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September 07, 2006

Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers. The title of a new book (out this October) by Time Magazine's Michael Weisskopf, one of the co-writers of the Time Person of the Year article that featured US troops.

Also known as "The reporter who ate the grenade."

I actually finished the book last week, but have taken a week to digest it. Why? Because the book roused great emotions in me.

Mike Weisskopf lost his hand the night a grenade bounced into the HMMWV he was riding in. He picked it up, and tossed it out of the vehicle - and it blew up pretty much in his hand, blowing it off - but, incidentally, saving the lives of the soldiers in the vehicle.

I say incidentally on purpose - because an important sub-theme of the book is Weisskopf coming to grips with that act. An act characterized as heroism by those he saved and others around him - but the title of hero is not one he's comfortable with. If you wish to see how, if at all, he resolves that - well, you'll have to read the book, won't you?

With that as an opener, you then follow the stories of three other amputees -Pete Damon, Luis Rodriguez, and Bobby Isaacs - from their injuries through their travails as healthy young men maimed in the prime of their lives.

Since Weisskopf was wounded early in the Iraq campaign, you also get a glimpse at the transformation for the staff of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, as they shift from treating geriatric patients at the end of their lives to treating young, fit men, suddenly discomfited in their prime. And the differences are wrenching, and the toll on staff and family is laid bare. As is the courage of these people, and too, the occasional failure of courage, and the impacts. In this, Weisskopf is unsparing.

You'll get to meet Stumpy, Ralph, and Pretty Boy - so doing, get some insight to the process of healing, acceptance, coping and adaptation - not just for the amputees, but those around them, as well.

I had to put the book down, time and time again, as I felt rushes of guilt. Why? Weisskopf was wounded early in the war, and was finished with the bulk of his rehab process before we got Project Valour-IT started. No one's fault - it was established as a result of milblogger CPT Z's wounding, when the need suddenly burst into the open, via Carin's blogging for Chuck, which turned Fuzzybear Lioness into a dynamo of organization.

But as I read, and the nature of their challenges sunk in, I just couldn't help but think, man, we started late! And it bothered me, a lot.

Oddly enough, there is a passage from the book - appropriately coming at the end, where an epiphany for Mike Weisskopf became an epiphany for me. It comes about as the result of a chat with the psychiatrist, Hal Wain. I'll let Mike tell you:

Lying awake that night, I was reminded of one of Wain's comments. I had been expressing my frustration about the fact that such a major ordeal had seemed to have so little effect on me - I was still the same impatient, competitive, and sefl-critical person I'd always been. If I had acted so nobly, why didn't I feel more content? Wain's response at the time struck me as somewhat facile: rather than bring about change, he said, the good deed had left me angry at myself. "You're thinking you could have done the same thing and didn't have to lose the hand. You love a perfect win, and didn't get that perfect victory that you wanted and maybe deserved."

As I tossed and turned in the early hours of Independence Day, the simple truth of the psychologists words hit me. It was true: I was mad at myself for failing to pull off a clean sweep. And it was that anger that was preventing me form savoring the achievement of a lifetime: saving my own skin and that of three others. My failure to get rid of the grenade before it exploded was only the first in a long list of wrongs I would have to pardon before I could finally put the ordeal behind me.

Weisskopf goes on to explain that in terms of what he terms "The Prize" - which is the rest of his life, and those of Damon, Rodriguez, and Isaacs.

I too took a lesson from it, as Mike had expressed something I too did, in my completely-trivial-in-comparison way - my emotions from reading the book were similar in scope - I was angry with myself because we started so late with Project Valour-IT.

Which means I too wasn't letting myself take solace in the fact that we did get it started, and we can serve (and have served) those who were wounded and moved on before we got the program up and running.

And many, many of you are a part of that, too.

And you should read this book - so you to can get a real sense of having been part of something capital-G good.

I've got other things to say about the book, but I'll do those in later posts.

And if you haven't given to Project Valour-IT lately - it's never too late to top off, or just get started.

