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New Scary Story Audiobook! (Free sample here! Werewolf story!)

16 August 2018,

My second anthology, Paranoia: More Dark Tales, has an Audible version at last!

Paranoia Cover

 

Good afternoon readers/listeners! 

I’m excited about this and I want to share it quickly to you and get back to work on more projects.

The Amazon Audible version of my second book is available here for sale now!

You don’t even need an Audible subscription to get it, though Audible is great and I recommend it.

My amazing narrator Kim Noyes did a predictably amazing job.

You can hear an entire story, The Full Moon’s Hunt, here:

 

Coming soon will be the Audible version of my novel, The Devil and the Doctor.

Thanks and happy listening!

-Geoff

How to Kill It at Army ROTC Advanced Camp

My Experience at Army ROTC Advanced Camp 2018

5th Regiment, Advanced Camp, Charlie Company, 4th Platoon with their Cadre at Fort Knox, Ky., July 23, 2018. (Photo by Amber Vincent)

On 25 July, a little over two weeks ago, I graduated from Army ROTC’s 31-day evaluative training event at Fort Knox, KY. This training event is known as Advanced Camp.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a Cadet, Googling information and advice on Camp in order to better prepare yourself. That’s a smart move, and I did the same thing my MS3 year! While I didn’t perform amazingly well at Camp, I do consider my experience a solid success, and I paid close attention, with an eye towards passing on my experience as best I can to 2019’s attendees. With that in mind, I hope this blog post helps you feel more confident, and perform better at Advanced Camp.

Let’s start with the basics. Advanced Camp is meant to assess rising MS4 Cadets on their leadership abilities and competencies in the basic “Move, Shoot, Communicate” Soldier Skills. The training at Camp prepares these Cadets to go back and mentor the junior Cadets at their school, and upon graduating from college, to move onto a position as a Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Army. ROTC is the biggest source of Officers to the Army, ahead of West Point and Officer Candidate School, so Advanced Camp is a major training event for the Army’s overall readiness, and future success.

To quote the Cadet Command website:

The mission of the Advanced Camp is to train U.S. Army ROTC cadets to Army standards and to develop leadership and evaluate officer potential. This is accomplished through a tiered training structure using light infantry tactics as the instructional medium.

Even though most Cadets aren’t looking to branch Infantry, the simulated light infantry environment of Camp serves to test Cadets on their mental resilience, their ability to lead a platoon even while under stress, and their confidence in making a decisive choice even when time and information are in short supply. Those traits are all fundamental to military leadership, not just in combat arms, but also in a medical, aviation, intelligence, or engineering unit.
More specifically, your Cadre and your peers will be judging you on the Army’s six leadership attributes and competencies, found in ADRP 6-22:
I’m sure you’ve had some instruction on these at school, but I recommend reviewing them and keeping them in the back of your mind at camp. Camp is more about these attributes and competencies than it is about your tactical prowess. You are in ROTC to become a good leader by the time you Commission, but not necessarily a brilliant tactician!
At this point, however I’m going to stop rehasing the same information you can get from your school, and get into more of my own thoughts, experiences, and advice, in the hope that you can benefit from my successes and failures.
The first thing to note is that Cadet Command makes changes to Camp every year, and major changes tend to occur when a new Commanding General takes over, as happened in 2018 when Major General Evans replaced Major General Hughes. From all I’ve heard, 2018 Camp wasn’t very different from 2017 Camp, but, we’ll see for 2019. I want to get you the freshest information I have, with the disclaimer that Cadet Command likes to adjust fire depending on the results of the previous year, and the preferences and ideas of the current Commanding General.
That said, I want to define to my mind what success at Camp looks like.

To me, success at Camp means the following:

  1. Your pre-camp preparation allows you to complete the graded events and arduous physical activity with the minimum amount of anxiety and misery.
  2. You get as high a rank in your Platoon (as judged by your Platoon Cadre) as your current abilities possibly allow. In other words, Cadre sees you in your best light possible, so you’re not short-changing yourself on your OML (Order of Merit List) ranking. If you’re going Active Duty, a higher OML ranking gives you a better chance of getting your top branch choices!
  3. You return to your campus in the fall feeling confident in your ability to mentor the MS1-MS3 Cadets below you, to prepare the 3s to do at least as well at Camp as you did, and to soon lead a platoon of U.S. Army Soldiers once you commission as an Officer.

You may have higher and more specific aspirations, such as being Number 1, or Top 5, in your Platoon, or earning the RECONDO badge. That’s all great! Do that. But I think my three criteria above are a reasonable, universal definition of being successful at Camp.

How did I personally perform? Full discolsure: I got ranked 27/37 in my Platoon, earned got a “P” for Proficient overall, (second to “E” for Excellent,) and earned a “P” on my PL rotation and three Squad Leader rotations. I didn’t get recycled and didn’t have to retest any events. I’m also going Reserve, so OML will have little bearing on what branch or PL/staff position I get.

The Phases of Camp

1. Arrival and In-Processing

The first night at Knox was kinda sucky and awkward. Sucky, because we got woken up 3 times by a fire alarm in one night and had a drug test the first 24 hours there, and awkward because at this stage I, of course, didn’t know anyone from my Platoon yet and we were all kinda awkward with each other. Some people’s luggage got lost at the airport, too, so they didn’t have all their gear for a day or two.

To back up a bit from that first day: my own flight went great, military orders meant I didn’t have to pay for any of my enormous luggage, (two duffel bags and a rucksack,) and I met and chatted amicably with some Cadets at the Philadelphia airport — none of whom I ever saw again. I ate a sub at Subway because Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays, (wah!) and was pretty much in a good mood the whole time. At Louisville, uniformed Cadre greeted us (the 20-something college kids in the polos, khakis, and sharp haircuts,) and guided us to the school bus which took us on the roughly 45 minute trip to the base.

On the bus, we got this semi-MRE lunch with cat-food like cans of chicken, (not bad actually,) and Cadre also handed us this land nav practice test to complete, with the warning that tons of Cadets had been failing the land nav written test. (More on that in a bit.)

At Knox, we were shuttled immediately to the barracks complex. There, we had a gear shakedown where he had to lay out all our stuff, and Cadre checked us for contraband and deficiencies, I saw a new LT from my school (Hi LT Colombo!) so that was neat. This shakedown was way, way friendlier than the Drill Sergeant experience I had at Basic Camp the year before– in fact, all of Advanced Camp continued that trend of relative relaxedness. (Anything feels relaxed compared to Drill Sergeant Mode, of course!) Just listen to Cadre, be quick, don’t get flustered.

You’ll march and do a lot of D&C during this time, so brush up on YouTube videos for D&C instruction, and memorize 3-4 marching cadences! You’ll impress cadre if you’re one of the first to volunteer to call cadence. It shows confidence and a proactive attitude!

We were told our Platoons, Squads, and barracks room numbers, and quickly threw our stuff in the lockers there, traded names with the randos who would soon become our trusted and beloved comrades, and changed into PTs for height and weight testing. Somehow, multiple Cadets failed the height and weight test. Yeah, don’t get fat over the summer before Camp, I don’t know what else to say. Most of the people who failed that first weigh-in did clear the retest a couple weeks later after they thinned out in the field, but don’t give yourself that extra stress! Don’t get fat.

As mentioned above– Sergeants had fun waking us up with fire alarms at 2100, 2200, and 0400, after which we got to urinate in plastic jars. No one from my Platoon got busted for weed or anything, so that was nice. I don’t know if anyone from other Platoons did. Probably one or two out of the whole Regiment, I’d guess. Don’t do drugs.

My platoon cadre consisted of an AG Captain, an Infantry Master Sergeant, a Cav Scout SFC, and a Quartermaster LT. The Cadre for Platoons come from schools all over the U.S. I’m 99% sure they make sure you won’t get the cadre from your school. From what I’ve heard from other Cadets, Cadre do vary in their expectations and emphases, so there’s a bit of a roll of the dice there on how that aspect of your experience will be.

First few days in garrison

For the first few days, we lived in the barracks, and woke up every day at 0300, 0400, or 0500. We had no PT, except for taking the APFT aroundday 3. I think the APFT at camp is a mixed experience: on the one hand, you’re likely more sleep deprived than you would be on a day you were taking it at your home school, and a few of the new LTs aren’t always the best graders, which affects some people’s sit-up and push-up count. (Yes, that sucks.) On the bright side, the track we used at Fort Knox was my favorite I’ve ever used for the APFT: two mile asphalt loop, slight elevation change, (felt like more downhill than uphill haha!) and plenty of space to pass people. Most people got better than usual run times. Of course, just work out lots before camp, and you’ll do great on the APFT.

Note that Cadre at camp factor your APFT score heavily into their evaluation of you, so working out before camp is one of the easiest and most reliable ways to boost your Platoon ranking!

For me, the most intense day in the first phase of camp was the day with the rappel tower and the confidence course. It’s not especially difficult, but if heights make you nervous like they do for me, you’ll likely feel some stress about it. We had to rappel off a 60-foot tower, including both the walled and open sides. I screwed up my jumps off the wall, so I had to redo that twice! Then the confidence course is identical to what you’d do at Air Assault School. Again, it’s mostly not that hard, (the rope climbing on “The Tough One” and “The Weaver” both take some technique and muscle endurance,) but if you hate heights your palms will be sweating on a couple of the obstacles.

We had another cool day in garrison where these awesome Cadre, ranging in rank from Private to Major, taught great classes on ballistics, basic rifle marksmanship, weapon safety, and weapon disassembly/reassembly. Most of this was genuinely fun, insightful, and genuinely helpful for basic rifle marksmanship.

On one day, we did the land nav written test. It’s 90% multiple choice, with a couple fill-in-the-blanks. We got a big military map, a protractor, and the test. Questions included identifying azimuths and distances, identifying terrain features, A few people did fail it the first time and have to retake it. Review your land nav basics from your school leading up to camp, and you shouldn’t have any trouble. Also, you’ll have time to review that stuff at camp with your platoon, which is another good bonding experience.

When we weren’t in those training events, these days were chill but occasionally dull. We never got smoked, and we spent a lot of time waiting in lines for medical and paperwork in-processing. You do get lots of time to get to know your fellow platoon members, and many of us also taught each other classes on various topics (call for fire, land nav, radios,) which will get you positive evaluation from Cadre and likely help your peer evals. So, I recommend becoming a “subject matter expert” on something like radio, first aid, land nav, etc, and sharing that with your fellow Cadets, both in garrison and on the FTXs.

We got issued weapons on the third day I think. Everyone got M-4s.

Overall, you have a lot of free time to talk at this stage, so be social. Make yourself act social if it doesn’t come naturally to you: it’s worth it. Learn about your battle buddies, especially the ones in your squad, since you’ll spend the most time with them. Talk to your Cadre: don’t be a suck-up or annoy them with too many questions obviously, but show that you’re excited to do your best at Camp, and to be a professional Officer.

Oh, and you’ll get food in the DFAC for 2/3 meals a day. It’s good, especially breakfast!

2. On to the field!

Day 5 or 6, we moved out to the field. We had time a couple days before to pack, using this obnoxiously heavy packing list. (Yeah they will probably make you take the e-tool!)

We did a “four-mile” (more like 3.25!) ruck to a rifle range, where we did basic rifle marksmanship. During my whole first 10 days in the field, it was miserably hot, due to the global summer heatwave of 2018, which I had no idea was a big event until someone with a phone told me after the fact.

At the range, you’ll zero with your weapon, then qualify on paper. Hopefully, your school gives you opportunities to shoot, but if not, you’ll get lots of help and time to qualify at Knox anyway. I shot way worse than usual because I didn’t fully zero. Be patient with yourself, listen to instruction, and you have nothing to worry about.

The range takes up most of that first day in the field, and then you’ll go sleep in a patrol base, or a company AA…which was a very messy situation for us that first night. The details of the field sleeping situation will vary according to your Cadre, and who knows how it’ll be in future years. But for 2018, they kept us out of tent city for sleeping every single night in the field.

This first phase “in the field” (it’s actually technically garrison,) is still very close to civilization, and is not a tactical environment, meaning you can probably get away with fairly lax security and you won’t have to wear your kevlar/ACH all the time. You also get field chow for 1-2 meals (usually 2) a day. It’s pretty good. Not as good as the DFAC of course, but solid, especially for how hungry you’ll get. Lots of chocolate milk.

