The gun, the building, and an MRI


We all know how bullshit war stories start.

“Well, there I was…”

Well, there I was. In the doctor’s office, nearly eight years after my war story. The man was telling me about my MRI results. I finally told the people up at the VA what was going on with me. Can’t lift wet clothes from the washing machine, painful to turn knobs with my left hand, can’t carry the vacuum cleaner around. It got old, so I made mention to my GP. She ordered an MRI, and a few weeks later there I was, in the orthopedic surgeon’s office.

Nerve damage, bad stuff with the tendons in my left arm, arthritis. The doc, a 3rd Ranger Battalion veteran, got out the needles. Cortisone to tie me over. He moved my joints around, it felt like a series of electric shocks. Then he pressed in hard. Pain. “Aha,” he said. “Now I know where to stick the needle.” First he did my shoulder, then he did my elbow. He’d have done my wrist, too, but apparently the VA will only authorize two shots per day. Two was enough.

I wasn’t going to scream in front of a man with a Ranger scroll and the Combat Medic Badge, but I will admit to some deep breaths.

How in the hell did I wind up here, I thought.

It’s a tale of a gun, a building, and madness.

“Well, there I was…”

So we were in a day-long engagement. The sun was setting, it had been a successful day. We needed to get out of there. Our team sergeant, Pete the Ranger, wanted to stay on the hill we had taken as a thumb in the Taliban’s eye. The team commander, the Colonel, said “Fuck no, we’re leaving.” So exhausted and addled by blast I climbed up behind the gun on the Colonel’s truck. I was never so happy to get behind the gun as on that evening, we were leaving the proverbial valley of the shadow of death.

God, how can I describe the roads. They were unworthy of the name, they were really improved donkey paths. It was a miracle that our MAT-Vs made it as far as they did to retrieve us, we assaulted in on foot. So we gathered our beans and our baskets and made our way out. A distinct memory was the truck in front of me nearly flipping as it straddled a wall, just watching I nearly pissed myself. Then it was our turn.

We hit a tree, a branch struck my weapon’s muzzle which in turn struck me violently in the face with the spade handles. How I didn’t lose teeth I don’t know. I ended up on the floor of the vehicle, senseless. But the gun needed to be “up,” so I jumped to my feet and got behind the gun. I noticed immediately that the turret was spinning out of control, the electrical controls were dead.

There was a redundant control, a manual crank handle. I smacked that bitch into place and with a violent wrench brought the gun back up. Called down to the Colonel. “Gun’s up.” I thought I was sweet.

And then I saw the building. We barreled into that sucker and pushed it part way over, my weapon got hung up again. This time I didn’t get as lucky as before. The manual crank handle beat the crap out of my arm, the gun got wedged on my body. Serious pain. My arm started swelling immediately, it was bad juju. The turret was completely inoperative and so was the gunner (me).

So began an exfiltration that was as bad as the combat, and nearly as long. We got back to our crappy firebase sometime around dawn after convoying for hours through Indian country. Stuck vehicles. Lost equipment. Soldiers on the ragged edge.

Bad. And we kept fighting in that shithole for another week.

And seven years, nine months later there I sat as the doctor told me my arm had seen better days.

You know what though?

To protect the Colonel and my friends, I would jump on that gun again. Knowing all that would happen; up to and including my trip to the VA today. Foreknowledge wouldn’t change a thing. Other stuff, yeah.

But not that.

Your full, legal signature


Imagine my surprise when I read a report this morning about a gentleman in New York who has been accused of forging signatures on inspection paperwork for aerospace parts, destination Space X. This person, if guilty, has jeopardized lives, reputations, and huge sums of money. Not to mention he could have single-handedly set back the revitalization of our space program with a serious, highly publicized mishap.

Dumb. Criminal, too.

My military career took a convoluted, non-obvious, twisting path. Nineteen years before I led an Afghan infantry company up a hill in the Army, I was a wet-behind the ears aircraft mechanic in the Air Force. The training was extensive, technical, and rigorous. It seemed that Uncle Sam wanted me to work on F-15s, before I was allowed to so much as breathe upon one we had a class about paperwork and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

It was made crystal clear to my class on Day One that if we set our signature upon an aircraft maintenance document, it was a binding legal document as soon as it was signed. The maintenance logs were meticulously maintained, scrutinized. They could be used as an instrument in a court-martial if an airplane went down as the result of shoddy maintenance, your signature could send you to jail.

