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Archive for the ‘military’ Category


Running Title: Touching The Dragon And Other Techniques For Surviving Life Wars,
Co-author: Christian D’ Andrea

This is one of those books that basically beckoned to me in the New Arrival section. I suspect one of my mates in Central Purchasing brought this knowing my taste in books. I was ready to take a break from the “Special Ops memoirs” but my curiosity got the best of me and that was that. Needless to say, this was a good read that I could not put down. Dragon is written in several parts but the book overall is really broken down into two stages: Hatch’s first battle during his tour of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and the second battle during his recovery from his battle wounds. It is a sobering and touching read. Mr. Hatch does not mind matters as he removes all the layers and puts it all out there … vulnerabilities and all. Some things stay with you such as the story with the woman and the shoelaces in Bosnia which basically shakes a rebuking finger at the current social atmosphere. And no, I’m not going to tell you the story for it is something to be read (and “experienced”). A lot of it was recapping his life and experiences during his 25 years in the SEALs. Bloody hell, twenty five years. But a significant part of the book chronicled his years recovering from his wounds and returning back to the civilized world (or something like it).
Like most military memoirs that seem to be centered around a certain person but always turns out to be a tribute to others, Dragon was no different and maybe this is why I am drawn to military memoirs. As Mr. Hatch goes through his journey of doubt, self-pity and anger during these early years of recovery, it took some strange “heroes” that came forward to put him back on the right path. And there are many of these stories littered throughout the book … all inspiring stories: a rape survivor, a machine gunner that survived a direct blast from an IED, some quilt makers from Montana, a 10 year old Girl Scout and Gabby Giffords. Dragon also introduces us to Mr. Hatch’s experience with military working dogs, four-legged heroes that don’t often make the news but put their lives on the line in service of this country and in some cases are probably responsible for a lot of our men and women returning home safely at a great sacrifice on their part. In his tribute to service dogs Hatch has started a foundation in memory of the dogs he served with in Afghanistan (www.spikesk9fund.org).
And then there is the Fly Fisherman, a fellow Navy SEAL. Throughout the book this individual’s name is never mentioned and is only referred to as the Fly Fisherman. And with great admiration. During the emotional rollercoaster of his recovery, the Fly Fisherman is seemingly a beacon and an anchor in Hatch’s life. I’ve never met this chap but I am envious of this friendship. In the end of the book, Hatch gets to pay tribute to the Fisherman in the most heartwarming and delightful way that would keep most readers feeling a bit fuzzy (and maybe misty eyed … or so I imagine). And probably wishing to meet the Fly Fisherman.
Truly touching, Hatch’s admiration for those military and non-military that brought him through his darkest hours is humbling, heartwarming, and somewhat enlightening. The fact that he still struggles with the “hero” title but willingly attaches this title to the people that he encountered, inspired him during his dark days is very noble of him (truly one of the best of us all). Or as I would say back home, good show Mr. Hatch, jolly good show.
And even though it has been said ad nauseum, I’ll never tire in saying it: thank you Mr. Hatch for your service and sharing a bit of your life with us.It is really inspiring stuff. God Bless you and yours, mate.

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Running title: Army of None – Autonomous Weapons And The Future of War.

Several years ago, I wrote a review for P.W. Singer’s Wired For War: a book that talked about the growing use of robots in the military. In the 80s, movies such as Short Circuit (Johnny 5 alive !!!) and the Terminator was among many factors that drove me in the arms of undergraduate engineering academia. And though I don’t work in the field, like a really great ex-wife, the interest still remains (just don’t mention that to my librarian career … she can be vicious). So, needless to say, when I discovered that this book was sitting on the (library) shelves, I homed in on it like a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone (yeah, I couldn’t help myself … and yes, I need to go out more). But enough of the bollocks and be on with it, yeah.