I got an advanced reader's copy of the book, it's scheduled for publication in October. This blog doesn't have the reach of Matt, or Greyhawk, but it does give me a chance to do things like PVIT, get review copies of books, and have email chats with people like Mike Weisskopf. All for about $40 a month.

Cheap at twice the price.

What follows is a listing of people you should know - and will, if you read the book. In no particular order or grouping - this is as much for the named individuals, if they ever google themselves, or for kids researching a book report... well, their names are up here, and tied to the book. What the heck, it's the least I can do - if you're going to be in Google, this is a good thing to be tied to, methinks.

Michael Weisskopf, Jenn Damon, Pete Damon, Rebekah Edminster, Luis Rodriguez, Lilliam Rodriguez, Bobby Isaacs, Derick Hurt, Victor Vorobyev, Kathleen Yancosek, Skyler Weisskopf, Olivia Weisskopf, Andy McCaffrey, Justin LaFerrier, Isatta Jackson, John Gonsalves, Joe Miller, John Miguelez, Mike Curtin, Chuck O'Brien, Nicholas Cutcher, Krystal, Pat Isaacs, Jack Cox, Renee Cox, Jordan Caldwell, Dorian Perez, Maria Bueche, Paul Bueche, PJ Bueche, Marianne Pearl, Ibrahim Kabbah, Mary Miles, Jim Beverly, Orion Jenks, Ron Buxton, Jim Nachtwey, Billie Grimes, Ramesh Pratnesar, Brian Bennett, Sam al-Hillali, Howard Chu-Eoan, Nina McCoy, Leslie Flesch, Allura Damon, Danny Damon, Melanie Damon, Andy Friedman, Tammy LaFrancois, Marci Stillerman, Judith Katz, John Zenie, Jim Mayer, Hal Koster, James Nicholas, Tami Barr, James Fair, Heath Callahan, Aunt Julia, Jerry the Rockclimber, David Maraniss, Thomas Hinger, Marje Hoban, Hal Wain, Katrina Fair, Maurice Craft, Andrea Craft,

by John on Sep 07, 2006
» MilBlogs links with: Stop by the Castle today...

September 02, 2006

Okay - it's out, as most of you know...

The Blog Of War

Front-line Dispatches from Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan (and some hosers like me, too).

Military blogs have transformed the way we look at war and the military, says U.S. Army veteran and military blogger (“Blackfive”) Mathew Currier Burden, author of THE BLOG OF WAR: Front-line Dispatches from Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan (Simon and Schuster; September 12, 2006; $15.00). Military blogs—milblogs, for short—give readers an uncensored, intimate, and immediate view of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Military blogs”, says Burden, “have been an experiment in putting lives that are on the line online.”

The first milblogs came after the invasion of Afghanistan, when the U.S. military gave soldiers internet access. Blogging became the perfect way for soldiers to stay in touch with and to tell their stories to their comrades-in-arms, their friends and families, and even the public at large. Milblogs were ideal for filling in the gaps that both the media and the military left out of the war. For the first time in the history of warfare, the public had access to an immediate, uncensored bird’s-eye view of what was really happening on the ground.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government is now trying to shut down these blogs and otherwise censor them. THE BLOG OF WAR could very well be one of the last real-time records of the war told by our troops as they risk their lives.

After the death of a friend in Iraq, Burden started his own blog,, in mid-2003 to support the troops fighting the War on Terror and tell their stories. quickly became one of the most visited and linked blogs and has won consecutive “Best Military Blog” honors in the Weblog Awards. Now, Matt Burden has collected some of the most riveting and insightful work by other bloggers in THE BLOG OF WAR.

In it you will meet:
• The Warriors. Each day they must go into battle “to fight the dragons.” Readers who have never heard a shot fired in anger will come closer to knowing what it’s like to enter a known terrorist safe house or patrol the streets of Baghdad.

• The Leaders. Combat leadership can be the toughest and loneliest job in the world. “Seldom is the average American subjected to decisions of right and wrong where consequences result in death,” says one soldier.