The rest of this phase, you continue rotating leadership positions (PL, PSG, SLs, TLs,) every day, and geting graded by Cadre accordingly. We did marksmanship on pop-up targets the day after the paper. It was the first time on pop-ups for many of us, so results were kinda “Meh.” Camp Cadre were also surveying the performance of Cadets who get pop-up experience at school, versus those who don’t, so I’m curious to see how things change for camp 2019. One notable thing about the pop-up range was that it disqualified people from RECONDO Badge more than anything else. You had to shoot expert first time on pop-ups, which is honestly quite difficult. As a result, only two people from my entire regiment got RECONDO! I expect Cadet Command to continue adjusting fire on that award’s difficulty for years to come, to keep it as an elite badge to be proud of, but, a little easier than it was in 2018!

3. Land Nav

During this first ~10 day field phase, we did the land nav practical. I did Basic Camp last year, and found that the Advanced Camp land nav was actually easier, due to my familiarity with the ground and most points being closer to the roads. The course gives ample opportunities for easy terrain association, and we could use roads as much as we wanted. (With the exception of a hardball road on one boundary of the map.)

Passing requirements were 3/4 points for day, 1/2 points for night. There was some degree of luck in what points you got issued, with some people having to RUSH across the whole map to get most of their points. I had it easy, with most of my points being an easy distance within the start point, and close to the road.

There are checkpoints at almost all the crossroads. (These also have water buffalos, latrines, and arm immersion coolers, which are helpful.) Use these to help break up your route plan into easier to digest phases.

The land nav is overall not hard, (at least for me, it was easier than the practice we did at school and on school FTXs at Ft. Drum,) so long as you follow your fundamentals:

  • Double-check all your points’ coordinates, and the start point’s coordinates.
  • Factor in your G-M angle to your azimuths.
  • In your notebook, write out your route plan in such a way that is helpful to yourself. Plan out all the attack points, azimuths, and distances step-by-step in advance, and use your map to figure out what the terrain near your point is likely to look like.
  • Get your pace count on the road. I recommend getting that at a walk, and at a jog, in case you have to hurry.
  • Unless you’re 1st Reg, there are going to be numerous “Cadet trails” from those who came before you…also, if a whole brigade of fellow Cadets is massing into an area 25m to the left of where your point “is supposed to be,” they’re probably going to your point. Hint hint!

We did one practice test the night before the real test: this was intentionally more difficult than the real test, with points all ultra far away. It got me a bit stressed, but then I was relieved to see how much easier my real points were the nexxt day.

If you fail the day or night test, you get to retest that phase, after a good amount of retraining from the land nav Cadre. Fail a second time, and you’re recycled to the next regiment. We lost three people from my Platoon that way. Study up.

Hopefully, your school gives you plenty of practice for land nav. I know if you come from a desert environment, you may not have as much experience navigating in thick woods…still, trust your pace count and compass, even in the limited visability. If you don’t get a ton of practice with your school, or simply want to prepare yourself better, look for local orienteering clubs and try out their courses. (Orienteering is basically recreational land nav.)

4. Call for Fire

This was fun! First of all, doing the call for fire test got us sweet, cool relief from the 110 degrees, 5000% humidity, Vietnam-esque hell that was Fort Knox in July 2018, and placed us in a beautiful and air conditioned building for half the day!!

Second, we got to use the call for fire simulator, and get some neat virtual experience on actually zeroing artillery rounds onto a target.

Here’s how the experience basically went:

  1. Our company all got divided into several classrooms, each with an LT and a couple NCOs as teachers. In the room, you get a glossy map, a pair of binoculars, a protractor, a worksheet, and a dry erase marker for the map.
  2. LT briefed us on what call for fire is, and how to do it. We furiously took notes during this quick briefing.
  3. LT demonstrated, with the help of the NCOs at the simulator computer desk, how the test works. Basically, you are in the role of FO (forward observor) and have a view from a hilltop of several targets and terrain features. You must first orient yourself to this view on your map, using terrain association as well as given coordinates and azimuths. Then, you must find your assigned target visually. The bulk of the test is then giving the correct transmissions, with readjustments, for the FDC (Fire Direction Center) to launch arty rounds increasingly close to the taret, until they can finally fire for effect and wreck that sucker.
  4. LT gave us tons of practice rounds.
  5. We did the actual test. The test was easier than the practice rounds, and involved calling for fire on only one stationary target.

Here’s a good link on how to do call for fire.

No one from my platoon, and I don’t think from my company, got recycled on call for fire. If you fail the first time, you get tons of guidance and then a retest. It’s overall a solid learning experience, and some welcome time out of the summer heat!

5. TCCC (Tactical Combat Casualty Care)

This took half a day, the other half being CBRN. The Cadre for this were great instructors, who gave plenty of opportunity for demonstration, questions, and practice before the test, which consists of you going through the full sequence of care under fire and tactical field care on a dummy. As with call for fire, pay attention to detail, and you’ll do fine!

Remember these principles and tips:

  • The best way to prevent more casualties to your side is to kill or at least suppress the enemy. Taking soldiers off the line to help a hit battle buddy reduces the volume of fire the enemy receives, and thereby increases the vulnerability of your entire friendly element. Therefore, when your buddy gets hit, your first response is to take cover and return fire, then ask your battle buddy if he can: 1. Return Fire. 2. Take Cover. 3. Provide self-aid.
  • Move to the casualty only once you’ve achieved fire superiority. (Enemy can no longer take aimed shots.)
  • Treat the things that are going to kill the casualty first, first. That means first, look for and treat massive hemorrhaging with a tourniquet. Set it high and tight.
  • For what order to treat things in, remember MARCH: Massive Hemorrhaging, Airway (constricted,), Respiration (harmed by wounds through the lung cavities,) Circulation (this includes lesser bleeding, burns, broken bones,) Hypothermia. (treat for shock, which can kill someone even if their bleeding is stopped and airway is opened.)
  • Above all, listen to the instructors, use the practice time they give you, and pay attention to detail.

6. CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear.)

Ah, the gas chamber. I mean, the confidence chamber. Every U.S. military member’s favorite part of entry training!

We did CBRN on the same day as TCCC, with each taking up half the training day. My company did CBRN first.

First, you learn about how to recognize a chemical attack, and how to signal that one has occured. (“Gas gas gas!”) You learn how to put on the protective mask, and are tested on putting it on quickly. Then, you do the same with the full MOPP gear. Most people fail their first time on the practice round of that, but just remember: slow is smooth, smooth is fast, and pay attention to detail. You have plenty of time. It’s just getting dressed, you do it every day!

Then, critically, you head over to the gas (*ahem* I mean confidence) chamber! They turned the intensity up high for us on the 4th of July: extra spicy! You go in with half your platoon in full MOPP gear, but with the hood down. One at a time, take your mask off, say your name, sing a song for 20 seconds. (I’m sure I looked hilarious wheezing out the first three words of “twinkle twinkle little star” and then flailing around until I could re-don my mask!)

It sucks, but you’ll only fail by compeltely whimping out.

Then, you all take your masks off, and march around the room a few times then head out the door to cough/cadence your lungs out, flap your arms like a pretty little butterfly, and wipe the massive rope of snot off your face/entire body.

Fun!

Tear gas sucks, no other way to put it. It hurts your skin, it hurts your eyes, you feel like you cant’ breathe. Not fun. But it’s over fast. (-ish.)

Oh, there was a 6 mile ruck march before FTX: ruch march a lot before camp so you’re in better shape for it than I was. I was sucking harder than necessary out there on the rucks. No one from my platoon fell out though. There are lots of hills, and you’ll have to carry heavy weapons and radios.

7. The FTXs!!

OK, so you get all that pass/fail graded stuff out of the way first, then you put on your laser tag gear, get issued your weapons/radios/medical gear, and move out to the tactical AOs. There were 3 FTXs, each 3 days, with one refit day between each FTX. And one refit day before the first FTX: that’s critical actually, since you get to swap out your gear (protip: DUMP LOTS OF STUFF YOU DON’T STRICTLY NEED FOR THE NEXT 3 DAYS, IT’S HEAVY!) and take a shower, which will be very welcome after ~10 days without one. You get laundry done too, which you can pick up between FTXs.

The first FTX, which we did at “AO Wolverine,” was heavily guided by some excellent infantry and cav cadre, including some Rangers. They’ll give lots of helpful and precise, if sometimes contradictory, instruction on tactics and Troop Leading Procedures. You should know most of it from your school, but regardless, your platoon will all be on the same page and should establish standardized SOPs for everything at this point.

Two missions a day, then setting up and sleeping in/guarding a patrol base, with different leadership for each of those tasks. Tactical environment the whole time: helmets on, tactical movement, noise and light discipline, etc. Clean your weapon thoroughly or it’ll jam on missions, and probably will anyway due to those filthy blanks you keep shooting.

Each FTX is progressively more intense than the last, with a greater proportion of the OPFOR being enlisted infantry guys instead of MS1/MS2 cadets. OPFOR will get increasingly active at outmaneuvering you. Oh! One Platoon from our company (not us) got to be OPFOR too, and we got to do a couple cool full platoon on platoon battles.

We did attacks, raids, ambushes, recons, and defenses.

As far as tactics: there’ll be lots of disagreement within your platoon over SOPs, and that’s okay. When in doubt, go with how cadre wants it. Don’t second-guess the current PL. Stick to your guns when you are the PL. Study up on doctrine before you go, but know that you’ll get retaught tactics at AO Wolverine (or the equivalent for next year) and that the emphasis of this training is on you staying calm, staying confident, and keeping everyone motivated when they’re tired and don’t wanna move.

It’s rough terrain, tons of hills, rucking. I got wicked lucky with only two days of rain, but it rains a ton at Fort Knox usually, so be mentally ready for that. Learn how to make a hooch, and teach your battle buddies how to do it!!

Be a good follower at this point: everyone gets stressed on the FTXs due to inadequate sleep and food. (OPFOR can and will attack you at night, including indirect fire, and you’re eating MREs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.) Be helpful to whoever is in leadership. Treat the tactical environment like it’s real. Follow the PL’s plan, even if you think it’s stupid. Do not undermine your fellow Cadets’ leadership. It’s a dick move, and it’s shooting yourself in the foot as far as peer evals and ranking by Cadre!

As PL, delegate like mad:

  • Your PSG keeps accountability of people and equipment and keeps your SLs to task. A highly active PSG will make your life a lot easier as PL.
  • Your SLs make their squads do what you need them to do: get on line and give fire support here, flank to the left, come with me on my recon for security, etc.
  • Pick someone awesome at land nav to be your point man during movements.

But remember, as Platoon Leader you are ultimately responsible for everything your platoon does or fails to do, so be in charge, know your plan, and make decisions. Cadre are judging way more on your ability to motivate people and make decisions than they are on your tactical skills. 

As SL, delegate to your team leaders. Use them. Make them do their job. 8 Joes can be a lot to keep track of, and having to repeat yourself a million times is annoying.

Basic safety stuff: drink water, eat all your food, watch out for your battle buddies getting overheated/dehydrated, air out your feet whenever given the chance, let the medics help you with blisters, get poison ivy treated asap, watch your footing. There’d be nothing worse than getting 80% of the way through camp, and then having to go home and start over next summer due to a broken ankle!

Oh, ticks! I saw several ticks, but none to my knowledge attached to me. Check yourself for them. Use tons of bug spray. Check your buddies. Go to the medic when you notice one on you. You’ve probably heard loads about Lyme Disease, but did you know that lone star ticks (found at Knox) can give you a disease that makes you permanently allergic to red meat?! I don’t know about you, but I like my burgers and steak and tacos.

As far as other wildlife, we saw quite a few skunks. Don’t startle those and you’ll be fine. There are deer, coyotes, which we barely saw. A couple species of venomous snakes we never saw. Just common sense: don’t mess with animals, pay attention. The cadre will tell you all this a million times, too.

Overall on FTX, prepare yourself by studying the Ranger Handbook a lot before you get to camp, and be good to your battle buddies. Remember that a bad decision is better than no decision. When in charge, be in charge. Delegate. You’ll do fine.