Drones have come a long way since their debut in the military. They’ve practically infiltrated many facets of society which, in some cases, seem odd but over the years have become one of those “what-would-we-do-without” moments. From aerial shots/videos in real estate listings and weddings to research to the occasional tosser out there that wants to watch female neighbours undress (yes, grade A wanks have been caught doing this … sad commentary there). Drones, love them or hate them, have become that the tool that we’ve always wanted but never knew. Written by Paul Scharre, a former Army ranger that served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, None is a well-researched and informative piece about what is quite active and what’s on the horizon in military automatons. And some of it is possibly , downright scary. Are we talking Skynet? Not quite, and as we speak there is still some reluctance in folks to commit Artifical Intelligence (AI) onto some decent and lethal weapons system (with no human interaction) and expect something “good” will happen. An even scary revelation about this is that America isn’t the only person with the cool “toys” on the battlefield, for there are now over 16 nations that employ robotic weaponry in their military. And to make you sleep even more soundly at night: they are finding themselves in hands of groups like ISIS and Hezbollah though not as sophisticated as those in the US military. But … still. Though based around military uses, the book explores the development of non-weaponized autonomous machines such as self-driving cars, etc. Apparently, we are in a sort of an AI development race. Interesting terms that’ll be added to your mental database: supervised autonomy and loitering munitions. Currently weapon systems that exist today and categorized as autonomous are actually a supervised autonomy (i.e. there is human that is still in the loop when using these systems). Unlike nuclear weapons, it is refreshing to see that there is a lot of thought going into developing and using fully automated, AI controlled systems and not usher in the age of SkyNet. Oh well, there goes my hopes of running off into the desert with Linda Hamilton. Of course it only takes one person to open that Pandora’s box and drink from that forbidden fount … and before you know it … SkyNet (and desert living with Linda, fingers crossed).
Like Wired For War, Army of None is informative and yes, a very cautionary about the use of autonomous military vehicles, but riveting and eye opening to the wonderful and promising non-military applications. Makes you wonder what the world would have been like if someone had spent the time writing about nuclear energy with the same passion of Singer or Scharre. BTW, as I always like to take the time and extend a bit of salutations to authors that have served in uniform and so I say to Mr. Scharre, thank you for your service and God Bless you and yours, mate.

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Running title: Rogue Heroes – The History Of The SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged The Nazis And Changed The Nature Of War.

It is no secret that I’m a big fan of the Special Operations community and the wonderful work that they do (God bless you, chaps), so when I came across this book, perched on my New Arrivals shelf, I pretty much salivated like a Pavlovian hound and couldn’t resist checking it out. Ah yes, the perks of being a librarian (aside from being in some folks naughty librarian fantasies …yes, no … maybe wishful thinking on my behalf). *Sigh* I have detoured already. Well so much for the bollocks, let’s get on with it. Yeah?

