Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kaboom goes Kerplunk

Short version: now writing at Kerplunk 

Long version:

Now it's time, to say goodbye, to all our company ...

If you aren't familiar with the above Mickey Mouse Club lyrics, you weren't hugged enough as a child.

Now. Serious-face time.

Some two-and-a-half years ago, in November of 2007, right before my unit deployed to Iraq, I decided to start a blog. I sat in a living room in Oahu, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and decided that the words I had typed weren't so ugly-sounding. I had some cursory knowledge of what blogs were, and figured it'd be a simple way to keep in touch in family and friends, so I kept doing it. I named it Kaboom because I was irreverent, and absolutely convinced an IED awaited in my future.

Ironically, one wasn't. But a lot of other Kabooms were.

It has been a hell of a ride, and one absolutely made by two sets of people. First, of course, were the soldiers. They changed my life in a way I'll never really be able to describe or comprehend. Being a platoon leader for the Gravediggers in combat was the greatest honor of my young(ish) life, and frankly, I somehow doubt anything will ever top it. I'm often asked how I made the blog posts so visceral. It was easy. I was telling stories of brave men in chaotic situations, doing their best to figure out why and figure out out. And I was there. I was one of them. I miss it, a lot. Not all of it, of course, but enough of it.

So, eternal gratitude to the guys. But I've already told them in the realness of reality all that. They know.

The other set of people I wish to thank are the readers. Vague, definitely, banal, maybe, but still absolutely true. Maybe some of you are still reading, maybe some of you aren't. The feedback I received from many of you proved ... overwhelming, and I mean that in a good way. From the onset of the blog, all the comments and emails forced me to understand that our plight was, in fact, understood, brooded over, and a concern for many, many others. And when the blog got shut down ... you all reminded me that my present wasn't my past, nor was it my future. So, sincerely, thank you.

The blog turned into a book. And it's cool. I'm happy with such. But like I posted recently, when writing about Corporal Hernandez ... it really doesn't matter. I hope people like and enjoy the book, and it means a lot when I'm told that, I won't pretend to be above that. We all like our egos stroked, and my ego now comes with binding in corporeal form. But even when people don't like it ... it doesn't matter. Kaboom was what happened to us, in that time, in that place. It was us. And it's there, frozen for history to judge, for us, and maybe you, to remember. That's the really awesome part.

Kaboom has gone through its fair share of deaths and revivals, but this will be the last one. I just felt like I was diluting some of the old posts, those straight from the Suck that channel straight sleep-deprived grit, with my veteran/writer/rambler posts of the present. Different time, different mentality, different man. Just another droplet in the e-seas, that somehow evolved into something else because of you. Many gracias, and Mucho thanks.

Fear not, though! I'll still be blogging over at Kerplunk, with the same amount of ironic detachment and irreverence that littered this quirky little site.

Just time for a fresh start, you dig? And I think I owe it to ... The Veracity gods or something ... to leave this site up, as close to as it was, that is now possible.

As I said some moons ago - thank you for caring. Agree or disagree with the war(s), if you're reading this, you're engaged and aware. As long as that is still occurring in a free society, there is something worth the fighting for.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Reality Check

It's been a hell of a week. NPR interviews, Entertainment Weekly appearance, book event in Manhattan, and an awesome release party for "Kaboom" with family and friends. But all of that, while fun, pales in importance to what is currently going on in Afghanistan.

I was slapped into remembering the severity of it all when a family friend/step-cousin (gotta love postmodern American families), Marine Corporal Luis Hernandez, nearly died on Easter while on a dismounted patrol in Marjah. He spotted an anti-personnel IED in a rut, and being the good Marine that he is, immediately yelled at those behind him to run. That ability of immediate recognition isn't something all men/soldiers/Marines possess - it's inherent, and a testament to Corporal Hernandez's leadership.

The explosion of the IED knocked him to the ground, and shrapnel filled his body in 13 places, mainly in his upper torso and thigh. Unable to walk, his buddies dragged him to cover, tried to stop the bleeding, and called in a Bird for a medical evacuation.

Though expected to fully recover, it's going to be a long road for Corporal Hernandez, just as it was for my soldier, Hot Wheels, who's getting ready to finally leave Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas any day now.