8. After the Field

You finally get your phone back! You get hot showers, DFAC chow, clean clothes every day, air conditioning! It’ll all feel luxurious and amazing, and you’ll be almsot done with camp!

The only challenge we had after the field was a 12 mile ruck, which we did slowly for safety reasons. Other than that, there’s just some cleaning, weapons turn in, medical outprocessing, a bit of travel paperwork. It’s pretty relaxed overall, just don’t do anything stupid that gets you kicked out of camp!!

The last few days included branching day, which is fun and useful as you get to learn and ask questions about the various Army branches. I recommend picking a couple that aren’t in your top 3, because you might find a new interest in a job that wasn’t previously on your radar.

Oh, you might be able to order pizza to the barracks. Maybe. Ask your Cadre. No promises.

The day before graduation, you get family day, where you can hang out with your parents or signfigant other, including leaving post! I shared some good times eating fast food and playing a board game with my parents and brother, then taking a nice long nap. If you don’t have family coming, you get to explore base a bit with your battle buddies, and can get food, go bowling, go golfing, etc. It’s pleasant.

9. Things to bring that will make your life easier and your ranking better:

  • Fine-tip wet erase markers for the maps you use in the field,
  • A tiny spray bottle of cleaning solution for said maps.
  • Prescription dark eyepro, if you require glasses. (You can’t wear contacts in the field.)
  • Q-tips for weapon cleaning.
  • A terrain model kit, preferably one you’ve used on missions at your school. Using this properly and going through the whole proper OPORD with your squad leaders when you’re PL will greatly impress Cadre.
  • Moleskins.
  • Extra hand sanitizer.
  • Extra bug spray.
  • An extra roll of toilet paper, in a waterproof bag. (Porapotties sometimes ran out.)
  • A couple of good pocket knives, you’ll use them a lot for opening MRE boxes, cutting 550 cord, cutting moleskin etc.
  • A small whiteboard and markers to further help explain plans to your subordinates on field missions.
  • Plenty of practice on rucking. Between the end of the semester and when you leave for camp, just go 3 times a week on short but fast walks with about 40 pounds packed. Adjust your ruck as much as you need to for it to feel best for your height and body-type. Get that thing cinched high and tight!
  • Broken-in boots! Critical!
  • Good physical conditioning, both for the APFT and for saving yourself unnecessary misery in the field as you’re rucking around all day. Work out, even when the semester is over and you don’t have to go to PT anymore! Even better, work out with cadets from your school!
  • A good attitude: focus on the positive little things each day, help your battle buddies, don’t beat yourself up over mistakes, and be that mentally resilient Cadet who can always find a smile among all the suck. Cadre will notice, your buddies will notice, and you’ll feel better!

Personally, camp wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. But it was still definitely a challenge, and I’d say it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Prepare yourself well, learn from the MS4s and Cadre at your school, study, work out, give it your all, and you’ll meet your full potential!

BONUS Content:

Footage from the Cadet Command YouTube channel of my regiment (the FTX one features my platoon!):

Cadet Command’s Flickr album for 5th Reg:

Rappel Tower

There’s lots more detail I could say, so if you have additional questions, feel free to email me at authorgrwilson@gmail.com, and I’ll respond within 48 hours.

-Cadet Wilson

 

 

 

My “Avatard” by the talented, yet horrible, Josh Latta!

29 July 2018,

Good afternoon Readers,

I’m back from Atropia, aka Fort Knox. More on that whole adventure soon!

First I want to thank cartoonist, social media expert, edgelord, degenerate, Photoshop master, and all-around great guy Josh Latta for the awesome cartoon avatar he created of me while I was away doing Army things.

Ta-da!

I love it! It’ll work great for my author-related website and social media, as well as book jacket art.

If you want a custom avatar for yourself, check out Josh’s site here. If you want to see more of his darkly, bizzarely, charmingly hilarious cartoons, follow him here on Facebook and buy his book, That’s a Horrible Thing to say, Josh Latta!

Thanks again Mr. Latta, keep it up!

-Geoff

A new horror story I wrote: “Opa’s Totenkopf”

20 June, 2018

Nazi SS ring

Opa’s Totenkopf, by G.R. Wilson

Hello. I’m leaving this Sunday for Advanced Camp. I’ve been harmfully unpresent the past few days, thinking about camp and my career and life, and not taking enough action.

Anyway, I won’t bore you with that. I wrote this story, based on an idea I had months ago, and finally got down a paper a few weeks ago, and then revised recently. It will also be published in an anthology this late summer/early fall.

Here it is:

I will never forget the night my grandfather died. I think– no, I know, that it will remain among the most disturbing experiences of my entire life. The physical and spiritual chill of that awful night will haunt me forever. I refuse to sleep now in total darkness, always requiring a small “night light” or at least the small illumination from the crack under my bedroom door, or from the streetlights outside.

And I don’t keep a mirror in my bedroom. I’m amazed I can stand to keep one in the house at all.

I think that I am safe from the same grisly fate. But as my story will reveal, I can’t know for certain. And the Not Knowing is almost worse than a definite demise. If I do get a warning of the same sort of impending doom…it hurts my soul to say this, but I will end myself with a .38 calibre round in the brain before I allow such a fate.

My grandfather was a strange man. Strangeness wouldn’t justify the way he left this world. Maybe his deeds did. But he was decidedly odd.

This oddness didn’t as a consequence of old age, either. (Though old age did amplify it.)

Even when I was a young child, and he was a middle-aged man with a lot of spirit and vigor left in him, he grew unusually restless at night. Often, on family holidays at his and my grandmother’s home in Wisconsin, I would hear or see my grandfather pace the halls restlessly once night fell. It was hard to tell whether he was sleepwalking or not: sometimes, his eyes would be closed, and his face hung heavily like a sleeping person’s, but, then his eyes would pop open lucidly and he’d murmur something in the tongue of his mother country. He was never overtly threatening, but he always seemed disturbed during these times. He’d knock on doors and go as far as kicking shoes and other small things.

The only one who could bring him under control was my grandmother, who would sometimes have to beg him to return to bed, in desperate, pleading tones.

He covered every mirror in their house. With sheets, with blankets, with towels. Or he’d turn them around so they faced the wall. When my parents, my sister, and myself visited, the mirrors would all start uncovered, visible, at first. This wouldn’t last long, as my grandpa, either on his midnight walk-abouts or when he thought no one was looking, would obscure their reflective surfaces again. I learned from overhearing half-muffled arguments from where I slept beside my sister in the guest room, that this uncovering of the mirrors only happened when we were visiting, and only at the insistence of my grandmother. She did it to save herself from embarrassment, at our judgment of unexplainable superstitions.

There was fear in her eyes about the mirrors too, which I did not understand. Why be scared of the mirrors? Why keep any in the house at all?

I realize now she was in denial. She was trying to mentally save herself.

My grandfather also frequently said words in at least a couple foreign languages. Usually it was German, and this was understandable: Opa fled from Germany, back during World War II, and had been very lucky to make it to America, where he, and later my Bubbe, could be safe. My family was Jewish, (though neither of my parents were especially observant,) and I had a deep emotional sense of the Holocaust from an early age. As a little girl, I wept with emotion on first reading The Diary of Anne Frank, and Number the Stars in school, realizing that Opa and Bube had narrowly avoided a horrible fate in the death camps.

Yes, that was the narrative in my mind for all of my youth, and into my young adulthood.

Anyway, the foreign words (usually German, once in a while Yiddish, sometimes a third, unknown language,) my grandfather said were usually exclamations: when he’d be bursting out laughing and slapping his knees, or cursing when he stubbed his toe or when the garbage disposal was acting up again. But as he got older, especially after Bubbe died, he’d increasingly often seem to forget the English word for random things like the clock, or the automobile, or the word “to eat,” and he’d say the German instead, then shake his head and switch back to English and correct himself.

Like I mention, there was a third language in there, which departed from Germanic sounds, and reminded me more of a strange mix of the Middle-East, Latin, Slavic, and something like Hindi. He spoke it only when “fixing” one of the mirrors, when sleepwalking/”sleepwalking,” or when performing his pre-sleep religious ritual, which I will explain soon. The only time I asked about this mystery language, he furrowed his brow and drew back, reserved-yet-threatening, and refused to elaborate or even acknowledge that he’d spoken it.

Continuing with the other odd traits, Opa, despite being a clearly depressed man, did not drink alcohol at all. (Until, that last night …)

Opa never talked about his past before he came to America. Not even about when he was a child. He got highly anxious, then irritated, whenever my sister and I tried to bring up his past and ask for stories. Bubbe always sounded self-censoring when she told hers, and stayed away from anything historically impactful, such as the rise of the Nazis, or the Berlin Olympics, or anything like that.

But Opa’s pre-American past remained shrouded in darkness.

Opa had a creative side. When he retired from his accounting job, he relied on this activity more than ever. He carved things, out of wood. Planets, the moon, fish, funny little people with big ears. They were expressive, impressive, and finely-crafted.

I asked him to carve me an animal once, and he hesitated for a moment, then gave a rare, warm smile, and got on one knee. In a flash, he had a fresh wood block and his knife in hand, began making a few initial whittles.

“What kind of animal, Lucky Lustina?”

Lustina is my name, named for my great-grandmother. “Lucky” was just alliterative. (I don’t know that anyone ever told me why I was especially lucky.)

I paused at this question; getting a custom animal carving from Opa was a big deal. And there were too many options to pick! Then I remembered, I’d been to a petting zoo recently with my schoolmates. I’d delighted in feeding the animals, with their long, eager tongues, and their excited, big brown eyes. Their hot, smelly breath, and their furry heads were so cute and amazing to me!

“A goat!” I said, jumping up and down.

Instantly, Opa’s brow furrowed, and his beady blue eyes narrowed. His face held an intensity which startled and frightened me. It was so unexpected! I thought at once I had done something wrong, and was terrified what he would explode into shouting at any moment.

Eine verdmammt Ziege …” he hissed. “Eine fiken, verdmammt Ziege?!

The knife shook in his hand. His eyes seemed to not be looking at me, but at something behind and above me.

I was too scared to move, and remember my bare feet trembling on the woolly carpet.

Then, Opa hurled the wood block behind me, and something shattered. He swore in German again, then ran past me, nearing knocking me over.

I whirled around to see him scooping up the mirror he’d broken and knocked off the wall. He fumbled to fold up the knife, and cut his forearm in the process. Drops of blood and small shards of glass tumbled from his hands. He took the mess and wrapped it up in the folded gray sheet on the nearby table. He stomped off into his study, and looked back at me before slamming the door shut again.

“Sorry, Lustina.”

His blue, shiny eyes, looking so young encased in a worn and weathered face, did not glare at me that time.

They just looked scared.

scary mirror

—————————————————————————————————————————

I learned from that childhood episode to not bring up the topic of goats around Opa. I didn’t ask my parents about it, either, thinking it too weird. My mother didn’t like talking about Opa’s strange habits, either. It took me over a year to fully grasp that the episode with the thrown block and the broken mirror must have been triggered by a phobia or been a reaction to a bad childhood experience, and not an episode triggered by my own actions.

But the night Opa died, I learned the real truth.

I was in my late 20s by this time. I lived the closest to Opa. My family was still in California, where I grew up, while I lived in Minneapolis-St. Paul, working as a graphic designer. So, I arrived first at the home when it was announced that his state was quickly deteriorating, and that he wouldn’t live for more than another two weeks. My mom, dad, and sister joined me two days later. The end was coming for him faster than any of us (including the doctors) had anticipated.

My parents and sister were absent, held up by a car crash on their way back with pizza, on what proved to be the final night. I was alone with Opa.

Now, Opa was materially wealthy and believed in insurance, and so was well-prepared to have an at-home care team help him. He was truly decrepit by this point: years of smoking, old injuries, two previous bouts with cancer of the lungs and stomach, and a heart attack, and a black veil of depression all having taken their toll. He struggled to walk at all, he ran a high risk of falling down stairs, had shaky hands, and his linguistic memory problems worsened, though the doctors said he showed no signs of Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia. It had been arranged that he would die at home, with periodic visits from the hospice care team, combined with the work of my family.

