Monthly Archives: August 2018

[FICTION] Book Review: “The President is Missing,” by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

21 August 2018

Book Review: The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Review Summary:

Positives:

  • Audible version has excellent voice acting and production values.
  • It’s what you’d expect from Patterson: a rapid-fire page-turner, plenty of action, “who-dunnit” suspense, to-the-point characterization and backstory, and plot-useful but non-threatening use of technology.
  • Benefits from Clinton’s firsthand experience as president, in making the protagonist (“President Duncan”) more authentic.
  • It’s fun.

Negatives:

  • Certain characters’ abilities push the suspension of disbelief.
  • It’s what you’d expect from Patterson: a rapid-fire page-turner, plenty of action, “who-dunnit” suspense, to-the-point characterization and backstory, and plot-useful but non-threatening use of technology.
  • Slick Willy gets a little preachy, and he gives a “thank you” at the end to Hillary. Ew.
  • It’s kinda dumb.

My Amazon Review: 3/5 Stars

Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Description (From Amazon):

The White House is the home of the president of the United States, the most guarded, monitored, closely watched person in the world. So how could a US president vanish without a trace? And why would he choose to do so? 

An unprecedented collaboration between President Bill Clinton and the world’s best-selling novelist, James Patterson, The President Is Missing is a breathtaking story from the pinnacle of power. Full of what it truly feels like to be the person in the Oval Office – the mind-boggling pressure, the heartbreaking decisions, the exhilarating opportunities, the soul-wrenching power – this is the thriller of the decade, confronting the darkest threats that face the world today, with the highest stakes conceivable.

 

“…Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown…” -King Henry IV, ‘King Henry IV Part 2 by William Shakespeare

Oval Office picture

 

Uneasy indeed is the head of President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan, the protagonist of this well-marketed thriller by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. (Of course, Patterson did the bulk of the writing, with Clinton mainly giving input on various aspects of the presidential role.)

The novel opens with Duncan facing approval ratings in the low 30-percents, and a serious threat of impeachment, led by the conniving Speaker of the House, Lester Rodes. More importantly, and directly related to the charges of impeachment, is the threat Duncan and America face from the new “Sons of Jihad” terrorist organization. This group, focused on driving US influence out of southeastern Europe and Central Asia, is led by the shadowy Turkish-born Suliman Cindoruk. The “SOJ” has recently taken cyber-terrorism to new heights with a disastrous sabotage of the Toronto subway system. The SOJ promises this to be only the beginning of a wave of attacks on Western computer networks.

Known to President Duncan and his inner-circle of advisers, but not to the general public, is a devastating plot being hatched by the SOJ, possibly with foreign-state backing. This cyber-attack threatens to turn America back to the “dark ages.” Due to the insidious nature of this threat, President Duncan, (a former professional baseball player, lawyer, Governor of North Carolina, and Army Ranger!) must take drastic, clandestine, and unconventional action in order to save the country he loves from devastation: even if it means sacrificing his political career and his legacy as president.

a cyber terrorist

It’s kind of dumb. But I liked it.

I can’t talk too much about the novel’s plot without spoiling it, but believe me when I say there are plenty of cliche and suspension-of-disbelief damaging moments. These scenes are executed well, mind you: Patterson knows how to write suspense, gunfights, and tense congressional conflicts. But certain characters have unbelievable abilities, and there are unbelievable coincidences. Everything theme wise is pretty basic, and clearly influenced by Bill Clinton: America is great but increasingly polarized and difficult to govern well, the ties that bind us to each other are stronger than the wedges driving us apart, a good president must do whatever is necessary to do his duty even if it ruins him politically.

The cyber threat presented is simple, yet, plausible. It’s scary. It made me think about what terrorists, especially state-backed ones, could do to our power grid, military arsenal, surveillance systems, banking systems, etc, in the next few decades. People with a greater knowledge of computer science than I have may find some of the technobabble simplistic and dumb. That wasn’t especially a problem for me.

Yes, the book does give Clinton plenty of paragraphs of expression of his experience as president, (to paraphrase; “An impeachment-worthy crime is whatever the party in charge of congress says it is,”) but it doesn’t get in the way of the plot. And I think it was authentic. I respect it. President is probably the hardest job in the world, and the book gets that across well.

 

 


secret service sniper on roof

Even for all the complaints one can make about this not being a “sophisticated” book, I liked it, even if it’s not a mind-blowing masterpiece.

It’s fun.

It’s (mostly) plausible, in terms of a threat America could soon face from a rival nation or a terrorist group.

The main character is cool. He uses disguises, shoots guns, and talks like a bad-ass.

