This is the Iraq poem I mentioned several months ago, titled “I Run Away Quickly”, I.R.A.Q., which was some anonymous soldier’s clever acronym. I think it applies perfectly to the convoy escort mission my unit had. It felt like running away was all we did over there. As convoy escorts, we weren’t there to look for enemy, or to sustain engagements. We were there to get our supply convoys to their destination.
The halfhearted, bitter joke was that if we were ambushed, we’d “spray, pray and run away.” Our teams were made of three humvees with nine soldiers, dragging a mile-long convoy of twenty to thirty unarmored eighteen-wheel trucks driven by unarmed, untrained men from all over the third world who could rarely even speak to each other. If ambushed, we simply couldn’t put up a good fight. We were cat herders, just trying to get the mob on wheels to the next FOB.
And even worse, we were more likely to get hit by an IED than an ambush. My team took a couple of close IED calls, and was never in a real ambush. This wasn’t good. At least in an ambush you can shoot back. When your only threat is a roadside bomb, you sit in your humvee for hours tensed and expectant, waiting for a hit that might kill your entire crew. Those missions were no fun.
We never had a chance to spray, and I never prayed. But we ran away a lot.
I used to semi-seriously tell my friends about my biggest fear. An IED would hit one of our supply trucks and scatter its contents. I’d run from my humvee to check on the driver and a secondary would detonate close enough to mortally wound me. Then, as I was laying there dying, I’d look around and see what I had given my life to protect: Xbox games and gangsta rap CDs being delivered to a PX.
This poem was about those missions. Let me know what you think. Thanks guys.
EDITED TO ADD: I just talked to my dad and found out he and my mom had an argument about this poem earlier. My mother got the idea that this was written by an anonymous soldier and I’m just reposting it, while my dad insisted I wrote it. My dad was right, I wrote it. The anonymous soldier I referred to only wrote
on a bathroom wall. I wrote the poem in 2006, about a year after I came home from Iraq.
I Run Away Quickly
I can stand on this safe spot
In the embrace of my wife
Listening to my children’s laughter
Laying on a soft bed
In a comfortable home
Then turn and face my yesterday
And remember the world where I once lived
A place where talismans, mumbled prayers
And sacred pictures
Never really kept anyone alive
A world of monotonous, silent blackness
Broken by lethal red streaks and sudden flashes
Racing engines and racing pulses
Subdued lights and night vision
Static-blurred screams through electronic filters
Gaping craters the only memorial
To men who disappeared in flames and smoke
I remember the weight on my shoulders
And the weight on my mind
Of armor and weapons
Ammunition belts, frags and star clusters
Lives in my hands
Taking cover behind shredded steel
While a million eyes targeted me
From empty windows and looming rooftops
I still see what was left
In flames and in pieces
What had not long before been whole
What we thought powerful and solid
Scattered to shreds across the concrete
A glowing hulk surrounded on all sides
By random parts of a True Believer
A blank spot on a highway, an anonymous checkpoint
Where a brave man named Lutters died
I don’t miss the fear
The sirens and warnings
Walls rattling from explosions
The anger and frustration
Of never knowing where death was hiding
Of being a rolling, glowing target
That couldn’t even fight back
I don’t miss accepting the facts
If I do the wrong thing, my men and I might die
If I do nothing, my men and I might die
If I do the right thing, my men and I might die anyway
And just because we survived this mission
Doesn’t mean the next one won’t be our last
And yet there is a longing
To step back into that world
And feel the threats and dangers
To be totally alive, seconds and inches from death
As the kill zone passes outside my window
To live in the land where why doesn’t matter
And the only questions are how
And for how long
I cannot explain this
To myself or anyone else
Not to my children, not to my wife
In whose arms I find a peace
That could never possibly exist
In the land of unthinking hatred and mangled dead
Where I used to be
So I turn around once more
Stand solidly in the world where I belong
Breathe air without smoke and sand
Live as if I’m going to live
Not as if I’m about to die
Allow myself the freedom of happiness and security
That I hope I finally earned,
In that other world, not so long ago
I glance back at that year
And see it finally receding
The convoys going the other direction
The tracers angling away from me
Angry orange flashes dulling to grey
Painful noise muted by time and distance
Tensed muscles uncoiled, overloaded mind eased
My finger no longer on a trigger
My life no longer a number
Here I stay
Life not filled with terror
Until the time comes
To spin up, and return to the kill zone
While I count the days
Until I’m home again.