The final night was a Friday. Grandfather’s health had in fact seemed slightly on the upswing, not so much for another year on this Earth, but perhaps for another five days, or a week! He’d asked for the pizza. There was a snowstorm, with the wind howling and the flakes swirling, and my family got stuck behind a crash in the middle of rush hour.

The care staff member had gone home for the day, but was on-call if we needed her for a greater emergency than we could handle. Not that she’d be able to get there quickly, if at all, due to the blizzard.

So, yes, I was alone with him when my grandfather met his end.

To further set the scene before I continue: the house he and my grandmother had shared for 50 years sat in a forested valley, with the nearest neighbor a half mile away. A creek ran behind the house, often flooding in the spring but now frozen solid in the cold Minnesota winter. The house was 1910’s era, built by Swedish immigrants who apparently underestimated American winters, and was a notoriously drafty, creaky (though well-adorned) dwelling, with many small rooms, steep stairs, and long, narrow halls.

The thermostat that final night was cranked all the way up, making me sweat, but keeping Opa comfortable in his final days. Outside, there was no moon, and we might as well have been floating in outer space or resting on the bottom of the Marianas Trench for how dark it was, besides the flurries of star-like snowflakes. The frost-gnashing wind smacked, and rammed, and clawed at the house, shaking the windows and making the old beams shudder and groan.

I was bringing Opa a hot cup of team. I stopped outside his bedroom door, and knocked.

“In here, Lucky Lustina!” he said, and coughed. His voice came from the study, across the hall.

Mildly surprised, I kept the tea tray balanced and turned in that direction.

He coughed again. The cancer was killing him fast, I knew. “And, bring some of that bourbon while you’re at it!”

He pronounced “bourbon” funny, like “bore-bun.” I was perplexed by this request: he didn’t drink alcohol. But, who was I do deny a dying man’s request? What harm could it possibly do at this point?

“Uh, yes Opa–”

“Bring a glass, for yourself, too!”

Hm.

He and my grandmother had kept booze around for guests, and Bubbe occasionally had a drink or two. I came back with the dusty bottle of bourbon from the downstairs liquor cabinet, along with two high ball glasses, all set up on the tray beside the steaming tea cup.

I knocked at the study, and he beckoned me enter.

I entered.

Opa was performing his pre-bed ritual, which I had only glimpsed or overhead muffled phrasings of as a child. Though my grandfather didn’t display much devoutness in any other aspect of his home or life, (apart from keeping the Sabbath holy,) he did have this one peculiar ceremony he seemed to conduct every night before going to bed. I admired his dedication to doing it even when it must have been an enormous struggle for him to make his way from the bed to the study.

Opa knelt behind his desk, though the pose looked to put a tremendous strain on his knees and back. On his head, he wore a black yarmulke, with red fringe. He was in his striped gray pajamas, which looked baggy on his frail body. Around his neck, my grandfather wore a pendant, which was a black sun with intricate carvings, including Hebrew letters. On the desk were seven candles, (not yet lit,) a scroll of many Hebrew and other ancient letters, (some more similar to Egyptian Hieroglyphics,) and a small, circular mirror.

His face looked pale and small, and even weaker than it had when I’d arrived morning. He looked at me and gave a small smile.

“Thank you, Lucky Lustina,” he said, and motioned for me to set the tray on the desk.

I awkwardly began to move a couple of the candles, but he waved a dismissive hand.

“Bah, no matter, no matter anymore,” he said, and knocked the remaining candles aside, then cast off his yarmulke. His small cracked, and his eyes welled with tears. “I’m…I’m sorry …” he stammered, on the verge of bawling, suddenly.

The tray clattered onto the desk, and I put an arm on his shoulder, and spoke to him with sympathy and concern.

“I can’t remember,” he said, truly crying now, “I cannot remember, the, the words, the FUCKING words,” he hissed, and gripped his head. His temples were throbbing, which looked even more alarming on his emaciated, bald head. He laughed manically, and rocked back and forth so hard I was frightened he’d smack his head on the desk or the floor. “Ha, I’m this close to a, a natural death and now I forget the god damned words tonight …” He reached a shaky, bony hand for the tea, and before I could stop him he grabbed the cup and predictably spilled it on his scroll and on his lap. “Shit!!” he hurled the teacup across the room with surprising force, where it broke and spilled against the wall, leaving a long, dark stain.

Again I touched his arm, and plead with him to calm down. I felt like my grandmother. I even looked the way she had at my age, I knew from the old black-and-white photos from the 1940s and 1950s.

“Opa, it’s alright, it’s alright, here, have a proper seat.” He relented, and gripped my arm to allow himself to be lifted shakily, then drop onto his ancient study chair.

Again, he took on his resigned, doomed, tone. “Tea is weak. Pour me a glass,” he said, gesturing at the bourbon.

I did, and poured some for myself. I didn’t like bourbon, but it felt proper to share the drink with Opa now.

He sipped, and grimaced. “Ah…we still have some hours,” he said, and smiled, “A few hours more, till the end of it all. It would have only been a few more days otherwise. Until…heaven.” But in his eyes there lingered still a horrible fear, founded on deep, ancient, and dark experience. He glanced furtively at the small mirror on the desk, and I didn’t dare touch it.

“What do you mean, Opa?” I asked.

He waved a hand. “Go, go get a chair, sit.”

In the hall, on my way to my guest room for a chair, I noticed that the tall mirror on the wall was uncovered. It was taller than me, and my own reflection in it, with my pale face and messy hair, startled me. I stared into the mirror…wondering what my grandpa saw that was so awful in it…

Time seemed to slow, and entranced, I saw something materializing surreally, silently, and wraith-like in the reflection. It lurked behind me, down the hall to the stairs that led down to the first floor landing. It vaguely fit the shape of animal life, but stood tall, like a human hunched over. It was dark, darker than the night sky, or the deepest ocean. First, it was outside the window at the end of the hall, seemingly suspended in the air, visible in the same away a shadow is, as I could see the thing by where the snowflakes did not drift or blow through. The silhouette was so vague: a man wearing a hat? A half-animal freak? An woman wearing a hood?

It was none of those. And oh god, and it had no eyes but it was looking at me. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck.

The black shadow seemed to fade through the glass of the window, and at one I began to see the shadow fade through the glass of the mirror, seemingly inches from my face. Its vague shape began to come into hideous, alien clarity.

I yelped in fright, and fumbled and found and grabbed the sheet stuffed in the nearby linen closet where one of the caretakers or perhaps my mother had well-intentionally left it, and pulled it over the glass.

Better. Better. Nothing watching me now. I took a deep breath, and looked back at the window at the opposite end of the hall.

Nothing there but snow, and the night.

Nothing at all.

Shub Niggurath, woodcut

—————————————————————————————————————————-

I set down the chair and sat perpendicular to my grandfather in his study. The floor lamp and the remaining candles, now lit, cast uneven and insufficient light, (though, at least some came in from the hall,) so my grandfather’s face flickered with patches of shadow.

His eyes flashed. He was already getting a bit drunk off the bourbon. “You will be my final witness,” he said abruptly, “The last and only one alive to know the truth of my life and my end. Well, unless you tell others.” He shrugged. “You may, you may tell them. No matter.” He laughed again, bitterly.

Again: “What do you mean, Opa? Did you forget the words to your prayer? I can help you.”

My prayer,” he sneered, “Perish, that, perish, that rubbish. But, yes, in my years, and with the cancer, and all the drugs, I, I can’t remember all that foreign barbaric gobbledygook…I forgot it last night, too…and the night before, and the night before for nearly a week,” he gulped, “So, the end should come tonight.”

This raised many questions for me. “What do you mean, Opa? I know we’ve never talked about it, but, that’s all a Jewish prayer, isn’t it? Weren’t your parents, um, Orthodox, or–”

He scoffed and spat on the floor. This was most unlike him. He glared at me hatefully and wrinkled his nose. “I declare! No, no, my dear, sweet grandchild, that no, your great-grandparents from the Old Continent, were not Orthodox, superstitious, scheming devils!”

I leaned back, startled. “But they were from Germany too, weren’t they? Jews, who–”

He pounded an wrinkled fist on the table so hard that the teacup tinkled on the tray. “Nein! Nein! Here, now you will know all the truth, child. Your grandfather is no Jew, your grandmother was no Jew, your mother is no god-damned Jew!

I was stunned. Surely this was delirium, dementia?! We’d always been Jewish, never especially observant, but, my dad’s side of the family especially held the Jewish traditions, and I’d visited Israel in college on a Birthright trip to see the land of my ancestors. “Opa,” I said, slowly, “I know, you must be under a lot of stress right now, with all the doctor’s visits and such–”

Not Jews,” he said, and spat again. “But Jah, we came from the Deutschse Reich, from the restored Fatherland we all thought would stand for a thousand years of glory.”

I felt a chill greater than for what I’d felt from that imagined glance of something predatory in the mirror. I tried to tell myself that this was just some old-age hysteria and memory confusion, the same as him forgetting the words of his before-bed religious ritual.

“Opa. Please, don’t say things like that.”

He sneered. “Hm? You don’t believe it. Gott, Lucky Lustina, I wanted to tell you for so long. You’ll pass it on for your sister, the truth, won’t you? That you are both truly Aryan, and not Jew?” He saw the doubt in my eyes. “You want proof? Here,” he fumbled open a little drawer on the desk, and fished out a silver key. “There is a trunk, under my bed. Open it. You will have your proof. I will drink more bourbon, and wait.”

The key was cold. His hand was barely warmer. He truly was going to die soon, one way or another. I hurried from the study, dreading what I would find. The mirror in my grandfather’s bedroom was uncovered, too. Before I flipped on the light switch, I was sure I saw a blurry, shadowy, bestial face in it.. I yelped, and with the light, the image returned to normal. There was just my shaken self. I was so pale. Nothing else stirred in the mirror. It was all just nerves, and I didn’t want to feed my delusions anymore.

I fished under the bed until I found a small, black trunk. It was heavy. I dragged it out, and set it on the bed.

The key clicked neatly in the lock. The top creaked open. I wasn’t prepared for what I found. How could I be? Inside, I saw a splash of red, then the hateful, black, harsh lines of the swastika. It was an armband, and it looked old, with slight fraying on one edge, and a small stain on the white circle which surrounded the hooked cross. But there was no denying the hooked cross.

My hands shook as I rummaged through the other items, which were neatly lain:

Photographs, of my younger grandfather, with a square jaw and slick, sharp hair. He was dressed in the black uniform of the Nazi SS. Some were photos just of him, some were of him with what looked like his buddies, clapping each other on the back and making goofy faces. They were all SS. In other photos, he was riding in a truck, or posing with a rifle, and wearing a helmet. There were places and names on the backs of the old photos: “Danzig, 1936; Berlin, 1940; Kiev, 1941 …” The most disturbing picture was one of my grandfather standing proud before a formation of fellow Nazis, beneath an enormous swastika banner, and having a medal pinned to his chest by who looked like Heinrich Himmler himself.

There were photos of my grandfather in civilian clothes, standing happily with my grandmother, who looked so much like me.

There was an old dog-eared copy of Mein Kampf, with a handsome, black leather cover.

There was a golden ring decorated with a skull. The distinctive Totenkopf : “death’s head.”

There were medals, including multiple Iron Crosses, and what I assumed were rank pins. There was even an ornate, black-sheathed, SS dagger in the bottom of the chest!! I didn’t take it from the sheath.

I wanted to deny what I saw. It disturbed me even more than the shadow I’d “imagined” in the mirror. My heart was pounding, and my eyes were brimming with tears. This world-shattering secret had been hiding beneath my grandparents’ bed my entire life. Had my mother known?! Had she suspected?! What did this mean for me, what was I supposed to think?! I wanted to continue to deny what stared me in the face, but my heart knew the truth, even as insane as that truth was

I rose, and turned around, then yelped again in surprise:

My grandfather stood there, leaning on the door-frame, frail and dying but smirking. “Now, do you see? You understand?”

“W-why,” I stammered, “You had to join them, right, y-you were drafted, right?!”

He shook his head. “They did not draft men into the type of unit I served with. I joined the Party and the schutzstaffel for the same reason as any good, patriotic man of the Fatherland and the race.” He was swaying as he spoke, and I could see he was definitely drunk.