Nothing spreads fear among maintainers like an aircraft crashing. As soon as the base hears that an aircraft has gone down, the maintenance logs are seized and placed under guard. The last maintainers that touched the aircraft are summoned for questioning, every aspect of their work would be examined by some pretty hard-nosed types. The investigation could go on for months, and in that whole time everyone who placed their signature upon the logs lives in fear about the investigation board’s findings.

Because that signature in the logs is binding. A legal document. An affirmation that the work you performed was in strict accordance with the Technical Orders for your aircraft. Those signatures have cost more than a few their careers, their paychecks, and their freedom.

A stupid eighteen year old E-1 on Day One of technical training knows this deep in their bones, and the lesson is pounded home throughout their service.

So where does this engineer, if he did what he is alleged to have done, get off forging signatures and falsifying work?

There is no excuse for this. None.

The legal nature of the signature in the logs is no different in the civilian world. The only difference is that the signee is liable for civil and criminal action, as opposed to the UCMJ like a military mechanic. Either way, the signee is in for some serious trouble.

The logs are the logs.

If your work was substandard or “pencil whipped,” you sign at your peril.

I can’t think of an application more demanding and unforgiving of error than spaceflight. This is truly a zero-tolerance application with the highest demands. I’ll bet the investigators that uncovered this alleged malfeasance are ex-military types with long aerospace experience.

Heaven help the character who set his signature down.


D-U-N, Done.


Well, not quite done, but it’s the end of the first phase.

It’s been a flurry of writing these past couple of months. The rough draft of my latest manuscript, the alternate history, is done. It landed a little south of where I wanted it, but a few thousand words will probably be tacked on in revisions over the next couple of months as my beta crew chews it over.

The beta read phase of a project is my favorite part; you put your stuff out on a cloud based file sharing program and send invites for people to read. Then you sit back and wait on the reactions, stuff you missed.

It’s great fun.

Wish I would have used this technique on my first two novels; I can’t say it’s my invention by any means. I blatantly stole it from a friend, author and mentor. If you are considering writing, I highly encourage you to develop the manuscript and then post it to a trustworthy crew.

It’s an eye-opener.

So yeah, it’s Miller time, the rough manuscript is finito.

Sweet. Now it’s time to “supervise and refine,” as they used to say in my old line of work.

And the writing continues.

Say hello to the new (old) Army uniform


So I suffered through a number of dumb uniform changes. The beret. The ACU. The ugly, greyhound bus “blues.”

I always wondered what the hell was wrong with the old Greens, which resembled the coolest Army uniform, the old WW2 outfit.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one who thought about that. Now look, each Army uniform iteration had its ups and downs, with the exception of the black beret, which was stolen from its rightful owners, the Rangers. Well, OK, the ASU (blues) were pretty dumb, too. However, the ACUs had many redeeming factors, with the exception of the most important part- the camouflage pattern.

I remember when the ACUs were first introduced, and we debated whether the camo pattern would work in the field. Well, one trip to the woods solved that question. Troops in the old BDUs were practically invisible while dudes in the new ACUs stood out like sore thumbs until the uniforms were completely filthy with mud.

However, I loved the functionality of the things. All those pockets, and no more boots to shine.

So when I was issued Multicams in Afghanistan, it was a perfect world. Very functional uniforms combined with an excellent camo pattern- top notch. A few years later and the Army adopted the pattern service-wide. Wise choice.

But the dress uniforms still sucked.

Well, I came across the news today that the Army has finally gone with common sense. They are bringing back a modified WW2 dress uniform.

I ask myself why it ever changed in the first place. But it did, and now we’ve come full circle. Hooray for the return of Grandpa’s khakis.

It’s about time.

A forgotten corner


So I recently had the honor of having a mini-story put out on John Birmingham’s Patreon website. If you aren’t a subscriber to his apocalyptic universe, you should be. He’s putting out tremendous stuff. You can read the first completed book for two bucks, plus a lot of bonus content. Among the treasure trove of stuff to read are a couple of shorts by yours truly, so if you’re keen, check it out.

The story I wrote was kind of my homage to King and his masterpiece “The Stand,” a book that many of you are familiar with.

I thought of it while focused on things other than writing, this seems to be how I land with a lot of my concepts. Hurried up and banged out the short before I lost the idea; I’ve learned to strike while the fire is hot.

How does this relate to the image above?