• The Healers. The medics who staunch the blood and patch the wounds of their fellow soldiers on the wretched expanses of the battlefield, working feverishly between the next bullet and the nearest hospital to keep their buddies alive.

• Heroes from the Homefront. Having a loved one in harm’s way is a very stressful and trying experience. Some relatives get help from friends, family, and neighbors. Many others, however, especially those on bases or in neighborhoods where everyone is deployed, can find themselves struggling alone.

• The Fallen. Not everyone makes it back home: bloggers pay tribute to those who have fallen in defense of their country – spouses mourn their husbands, soldiers mourn not only their comrades but their Iraqi friends as well, and heartbreaking last letters home are shared.

• Homecoming. Soldiers share their poignant accounts of homecoming. Some soldiers have been injured and others have wounds that can’t be seen. Words can’t really describe what it is for them to come back in one piece and be reunited with their loved ones, but THE BLOG OF WAR conveys these emotionally charged moments as few books ever have.

Military bloggers offer the public unfettered access to the War on Terror. The public does not have to wait weeks or months to hear what’s happened, nor settle for the government’s approved messages. In the past, there were only three sources from which the public could learn about a war: Combat correspondents, who sometimes wrote in the midst of action but just as often did not; government reports, which were often a mix of truth, propaganda and even disinformation; and soldiers who gave their own accounts of what they witnessed in letters to friends and family, accounts sometimes censored by the military, and always written and received well after the fighting had subsided.

THE BLOG OF WAR is a remarkable account of men and women as they actually experience the trials and tribulations of war on the battlefield, where our soldiers must daily test their humanity against harrowing episodes of the horror and fear. Readers are certain to have a better understanding and a greater respect for those who risk their lives for their country in these most turbulent times.

Matthew Currier Burden [better known as Matty O'Blackfive!] enlisted in the military when he was seventeen. He left the military as a major in the U.S. Army Reserve in July 2001. He has a Master of Science degree in computer science from the University of Chicago and works as an IT executive in Chicago.

By Matthew Currier Burden
Published by Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: September 12, 2006
Price: $15.00
ISBN: 0-7432-9418-1

Get yours here - at Amazon, hey, c'mon, it's only $10.20 plus shipping!

Kewl, huh? I finally wrote something that wasn't assigned to me by the government and printed by the government. Someone else actually chose, oh, a couple hunnerd of my words, interspersed among a thousand or so other words, and thought they were worth including. I've got six pages in a book that is *actually* in bookstores, for sale. Kinda neat.

Of course, me being me, there is one small, teeny glitch. Funny thing 'bout the Internet - nobody knows you're a dog, right?

Back in the early days, when the 'net wasn't overrun with blogs like it is now, and mediocre blogs like this one could have pretensions of grandeur - there were those out there like Eric of Straight White Guy who though I was a General!

Later on, Donnie of Jebus fame thought I was a Colonel.

Still later, Matty O'Blackfive thinks (well, thought, we having chatted about it) I was a Lieutenant Colonel, because that's how I'm credited in the book.

Close, but no cigar.


I'm just a retired Major. And in this age of Stolen Valor, I feel like I gotta get *that* out in the open for the Google-monster, less I actually become a Really Big Blogger and get sniped for pretending to be a Lieutenant Colonel.

And it seems the better people know me... they keep lowering their expectations... I guess when someone finally calls me Captain Donovan, it will time to make this space go dark!

by John on Sep 02, 2006
» Blue Star Chronicles links with: Blogging News

May 11, 2006

Mini-book reviews.

All on books I paid for myself, too! This free books in the mail gig is getting pretty nice, I admit.

The Romans paid homage to democracy, the rights of the common citizen and, for a time, republicanism. But they rarely lived up to many of these ideals. Roman history is the chronic struggle between the privileged patricians and the disenfranchised plebians. Plebians fought to have a voice, and patricians endeavored to keep them excluded. The Roman patrician often tried to keep his privileges by offering lesser rights to plebians. In this spirit, patricians insisted that every man had a right to salt. "Common salt," as it has come to be known, was a Roman concept.