I felt disgusted. My stomach twisted. I really thought I might vomit. I tried to restore order: “Opa, you should lay down,” I offered, and went to help him.

“No, no,” he said, “Back to the chairs, I want to sit a while longer. You must know my tale.”

He held onto my arm, and we returned to the study. On the way, I felt like something was watching me from the bedroom mirror…the same something that had been watching in the hall. I wished now I had covered that one too.

We were sitting at the desk again, him drinking yet more bourbon, and me having no desire to stop him.

“So why all this, then?” I gestured to the Jewish things on the desk.

“That is a long, long story,” he began …

Candle wax was pooled and spilled over the table. The wind continued to howl. The Nazi items sat undeniable and damning on the bed. The Death’s Head was laughing in my mind.

My grandfather told his story. “We were operating in the mountains,” he said, and his eyes seemed to look back on a far away place, in space and time. “Deep in Bolshevik country. Our comrades were bleeding in Stalingrad to cover us as we made our moves. Supplies were scarce, we were hungry, the vehicles often broke down, the horses died, but we moved fast to honor our comrades. And to honor the Fuhrer. I knew it was the Fatherland’s last chance for a total victory in the East, and I was part of it.” He nodded with pride. “Me and my men were behind our front line, resting after a hard three days of fighting. Most of the men, and sometimes women, who we fought against were not Russian, in that area. They were a sort of Asians, more like Turks, or Mongols, with a few Russians and Jews as officers among them, forcing them on…anyway,”

The wind seemed to pick up outside, shaking the window behind my grandfather so loudly that it startled me. I got a text from my sister, saying they couldn’t make it back to the house. I gave a quick reply then turned off notifications, wanting to focus on my grandfather’s disturbing, but lucid and enthralling, story.

He continued: “We were on a patrol, when a shot rang out, hitting one of my best men in the neck. The medic tended to him, and we rushed in the direction of the shot, from one of the nameless, barren hillsides. We fired back, including with the machine guns, but the enemies were well-hidden behind the rocks. We didn’t catch them. But we could avenge our comrade, who they had killed.” He shook his head. Talking of his youth, even the violent parts, seemed to give him new vigor, even with his words slurring here and there.

“I took my whole platoon over the hill, combing the ground, but again, we found nothing but a couple bullet casings. But, a couple kilometers on, we knew there was a hamlet: so small, it wasn’t on the map, but we’d driven briefly through there before on our way to the most recent fighting. So we returned to that hamlet: it was typical Slavic and Eurasian junk houses with the roof’s caving in, long-bearded men in strange hats, the dome of a mosque, filthy people, and even a synagogue in the same set of dusty streets. Strange, I’d thought, Moslem and Jew living together? The building that at least looked like a synagogue, had a great black tower protruding from it. That was how we found the hamlet from a distance. That strange, black obelisk sticking up from the hills…I’d never seen anything like it in Europe, but figured Jews in this part of the world had different customs, perhaps.

“But it was no time for anthropology. We had work to do.” He coughed, and glanced down uneasily at the small mirror on the desk, but continued:

“We pulled together all the people of the town, we cleared every house. It was a small place, it didn’t take long. There were still more of them than of us, of course, but we had guns, and most of them did not. We knew that even those who had not fired the shot that killed my man, had supported, and hid, the ones who did fire the weapon. We had heard reports, of course, from all over Greater Russia of these partisan rats skulking about and taking shots at us. We were glad to have revenge.

His eyes narrowed, thinking back to the time and place, as if he were truly there again in spirit.

“I was speaking to them,” he scoffed, “We got them all into a rough sort of, a military formation, with lines and all that…they were no good at it, haha, so many women and children in the mix, all these terrified brown and Asiatic faces. We dragged up one of their most learned-looking elders, with a big beard and big spectacles, to translate to them all as I spoke.

“But I did not fire the first shot. One of them did. We all saw where it came from: the strange black tower on the synagogue, which stood out so tall and strong. The muzzle flash came from a window there, once, twice, and two of my men fell. I did not need to give the order, my men knew what to do.”

I shuddered. The candles seemed to weaken their brightness, and the shadows in my grandfather’s face lengthened. I saw ever-more the shadow of the young, Nazi warrior he had once been.

“We had automatics with us, sub-machine guns, light machine guns. The untermenschen were all so tightly packed, it was quick work. We did not need the whole platoon to finish them.” He smirked, nodding to himself. “They lived like rats, and died like rats, piled up atop each other, some still alive and trying to hide behind the corpses of their kin. But yes, that was all easy, so I took a squad and we stormed the black tower. The synagogue doors, covered in strange runes, were barricaded, and another of my men died from a shot fired out the window before we broke it down.

“Inside, we killed a couple of partisans, barely older than boys, armed with rifles decades older than themselves. We busted another door, and up the tower we went. We were all in a rage, but so skilled. Our training served us well, bayoneting and shooting point-blank the Bolshevik shit stains. Finally, all up and down the tower, they were all dead, and the firing outside was just the occasional pop! pop! pop!”

He laughed and pounded the table. “Ha, Bolsheviks! We really thought every Jew, Turkmen, and Slav who fired at us in that region was a die-hard follower of Lenin! But I soon learned the truth, about this particular hamlet.” He clenched his wrinkled, grizzled hand so tight it shook. “There was a noise. Downstairs, as we were searching. We re-checked the synagogue’s first floor, and through a book case in the library, we found a hidden room.

His bemusement and old-soldierly intensity turned again to the same sort of dread he’d expressed earlier. “In the room there was a woman. She was very old, perhaps the oldest person I had ever seen, and even older than she looked. I, and Clausen beside me, knew at once what she was: a witch. She dressed head-to-toe in wrappings of dark fabric, with a hood over her thin white hair. She sat on the floor, surrounded by these bizarre little statues of monsters, and angels, and people, all so childish yet so oddly frightening. The room was lit by torch. There were scrolls. And the statue of…of…a great black goat, looming over her so lifelike I nearly shot it.

He gulped and loosened his fist, letting the hand rest trembling on the table.

“But it was no ordinary goat,” he said, tears in his eyes, “It was no mammal of four legs, or two, it was no animal from this earth. Too many legs, too many eyes…and, and, the clusters of the stars…oh, mein Gott, why did the true bodies of heaven shine so, so rotten into my head.” He gripped his temples, and my shock and disgust faded to the background as I gripped his arm in sympathy, and concern that he might collapse. I don’t like to admit it even to myself now, but I craved hearing the rest of the story. It was like the temptation to peek at the aftermath of a horrific train crash: irresistible, disgusting, human nature.

“It was no true goat,” he repeated, head shaking, “The clusters, the growths, the legs, the eyes of dying stars– Gott, it was not even really a statue, Lustina!” He cried. “The carving, it was all more precise than any human hand or machine could ever be, I don’t even know what the material would be to make the beast glimmer like that!!”

He glanced in the mirror on the desk again, and his eyes went wide, and he screamed.

I couldn’t help looking down at the glass, too. I did not scream, though my heart nearly burst out of my chest in one massive palpitation. Though I was never able to see a photograph of the thing my grandfather had seen in that synagogue for comparison…I know, as surely as I know how to breathe, that what I saw gazing back through that mirror was the same Black Goat. Now I took the mirror, and without thinking smashed it against the floor as hard as I could. The looming bigger mirror in the study was still covered with a gray sheet. I took special note of it, and couldn’t stop my eyes from creeping over to it periodically. The cloth sat there, wrinkled and unmoving in the still air. I wished the fabric was as opaque to sound as it was to sight …

“Opa. What happened then?” I found myself whispering.

He spoke low, too: “Let me move to my bed, please,” he said, “Please grant your old grandfather that on his last night on earth.”

I again helped him, with him being weaker than ever, back to his bedroom. I winced when I opened the door: but there was nothing in the mirror there, not yet. I sat grandpa on the bed, then rushed to cover the bedroom glass. Next I repacked and stuffed the chest of Nazi artifacts beneath the bed, willing it away. Soon, my grandfather lay down and got himself comfortable, head propped up on a couple pillows, covers pulled up around himself. There was an oxygen tank there, but he didn’t use it, nor did I ask him too. If he did need it, he could ask. I closed the door, then sat beside him.

He coughed, cleared his throat, and continued his tale. “We hesitated, of course, on seeing this witch and her goat. Then, the witch spoke to us. We were amazed to hear her speak perfect German. I believe now she speaks every language on earth. Her voice was stronger and younger than her apparent years. She called us trespassers, and demanded to know why we’d come so far to intrude. We had no answer that made sense in that moment, when confronted by her and that goat. She grew more venomous as she spoke, and I swear her eyes reflected green and snake-like in the torch light, beneath that dark hood. She stood and threatened us. She said some words in a foreign tongue, the torch fire flared bigger. She cursed us, then, saying that the souls of all the people we had killed would stalk us down like tigers and shred our own souls to ribbons, to be fed to…to the Thousand Young of the Black Goat.”

He gulped and looked past me. I dared not look behind myself, and felt my neck grow cold.

“That door is locked, yes?” he hissed.

I nodded, not able to shake the feeling of something big and predatory watching me, and listening behind the mirror’s veil.

“I won’t matter,” he said, “It won’t matter, not anymore. You will be safe, child you at least will be safe…oh! I should have told you all this so many years ago!! But…but, yes, the witch…she spoke the name, over and over again …” His eyes were wide as plates. “Shub Niggurtah. Shub Niggurath. Shub Niggurath. She called the thing a ‘she’ and called it their ancient protector. She told us not that day, not tomorrow, but that some day, no matter where we roamed, the vengeance of those five-hundred souls would catch up to us. We didn’t want to hear this. We killed her, of course. One shot, in the forehead. The torches abruptly went out, and we saw more movement and opened fire with our nearly-forgotten weapons, riddling the witch’s body with bullets

“But she died. Like any other mortal. But, behind her, that damned black goat statue was gone.”

The wind again swept down the valley and rattled the house. I heard in it the long, warbling baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa of a colossal creature. Or maybe that was all in my imagination.

“Opa,” I said, “You’re scaring me. R-really, none of what she said could be true, right?”

He frowned.

baaarraawaaaaaaaaawwwwwwn

It was more distinct, closer that time.

“We were superstitious men in the schutzstaffel,” he said, “And after what we saw, we believed it, the four of us who saw that hidden room. We retrieved some of the scrolls from the room, a couple of the little statues. We burned the rest. In one of the houses, we found, almost miraculously, another elder we had missed. We interrogated him, and it didn’t take much beating to loosen his lips: of how to lift the curse. But there was no way to lift it,”

He laughed, and kept laughing as he spoke.

baaaaawerrrrreeeeeeeeeaaawwww

Closer, closer, coming from above —

“We could only delay the curse, he said, and the magic to do that came from two sources. Half from the Jews, and half from this forgotten cult of that witch and her partisans,”

The roof shook. — DOOM DOOM DOOM DUH-DOOM — the stomping of hooves the stomping of cloven hooves —

“He taught us the way before he died of his wounds. He laughed as he died, saying our crimes would catch up with us. But we memorized the words and the ways, in that little shack of his, the last one in the hamlet to burn, as the sun set behind the western mountains…aahaha, the other men of my unit are all dead, all dead, or worse, Lustina, I’m the last and I repeated that disgusting fucking rite each night for over seven decades! Each time I neglected it I heard them and her get closer, saw them in my mirrors, as they crawled and leaped closer from that mass grave where we dumped them for the coyotes and bears to feast on!!”

DOOOOOMMMAAWWWWWWRRRRMMMMM!!

The house shuddered as if in an earthquake, the mirror on the wall shook and I dreaded the sheet falling away and exposing the cursed glass. The lights in the room flickered, and lost their life. Light leaked in under the door from the hallway. Until, something big out there stood in the doorway, and blocked nearly all that illumination. The floorboards creaked there. I dared not breathe. But I could hear the inhuman breathing of something there, waiting. The electric lights flickered, and went out.

My grandfather whispered, and his voice trembled: “And now I forgot it, I forgot how to keep them all away.” He kept his gaze behind me, I dared not turn around. “I am sorry, so sorry, my granddaughter. Please, please forgive me…oh god, it’s in every star–” he convulsed suddenly, and his eyes rolled back. He babbled in German, and my grasp on the language wasn’t enough to comprehend it. His expression was of absolute horror.