Allow me to explain. So Birmingham’s book is about a world cast into madness via cyber warfare. He goes on to describe America’s descent into anarchy and ruin.

It occurred to me that we’ve been there before. Almost. It was a close-run thing.

Wide swathes of the United States were in utter ruins and under martial law for a long time during the 1860’s-70’s. And that was the US “back East,” out west there was very little rule of law at all. This was exacerbated by a vicious war between white settlers, the Army, and the natives that continued until the 1890’s.

I think this period explains a lot about what is known to some as “America’s gun culture,” there remained a deep-seated need passed down through the generations to be armed against all comers, at all times. Also, the sheer geography of the American territories dictated that law enforcement’s role was essentially to collect the dead and hang the guilty, actual crime prevention and deterrence is a relatively recent phenomenon.

If you are not familiar with the American Civil War or would like to see a realistic depiction of the Wild West, I would recommend two films. The first is Cold Mountain, the second is Hostiles. Look ’em up, watch them.

The Civil War produced nearly Soviet scale casualties, 620,000 dead out of a pre-war population of 31 million. To this day one still comes across echoes of that conflict in the oddest of places, see photo above.

My wife had a visit to the doctor, I was bored. So I took a quick walk. Tucked into a residential neighborhood of a small town there was a cemetery. I noticed a cannon, so I decided to take a look. Lo and behold, there was yet another Civil War cemetery. There are so many of those things around. And those were guys whose remains were actually ID’d and brought home. Many, many remained unidentified in mass graves.

Could this happen again, I thought in that somber place.

Birmingham’s book provides the answer in plausible fashion.


Read it. You’ll see for yourself.


Carrot Cake


Ok, so I was just emailing a friend and I remembered an episode in the past. It all revolved around a carrot cake.

Readers, you have no idea how sublime carrot cake can be. Especially after a long tour filled with unhygienic circumstances, tons of rice and goat meat, and stolen melons.

Lemme set the scene. It was September of 2011, a pretty bad month. The little team I was on went through about a month of combat operations up in the mountains, lots of bad stuff happened.

Some vivid imagery from that period.

Bullets clipping off marijuana buds and tree leaves. A pair of fighters that flew beneath me in the midst of a firefight. An Apache chased away by RPG fire. An explosion witnessed from afar that looked like a mushroom cloud. Purple mountains with snowy caps, rapid running streams. Dusty villages as old as time. Oxen pulling wooden plows. Old men listening to the radio, powered by a little Chinese generator. Talking with bombers, their crews would fly back to Al Udeid after their mission. Fear. Disgust. Loathing. Prayer.

So like all things, the period ended. Our weary team returned to our firebase in the “rear,” there was a ghetto little chow hall there run by the 2-18 Infantry.

We were quite the sight. The Colonel was wearing an Air Force flight suit, our Team Sergeant had a “Fuck Al-Queda” T-shirt on, my left arm was swollen up to the size of an American football. We all had beards and probably stunk to high heaven. We were covered in dust, I had a cough that wouldn’t quit. We smoked Pakistani L&Ms, there was nothing uniform or regulation about us, and we didn’t give a shit.

We cleared our weapons and headed into the chow hall.

My eyes were drawn immediately to a carrot cake. I had to have it.

Grabbed a tray, plopped an unknown number of pieces of cake upon it. Heaped mashed potatoes on top, for good measure added some fine Army gravy. Sat down across from some random Department of the Army civilian sorts. Started to eat. A lot.

One of the DA guys spoke.

“Hey Lieutenant. We heard about you guys.”

I said nothing, looked at him for a second and then I jammed another bite of mashed potato and carrot cake in my mouth.

“The Apaches got shot to shit. You were there?”

“Yeah.” I swigged at some mystery fruit juice.

“Good fuckin’ job, LT.”

I probably nodded, can’t really remember much after that. I felt a fierce pride in my team, our band of misfits. And I felt pain. A lot of pain.

The carrot cake helped. The shower that followed was amazing.

A clean toilet, a real bed. God, it was paradise. I wept when the C-17 finally carried us away from Bagram Air Base.

Ever since, all I can see here back in the world is paradise. People have no idea how good they’ve got it; piles of carrot cakes if you want. Amazing food, relative safety.

I ended up in the hospital, the Army and I parted ways.

Unfortunately, I kept eating as if I was in that chow hall.

Sooo… I’m doing a lot of walking these days.

And I stay the hell away from the bakery section of Wal-Mart.