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Starfish Taliban

A parable

One day a schoolteacher was walking through the streets of Kandahar. Smoke billowed from burning buildings, darkening the sun. Screams and gunshots rang out in all directions. The schoolteacher turned a corner and found an American soldier standing in the middle of the street. Before the soldier was a single Afghan man in a black turban shrieking “Allahu akbar!” and waving a blood-soaked knife. A woman in a burkha, sobbing, ran from the black turbaned man, past the schoolteacher, and disappeared into the smoke. At the turbaned man’s feet lay another woman’s body, robes lifted and askew. She lay among three other black turbaned men, all shot dead. As the schoolteacher watched, the American soldier put two rounds into the turbaned man’s chest and he fell, joining his brothers. All around, down the many streets, men shouted and screamed. The schoolteacher looked closely at the American soldier. He was bloody from wounds, flesh darkened from dirt and smoke, and his eyes were tired. The soldier raised a hand to his chest and pressed his radio, “I’m at the intersection of blue and willow. Where to next?” The schoolteacher could not hear it but the soldier got a reply and began moving deeper into the smoke. Before he disappeared the schoolteacher asked, “Why are you still here? There are thousands of them. You can never kill them all. They will go on raping and murdering long after you are gone. Why?” The soldier paused and gestured to the men on the ground. “Those won’t.” Then he turned and disappeared into the smoke.

SGT Moxon

SGT Moxon

A friend of mine just took his own life. He was a soldier. I worked with him many times in the field and in the office and he was known for keeping a positive attitude even when things sucked. We could all depend on him to always do his best. I liked him and I have wept for him.

Rest easy, SGT Moxon, we have the watch.

I’ve passed through some pretty dark times in my life. So much so that I can no longer have anything but that feeling of “Yeah, I get it brother,” towards those who choose to end their own lives. One thing that helped me then was talking to people about my struggles, calling someone. In my case it was usually a stranger who’d put his name on the list at group. I know it’s harder to call someone you know, but damn it, if you don’t have a group or a list, reach out to me anyway.

“Special Metal” the Cover

As with “The Shore People” Dad asked me to put together a cover for him. We searched Deviant Art and found an artist we liked. This time we wanted to focus a little more on people, characters in the story, than on a grand space event so we looked for that especially as we perused various artists.  We finally settled on a fellow named Geoffroy Thoorens in France known on DeviantArt as DJAHAL. His people were amazing, natural and vital looking. His landscapes were just as good and he was very comfortable with combining the two and giving it all a techno feel whenever he wanted to. Continue reading “Special Metal” the Cover

“The Shore People” the Cover

My Father has written a couple of really good science fiction novels. They are for sale on Amazon under the name Mark T. Skarstedt: “The Shore People” and “Special Metal.”  Recently, he asked me to help him get better covers for them.

I was thrilled and went to work. I started browsing, sent a few notes and a few emails to artists whose work I liked, and started quizzing my friend Isaac Stewart (a fine artist and art director I’m privileged to know) about protocol. Continue reading “The Shore People” the Cover

Mad Scientist Short Fiction Contest and the Small Wars Journal

Several months ago I had no less than three of my friends separately send me a link to the “Mad Scientist Contest” Link 1, Link 2 being run by Army TRADOC. The contest was apparently inspired by an article that had been written in 1956 in the “Army” magazine. Thank you Dave, Ron, and Garon for thinking of me.

I perused the submission guidelines, brainstormed it with my writing group, and wrote the story. I’m quite proud of it. It didn’t win the contest but did place as a top 8 finalist. Part of that placement meant that it got published in the Small Wars Journal. Here is the link to the May issue, and a link to the story itself.


Love, and being a jerk about it

CarryHerPackI follow Myke Cole’s blog and occasionally am linked to Patrick Rothfuss’. Today I was inspired by their words on love.

Mr. Rothfuss spoke on its many faces. Mr. Cole spoke on one of his. I sat and thought about  mine.

Here’s one (of many). Sometimes I show love by being a jerk.

At the top of the hill pictured above I noticed that while these soldiers were busily doing their work they were also letting their rifles get out of arm’s reach.

The course I teach is designed to prepare soldiers with certain job specialties for the realities of combat. We had told them to keep their rifles within arms reach. This is a big deal.

I warned them at the top of the hill. I even told them that I would not warn them again. They nodded and said, “Yes, Sergeant,” and took up their rifles.

If you’re not used to it, having a rifle constantly flopping around and banging into things and getting in the way can be a real pain. You get used to it though, and soon get to the point that you don’t even notice having it with you. Until the shooting starts, and then it’s there in your hands like magic.

Perhaps ten minutes after my warning to these soldiers about the proximity of their rifles they were back to work and leaving their rifles strewn about again.

I didn’t get mad, I didn’t yell. I’ve found that to be useful only in certain situations.

I casually picked up the first rifle I came to and calmly threw it down the hill as hard as I could. They didn’t notice. I grabbed a second rifle. This one I tossed down the other side of the hill. They noticed that one. The third I plucked from the ground, not hurrying, but inches ahead of its owner. It followed the first.

By this time they had started to yell to one another and the remaining rifles were clutched to their chests.

They stared at me with wide eyes and horrified expressions. I stared back.

After they had retrieved their rifles we got back to work.

I know some instructors who do this kind of thing because it gives them a charge, a feeling of power over their students.

Not I. I did it because I love them, and don’t want them to die.

Perhaps, downrange, one of them will remember to keep his rifle in arm’s reach because I was such a jerk that it made an impression.