The house was shaking even harder.

I clenched my eyes closed and covered my ears and screamed. There was that horrible half-animal, half-unearthly braying and groaning, mixed now with the hissing voices of hundreds of foreign tongues. I heard the mirror thud off the wall, crack against the dresser and thud to the floor. Panicking, I threw myself down from the chair, and hid under the bed, with the Nazi awards and pictures and dagger. With Death’s Head. The door creeeeeeaked, then SLAMMED open, as if caught by the wind.

Struggling not to hyperventilate from fear, I opened my eyes:

Along the bottom of the bed’s skirt, in the darkness, I could see a blacker darkness, half-cloud and half-flesh, drift rather than walk in my direction, then float around the bed. The floor still creaked when it moved, as if this thing still projected weight. My grandfather wasn’t talking anymore, just wheezing, and making incoherent syllables.

“Hch–hach–lech–n-n–”

That monstrous sound roared again, loud enough to burst my eardrums: except that it felt like it came from inside my own head, rather than across the air in sound-waves!

SCHTLICK!

There was a wet puncturing and slurping sound. My grandfather’s breath above me grew faster and wheezier, and the spasms of attempted language stopped. I could hear something wet, mooshy, gushing and sucking, for several seconds.

SCHI-SLACHT!

Something was withdrawn from flesh.

I peeked open my eyes.

The darker darkness floated quietly to the mirror on the ground. It seemed to start sinking into the object. I held my breath. I closed my eyes again.

When I opened them, the lights were back on. The cracked, but not shattered, mirror looked normal. I blinked. It was a full five minutes before I came out from under the bed.

First, however, I fumbled with my phone, and resumed notifications: I had a text from my sister: she and my parents were ten minutes away. But that had been from about ten minutes ago, and so I heard the welcome and familiar sounds of my family’s voice downstairs as they came inside from the blizzard.

Then, I had to get out from under the bed. And see, as far as physical evidence could portray, what had happened to my grandfather.

I screamed.

—————————————————————————————————————————-

I was never under suspicion for my grandfather’s death.

His cause of death was listed deceivingly as “Stroke,” the same as his departed wife.

But there is no way myself, or a blood clot, could have done to him what was done.

The coroner had no way of explaining the missing brain matter, other than that it had exited to…somewhere, through the violently expanded nasal passages: but where had the matter gone? Not even brain cancer could simply delete this matter. And besides, there was zero residue, other than a surprisingly small amount of blood. Just specks.

And why had the pupils expanded so large, to make his horrified and staring face have black eyes? No doubt, the same “stroke,” had done this, modern science would say.

The hands were locked in a desperate, protective pose, like clawing at something in front of his face.

It was only in the autopsy that they discovered the missing heart: not ripped out, simply gone, without an exit or entry wound, with the ends of the connecting arteries and veins neatly clipped and sealed.

Like I said, my grandparents lived in an isolated area, near a tiny town, and the coroner kept it all hush hush, as much as for his own sanity as to avoid further unanswerable questions.

We had the grotesque corpse cremated, of course.

My family learned the day after of the shocking, awful truth of Grandfather’s old affiliation, which only added to the whole trauma. Strangely, the totenkopf ring was missing from the chest, and I never found it …

I myself, am wary of mirrors now. Over the past few months, I’ve used them less and less often. I’ve taken down the one in my bedroom, and stuffed it in the closet, buried in blankets. The one in the bathroom gives me more and more discomfort. And I no longer think goats are cute. And I wonder if the curse on my grandfather was hereditary. I stowed away his scrolls and such. Not that it’ll do much good, unless I can find answers fast.

He never taught me how to repel the curse. No one did. I can’t even forget what I’ve never learned in the first place.

And I don’t know how long I have.

When I dream now, I hear the whispers of shub-niggurath, like sand blowing across a distant plain …

 

Movie Review: “Lights Out”

18 June, 2018

Note: As with every review I write, if you click through my links like this one (Lights Out) to buy or rent the movie, Amazon pays me a cut, per their Affiliate Marketing program. Thanks!

A Decent, not Great, Horror Movie

For those who celebrated, I hope you had a great Father’s Day. I did.

This review is coming atrociously late, as I watched this movie back in early May. But, better late than never. It is, as my title suggests, a decent, but not great movie. It has it’s scary moments, pretty good acting overal, some cleverness, but…not enough of any of those things. The backstory felt cliche and uninteresting. The movie is largely a festival of horror tropes.

The feature film fails to properly expand on or live up to the short film that spawned it. Maybe there wasn’t enough potential in that short film to begin with.

So, it’s not bad. I basically liked it. But there are better horror movies to check out.

Premise

First, watch the 2013 short film that led to the 2016 Hollywood movie:

Great, right?! It’s simple. It reminds us of the simple unease we can get if we let our imagination wander as we turn the lights off, getting ready for bed. The cinematography helps the suspense.

Now watch the trailer for the 2016 movie:

Yeah…maybe it’s good?

I ended up watching it on a whim.

Alright. Here’s what the movie’s about: there are these half-siblings, the younger of whom lives with their mom, who suffers from depression. She also suffers from supernatural issues, as there’s a shadowy woman named “Diana” who keeps appearing and freaking out her son. Diana only appears in the dark, she can’t enter areas that are lit above the level of approximately “very dim.”

The family has to figure out who/what Diana is and what’s going on and how to stop her and what’s up with mom. The backstory of all that is “okay.” Most of what happens with the story is “okay:” it’s mostly predictable, but, it’s got some suspense, a bit.

Acting

It’s all fine. Pretty good. Not amazing.

Music

Typical well-executed horror movie music. But definitely typical. It makes scenes scarier.

Diana

She’s scary at first and then mostly less scary every time you see her again. The movie overexplains her, and that makes her a lot less interesting.

Overall

It’s like 6/10. Really not a great movie, but not awful. Probably a great example of a paint by numbers horror movie. It explores themes of familial depression pretty well.

 

I’m really not in much of a mood for writing this anymore. I’m gonna walk down the street to a bar and drink beer now.

Book Recommendation and Response: “Black Hearts” by Jim Frederick

15 June 2018

Note: I am an Amazon affiliate marketer, meaning I get a % of money from sales if you buy a book by clicking through its link, like this one: Black Hearts: One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death. Thank you! I’m not directly paid by the publishers/authors, but when I recommend a book or movie, I see no reason not to put an affiliate link. 

Book Recommendation and Response: Black Hearts by Jim Frederick

"First Strike" insignia

Good evening,

I’ve been hard at work on my novel today. I’m going a lot further on the planning this time, using the “Snowflake Method” developed by Randal Ingermason. I’ll tell you more in the next few days, but this book will be a haunted house story, with well-developed characters and (hopefully) surprising twists.

But today on the blog, I want to talk about some real-life horror. It’s the story of a platoon of American soldiers, pushed too far in the brutal counterinsurgency warfare of 2005/2006 Iraq: underresourced, undermanned, and handed an unwinnable mission. The particular platoon came from the 101st Airborne Division’s legendary 502nd Infantry Regiment, aka “the Black Heart Brigade,” and was assigned to secure a village south of Baghdad, as part of a larger effort of protecting the country’s capital from insurgent infiltration.

The soldiers of that platoon lived in an intensity of war seldom seen in American history, “taking contact” virtually every single day in the form of roadside bombs, sniper fire, and mortar attacks. This onslaught all came from a ghost-like enemy that blended all-too-well into the very same population that the Americans were supposed to protect.

Ultimately, a small group of soldiers from that platoon took their bitterness-turned-to-hatred of the local civilians so far as to brutalize a random Iraqi family, committing vicious rape and cold-blooded murder, and then using fire to obscure the gruesome evidence.

How did such a crime occur? How could American soldiers, some of the best-trained and disciplined troops in the history of mankind, deployed on a mission of reconstruction and handoff rather than imperial conquest, come to commit such things? Where does the blame lie, aside from the obvious minimum of at the direct perpetrators’ feet? What could have prevented this injustice?

Investigative journalist Jim Frederick’s Black Hearts is his attempt to answer those questions. He takes a detailed look at what went so horribly wrong for so long as to allow such barbarity. He interviewed as many veterans of the Black Hearts as possible, as much as possible. Frederick does an admirable job of putting all the pieces together and analyzing them in the big picture, and in detail.

The resulting book shows both the tremendous capabilities of American soldiers, and the tremendous, critical reality of the violent madness that lurks in the heart of human beings, and which can be stirred and unleashed in the horrors of war. One is reminded of Apocalypse Now, and its inspiration, Heart of Darkness.

I read Black Hearts for an assignment in my Military Science class this most recent semester with ROTC. I wrote the following response to it. I got a good grade on it. It’ll make more sense to you after you read Frederick’s book:

Reviewing Black Hearts: Bad Strategy Exacerbated by Improper Battalion Leadership

The story told by Jim Frederick in Black Hearts is almost unbelievable. One wishes it wasn’t true, but the evidence of the crimes described is too strong to ignore. It is shocking that American Soldiers would commit such atrocities. But one can trace the failures of leadership through the chain of command to at least the Battalion level and find the causes for the extreme mental deterioration of the men of 1PLT/BCO/1BN/2BDE (“Black Hearts”) which culminated in the horrific rape and murder of the Janabi family. Essentially: the BN was overstretched in the Yusufiyah area South of Baghdad as a symptom of poor U.S. strategy that severely underestimated manpower needs across Iraq; LTC Kunk was willfully ignorant of the needs and challenges of his Company Commanders, and repeatedly demonstrated his preference for berating them rather than sincerely listening; as a result of these higher-level failures, 1PLT was overstretched for the mission and size of AO assigned to it, leading to overtaxing and under-security of its Soldiers; and down to the individual level, Soldiers’ resulting mental deterioration wasn’t taken seriously enough by Army mental health specialists or by NCOs and Lieutenants at the Team, Squad, and Platoon levels. Reallocation of combat units to the most troubled areas South of Baghdad, (that occupied by BCO,) and proper R&R and more serious mental health probes and responses for Soldiers (like Green) who expressed disturbing thoughts all could have likely prevented the massacre.

Without dwelling too much on the strategic level rather than direct level leadership, it’s important to note the ill-conceived nature of the American strategy in Iraq, especially the low troop numbers, and how this led to 1PLT finding itself so overstretched. In 1999, with high U.S./Iraqi tensions after the Gulf War, the NSC, DoD, CIA, and other agencies ran a war game called “Desert Crossing,” to examine the possibilities for regime change in Iraq. (Gordon and Trainor, pages 6-10) This exercise found that an overthrow of Saddam, with or without an American invasion, would likely lead to massive sectarian violence, intervention by neighboring states, and immense difficulty and expense for the U.S. to piece together a democratic government. When the U.S. actually did invade and attempt to occupy and rebuild Iraq, a country of 25 million people, with a little over 100,000 troops. Ambassador Jerry Bremer disbanded the 500,000-strong Iraqi army and national police, and kicked from office many more bureaucrats whose only crime was being Baath Party members. The U.S. military lacked a counterinsurgency doctrine. Altogether, there weren’t enough American troops in-country to get the job done, and strategic mistakes made those troops’ jobs more difficult than they had to be.

This failure fell hard on the “First Strike” BN of LTC Kunk, tasked with occupying the greater Yusufiyah area south of Baghdad, keeping the routes there clear of IEDs, denying insurgents access to Baghdad, protecting the locals from insurgent violence, killing the insurgents, building good relationships with the locals, and training and setting up new Iraqi Army units to take over security. This was a lot to ask of one infantry BN, who had to both maintain its own security with patrols and traffic control points, and work towards the longer-term goal of friendly Iraqi governance and security hand-off, all while giving the Soldiers enough rest time to stay combat effective.

