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reaper_cvr

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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nohero_cvr

Co-author(s): Kevin Maurer

In No Easy Day, Mark Owen took us through the famous raid that led to the finally removal of the nutter known as Osama Bin Laden, and all that led up to that point which included his training. In No Hero, Mr. Owen returns to talk about excerpts of other missions he was a part of during his stint in SEAL Team 6, and even some life lessons that he learned during his time with the SEALs. Mr. Owen takes us from his humble upbringings in Alaska to his first meeting of an actual Navy SEAL onwards toward his early years of Navy SEAL training. His vivid descriptions of his training at times can be as nerve wracking as some of his missions. Through it all, however, Mr. Owen’s voice is ever humble as writes about his extraordinary life in the SEALs. There is something delightful about his post-deployment of ritual of stopping in at Taco Bell for a taco … something that many of us take for granted. No Hero is not only a constrained chronicle of the life of a noble and valiant man, it also offers some very interesting life lessons. One such moment (for me) was Owen’s encounter with a mountain climber in Las Vegas and the concept of working within “your three feet world”. Brilliant piece of advice for occassionally overwhelmed, multi-taskers such as my self. Quite the eye opener, that one. Earlier in the book, Mr. Owen writes about the meaning of his title for the book. Though it is humbling that Mr. Owen sees himself as anything but a hero, I have to respectfully say that I strongly disagree with him on that. In a world where some narcissistic tart and her family are celebrated simply because they have some shitty reality show and offer the world nothing more than need for more attention (yes, Kardashians I am talking about you) to paraphrase Bonnie Tyler: “we really need some real heroes”. Any person that puts up with the most grueling, training regimen in the world and then goes off to some spot of hell on this earth, for the sake of country and fellow man, is, in my book, a hero. And in my books, Mr. Owen you are … in the truest sense. God Bless you and yours and the rest of your days under the sun. And thanks for the “three feet world”.

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loverifle_cvr

Running title: Love My Rifle More Than You – Young and Female In the US Army
Over the years I’ve read a lot non-fiction military books, mostly from the Special Operations community. Most, needless to say, have been written by men. So when I came across Love My Rifle, I was intrigued and curious. It was a great opportunity to read about a female perspective of not only serving in the military but also being on the frontlines. Also there is something about women with guns that appeal to me. Hey, don’t judge.
It didn’t take much in the first few chapters to indicate that Ms. Williams pulls no strings and tells it like it is. She is very frank about and needlessly unapologetic about everything from her childhood through her colourful years as a teen and onwards through her military career. Aye, needless to say she is no saint, but then who is … and I’ll leave it that. We get to travel through her eyes from basic training to her military occupational specialty (MOS) as an intelligence officer. Let’s just say that Goldie Hawn lied to us in Private Benjamin. Somewhat. Even more harrowing was her tours in Iraq where, on top of worrying about being overrun by jihadists, she encountered mind-numbing bureaucracy (where common sense takes a permanent vacation), inept and incompetent female superiors, and the occasional female soldier that plays up the slutty stereotype … which sort of makes hard for the other women. Oh, of course, there are the covert forms of sexual harassment. Bloody hell. Sadly, a sentiment that is echoed throughout the book is that as female in the military you are either regarded as a “slut or a bitch”. Some, sadly, cave in to the sexual pressuring – and others simply decide – damn if I do, damn if I don’t … and opt for the latter. The B word. Sadly, this bollocks, like in every aspect of society, is perpetrated by the rotten few and is not a reflection on those that truly, honourably serve. Despite all the progress being made and Anita Hill from the 90s, it still seems like we have a far way to go especially with the way brave and valiant women that put their lives on the line for this country are treated on the frontline. Needless to say, it is a sobering read that will cause you to shake your head in dismay, on occasions, and there are those moments such as Lauren, a Hispanic soldier that stands under five feet but totes a SAW machine gun (google it – it is very big).
A brutally honest chronicle of one female’s life in the military during wartime, Love My Rifle is a fascinating read and definitely recommended reading for any female serious about a military career. Thanks, Ms. Williams for your service. God bless you and your days on earth.

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johnnywalker_cvr

Co-author: Jim DeFelice
Running title: Code Name: Johnny Walker – The extraordinary story of the Iraqi who risked everything to fight with the U.S. Navy Seals.