Most significant and major institutions are built on vision, blood, sweat and tears (not to mention a few broken bones in this context) of those daring few visionaries. The special operation community that are prevalent in our lives today would not have been had it not been for those daring few in World War II. The first time I ever became of the existence of the SAS was, during the 80s, when I watched a movie called The Final Option starring Lewis Collins. Interesting fact: Lewis Collins as actually passed the selection for 23SAS unit but was actually rejected because of his celebrity status. Yes, sometimes fact can be stranger than fiction. Rogue takes us from the very, very (rough and tumble … literally) humble beginnings with its founder, David Sterling. Often regarded as “irresponsible and unremarkable”, it was Sterling’s vision of unconventional warfare that caught a few minds in a time when Germany dominated North Africa with an ever-growing stranglehold that was extending outward toward Europe. The thing is that an unconventional unit will most likely attract unconventional personalities or as someone had put it bluntly: “the sweepings of public schools and prisons”. Eccentric, definitely, insane (and possibly psychotic), maybe. Needless to say, the SAS beginnings were littered with many strange, eccentric personalities. One such was Blair “Paddy” Mayne known for his violent temper and the occasional bouts of drunkenness, which some have rumoured that were due to closeted homosexuality (though there has been very little evidence to prove such), became a critical figure in the formation and the growth of the SAS. He was also known, in the later years, for driving into missions with a gramophone, playing music, in his jeep. He’s been also been known to find the time to dig into a paperback during some of the most hair-raising firefights. Yes, truly an odd bloke that one. There are other names such as Roy “Paddy McGinty” Farran and Randolph Churchill (yes, the son of THAT Churchill). It is said that Randolph home to his father about the SAS exploits in sabotage and assaults on the Germans that made Winston Churchill one of the SAS biggest fans, and (as the immortal Martha Stewart would say) this was a good thing. From earlier training methods (jumping out of 30mph vehicles to practice parachute landings) to incredible feats of survival (walking over 180 miles in the desert to get to a friendly unit whereas the “easier” options meant being captured) to encountering the barbarous nature of the German forces and their abominable conscription of children soldiers (yes, I’m afraid this started way before current day Africa). And then there are anecdotes that are delightful roguish and scandalous such as Stirling having dinner with Churchill and asking for Churchill’s signature on a blank piece of paper as “memento” which was then used to forge a letter to the SAS carte blanche access to equipment and personnel. Aye, truly scandalous, but Churchill was a good sport and yes, a big fan of the SAS, so that bit of dodgy roguishness got a pass.
Rogue is a superb eye-opener into the origins of Special Forces. Interesting note: the SAS during peace time served as a war crimes investigation unit that may have helped bring a lot of war criminals and the scope German monstrosity, during the war, to light. Quite gruesome on occasion, with some spots of levity, and filled with insanely daring exploits of the SAS during World War II, Rogue Heroes is a very riveting read (as in you’ll want to rivet your eyelids open and not sleep). A splendid tribute to those daring few that launched an evolutionary approach to war which in turn produced the Navy SEALs, the Green Berets (US Army Special Forces), the Polish GROM and even the Russian Spetsnaz. God bless these daring few that has taken up the mantle for the good fight downrange.

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Running title: Operation Thunderbolt – Flight 139 And The Raid On Entebbe Airport, The Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission In History.

As a librarian I get to do cool things such as going to conferences or meeting with publishers as they hawk their new wares (namely books). Sure it is sort of what the pharmaceuticals do when they court doctors with their latest “life-saving” drugs and coax the docs into pushing their stuff unto unsuspecting vict …er, patients. The good thing about my situation is that, for the most, I don’t have to do that much “pushing” when it comes to books. It practically “pushes” itself and, most of all, reading books don’t leave people with side effects (aside from the occasional eyestrain) such as … DEATH. Seriously, I’ve noticed that a bunch of drugs list “death” as a side effect. Um … no, itchiness and a case of the shits is a side effect. Death is complete bollocks up. And I have detoured greatly. So back to the review … shall we?