LTC Kunk made his task even harder than it needed to be, and hurt his own men, by demonstrating horrible leadership habits. (Note the entire chapter “The Kunk Gun.”) He publicly berated his Company Commanders, leading to them becoming timid and unwilling to speak up about problems and ideas in meetings. (First discussed pages 34-35; also described throughout the book too many times to count.) When Officers and NCOs were obviously already feeling depressed, guilty, and angry about the deaths of men under their command, Kunk would instantly start berating them about uniform standards or how their supposedly lax security had led to their men’s deaths. While it is important for commanders to keep everyone in their units in proper discipline, including uniform, it would have been dramatically more helpful for Kunk to first listen to what challenges Goodwin and other COs were facing, and find out why “The Alamo” looked like shit, or why it was so important that 1PLT get proper fortification supplies ASAP, or why Soldiers isolated out at undermanned TCPs for days on end were getting “lax” about their helmets, vests, and mental awareness. Kunk was too quick to blame BCO and especially 1PLT for the horrible experience they were having compared to his other companies, without even trying to allocate more troops to their AO, which had clearly become a particular hotspot of insurgent violence.

The accelerating violence in December 2005, especially the murder of Nelson and Casica by an Iraqi civilian with a handgun (Frederick, page 139) accelerated the mental deterioration of the 1PLT Soldiers, who increasingly saw all Iraqis as the enemy. One may find it inevitable that some broadly hostile thoughts will develop in all counterinsurgency operations, but, we also know that 1PLT was severely overstretched with all the TCPs and route patrols they had to maintain at all times, without enough truly secure rest, and this would likely worsen psychological effects. PFC Green did, at the prodding of SSG Miller, (one example of good NCO troop-care) talk to LTC Marrs from Combat Stress. In his evaluation, he expresses to her his suicidal and homicidal thoughts, and his open desire to kill as many Iraqis as possible. This is after he’d expressed alarmingly hateful thoughts to other Soldiers repeatedly, far above and beyond usual Soldier complaining and venting. Marrs didn’t seem to take Green’s thoughts seriously, and just gave him some insomnia pills, and the concept of some vague further counseling in the future. (Pages 157-159.) The fact that there wasn’t more concern for and about Green’s seemingly psychotic thoughts reflects bad individual leadership on the parts of the NCOs and even fellow lower enlisted closest to Green. But, one should never forget the blame at the feet of LTC Kunk, under resourcing his most troubled company: the cumulative results of this seem to have made it hard for 1PLT members to “see above” their own horrible feelings and realize how dangerous Green had become. On the topic of Green, it’s noteworthy that the PFC got a half hour meeting with COL Ebel (2BDE commander) and expressed persistent thoughts and actual questions about shooting all the Iraqis, and that COL Ebel wasn’t alarmed, especially given the context of his unit’s condition. LTs Norton and Fisher share in the responsibility of not identifying extremely disaffected Soldiers like Green and removing them from the AO, but, they were also busy requesting more general tactical help from Higher, and being ignored on those requests.

In the end, after the rape and murders of the Janabi family, it was the humble Private Watt, rather than Sergeant Yribe, who finally blew the whistle on the whole grisly affair. (Pages 318-319.) And, predictably though disappointingly, LTC Kunk didn’t take the accusations seriously (page 323) and proceeded to severely berate 1PLT as they were mourning their dead comrades. (Pages 326-328.) Page 328 critically describes the way that official blame was all pushed on the Company and Platoon level, for not maintaining proper accountability and standards.

Overall, the experience of 1PLT at Yusufiyah is among the worst reflections of the under resourcing and poor strategic planning embodied in the Bush administration’s plans for invading and remaking Iraq, and, 1PLT’s situation was made abysmally worse by lack of useful attention at the battalion level. If the 101st had been able to deploy in greater mass like the the 10th Mountain later did as part of General Patreus’ and President Bush’s “Surge” strategy, (page 351-357) the troops would have had better security, more rest, and more energy to focus on completing their mission, leading to less psychological damage. When multiple incidents proved that 1PLT of BCO was in the toughest AO of Kunk’s BN, the calls for reinforcement were ignored, and the blame for problems was shoved back down to PLT leadership. When psychological deterioration and outright psychopathy became apparent in Green and other Soldiers, one sees that the Platoon’s NCOs, junior officers, the Army psychologists tasked with treating these problems, and even a brigade commander, didn’t realize and respond to the growing risk of atrocities with the needed decisiveness to prevent what ultimately occurred.

Sources:

  1. Frederick, Jim. (2010.) Black Hearts. New York City, NY. Harmony Books.
  2. Gordon, Michael R., and Gen. Trainor, Bernard E. (2013.) The End Game: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama. New York City, NY: Vintage Books

——————————————————————————————————————————————

Next time, I’ll talk about more fun types of scary and fucked up things. Like ghosts or sea serpents.

Sincerely,

-Geoff

Quick horror game initial impression: “Witch Hunt” (It’s on Steam!)

14 June, 2018

Quick Look: Witch Hunt

witch hunt picture

Hullo,

Today, after seeing the video appear on Chris O’Neill’s gaming channel, I tried out the indie horror game Witch Hunt, developed and published by Andrii Vintsevych. It’s in early access, but I cautiously think it looks promising. I played for about half an hour. Like I’ve mentioned, I got a janky laptop that doesn’t run games or screen recorders too good. Especially not at the same time. Soooo I don’t have footage yet.

 

Game’s Premise:

The game drops you straight into the action, light on story. The time is the 18th century, and the place is the town and surrounding area of Bellville, in English North America. The town is haunted by a variety of undead and monstrous creatures. You have supernatural powers (apparently because the blood of an angel runs through your veins) and yo have silver bullets, so you go to be a hero. Your horse gets wrecked, but the mayor, the merchant, and the doctor all like you, and you have a few weapons, so into the woods you go! Happy monster (and apparently which?) hunting!

 

Gameplay Experience:

Let’s start with the most important thing: how the game plays. Witch Hunt is played in first-person, with standard FPS controls: shift to sprint, control to crouch, space to jump, mousewheel to scroll weapons, right click to look down the sights. You start with a flintlock musket, and a flintlock pistol, both with delightfully 18th century reload animations, plus, a silver saber for backup.

The game is light on objectives and story: after talking to the first couple NPCs in town, you wander across a bridge and start exploring: gloomy trees, gloomy roads, gloomy dead sheep, gloomy dead horses. And, at sudden moments, you have to fight vicious dogs, shadow people, and possibly zombies. Your goal is to kill enemies and secondarily to collect loot to improve your abilities.

Because your old school weapons have such long reload times, you have to be particularly prudent with your aim, and a missed shot will react in a furious melee combat out of sheer necessity. Enemies are tough, and you die fast.

The game has more RPG elements than most horror games, too: you can buy lightning and “watcher” wards to attack or spot enemies, and you can upgrade your movement, armor, stealth, and damage with various items from the merchant in town.

For the ~35 minutes I played, there was little in the way of objectives or firm guidance, which I found both a bit frustrating, and a bit refreshing. The game really makes you feel like you’re wandering into the unknown, with it being up to you to discover enemy behavior and to explore the environment. That adds to the fun sense of dread and unease.

witch hunt gameplay

Graphics, Visuals:

Standard Unity engine indie fare, especially for early access. The textures are fine, the enemy models are unsettling. The woods, rivers, and hills are all visually effective. One cool touch, reflective of the game’s time period, is that your musket produces a ton of smoke: this will effectively obscure your vision immediately in front of you for a few seconds.

Sound:

Good werewolf sounds, decent gunshot sounds, creepy heartbeat (that gets faster as enemies approach,) and many ghostly whispers. It’s effective!

Did I like it?

That’s the crucial question. Answer? I cautiously like it. The premise is cool and the atmosphere is scary, and the history buff in me always digs seeing FPS games with old-school weapons. At times, I felt a bit cheated when I had NO idea where to go, or when apparently invisible enemies were draining my health and mana. Plus, I’m having trouble opening the game again right now after playing it for one session. -_-

Still. I’d add it to your “watch” list, and see if it’s worth a buy once the full version is released.

 

Book Recommendation: “12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers”

14 June, 2018

Note: While I am not sponsored by Doug Stanton, Simon & Schuster, or Warner Bros, I do receive an affiliate marketing payment from Amazon if you buy the book after clicking through any of the Amazon links on this page. I appreciate it if you choose to do so, and I hope you enjoy this review either way!

An excellent, harrowing, true adventure: 12 Strong

Good afternoon!

I’ve had a great day of working out, writing my novel, studying how to call in artillery fire, practicing CSS at Code Academy, practicing French at DuoLingo, and killing wasps! Wooh!

Today, I want to tell you about a killer book I listened to on Audible last month: 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers(Originally titled simply Horse Soldiers, but renamed in the new edition to tie-in with the film.)

(Link to the movie on Amazon.)

The movie adaptation came out earlier this year. which I still have yet to see it, so I’ll keep the focus on the book for now.

September 11th, 2001 …

A date which will live in infamy.

A day of horror and grief for so many thousands of individuals, and for an entire nation- an entire world – which had so recently entered a new and promising century. History with a capital “H” was supposed to be over. Violent events on this scale were supposed to be a thing of the past, relegated to the overflowing dustbin of 20th-century totalitarianism and radicalism.

And yet, on that clear September morning, America was hit, hard. Nearly 3,000 people were murdered. A towering symbol of American economic prosperity was brought crashing down, leaving a smoldering crater in the heart of the nation’s biggest city. The very heart and brain of America’s proud defense establishment was left with a gaping hole in its side, pouring smoke like spilled blood into the blue summer sky. And the daring and the lives of brave airline passengers prevented an equally devastating attack on the United State’s seat of democratic government.

9/11 was and continues to be a new generation’s Pearl Harbor: the biggest attack ever on American soil. But unlike the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor, this devastating and well-coordinated suicide-attack killed mostly civilians, who moments before had been going about their regular lives. It set offices, not warships, aflame.

The Bush administration and the American public soon learned that this insidious attack did not originate with a nation-state, like Imperial Japan. 9/11 was done by a network of radical Jihadist terror cells, known collectively as al-Qaeda, inspired by the most wretched and hateful aspects of the broader Islamic religion, and led by the Saudi construction magnate-turned-terrorist, Osama Bin Laden.

al-Qaeda had operatives all over the world, especially in Muslim majority countries.

The group had killed Americans before, in Africa and in Yemen.

And al-Qaeda, with its “caliph,” Bin Laden, held its main base of operations in the landlocked, war-torn, and savage land of Afghanistan. There were the training camps, there was the money, there were the weapons, and there were the bombs, that would allow Bin Laden and his ilk to continue to stage similar attacks in the future. The JIhadis had the manpower, pouring in from the disgruntled youth of the Islamic world, to fight Holy War against the great “Far Enemy:” the United States of America.

soldiers on horseback

Revenge

It was self-evident that the smoldering crater in the heart of Manhattan, and all the gruesome trauma and loss it represented, compelled a strong response from the American people.

Bush, from the oval office, in New York City, and in front of Congress, promised that strong response.

It would be up to the American military and intelligence services to execute the mission. To avenge the Twin Towers.

And in that execution, is where the Horse Soldiers enter this story, which Doug Stanton so doggedly researched and now conveys through this book.

Secret Soldiers

The real-life characters who 12 Strong follows are a mix of U.S. Army Special Forces operators, Central Intelligence Agency paramilitary agents, and U.S. Air Force forward observers. They are all elite servicemen, and most of them highly experienced, being in their 30s or even 40s. (Practically ancient in active duty combat arms terms!) They were selected for the mission due to their unique sets of skills.

The Bush administration knew the U.S. and NATO would have to enter Afghanistan and fight the theocratic Taliban government there in order to kill and capture al-Qaeda. But it wasn’t initially clear how exactly this would be done.

As Stanton elaborates, the United States military and State Department had no war plans for going into Afghanistan. After the 1980s, the place had basically fallen off the radar. Now, no one was thrilled at the idea of stirring up the Afghan hornet’s nest. But, the 9/11 attacks and the threat of further al-Qaeda offensives demanded swift and smart action.

So, the administration settled on a “light footprint” approach, utilizing Special Forces (SF) soldiers like Captain Mike Nelson, Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer, and Sergeant First Class Sam Diller. Also known as the “Green Berets,” SF soldiers first fought for the U.S. in Vietnam, and they specialize in operating behind enemy lines, in the hostile wilderness with little food, shelter, or hope of resuppply. They’re trained to fight smart, and to make allies among the local population and friendly indigenous forces.

In other words, SF was the perfect tool to quickly rush into Afghanistan, make contact with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, and help them run the Taliban out of the country. The terrorist training camps would be dismantled. Bin Laden and his lieutenants would be dead.