The action is cool: there’s sniping, car chases, bombs, punching, underwater scuba sneaking.

I was in genuine suspense over the unfolding conspiracy. Who betrayed the President?! Why?! Who is behind the Sons of Jihad? What do the terrorists really want? Or, what does their benefactor want…

The Audible version I listened to had great production quality. As the point of view rotated between the President, Vice President, Chindoric, and the mysterious Classical-listening assassin known only as “Bach,” the narrators changed to a voice appropriate to that character. When Bach puts in her earbuds and plays Tocacata and Fugue in D Minor, the listener hears it too.

 Wrapping it Up

It’s a fun, dumb thriller. It didn’t blow my mind, but I enjoyed it. Bill Clinton did his job in marketing by having his name on there, judging from the book’s sales. And he actually did add authenticity to the protagonist by his first-hand knowledge of White House life. Not that President Duncan, the former pro baseball player, lawyer, Governor of North Carolina and Army Ranger who had his blackhawk shot down and was captured and tortured by the Republican Guard in Iraq before escaping, has much time to sit around the Oval Office looking pretty!

I recommend this book to people who like James Patterson, or James Patterson-type thrillers. If you like the TV series 24, or Homeland, the theme and plot will probably interest you too.

If you’re looking for a more sophisticated and original contemporary thriller, look elsewhere. Like Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War. Or wait for the inevitable The President is Missing mini-series.

[HISTORY] Book Review: “Killing the Rising Sun,” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

20 August 2018

Book Review:

Killing the Rising Sun

By Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

Review Summary

Positives:

  • The narrative style reads like a thriller, making the history enjoyably digestible.
  • Convincingly supports the assertion that dropping the atomic bombs on Japan was the least bad of the bad options available.
  • Point of view rotates through a diverse cast of historical characters at all political/military levels, on both the Allied and Japanese sides, providing an excellent breadth of context.

Negatives:

  • At least one odd factual error I noticed. (The assertion that America declared war on Germany a day after Pearl Harbor when in reality Germany declared war on the U.S. first.)

My Amazon Review: 4/5 Stars

mushroom cloud

Description (From Amazon):

Autumn 1944. World War II is nearly over in Europe but is escalating in the Pacific, where American soldiers face an opponent who will go to any length to avoid defeat. The Japanese army follows the samurai code of Bushido, stipulating that surrender is a form of dishonor.

Killing the Rising Sun takes listeners to the bloody tropical-island battlefields of Peleliu and Iwo Jima and to the embattled Philippines, where General Douglas MacArthur has made a triumphant return and is plotting a full-scale invasion of Japan. Across the globe in Los Alamos, New Mexico, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer and his team of scientists are preparing to test the deadliest weapon known to mankind. In Washington, DC, FDR dies in office, and Harry Truman ascends to the presidency only to face the most important political decision in history: whether to use that weapon. And in Tokyo, Emperor Hirohito, who is considered a deity by his subjects, refuses to surrender despite a massive and mounting death toll.

Told in the same pause-resistant style of Killing LincolnKilling KennedyKilling JesusKilling Patton, and Killing Reagan, this epic saga details the final moments of World War II like never before.

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant, and fill him with a terrible resolve.” -Isoroku Yamamoto, Japanese Admiral, referring to the Pearl Harbor Attack

By late 1944, the sleeping giant that was America was thoroughly awake, active, and stomping over Japanese forces all across the Pacific. And yet, total victory remained elusive, in the face of a sucidially determined Japanese leadership clique, and the remaining legions of Japanese soldiers and kamikaze pilots ready to die for their Emperor and Homeland.

What routes to final victory did the United States consider? And why did it ultimately decide on the dropping of two atomic bombs on two of Japan’s biggest cities, as the least bad option?

In Killing the Rising Sun, O’Reilly and Dugard take readers through the suspenseful, intriguing, harrowing, brilliant and dark story of why and how American leadership wrestled with that decision. The authors make clear why destroying Imperial Japan was morally correct, and how the use of the atomic bombs ultimately saved more lives than it destroyed by ending the war faster and without a ground invasion of Japan. They provide plenty of detail on the horrors of the island hopping campaign, the thinking behind the development of the A-bomb in the first place, the atrocities committed by Japan all through the lead-up to 1945,

Kamikazes

This photo provided by former Kamikaze pilot Toshio Yoshitake, shows Yoshitake, right, and his fellow pilots, from left, Tetsuya Ueno, Koshiro Hayashi, Naoki Okagami and Takao Oi, as they pose together in front of a Zero fighter plane before taking off from the Imperial Army airstrip in Choshi, just east of Tokyo, on November 8, 1944. None of the 17 other pilots and flight instructors who flew with Yoshitake on that day survived. Yoshitake only survived because an American warplane shot him out of the air, he crash-landed and was rescued by Japanese soldiers. (AP Photo)

I picked this book up on Audible because I enjoyed the four other books I’ve read in the “Killing” series by O’Reilly and Dugard, and I love military history. Overall, I recommend this book as a well-done popular history book that conveys the drama of WWII very well, without erasing the weight of any of the human misery inherent in it.