Now it was during one of those conferences, that I had received an advanced reader’s copy or arcs (as they are affectionately known) of Operation Thunderbolt. Only a few months ago, I came across it on my shelf and came to the conclusion that I must be losing my mind since this was sitting my shelf for more than year without being read. Thunderbolt chronicles the famous hijacking of Flight 139 (an Israeli airline) and the military operation that was involved in its resolution. The Raid on Entebbe was an actual movie that was based on this story. In the 80s, the movie Delta Force, starring the immortal Chuck Norris, had a plot line that mirrored the Entebbe crisis. Ah, the 80s, such a great decade for the coolest action movies. Pure action without the PC bollocks. Awesome days. Up until Thunderbolt was written, we’ve only seen and heard the military point of view of the operation. Several decades later, Thunderbolt gives the reader a very immersive, 360 degree point of view that not only features the military point of view but also the gathered stories from those that lived through the ordeal. And though some of the players are mixture of the obscure to the well-known, they create a spectrum of bravery, nobility, and downright viciousness. An interesting character to note is Michel Cojot, a French Jew that found himself unwittingly plucked from being simple passenger to being the liaison between hostages and hijackers. Though it was later determined that it was the information provided by Cojot, to the Israeli forces, that was critical to the operation. There are some famous names such as Ehud Barak and Yoni Netanyahu (the ill-fated brother of prime minister Bibi Netanyahu) that were part of this operation. And as disgusting as the Baader-Meinhoff terrorist group was to the passengers, no one can overlook the vileness of Idi Amin as he toys and tries to manipulate the governments of the hostage countries all for his own selfish needs (but then again, this is not exactly shocking when you’re dealing with a narcissistic and psychopathic wanker). Yes, this bloke made my blood boil on a few occasions. And despite all of this, there were still those whose humanity did not take a back seat to the bollocks such as Henry Kyemba, the Ugandan minister of health, who kept hostage Dora Bloch in the hospital for an extended period for the sake of her health. Unfortunately, his good intentions cost Bloch her life. And yes, there were some interesting moments about people still finding the time to engage in a bit of the old in-out, in-out with the threat of death hanging over them. I guess I could see how that is possible. Talk about going out with a bang. Aye, I know … naughty, naughty. I could go on citing more and more examples of this book … and end up spoiling it for most of readers, so I shall refrain from such and not be a tosser about it.

Thunderbolt gives the reader a fascinating journey into one of the most spectacular hostage rescues ever attempted: sitting through every crucially planned step of the military operations from paper to execution whilst simultaneously dealing with the fears and apprehensions of the hostages and the vileness of the terrorists and Idi Amin (bloody tosser, that one). Needless to say it is quite an emotional roller coaster that is unlike anything Six Flags could ever come up with: anger – rage – sadness – rage – joy – anger – sadness (you get the idea). Especially when you read about how Amin left this world. Let’s just say he left in better fare than most of his victims … with the help of the Saudi government (some friends we have). And even though we all know the outcome, to read Thunderbolt from beginning to end is to relive this anew. Be prepared to have your emotions tested. I had mentioned the movie Delta Force earlier. Truth be told was that this operation by the Israelis served as a springboard for the creation of the Delta Force detachment in the Special Forces. I take my hat off to these folks and others like them that do the daring stuff. Yoni Netanyahu, may you truly rest in peace.

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Running Title: Grunt – The Curious Science of Humans At War.