That's the opening to Chapter Four, Salt's Salad Days, of Salt, A World History, by Mark Kurlanksy.

I couldn't help but be struck by how both the Right and the Left would point to the other and say - See! That's Just Like You! Whereas those of us in the muddle would just look at all the elites on both sides, and shake our heads resignedly. Dos Passos' Curse.

I love books like this, that take common things and make them, in a sense, uncommon, give them a sense of drama beyond what we'd imagine. If only textbook writers could master the telling of history like this. Books like The Map That Changed the World, by Simon Winchester, an immensely readable book on what amounts to the invention of geology, oddly enough via geography. Were I teaching those subjects in high school or college these days, my students would be reading that book. It wouldn't reach all of them, certainly, but the ripples of interest would spread wider.

The same is also true were I still teaching English, as I did for the Army, to college graduates no less. Yep, you paid a field grade officer to teach basic written communications skills to college graduates. Sigh. Anyway, upon those pedagogically ill-served and articulacy-benighted company grade officers, I would impose another fascinating Winchester tome, The Meaning of Everything : The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. Winchester illustrates the drama of the soap opera that was the compilation and publishing of the Oxford English Dictionary. What a debt we owe the people, especially James Murray, that managed to "get 'r done!". It's also a very enlightening peek into how other languages and cultures view the issues of... language and culture. You might be surprised to find out who is *rather* xenophobic about such things. But more importantly, it illustrates the search for *clarity* in writing.

Anyway, enough. I recommend all three. Back on my head - you too.

by John on May 11, 2006

January 16, 2006

If you are about to retire from the military...

...or have done so recently - buy this book.

What book?

The Military Advantage, by Chris Michel (even is he *is* a Squid).

You may have seen the book in your email lately if you get the email updates from

First up - the caveat. I got this as a review copy from the publisher, though it came without any requirement to read, much less endorse and review. They asked, I said yes, it showed up. It's good to be the Armorer. I now have those privileges with *two* publishers. Now if I could only score the real Geek Military presses like Greenhill and St. Martins, among others. I've got a few more book reviews in the works, I'll let you know which ones were free to me, vice ones I paid for.

I read it. And I honestly wish that I had had this book before I retired. I'm sure the info contained in this book was out there - but when I was looking for it, it wasn't in one, easy to read, and MOST IMPORTANTLY CROSS-REFERENCED, one-stop-shop.

This is especially true as an easy-to-read-and-follow description of the VA Disability application and adjudication process.

The book covers all aspects of the pluses of a military career (we know the minuses already, eh?), in an easy to read (and did I mention, cross-referenced?) manner. It's easy to navigate, written in Real Person, not Gov't Bureaucrat - and in a nod to modernity and the ever-changing landscape of military benefits... gives you a website and password to get the latest updates as Congress and the Executive either scurry to pander to the passion of the moment, or is pushed, kicking and screaming, into honoring agreements long promised and little acted upon. Or acted upon, badly.

The active duty warrior or their spouse will find much useful here, especially if you are getting an assignment away from a major military installation and have to navigate the mysteries of TRICARE.

The Military Advantage, by Chris Michel. Published by Simon and Schuster. 389pps, $20.00 on the cover, $13.60 online at Amazon, I dunno what the PX is going to charge for it.

UPDATE: ARGGHHH!!! I was in a rush this morning, and saved the wrong version of this post. That error led to this question in the comments:

Sounds like a great resource. Would this also be useful to those leaving the military after 8-10 years, who I presume are not actually "retiring"?

The missing part is this:

This genesis for this book was Michel's experience when transitioning from active duty to the reserve. He had specific benefit questions, and when he asked a crusty old CPO, he got a concise, complete answer - unavailable anywhere else.

So Michel decided to become that "anywhere else." Thus, this tome. Yes, this book is a good reference for those entering the service, changing components, and as a "stay behind" reference for family members whose Warrior is deployed, not just us useless old farts who are know just a drag on the Defense budget providing no value added (good work if you can get it, though).

As I said, The Armorer was in a rush this morning, and regrets the error...

by John on Jan 16, 2006