The language is very active, emotive, with a solid but not overwhelming amount of flair. Scenes of US Marines storming the beaches of Okinawa and Iwo Jima, of the awestruck tension and horrifying triumph of the first atomic bomb test, and of Vice President Truman’s urgent summons to the White House immediately only to learn that FDR is dead and he is now president: all of these read like the scenes of an epic HBO mini-series. There are even the cliffhanger moments before jumping scene, from Los Alamos, to Washington, to Tokyo, to the Philippines.

flag raising on Iwo Jima

I think the authors took a generally well-balanced view of the historical characters. MacArthur is neither overglorified, nor villainized: as the authors I think correctly portray, he was a highly competent leader and tactician with a great sense of history and culture, but at the same time, had a massive ego and a power-streak that ultimately got him in trouble – and YET, he was undeniably a competent and helpful occupier of post-war Japan. The authors correctly capture the general’s complex legacy.

A highlight of the narrative is the emphasis on how much of a culpable moral villain Emperor Hirohito was. The authors contrast the story, seemingly hard-wired in the public mind now, that the Emperor was little more than a ceremonial revered puppet during the 1930s and WWII, and that the military was always the ones running the show, with little input or oversight from the Emperor.

I have admittedly not read much detail on the Emperor himself, as the Pacific War sources I’ve read focus on the actions directly related to the war and accept the conventional narrative as fact. Yet, I am convinced by the authors that Hirohito knew full well of the atrocities carried out by his soldiers in China, Korea, and other occupied territories, and found them at least acceptable, and possibly often adding to the glory of the all-conquering Japanese Race. While he may admittedly have faced pushback, (indeed, the book covers the coup attempt against him when he surrendered his Empire to the Allies,) he did have the loyalty and power of enough generals to at least partially rein in atrocities if he had the will to. Besides that, while he may have been deceived by the War Hawks in his cabinet, as the supreme sovereign leader of Japan, the decision to initiate the fateful sneak attacks of December 1941 was his.

Emperor Hirohito in Disneyland

Look, he even went to Disneyland!

The fact that the emperor was able to keep his throne was a matter of necessary political stability. Propaganda to rehabilitate the emperor’s reputation in the post-war public’s view were begun by MacArthur, and proved successful since with seemingly only a small number of revisionist historians championing the view that the Emperor was a monstrous leader roughly on par with the European Axis leaders.

A neat addition to the book are the letters received by O’Reilly from three living Presidents of the United States, (Carter, Bush Sr, Bush Jr,) on whether they thought the atomic bombing of Japan was the correct decision. All said yes. It’s worth mentioning in this review that, yes, O’Reilly is a partisan conservative with a clearly stated opposition to Obama (who was president when this book was written,) and that the introduction and epilogue both throw some “gotcha!” jabs at Obama for his associations with outspoken critics of the atomic bomb decision.

Col. Tibbets with the B-29 "Superfortress" Enola Gay

Col. Tibbets with the B-29 “Superfortress” Enola Gay

Wrapping it up

Who will like this book? People with an interest in military history, especially WWII history. Even if they know the history of the Pacific War fairly well, the focus of this book on the final decisions that led to the Allied victory is well-merited and well-executed, and the details on the under-discussed coup attempt against Hirohito, MacArthur’s connections to the Philippines, and Truman’s experience in having to suddenly take up the job of President are all awesome stories.

I think that if you’re someone who doesn’t normally read military history, but wants to learn more quickly in an easily digestible, thriller-like form, this is a great option.

If you really hate O’Reilly for his political views, I imagine you might take issue with this book, although it truly is focused on WWII and not modern politics. (Fun fact: O’Reilly’s father served in the Navy in the Pacific during the War, and likely would have been in the invasion force sent to conquer Japan, had the bombs not been dropped.)

If you’re already a well-read student of this history, you may want to spend your non-fiction reading time on stories less tread for yourself.

But, I think O’Reilly and Dugard do popular history very well and Killing the Rising Sun is no exception.

 

 

 

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