I remember when the 9/11 attacks happened. It was moment of pain, anguish and anger, and as many were ready to lash out at all things Muslim, there were those voices of reason calling for understanding. There were those voices that supported those that practiced Islam peacefully. The problem, at the time, was that it seemed that many of these voices were non-Muslim and many were asking where are the real Muslims that would stand and defend their faith from the wanks that hijacked it. Little did some of us know that several years after the attacks some were doing just that … in their actions. And many may paid the ultimate price.
Johnny Walker is one such voice. The is name is also pseudonym that is used to hide the Iraqi’s real name in order to protect his family that currently reside in the US or relatives that have remained in Iraq from reprisals from insurgent mujahedeen or jihadists. It is truly a humbling story seen through the eyes of an Iraqi soldier. Johnny came from an impoverished background and in his world, Iraqis that didn’t do well in school soon found a place in the Iraqi army. An army that was filled with antiquated equipment and training that was just as laughable … but for most, was a way to a make a decent living. Still, Johnny took certain aspects of it very seriously. We are fondly introduced to Soheila, Johnny’s first love that became his wife and mother of his four children. It is possibly the purest romantic thing one could have ever read in this present day. Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. Boy and Girl falls in love with each other. But Girl parents promises her hand in marriage to another bloke. Boy fights for the girl he truly loves. Parents eventually see their folly and give consent to Boy and Girl to be married. And all this time the relationship was unconsummated since … Muslim families are very strict about that stuff. Like I said purely romantic … almost Shakespearean. Almost. We get to see his struggles to earn a living during “peace” time (hey, they were living under Saddam’s rule) prior to the war beyond his post-military days. And then of course, the war happens and work becomes more scarce. Many Iraqis found jobs working as interpreters (or terps as they were called by military units) for US forces. It was only a matter of time before destiny found Johnny working for the US forces as an interpreter. The interesting thing is that this started as job for him to earn a living to support his family. There weren’t any political or religious motivation. It is during his time running ops with US forces he began to learn that most of the insurgents were foreigners (some trained and armed by Iran) that were in Iraq spreading much chaos and destruction had was claiming the lives of many innocent Muslim victims of certain faith. Apparently there are Shia and Sunni Muslims, one’s a bit more rigid in their interpretation of the Koran and the other is a bit more moderate. And according to jihadist tossers (to quote The Highlander), there can only be One. Of course, this angers Johnny greatly and it can be felt in his writing throughout the book, for he felt that not only was his country (Iraq) being hijacked, but also his faith. And so teaming up with the Americans was his way to restoring his country and preserving his faith and its followers. He eventually proved more effective than interpreter for he had this uncanny way of spotting and locating jihadi suspects that were being sought with such efficiency that it would make Hannibal Lector and most FBI profilers green with envy. Trust me you’ve got read about his exploits. It got the point that most SEAL teams going into Iraq always sought out his help. His admiration and loyalty to the SEALs was not lost to many that served with him. To quote the late Chris Kyle (rest in peace, my good man): “Johnny Walker is the only Iraqi I’d trust with a gun”.
It was only a matter of time before the insurgents learned about his helping the Americans and pretty soon there was bounty on his head. Things began to get more dicey when his family were getting death threats and had to move from a relatively “safe” Mosul to a dangerous Baghdad. And the kicker was that some of these threats came in the form of “warnings” from other relatives. Gives new meaning to the word “nuclear family”. For most the book it becomes a harrowing read as we follow Walker through some of the most hair-raising raids all up to the point of him getting his family safely out of Iraq into the US. Yes, apparently there was an established program setup for Iraqis, that aided Americans, to immigrate to the US. The SEALs, ever so valiant and noble, not wanting to leave their brother behind had worked hard to speed up the process at the most critical moment in Walker’s family life. It was touching and awe-inspiring about the camaraderie between Johnny and the SEALs. Johnny Walker maybe born Iraqi but at the core he is a true American hero with an extraordinary story that needs to be told. And to think it all started with him just wanting to earn a living for his family. Still think your job is really bad or tough on you? Guess again mates.
A brilliant read about a simple man and Muslim who decided in his actions to fight against those that would ravage his country of birth and faith, and ended up becoming an American hero. It is courage and honour defined, and as you read this book you’ll find yourself rooting for this bloke.