Perhaps it will save his life when an Afghan Policeman decides to shoot the Americans he’s working with.

Perhaps it will save someone else’s life when his rifle springs reflexively to his cheek the moment the shooting starts.

In any case, I never had to remind those students about their rifles again.

2012 Elections

EyeoftheSparrowAs Larry Correia says (among other delightful things) the advice a lot of liberals are currently peddling to their benighted Republican acquaintances in the wake of the election is pretty hilarious. Most of it is along the lines of “If you were just more left about this, and this, and this…and not conservative at all, you might get more votes next time.” (pat on the head)

Gee, thanks.

It’s a sure sign of a cloistered intellect when a person is so totally incapable of comprehending an opposing view that they seek to correct it like an elementary school teacher correcting a math problem.

It’s especially hard to take when the implications all boil down to buying votes. “You have to be willing to use the government to give them what they want, honey!”

There is some good advice out there though. In particular this article by Neal Boortz. (You’ll want to have read it before going on. It’s a good article and the rest of this post will make more sense to you.)

It occurred to me as I read the article that there are a lot of people out there who truly think that conservatives, as a body, hold the ridiculously radical views that Boortz describes on immigration, gay marriage, and abortion.

Newsflash: We don’t.

There would be no OBGYNs triumphantly holding aloft living children ripped from the torn and drained husks of their fashionable, world-wise, and unwilling mothers, uterus and all, under conservative rule. Nobody wants that.

There would be no pogroms repurposed to target happy gay homemakers. Frankly, were such violent sentiment to develop, our gay citizens would no doubt be pleased to note the arrival of a few friendly, gun-toting, and conservative neighbors more likely to stand with them to confront the mob than join it. We do hate a mob.

There would be no train cars filled with formerly college-bound hispanics grinding to the border over tracks greasy with the residue of their hopes and dreams. No internment camps filled with people convicted on no better evidence than their particular ancestry. Only Democrats may do that and then only during war time.

Yet, as long as a liberal can avoid Fox News, he’ll never get any other narrative.  Mr. Limbaugh can only do so much after all.

The left has demonized the right, painting us all with a broad brush, preemptively sure  of our innermost nature. (That’s a thing, I think, what’s it called…?)

Until we can break into their minds they’re not going to change their votes. We failed this election cycle. Perhaps next time.


Uniform on Display, A Response

Myke Cole wrote an intriguing piece over on Jim C. Hines blog the other day.

It was entitled Uniform in the Closet: Why Military SF’s Popularity Worries Me. In it Myke opined that there is a widening gap between the citizens of this nation and our military. Which is especially troubling when you consider the concept of the citizen soldier and how ubiquitous it has been until these recent phases of U.S. history. Military service members, current and former, are increasingly being considered a breed apart. Myke posits that Military SF’s growing popularity is really a manifestation of people’s fascination with the ‘other’ that the actual military is becoming in our culture.

I couldn’t agree more.

One reason for that growing separation is the fact that so few of our nation’s citizens serve in the military. One reason for that, I think, is the legacy of the Vietnam war. So much political hay was made of the military during that period, so much of it blatantly negative propoganda that the stigma was ingrained into an entire generation and is being passed on today.

Returning vets in the 60s and 70s were greeted with everything from harsh words to oven cleaner in the eyes by so-called ‘peace activists.’ Today I have received almost universal thanks and compassion for my service, usually from people who would never ever consider serving themselves. Which is the very problem Myke describes.

“Love the soldier but hate the war” does nothing to help the reputation of the military as a whole since we are the one’s prosecuting the war that is being used as political leverage.

Myke talks about wearing one’s uniform in public. He’s right. It used to be common place. It isn’t anymore.

I myself have, in the past, been very annoyed when I saw soldiers trundling their luggage through the airport in uniform. American soldiers are all taught not to do that. Travel in civilian clothes, don’t draw attention to yourself or your mission. It is the baseline SOP to travel incognito.

When soldiers travel in uniform today most (not all) of them are doing it in the hopes that someone one will give them attention or buy them lunch. That pisses me off. Being in the service is not a license to beg or show off.

But if it became common place, sanctioned and encouraged by the military leadership for CONUS travel, all that would change.

Myke gives the two big reasons why it is discouraged: OPSEC and Force Protection.

OPSEC: If every single traveling soldier traveled in uniform it would be very difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions about operations or troop movements out of the noise. Frankly, the news organizations are more than capable of betraying all that anyway, not to mention the social networking sites.

We would lose nothing and perhaps, if Myke is right, gain a great deal by increasing the visible presence of our military in the general population. Certainly worth a try. (Though I am loathe to give up the comfort of traveling out of uniform)

Force Protection: If you are a soldier traveling CONUS incognito, you are less likely to be a target. The implication of this, of course, is that some other poor schmuck will end up being the target, probably a civilian.  There is an argument to be made that this is the moral parallel of putting your bomb factory next to an orphanage.

If some bad actor wants to target Americans and would choose a soldier over a civilian, good. Make it easy for him to target a soldier instead of a civilian and see where that gets him. It’s our job to take those kind of risks so joe civilian doesn’t have to. Why then are we hiding ourselves among joe civilian on our home territory in hopes that the bad guys will choose someone else?

Of course, with our current crop of enemies, they’d much rather hit civilians than someone trained to defend themselves. Less risky that way.

I’m pleased as punch that Military SF is growing in popularity. I want to sell books and I can write that. I hope it’s not a sign of bad things to come. But it could easily be.