Filed under: Iraq | 15 Comments
Tags: iraq, poetry, veteran writers
The follow-up to Proof of Our Resolve is back on track for publication. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the original September launch date didn’t work. New time frame is late January.
Plot summary: Jerry Nunez and his soldiers fight back against a limited cartel incursion across the Texas border. Please read my Line in the Valley blog posts for a sneak preview.
Thanks, and I hope you guys don’t get impatient and ditch me!
p.s. There’s a pretty cool story behind the cover photo.
Filed under: Line in the Valley | 12 Comments
Tags: cartel violence, Line in the Valley, veteran writers
Just wanted to let everyone know I’ll be making a brief appearance and signing books at the Humor for Heroes comedy show at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, Texas on November 9th. HfH is a non-profit that assists veterans and active duty service members. It was founded by my sister after I came home from Afghanistan. If you feel like seeing some good comics (including my brother Edward) and supporting a good cause, please come on out. Bobby Henline, a Wounded Warrior turned comedian, will also be appearing. Please come on out guys, hope to see you there.
Filed under: Writing | 1 Comment
Tags: Humor for heroes, veteran writers
I’m trying something new, guys. I’ve been asked to write a true story about a wartime romance in Afghanistan. I have a secondhand connection to the story. Writing anything even close to romance is new to me, and I really don’t know the “right” way to do it.
So I’m making a humble request: please read this and tell me if it’s interesting, mediocre, or absolute crap. In a rather unusual twist, I actually have an attorney waiting on this story; he’s worked in the publishing industry before and if he likes this story he’ll act as my agent. So there’s a lot riding on my ability to get this right.
Please take a look guys, and be brutally honest about it. If it sucks, I need to know now. Thanks and I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
A scared young woman stood in the dark, taking in the sight. Wounded civilian contractors being bandaged by frantic friends. A smoking plywood hut, the smell of blown explosives, sirens broadcasting “Incoming Incoming Incoming!” The frenzied aftermath of a rocket attack. This was not a rare event, but the young woman, Joan, had just arrived days before. This was her first deployment. She had never experienced anything like this.
Joan moved closer to the smashed hut. Blood was splattered on exposed walls. And something else. Something dull grayish, barely visible in the dim light, scattered in tiny clumps around a fallen contractor’s small, sparse room.
Brain matter. She stepped away in horror; this was a new, shocking experience for her. As a child in L.A., she had almost been hit by stray bullets from a drive-by shooting. However, gangsters’ bullets aren’t the same thing as rockets randomly falling from the sky. When Marines imagine themselves at war, they see themselves on foot heroically standing their ground against a brutal, determined enemy. This rocket attack was nothing like that fantasy. Realization set in: this year was not going to be what she had expected. But that shouldn’t have been a surprise. Not much about her service in the Marines had been what she expected.
Joan was not what most people pictured when they heard the word “Marine”. Petite, pretty, light-skinned with dark hair and eyes, feminine and toned but not “buff”, she looked more like a kindergarten teacher than a warrior. Growing up in a working-class home in California, she never considered joining the military.
Her father and grandmother raised her and her brother after Joan’s mother abandoned the family. Her grandmother was an old-fashioned disciplinarian who took them to Mexico every summer so they would respect their roots. Her father, a Mexican immigrant who spoke only Spanish, worked menial jobs while going to school and struggling to learn English. He even went so far as to read an entire English dictionary, cover to cover. Eventually he became a successful business owner.
