard sat down with a representative from the US Embassy. The man said “You’re going to be in-country for about three weeks. Here’s what I expect of you. You’re going to be a self-licking ice-cream cone. I expect you to come in today and tell me what you’re going to do, and in three weeks I expect you to come in here and tell me that you’re done, and I’ve heard nothing else about what you guys are doing.”

What could the young Green Beret say, other than “Roger?”

Howard returned to his unit. “Yeah, you’re in command, but you’re not in charge of everything. Your team sergeants are getting things done, you’re listening to people. You’re taking their input- then you become “Sir.” They will back you up; when you make that call they will back you up.”

Howard talked a little bit about when a team becomes a team. “The real After Action Review (AAR) comes in the truck on the way back when guys say “What the fuck…” When you can pick the pieces up and execute the next day just a little bit better…that’s when you know you’ve got a team.”

He provided me with a vignette from Eritrea.

“We had a monster team…my twelve guys and four guys from 5th Group.” Originally the plan had been to split people up, but Howard was able to talk the in-country SF commander, a soldier named Binford, into his way of thinking. Much later, I learned that Howard is a master of the Jedi mind trick technique- convincing others that his plan is best, all while the hapless victim believes Howard’s plan was his from the start.

“I had three ‘Nam vets on the team, including one SF ‘Nam vet. I had police officers…they were the only ones with practical knowledge about pop-up-and-shoot-back targets…I ended up pushing out to a place called Ghatelay, which was down by the Red Sea.”

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“So these guys are in active combat in all kinds of places while we’re in there trying to teach them how to fight… I remember sitting down with some of their officers, I was a late twenty year old captain sitting down with their battalion commander, a man in his forties. I said, Sir, let’s talk about ambushes.”

The Eritrean commander replied, “You mean linear, U-shaped or L-shaped.”

Howard was surprised. He said “Oh, you’ve got this.”

The Eritrean replied through the interpreter. “You need to understand that we’re fighters. I’ve got 30 year old men inside my unit with fifteen years of combat experience. But you, you are soldiers. We need to become soldiers.”

And that is precisely what the US Army brings to the table in these types of affairs. So, some US officers got together with the Eritreans and they ran tabletop exercises of battles they had actually fought in the past, such as the fight for the causeway in Massawa.

“There were bad guys, Ethiopians, on the island, and they started sending battalions, one after another, up the causeway. They started to talk about “Did you have any supporting fires?” “No.” “Were you supported by fires from other battalions?” ”No.” This led into a discussion about the grit of combat operations, logistics and supply.

“We talked about how commanders had to write orders to coordinate with one another, while the soldiers focused on the tactical.”

“We ended up doing night battalion live fires, with no illumination.”

(A brief note from JL- very, very dangerous.)

“That’s how these cats worked.”

“I never knew that RPG’s spun. That they skipped and spun…we set up these big plywood targets, lit up with chem lights. In the morning, when you went out to look at it, you would see the perfect outline of an RPG-7 round, including the fins, where it had spun through the target. Then your next problem was we gotta go find those rounds, cause there’s goats and herdsmen all through this area.”

“We were set up in this area…and we had baboons come through…I’ve seen baboons in a zoo, I’ve never seen fifty of them moving like an infantry company, and the Eritreans just get out of their way…cause they went through the Eritrean camp and just tore it to shit.”

The Eritreans said “If you get surrounded by these things, fight well, my friend.”

“I was back at the camp, and I’ve got my battle rattle on, and I remember thinking, I’ve only got 210 rounds. That ain’t enough.” Howard laughed at the memory.

“It was a very good first mission, because it set up, “this is what you do.” Sitting in the middle of nowhere, talking through an interpreter, trying to figure out what we want to work on, but also who is he…how can we work together, and what are the things I don’t want to get into.”

“This is what I loved about my job.”