Aye, it is that time of the year. We cave into our materialistic lust as we answer the Siren call of Black Fridays, and tons of sales “events” … and other such bollocks. It is also that time of the year when we look forward to drinking eggnog, with our our bearpaw slippers on as we curl up and watch another screening of Love Actually. Oh wait, that’s just me. Hey mates, don’t judge me. But enough with the bollocks and one with the review. Shall we begin?
When you combine the sciences with … well … war, you are bound to capture my attention, so with a running title like “the curious science of humans at war”, it was only a matter of time before this poor book was plucked from the stacks and nestled in my grasp for a few days. Yes, as you can easily surmise that Grunt does something is not so often reported when it comes to the world of war. Sure, we’ve read many books written by Special Operations warriors and military personnel about their brave and valiant deeds, but how often do you get to read about the science that goes into war that not only helps and protects our brave soldiers, but sometimes even save or heal them. Roach’s Grunt does an excellent job of this, though I must warn those who don’t have a strong stomach that they may want to reconsider reading this book during … say … eating times. Sure for the inwardly forensic fans such, such as yours truly, this great reading even whilst scarfing down mounds of lasagna. Others, maybe not so much. There is a lot of science that goes into war, and I really mean A LOT. Some of it may seem trivial, but to the folks downrange it is a big deal, such as zippers being a no-no on sniper clothing. Trust me on this one. Or (the best one) diarrhea being a threat to national security (hint: it’s every SEAL’s worst nightmare when on a mission). I bit you didn’t know that scientists have built a chicken gun that is used to propel dead chickens at turbines to test the effect of birds on aircraft engines. Some folks have all the fun. And then Roach hits you with the a literal blow to the minerals: penile reconstruction. Yes, many times when an IED goes off more than just arms and legs get injured. And for several chapters Ms. Roach explains this in great but understandably cringe-worthy detail: apparently strip of mucus membrane from the inner cheek is used to recreate urethra in penile reconstructions. There is a really dirty joke somewhere in that fact, but the science behind is amazing, and apparently it is doing wonders many of our soldiers’ lives. Occasionally, we are treated to some historical tidbits such as the REAL use of codpieces, and …no … it was not about enhancing or even protecting one’s manhood. In fact it actually stored materials that soaked up syphilitic discharges of blood and pus you get from sleeping around with wenches after beheading your wives. Yummy. I guess that explains why they were popular with hair bands in the 80s. Paging Lawless from WASP. And yes, I’ve seemingly gone there. Astounding fact: the scent of a seal and used tampon has the same effect on polar bear salivary glands. I kid you not. So ladies, be a bit wary if your mate is planning trips to the Polar-type regions and is somewhat inquisitive about your cycles. I’m afraid the love may not be there anymore and his plans for you may be malevolent. Slight detour there, everyone.
Roach’s Grunt is a fascinating read about the sciences that impact our soldiers both on and off the frontlines. If your fascinated with the sciences or just curious about what is going with our men and women in battle, Grunt is a delightful read. For the curious in mind that are not so scientifically-minded, fear not, for Roach practically keeps at a layman’s level that can be enjoyed by all but well appreciated by us nerd-types. Plus she’s got a scorchingly delightful wit that makes me wish I could marry … um, never mind. And I’ve said that too loud. Ignore that part. Please.

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The Reaper by Nicholas Irving

Running Title: The Reaper – Autobiography of one of the deadliest Special Ops snipers.
Co-author: Gary Brozek

The first time I learned about this book was from an article in a local NYC newspaper: The New York Daily News. It a featured a very non-dignifying picture of Mr. Irving, with his tongue stuck out as if auditioning for Gene Simmons in a KISS biopic, with his team as he cradled an SR-25 rifle. At first (and I’ll be honest about this) I was a bit turned off and sort of rolled my eyes whilst muttering something to the likes of “the one time we get to see a story of a black sniper and we’re being graced with this cocky picture”. It was tempting to avoid the book, but since I don’t judge book by their covers (or in this case … as it turns out … a badly chosen photo), when it landed in my stacks, my curiosity got the better of me. At a quick glance at some of the pictures in the book, it was clear that the folks at the Daily News were a bunch of tossers and could have chosen a much better picture … for there were many. I guess someone bollocksed up on that one.
In reading the first two chapters of the book, it is pretty clear that Mr. Irving is quite down-to-earth and straight shooter (pun possibly intended). He is also very modest despite his accomplishment as the first Afro-American to serve as a sniper for the Army’s Special Operations 3rd Ranger Battalion 75th Regiment. Sure, he could have run with the whole legend bit where they hyped up the number of confirmed kills and he would have probably been backed up by a ton of his brothers-at-arms. Instead he simply sets the record straight and humbly lists his confirmed kills, earlier in the book: it is 33. The book takes you back and forth through his upbringing, his training and experience in combat. It is interesting to note that Mr. Irving actually tried out for the SEALs and could not qualify due to one technicality: he discovered he was colour-blind. So you may ask, how did he wash out of SEAL qualification but it to the Rangers? Let’s just say that some nurse saw a young man that was eager to serve his country and provided him with some “aid” in qualifying. Hopefully someone did not lose their job, and considering the lives he may have saved … I guess a pay raise or promotion might have been a better deal. As delve deeper into the book there is a sense of déjà vu and Chris Kyle flashes in the one’s mind. Except for the subtle differences. Kyle is white, a Navy SEAL, and endured major combat operations in Iraq. Nicholas is black, an Army Ranger and endured major combat operations in Afghanistan. The stories of combat and the action is just as riveting, harrowing and in many cases, gut wrenching. One chapter called “The Chechen”, reads like a blockbuster movie where the bad guy is a Chechen sniper that has been hunting American soldiers, even down to the firefight that ensues … up until the reader wakes up to the reality that “bloody hell” this is not a movie but it is real. And frightening. And what those brave men and women deal with in Afghanistan. Bloody sobering. It is not all gut wrenching, and white-knuckled-gripping excursions. There are a few moments of embarrassing details about Afghan and Taliban forces that go under the category of TMI: such as some in the Afghan forces in the barracks getting their male-on-male jollies on (for some strange reason) Thursday nights, Irving and his team unwittingly stumbling onto what pretty much amounted to a Taliban male orgy (a Taliban sausagefest in the worst way). And there is even talk of drones picking up videos of in-field bestiality. Did you lose your lunch, or burp-vomitted into your mouth … I apologize, sorry about that mates.
Captivating, filled with adrenaline-inducing action, and heart-wrenching, Reaper, even though it was set out to tell the story a young Army Special Ops sniper turns out to be yet another delightful tribute to Mr. Irving’s brothers-at-arms. One such person is Cpl. Benjamin Kopp, who put his life on the line to provide suppressing fire during the unit’s encounter with the Chechen. Even in death, Cpl. Kopp went on to save lives since he was an organ donor.. A truly noble, honourable man. The real definition of courage (not some bloke in a white dress going through a “change”). It never ceases to amaze me about the humility of these brave men, these silent professionals. They are truly America’s best. Thanks for your service Mr. Irving. May God bless you and yours and your days under the sun.