Joan’s father didn’t want his children to struggle like he had. He made them study two hours every day and assigned extra homework. When Joan got older, her father decided she would graduate from high school, go to college and then move straight into a lucrative job. Over the years, Joan moved with her family from California to New York to Texas, and her sights were on college after high school. The Marines never crossed her mind.
She graduated and went to college. Then a Marine recruiter called. She told him she wasn’t interested, and hung up. And she truly wasn’t interested, until she saw a Marine recruiting commercial shortly afterward. Marines were jumping out of helicopters into the ocean, firing weapons, charging up a beach, doing all the cool things young men and women imagine Marines doing.
Joan got to thinking. She knew she had been sheltered. She sometimes felt like her life was being planned out without her input or consent. She also had an urge to serve her country. So she decided to make a major decision, something that would make her life her own.
She went to the recruiting officer and started the process. Days later she was sworn in. Her father didn’t talk to her for a week.
At 20 years old, she headed from college to boot camp. And she liked it. She discovered a hard-headedness she didn’t know she possessed, even going so far as to ignore a broken leg and endure a minor operation without anesthetic so she could graduate with her platoon. After initial training she went back home, got back in school, worked several civilian jobs, and even worked as a juvenile corrections officer for a time (which, to her surprise she loved). She excelled at living the half civilian, half military life of a reservist.
In early 2009 she was notified she would deploy to Afghanistan. She was excited; If you’re a Marine and don’t go to war, what’s the point?
In mid 2009 she arrived at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. It wasn’t what anyone imagined when they thought of being “at war”. Bagram was a huge, sprawling base, occupied by roughly 30,000 Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen, foreign troops and civilian contractors. Bullets never flew at Bagram; there were so many rules, the bullets didn’t have room. In time, those rules would exasperate her to numbness.
Troops had to wear reflective belts as soon as the sun began to set. The reflective belts had to be the same color, worn the same way. Speed limits were painfully low. Troops driving utility four-wheelers had to wear a reflective belt, eye protection and a helmet (and take a four-wheeler safety course, lest they die in a 15 mile per hour accident). Alcohol wasn’t allowed. Troops couldn’t wear civilian clothes. Anyone walking along the main road had to use the only sidewalk, which was packed with thousands of troops. Enlisted soldiers had to salute officers. And on Bagram, it seemed like there were millions of officers.
But Bagram had, so to speak, good points. Other than the occasional rocket attack, it was safe. It had a well-stocked PX, coffee shop, pizza joint, and other fast food. The fast food places made deliveries. Some troops lived in plywood huts, but others were in air-conditioned prefabricated units that resembled dorm rooms. Wireless internet was available. There were weekly Salsa and Country dancing nights. Some service members had time and privacy for on-base romances, although adultery between service members was illegal and sex between unmarried service members was highly discouraged, though tolerated.
Like many support troops at Bagram, Joan worked long shifts with no days off and few means of relieving stress. Far from being grateful at being relatively safe, she ached to get outside the wire and actually be part of the war. With few exceptions, people don’t join the military because they want to be safe and protected; most of the Soldiers, and probably all of the Marines, would have traded wireless internet and Salsa Night for one good engagement, for the experience of being under fire just once. But the vast majority of the troops at Bagram never left the wire, never heard a shot fired or saw a casualty.
Eventually, Joan saw more of the war than most Bagramites. She was officially a supply clerk; however, in addition to her supply duties, she sometimes helped at the base hospital when Marine casualties arrived. Occasionally she even assisted with enemy casualties. She was in the hospital when the casualties from the battle of Ganjigal, the fight where three Marines, a Soldier and a Navy Corpsman were killed and two Americans earned the Medal of Honor, were brought in. Helping casualties, in any way, was important and rewarding (although depressing) work. Her supply job, though deathly boring, was crucial to the war effort.
But Joan hated being stuck at Bagram. She tried to get out in the field with the Female Engagement Teams, handpicked groups of female Marines who went on missions with the infantry. No luck. She volunteered to fill in on convoys when a driver or gunner was needed. Her leadership refused to let her go. During her entire deployment she only went off post twice, and both times in a helicopter. She never set foot on Afghan soil outside the security of a Forward Operating Base.