Justice would be done.

And it would be done without an expensive and unwelcome large American ground presence.

12 strong movie picture

The Stories Within the Story

Stanton’s book reads like a war movie, in the most welcome sense. It’s descriptive to the senses, it gives flashforwards, flashbacks, and cliffhangers all on the right beats, and we get our anticipated epic victories and sobering losses.

Stanton offers plenty of backstories to flesh out the lives of the “Horse Soldiers,” (so named for their famous equine riding with their Afghan allies,) including how they grew up, their relationships to their wives, and how they prepared for their deployment. The narrative often zooms in on a particular aspect of a character’s motivations or concerns, leaving us more invested in the next action scene.

And there is plenty of action. The team of a dozen SF soldiers participated in frontline airstrike targeting, mounted charges, and close-quarters firefights with their Afghan hosts. This is the action of the first phase of the 17-year-old American war in Afghanistan: legions of anti-Taliban rebels charging, on horseback, into the enemies’ well-equipped lines of trenches and tanks, while orbiting American B-52s and F-16s provide devastating satellite-guided ordinance from above. This stunning mismatch of technology is rightly dubbed by  the U.S. soldiers involved “the Flintstones meeting the Jetsons.”

Stanton also provides a great deal of context to the struggle on the Afghan side, starting with the immediate aftermath of the Soviet War. He describes in awful detail the daily carnage inflicted by the Taliban on the country’s various non-Pashtun ethnic groups, and on any Afghan deemed an infidel. The punishments to women, in particular, are especially brutal. As readers, it’s refreshingly easy to root for the people fighting against the kind of guys who stone, de-hand, and decapitate people in crowded stadiums as a prelude to soccer games, or who assault men simply for daring to not grow a beard.

The colorful portrait of the Northern Alliance General Abdul Rashid Dostum is interesting, as well: a Muslim who drinks, a warlord who fights for peace, a tribesman who craves connection with the modern world. He proves to be an indispensable, if challenging, ally to the small American force in 2001/2002, and every scene of him interacting with his American allies is engaging.

12 strong picture 2

The Climax

Like any good war movie, 12 Strong has an action-packed climax: the December 2001 “Battle of Qala-i-Jangi.” This was an uprising of Taliban POWs, intermingled with al-Qaeda operatives, who smuggled handguns and grenades into their prison quarters, and then fought a savage battle against their Afghan guards and American adversaries. It’s an extremely trying combat, taking place at a time when the Afghan war looked to be nearly over. It led to the first death of an American in combat in the war, and the disturbing discovery of a captured terrorist of American origin, John Walker Lindh, who betrayed his country to join al-Qaeda.

I don’t want to spoil too much for people who don’t already know the real-life story. But, Stanton’s telling of the battle, based on heavy research and interviews with the veterans involved, is a compelling story of American bravery and the continuing savagery of war in the 21st century.

Lasting Impressions

There’s a lot I didn’t talk about, in the interest of space as well as time. 12 Strong is exciting and engaging, but it is also well over 16 hours long in audio form, and a lot happens. I’ve barely touched on the record-setting high-altitude Blackhawk and Chinook flights by SF aviators around the treacherous peaks of the Hindu Kush, or the Wild West-like mood of the whole adventure, complete with horseback rides along narrow canyon ledges and capture of ancient mud forts with nicknames like “The Alamo.”

I think whether you’re a veteran yourself, someone who knows a veteran, someone in-training for the service like myself, or simply a person who likes military history and contemporary true-stories, you’ll find things to appreciate in this book.

For me, I was struck not only by the individual skill, bravery, resourcefulness, and dedication of my country’s servicemen but by the sheer strangeness of the war. Afghanistan is a country the United States didn’t want to get involved with in the first place. And then, when we did, it wasn’t with infantry and armor divisions rolling in WWII style: it was with tiny teams of elite operatives; warrior-diplomats who built their success not only on firepower, but on coalition-building at the grassroots level. The 2002 victory over the Taliban regime belongs to America’s Afghan allies more than to America itself. The Afghans formed the ground forces, and they paid 99.9% of the cost in blood.

Of course, we have to recall what happened later in Afghanistan: the Taliban resurgence, the shift of focus to Iraq, the endless troop deployments, the suicide bombings…it all puts 12 Strong in sobering perspective. We didn’t win entirely in 2001/2002. Not by a long-shot. The war isn’t over. While it’s impossible to say for sure without an Alternate Universe Hopping Machine, maybe things cohave’ave been different. Maybe if we (the US and NATO) hadn’t poured so many more troops into Afghanistan and made our presence there permanent, if we hadn’t tried to build a centralized government in Kabul contrary to the entire socio-poltiical nature of Afghanstian, maybe then, we wouldn’t be in such a mess there now. Maybe keeping our presence small, limited to CIA agents and spec ops, so that we could be mere enablers for the anti-Taliban, anti-Qaeda forces, would have achieved our objectives of vengeance and homeland security at an acceptable cost.

Maybe.

But, that wasn’t the question for the horse soldiers. And this book is their story. It’s not a pretty story, most of the time, but is at the same time a gritty, inspiring, and riveting one. If you have any interest in looking back to the earlier days of the long War on Terror, when success seemed just one cavalry charge or one bomb-strike away, I highly suggest you check this book out. The Audible version, I can personally say, is great.

Bye bye,

-Geoff

Listen to the opening of the “The Devil and the Doctor” audio edition, read by DeadJosey!

12 June, 2018

Good afternoon readers,

As previously mentioned, I have an Audible version of my first novel, The Devil and The Doctor (Malcolm Leeds Chronicles) (Volume 1) in the works right now. DeadJosey, aka Josselyn Monserrate, is producing this most excellent audiobook version of my supernatural thriller story.

For those who don’t know, The Devil and the Doctor follows the harrowing supernatural journey of Malcolm Leeds, a shapeshifter from the New Jersey Pine Barrens, to vanquish a murderous doomsday cult and save the people he loves. It’s an action-packed, gory, creepy story, full of monsters and mayhem, swords and spells.

Joey has finished the first 15 minutes of the audiobook, which you can preview here:

Thanks Josey!

We expect the finished audiobook to be available on Amazon late this summer, around the same time as Paranoia.

In the mean time, you can purchase the paperback or Kindle versions here:

Au revoir,

-Geoff

A look back at a 1990’s PC edutainment classic: Baldi’s Basics!

11 June, 2018

Who else remembers Baldi’s Basics in Education and Learning?

Good morning rad gamers,

If you’re a 90’s baby like me, surely you remember growing up on such edutainment classics as Math Blaster, Sonic’s Schoolhouse, Jump Start, and Zoombinis! These games, with their colorful casts of cartoon characters, charming soundtracks, and genuinely fun gameplay, got us excited to learn about topics such as math, logic, and science. Sometimes the graphics were a bit cheesy, (or even unsettling!) but, developers generally did their best with what the computers of the time could do, and the finished product was generally pretty good! Besides, we were kids: we were just happy to be playing computer games in school!

There’s one game that really stands out …

The past couple weeks, the Internet’s had a great revival of interest in 1998’s PC edutainment title, Baldi’s Basics in Education and Learning. Personally, I had flashbacks to the game when I stumbled across this totally rad, totally 90’s ad for it while I was browsing nostalgic YouTube content a couple days ago:

Instantly, upon hearing that melodic and authoritative voice, so full of mathematical expertise and love of teaching, and seeing those wholesome and attentive eyes, I was transported back to the 2nd grade, when I played waaaay too much of this game on my dad’s Windows 1998 Dell machine. (I wish I had a picture of that PC.)

The game was fun. Surprisingly fun, considering its graphics that seemed odd to me even at the time. The cheap, kooky music didn’t hold me back from enjoying it! I felt so immediately sucked into the game’s world, from the moment I heard those unforgettable words:

“Oh, hi, welcome to my schoolhouse!”

Baldi’s Basics put a smile on my face, and I credit it with helping me pass many math tests. But, why was it so good? What was so compelling about this 3-D, first-person perspective schoolhouse adventure that I had to keep coming back to it again, and again, and again? (I even just downloaded a copy and played it again, here! Unfortunately, my computer isn’t powerful enough to record usable Let’s Play footage, or I’d upload that for you guys, too. 🙁 )

In my humble opinion, here are the top 10 reasons.

The Top 10 Reasons Why Baldi’s Basics is Awesome:

picture of baldi in schoolhouse

1. The Graphics

They’re bright and colorful: perfect for kids and adults alike. There’s a great range of diversity across all the characters, from the photo-realistic Arts and Crafts, to the whimsically distorted It’s aBully. You can tell at a glance what every object and character is, perfect for when you’re in a rush to your next virtual lesson. And, it’s all in glorious 3 dimensions, a true delight for the eyes of the 1990’s gamers.

2. The Music

Who could ever forget all the earworms of Baldi’s Basics? From the start menu, to the music when you first meet Baldi, and complete your first notebook of math problems. Catchy, playful, and fun. Just like the gameplay!

you can think pad

3. The Challenge

While it may have been developed by Michah McGonigal rather than the Japanese corporate giant, Baldi’s Basics certainly fits the definition of “Nintendo Hard!” The first few math problems properly ease a young player into the game’s essential tasks, and the difficulty quickly ramps up in a most satisfactory way. Maybe the learning curve is a little too steep for some young students, even today, but personally I remember adapting well to Baldi’s tougher and tougher problems, and the game’s faster-paced later portions!

map picture

4. The Level Design

This game was more than just a fun piece of learning software: it was also a place, a place of pixels and of memories that live on in the hearts of all us 90’s babies who enjoyed it in our youth! Baldi’s Schoolhouse, even after all these years, still feels big, vibrant, detailed, and full of exciting possibilities for learning and adventure. From the cavernous but well-supplied cafeteria, to the cheery outdoor-facing windows, and even to those “Faculty Only” rooms, (that we all know we snuck into anyway!) this virtual schoolhouse was a glorious place to explore and learn each time we got a chance to enter it. What could be waiting for us behind the next set of yellow doors?!

bsoda can

5. The Items

Oh man, nostalgia alert! The Bsoda, the principal’s key, the lock, the safety scissors, the quarters! I remember such a great feeling of freedom and adult-like power as I grasped, collected, and used these many magical objects throughout the game. And with a limited inventory player space, the game taught the value of careful choices and planning ahead.

principal of the thing

6. The Principal of the Thing

While Baldi was our fun-time, wacky, and diligent teacher, we also needed someone to enforce the rules and keep the schoolhouse running right! Though getting put in detention for running in the halls, or shooting Bsoda at fellow students was often a groan-inducing delay from our learning and fun, we all always understood that the ever-vigilant, cheerfully whistling principal was always looking out for our best interests. For as often as he put us in detention for sneaking into the Faculty Only rooms, he also cleared away those Bullies who blocked our paths and stole our precious quarters! Three cheers for the Principal of the Thing!

playtime

7. Playtime

This game wasn’t multiplayer, but on my more recent playthrough, it sure felt like it when Playtime was around! Her photo-realistic graphics, memorable voice, and love of physical games help add a real flash of life, color, and youth to a virtual schoolhouse primarily inhabited by adult faculty and sentient brooms. Plus, as a seeing-impaired character, she taught us all the value of respecting and including people with disabilities.

baldi face

8. Baldi’s Hair

Haha! He wasn’t completely bald! He even has eyebrows!

9. Baldi’s Voice

So silly! So thoughtful! So instructive! So encouraging!

angry baldi

10. Baldi

Glorious green-sweater-wearing, ruler-wielding, math-instructing, fun-inducing God of the Virtual Schoolhouse. Truly, he shall reign over all other edutainment software from now until man turns against his brother until man is no more,  until the Earth is devoured by the Sun, and until the fabric of reality itself is torn asunder, and its remnants scattered back among the eternal darkness of the void.

Ha ha! 😀

If you haven’t played it since you were a kid, check it out at the link below! It’s free, but you can also pay a contribution to the game’s creator, Micah McGonigal.

(Great game btw, Micah! Thank you!)

https://mystman12.itch.io/baldis-basics

Just be sure while you’re playing, to double-check your work! You know how ol’ Baldi gets when you answer math problems incorrectly!

Happy gaming,

-Geoff