My little brother, Luke G the Rascal King, was able to visit Corporal Hernandez in the hospital, stateside. He found him dipping, a Marine's cure if there ever was one. A parade was held for Corporal Hernandez in his hometown of Wolcott, Connecticut - something he certainly earned. His family is understandably filled with both pride and gratitude. For more information on this, please check out the following links:

Not all soldiers/Marines are as "lucky" as Corporal Hernandez was. Some of my former soldiers and peers have already left for yet another combat deployment, or are gearing up to do so. I have a hard time comprehending this, because honestly, it feels like we just got back. And while the book is cool and everything, and I'm having a good time with it, I've promised myself to not take it too seriously.

Because in the grand scheme of things, it just doesn't freaking matter all that much. Soldiers and Marines are putting their lives on the line every day and night right now in hellholes half-a-globe away, and no words will ever be able to totally capture the tragic beauty of that.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Green Zebra

I wrote a brief piece on the state of the veteran in our glorious postmodern Republic for The Sandbox. Check it out, or face the e-gallows!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"Matterhorn" Review

Nearly forty years after its inglorious end, the Vietnam War continues to dim the American conscience – no longer really eclipsing it, but it’s still there, looming, nevertheless. “Mattherhorn,” a new Vietnam War novel by Karl Marlantes, brings that eclipse back into the direct vision of anyone who reads it. An instant classic, “Matterhorn” deserves all the literary hype surrounding it. With the litany of Vietnam-era films, memoirs, and novels already out, I was skeptical that a new piece of art could contribute anything more to the murky chronicles of the Vietnam War. To color me wrong in this regard would be a disservice to the visible spectrum itself.

Though many great pieces of fiction have taken place in Vietnam, very few have attempted to do so in the sweeping, wide-vision manner of an epic – until now. The finest Vietnam novels, like Jim Webb’s “Fields of Fire” and Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” tend to rely on the emotional rawness of the individual to drive forward plots and link together themes. “Mattherhorn,” true to both the mountain peak its name comes from and to its imposing size (600-plus pages), delivers in an all-encompassing manner. Though the story follows, for the most part, a young second lieutenant struggling to come to terms with the responsibilities of a platoon leader, the omniscient third-person narrative allows us inside the minds and motivations of privates and colonels alike. Clearly influenced by James Jones’ “The Thin Red Line” and Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead,” Marlantes presents a complete jigsaw puzzle to the reader, rather than allowing us to fill in the framework as we please. There is a lot to be said for this approach, as the narrative language is somehow cleansed of both biases and bitterness – something likely filtered out over the 35-some years it took Marlantes to write the book. As both a soldier and a writer, I know how difficult a task this must have been – anger can power the pen (or the keyboard, as it were) much more quickly than resolve can, but that doesn’t necessarily make the end product any more effective.

It’s not a perfect manuscript, however. Marlantes’ odd obsession with racial tensions within the American military structure dilutes the book throughout. I’m aware my own prejudices factored into this perception – the 21st century is so post-racial, brah! – but still, these tensions all too often feel like thematic means to a plot end, rather than vice versa, adding a contrived element that is blessedly absent in the rest of the novel. This forcedness peaks near the end of a book, when a black squad leader explains to the white platoon leader that racial tension, in Vietnam and elsewhere, will go forever away as soon as we all stop caring about the collective past and only worry about the future of the individual. If that argument sounds familiar, it’s the same one your cranky conservative family member trots out every year at Thanksgiving, after assuring everyone “I’m not racist, because my mailman is black, and we’re friends.” Having a young black soldier in 1969 voice the argument of an old white man in 2010 seems like it should be offensive … but instead, it’s just overwhelms with awkwardness.

Despite its flaws, “Matterhorn” deserves its place amongst the war literature royalty. Marlantes brings alive the struggles and sacrifices of men at war as successfully as the literary lions of old. We all know that Vietnam was a clusterfuck of epic proportions, but nothing, it seems, will ever fully capture the impact this had on the souls who fought in the jungles – both the ones who returned home and those who didn’t. “Matterhorn” comes as close as possible to accomplishing such.

All those words, for this - I highly recommend reading it!