Like all Marines, Joan loved the Corps while chafing at its constant aggravations. At times she thought Bagram and the Marine Corps would drive her nuts. And she was constantly annoyed by the Army’s and Air Force’s lack of discipline. But there was no escape; no bar to visit after work for a few beers, no loving husband waiting to pamper her when she got to the shack she called home. There was just dull, monotonous supply work, or the heart-rending sights of horribly wounded Marines, Afghan Soldiers, Taliban and civilians at the hospital. Stress piled upon stress.
Sergeants Major liked to say stupid things like, “If you need stress relief, work out! Or sign up for an online college course. Do something productive!” As they spoke the words they must have known just how ridiculous that advice was. Working out could help a bit. It certainly couldn’t erase the tension brought on by the crush of military rules, or pain of feeling helpless in the presence of brave, wounded men and women.
But all that numbness, pain, stress and helplessness would come later. The most important event of Joan’s life actually happened within the first two weeks at Bagram.
Like all newbies at Bagram, Joan quickly discovered the PX complex. It had a surprisingly comfortable deck area where off-duty troops and contractors could hang out. The Green Bean Coffee Shop was open 24 hours. Service members, foreign troops and civilians would sit at tables all night, just talking and relaxing a bit. Afghan-American interpreters sometimes had dance nights at the PX area, which was a bit odd; usually only the men danced, close together, sometimes very suggestively. Beautiful female Afghan translators either sat on the sidelines or danced at the periphery, but were ignored by the men. For the troops it was, to say the least, unusual.
Joan wasn’t interested in dancing. She just wanted to be away from her work, to escape the already-overwhelming sense that she was going to be trapped in a hell of boredom for almost a year. She didn’t want to be hit on by lonely Soldiers and Marines either, but it happened. Right away.
One of the first nights she hung out at the PX, a persistent Soldier kept trying to engage her in conversation. She plainly expressed her disinterest. He kept at it. She turned away. He wouldn’t stop. She thought about leaving.
And then she spotted, not far away, a handsome, dark haired, muscular young French Marine. He had already seen her. And was walking toward her, dark eyes focused on hers.
From that moment, Joan’s life was completely changed.
Your thoughts, guys?
Filed under: Afghanistan, Writing | 24 Comments
Tags: love and war, veteran writers
This essay was published by Iron Mike Magazine on October 31st, 2013.
I recently received photos of a man I have always had tremendous respect for. I heard his name many times as a young child. I sometimes felt family members grow uncomfortable when I prodded them for details about his life, and once found a newspaper clipping about him buried in a drawer in my grandmother’s house.
Like me, he was a National Guardsman who went to war. Like me, he was short and slightly built. He was a handsome guy who probably didn’t lack female attention. He was my grandmother’s older brother, the uncle my father never met. His name was Leo Moreno.
Leo was a radioman on a B-17 in the California National Guard. In 1941 he was called to active duty and sent to the Philippines. On December 8th 1941, almost every Army Air Corps aircraft in the Philippines was destroyed on the ground by Japanese air attacks. Leo fought as a rifleman until the remaining American force, nearly out of ammunition and debilitated by losses, surrendered. Leo participated in the infamous “Bataan Death March”.
Other soldiers saw Leo on the March, but he never made it to a camp. The 1942 newspaper clipping I found in my grandmother’s house proclaimed Leo was “Missing, Presumed Dead.” Several years later his status was changed to “Killed in Action”. Like many other Americans lost in the Philippines, his remains were never recovered.
I remember listening in fascination to conversations among my grandparents and great uncles about Leo. He wasn’t the only member of his family to serve in World War II; all his brothers except one were in the military. My grandfather served in the Navy stateside, and his brother jumped with the 82nd at Sicily, Normandy and Holland. Leo’s youngest brother would later join the Marines, make the Inchon landing and fight at Chosin in Korea.