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sentinel-spycatcher-novel

Will Cochrane is a highly trained intelligence officer and is one of the most effective and deadliest agent, codenamed Spartan, to have emerged from the CIA-MI6 Spartan program. As Russia and the United States stands on the brink of war, the CIA intercepts a message from one of their deep cover agents in Russia, that there is a double agent that has betrayed the West and is seeking to create something close to a nuclear apocalypse (don’t you just hate that?). After Will Cochrane is sent in, covertly, to possibly exfil and debrief the agent, he, instead, finds the agent near death (well, actually quite gutted but holding onto life) who offers a final clue: Only the Sentinel can stop him. Hence the title of the book.
Now I must say that this book literally called to me. Yes, I know … bloody freaky. And for months I have ignored it, but I eventually gave in. To besides, there was a bear on the cover and I like bears. Though I probably shouldn’t say that too loud in places such as San Francisco … or a Stephen Colbert set. I have detoured. Aye, I tend to do that … a lot.

Sentinel opens with an edge-of-the-seat, nail-biter infiltration of a Russian submarine base by Cochrane. Nerve-wracking, bladder-clenching and cold sweat-invoking basically describes the first chapter which basically sets you up for what EVERY chapter is going to be like. And what a bloody great ride it is, from cover to cover. With plots so delicately interwoven, aside from Cochrane it has hard to figure out most of the characters and even when you think you do … you find out that you’re dead wrong. The action and intrigue are equally fast, vicious, and many times slams you in the chest like Thor’s hammer. The truth is Will Cochrane makes James Bond (whom I love very much) looks like a preening, cocktail-sipping, tuxedoed Sunday school teacher (sorry James, still love you mate). Possible equals on this side of the Atlantic: Jason Bourne, But that’s another story for another time, mates.

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NoEasyDayCover

Running title: No Easy Day – The firsthand account of the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden

It is no secret that I am fascinated with the world of special operations, especially the world of the Navy SEALs. So after the world largest scumbag was dirtnapped and it was revealed that his appointment with Allah was made possible by SEAL Team 6, I must say that I was not surprised. I don’t say this to come off as some arrogant, know-it-all, wanker or such. I say it in the vein that I truly felt that if there was any military unit out there that could pull this off … let’s just say that the SEALs had my vote by a high measure. Anything else would have been a combination of SEALs and British SAS. Enough with the kissy-kissy.

With Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (back in January) beckoning to me like a randy, saucy Siren to a marooned, undersexed sailor, I couldn’t wait to get my mits on this book (mostly to compare notes with the movie … and needless to say, it came pretty damn close). The book starts out with Mark Owen and his team enroute to the infamous compound that housed the world’s biggest asshole, along with the biggest stash of retro, dog-eared, printed porn. But very early enough, the book takes the scenic route as Mr. Owen invites us on his journey of becoming a SEAL to joining SEAL Team 6 (DEVGRU) … and eventually the historic mission. And it is quite a fascinating journey that most readers would feel quite honoured to be on.
Like most SEAL books that I’ve read, Mr. Owen talks about simply enjoying the simple things such as walk and feeling the grass beneath his feet, or taking a bite into a taco from Taco Bell after returning from a mission (a taste of home, civilization). Irrelevant to most, but it really captures the somber and serious tone of his job where every deployment could be your last and it was always wise to take time out to smell the roses (literally) … whenever he could. It is a sincere sentiment and Mr. Owen is no lesser for revealing this bit of vulnerability. In my honest opinion, it only confirms his noble and valiant nature. Now only if politicians could be this open, honest and honourable. As the book eventually makes its way to the historic mission, the reading becomes like a roller-coaster where you find yourself gripping the pages with pure anxiety, despite knowing the outcome, and every turn of the page becomes a bowel-clenching moment … in a good way (of course this doesn’t pan out too well when you’re stuck in mass transit with a loaded Hoover Dam type bladder).