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The story opens with some Somali military tosser walking around thinking he’s the dog’s bollocks as he debates releasing aid (donated food), that has been held ransom, to his FELLOW countrymen. Aye, not like this kind of bollocks EVER happen in the real world. Until he’s contacted by some ominous presence via his large screen HD telly that he has to comply with his deal to release the aid in consideration of the large sums that has been paid into his Cayman accounts. But since this bloke is tosser, like most Third World tosser, he decides to toy with the patience and decency of the West … and then he and his entire military compound, filled with armed bullies, are surgically dispatched by a drone. Hence the title.
And of course, the action at this point kicks into full gear.

Tony Pearce is former special operations agent that once worked for the CIA and now runs Pearce Research Systems that specializes in designing everything from next-generation prosthetics to …well… next generation combat machinery (i.e. drones). On some weekends, when Pearce is not designing the latest precursor to Skynet, he is sometimes running black ops on behalf of President Margaret Myers (yes, we’ve got female president … finally … too bad it’s in fiction … never fear … not too far off … I hope … and yes, I’ve detoured) testing out his drones on bad guys. When a bunch of teenagers, at a house party in El Paso, is surgically massacred by a Mexican drug cartel, the crap hits the fan in Capitol Hill. However, when one of the victims of the massacre turns out to be the President’s son (a teacher that was hanging out at the party with … apparently … his students) that’s when the shit gets real … and personal. Soon Tony Pearce is asked a favour by President Myers, and no … it doesn’t involve bringing home a gallon of 2% lowfat milk. And as the cartels find themselves in the crosshairs of Myers, unknown to them, they’ve unwittingly allied themselves with an Iranian double agent that uses them for his own ulterior motives. Motives that involve using Pearce as an unwitting pawn into something even more frightening and threatens to push America over a dangerous precipice.
Machiavellian schemes (from Mexico to Capitol Hill) coupled with adrenaline-drenched action … all marinated in gut-wrenching suspense makes Drone a very hard book to put down. Bodily functions and sleep be damned. It is Mr. Maden’s debut novel and what a bloody debut it is. A delightful yet terrifying bit of fiction on the fascinating world unmanned combat. On the cover of Drone there are the words “Introducing Tony Pearce”. I’d like to say “nice to meet you … and I’m looking forward to more of your work”.

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