Service to our country in war just seemed to have been an accepted fact of life for my grandparents’ generation. I don’t remember ever hearing anyone complain about having served. And while my family grieved over Leo’s death, I never felt like they resented it.
We don’t have an official Army photo of Leo. But Leo had been an elevator operator in California and had a photo in his work uniform. My great-grandfather had that photo retouched to make it look like a military photo. A few days ago I finally got a copy of the retouched photo, which I consider a family treasure.
I also received something else that day: a picture of the “Citation of Honor” the Army sent after Leo was declared dead, signed by General “Hap” Arnold.
“He lived to bear his country’s arms. He died to save its honor. He was a soldier. . . and he knew a soldier’s duty. His sacrifice will help to keep aglow the flaming torch that lights our lives. . . that millions yet unborn may know the priceless joy of liberty.”
Those words mean something. They aren’t just ink on paper.
Lately I’ve been pretty outspoken about some things. I wrote three angry essays about Air Force Afghanistan veteran Lauren Kay Johnson and her list of petty complaints. I wrote about my disgust with servicemen and women who have a mild experience at war yet come home demanding money for alleged PTSD. I wrote an essay on Dillard Johnson, a man who exaggerated his wartime exploits to an unbelievably stupid level and managed to get a book contract out of it. I haven’t yet written about Brandon Bryant, the former drone operator who has complained about the “horrors” of his service by saying things like “Yeah, it’s not the same as being on the ground. So f**ing what?” and “I didn’t join the military to kill people.”
I look at those veterans, and read what they have to say. Then I look at my great uncle Leo, and other family members of that generation. I think of all the complaints they never made. And I feel that Leo’s willingness to sacrifice, to serve selflessly, is lacking in far too many of my generation’s veterans.
Leo represents true heroism to me. He wasn’t the Special Forces superman with decades of training, nor the Navy SEAL with countless confirmed kills. He’s the regular Joe, the ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. The man who comes from normal life and endures pain and privation for the good of his country, with the expectation of returning to normal life afterward. The kind of man who feels honored by the opportunity to serve, instead of broadcasting to the world that he’s somehow been victimized.
I don’t know any details of my uncle Leo’s death. With so few survivors left, and after so many years, I doubt I’ll ever find out. I’ve read several books about the Bataan Death March, and I know some of the possible ways he died. He may have been shot or bayoneted for leaving the road to drink dirty water from a ditch. He may have simply dropped dead from dysentery, wounds and exhaustion. I like to think he died trying to escape into the jungle and carry on the fight, like many other Americans did. I’ve even joked that he’s probably still living in a Philippine jungle, being fanned with palm fronds by all of his wives and fed coconuts by dozens of children and grandchildren.
But I’ll never know for certain. And that’s okay. What I don’t know about Leo’s death isn’t as important as what I do know about his life.
When I look back across 71 years and see my great uncle Leo smiling in a bar with drink in hand, or posing with a serious look in his not-quite-military uniform, I see much of what made this country great. I see someone willing to give up his peace and youth so my children can enjoy theirs. I see someone who believes what we have in this country is worth fighting for, and dying for.
And I hope when he looks back at me from that photo, he sees the same things.
I just received a few more pictures from my sister. One is of Uncle Leo, the others are his brothers who also served. I don’t know exactly when or where these were taken.
Leo Moreno, MIA/KIA on the Bataan Death March.
His brother Dave Moreno. My uncle Dave served in the Army Air Corps in Ireland and married an Irish woman. Dave retired from the US Post Office and died several years back. He was a very good, decent family man and I have fond memories of him.
My uncle Paul Moreno, the oldest brother. He died when I was a pre-teen and I didn’t know him well. But I do remember seeing him at a family Christmas reunion, while he was dying of cancer. Someone commented that they were surprised to see him, and he replied with a smile, “I’m not gone just yet.” Later I saw him take his glasses off, wipe tears from his eyes and then try to act like he was okay. I visited his home many times near the end of his life, and it was hard to watch what cancer did to him. His wife, who seemed to adore him, died of cancer shortly afterward.