In the end No Easy Day is what it set out to be: a no-nonsense account of what ACTUALLY happened on the mission (sans the usual hype, bollocks and other sensational blah-blah-blahs provided by external media types). On the other hand it is just another (well-earned) tribute to the lives of those valiant souls that do the extraordinary in view of most of us whilst in their eyes it just all part of the job. Just another day, where yesterday was an easy day. Though some may disagree with his politics (and this may subtly rear its head) it is still not hard to say “Thanks Mr. Owen and the rest of your mates in the SEALs that, to us, do the extraordinary”. Thanks and cheers, mate.

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fearlessbook

Running Title: Fearless – The undaunted courage and ultimate sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team Six operator Adam Brown.

On this Memorial Day as we remember those that have served this great nation, both fallen and present, I was compelled to put this review out for it is so symbolic of the many men and women that have served this nation and aside from their bravery and nobility, many serve as a source of inspiration.
We’ve all heard the story about the prodigal son. Whether you’re religious or not, most of us have encountered this or a variation of this story.
To sum it up.
Two sons, rich father. Youngest son decides he wants his inheritance today and he’s not waiting for daddy to kick the bucket. Son gets some serious dosh, spends it on fast women, mooching friends, and possibly a bit much blow (I’m guessing hashish … biblical times, you know). Son soon runs out of dosh, ends up fighting pigs and other farm animals for slop to eat. Eventually goes back home, expecting to grovel forever at his father’s feet but is instead welcomed with opened arms and his return celebrated for he was probably thought lost and possibly dead. And so ends my detour into a Sunday school lesson.
The problem about that story is that we never find out what happened to this prodigal son beyond the celebrated homecoming. For the most, the prodigal son story is sometimes used in context of those that have may fell off the righteous and promising path. The story of Navy SEAL operator Adam Brown is modern day version of the prodigal son, though I must add … a very inspiring one. Young, fearless and quite the daredevil, Mr. Brown seemed poised to conquer the future in whatever endeavours he chose. Somewhere along the way, an encounter with drugs lead Brown down a very dark spiraling path to oblivion. Despite this setback with the strong support of family, and a faithful girlfriend, Kelley (who eventually became his wife) he found his way back and enlisted in the Navy. Guided by his Christian faith and support by family, Adam found the strength to focus and pull through BUD/S training whilst still battling his inner demons and cravings of past but not so distant life. After making the SEALs, on top of battling the demons of the past, he had severely injured his “shooting” hand in a training accident and had to re-learn handling firearms with the other hand. Later on, he was involved in another accident that involved the partial blinding in one eye and leaving him dependent on one eye. And despite all his afflictions, Adam felt compelled to do the unthinkable: apply to SEAL Team Six. Getting into the SEALs is tough, getting into SEAL Team Six is tougher … and everyone (disabilities or not) all have to measure up to standard. Many SEALs with perfect eyes and hands have tried and did not make the cut, yet Mr. Brown with so many seeming setbacks was able to make SEAL Team Six. One of the many inspiring things you could ever read.

Now the book is littered with scriptural quotes from the Bible, and this may be “bothersome” to the so-called “enlightened” and “open-minded” folks out there. Whatever, mates. For the rest of us struggling sinners (such as yours truly) this was refreshing to read and it put a lot into perspective for us. What was interesting about Adam Brown was that he didn’t keep his faith to himself but even on the battlefield his faith manifested itself when he noticed the kids in Afghanistan were running around with no shoes and instead of writing home for a care package he requested that donations of children shoes be sent instead. Truly one of those moments where you had to pause your reading and go … “WOW”.
Like most SEAL biographies, the book has a nice collection of pictures of Brown and family and fellow teammates. One of the most touching photos you’ll encounter is the last photo Adam took with his family before deploying to what turned out to be his last mission. That one will get you bad, and it’s perfectly understandable if you find yourself tearing up. One of the most touching things (and there are many in this book) I encountered in this book was Adam Brown requesting that if they (his family) were to eulogize him that they should tell his full story … even the bad stuff. It never ceases to amaze me that the truly brave, extraordinary and exceptional among us are also the most humble and modest among us. In August, 2011, when the Chinook carrying his team was shot down, America lost a hero, and a gentleman. The prodigal son finally made it back home. Rest in peace, Adam Brown and may God bless the days of those you’ve left behind. Thanks mate.

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