Tell me this isn’t super cool. Apparently Paul worked on P-38s. My great uncle helped keep some of the coolest airplanes EVER in the fight.
My uncle Richard Moreno, Korea Marine and one of the “Chosin Few”. Richard ran an amusement company after he got out of the Corps, and died way too young. He would only give the barest details of his service, so I never got the full story. I know he came home extremely traumatized, but eventually got past it. I knew him as a solid family man. His son was also a Marine.
One reader above commented that I “come from good stock”. I think he’s right. The relatives I’ve written about were first generation Americans who survived the Depression, then served in World War II, then came home to careers and families. They didn’t expect to be rich and didn’t search for ways to scam money from the government.
As a child I didn’t realize how much of an impression those men made on me. Now, as an adult, I’m thankful for every moment I spent around them.
Filed under: Writing | 11 Comments
Tags: lauren kay johnson, PTSD, veteran writers, WWII
This review was posted a ways back on kitup.military.com. I wasn’t going to post it here, but what the heck, maybe some readers are interested in boots. The Kitup editor changed it up a bit, but I like mine better so I’ve posted the original.
To write a fair and objective review of a pair of boots, you need to have done a few things first. You need to have marched many miles in them. You need to have worn them in freezing rain. You need to have climbed mountains in them. You need to know if they’re going to lose shape and look like clown shoes within weeks, as my boots from a very popular company did back in the 90’s. You need to know if they’re going to weigh a ton each, like those horrible speedlace boots I was issued in the Marine Corps in 89. You need to know if, like my Danners at Fort Lewis, they’re going to keep your feet all warm and toasty while your footsoaked, freezing, miserable friends mutter curses at you (I still have wet dreams about those boots). You need to know if the soles are going to be worn so smooth after less than six months in Afghanistan, like my issue “desert jungle boots”, that your French buddy asks, “Chrees, did you walk through ze acid in zose boots?”
Alas, the most stress I was able to put on my pair of Smith and Wesson SW53TZ “Breach” Desert boots was walking from the car to the office. I never even got caught in a warm summer shower in the parking lot. I marched no further than the length of our building’s hallway. But while I was unable to put the Smith and Wesson boots through a true test, I’m pretty sure I know how they would do compared to the boots I mentioned above.
First thing: right out of the box, these boots look pretty impressive. They certainly appear well-made, with no obvious weak points. The boots are solidly built, with much thicker material than any other military boot I’ve worn except for the Danners. The first time I put them on it felt like I had armored up my feet.
They’re also light. Real light. Like, tennis shoes light. I’ve been wearing heavy, clunky Army-issue Frankenstein boots for a long time. Putting these on made me feel like a stripper slipping on her favorite pair of 8 inch stiletto heels (just a figure of speech guys, I’ve never actually been a stripper or worn stiletto heels, I swear). They just felt much more comfortable than any pair of boots I’ve ever been issued.
They also have kind of a bouncy feel to them. They have plenty of built-in cushion, thanks to a removable insole. I’m an old guy now, and because of the abuse I’ve inflicted on my feet in the past they try to get back at me by radiating pain whenever I stand (or walk, or run, or drive) for too long. While it hasn’t really affected my ability to do anything, it’s a constant annoyance. But I’ve noticed it a lot less since I started wearing the S&Ws.
Also, they have a side zipper. I love me some side zippers. I don’t have to explain how much easier zippers make life for a boot-wearing man. On the other hand, if that zipper fails, that boot is useless. Although they’re plastic, the zippers on the S&Ws don’t look cheap, and didn’t have any glitches in the short time I’ve worn these boots. I’m cautiously optimistic they won’t fail in the future.
As far as bad stuff, there were only a couple of things. One might be the fault of the previously mentioned thick removable insole. For about the first week I wore the S&Ws, I felt kind of like my heel was much higher than my toes, which made my feet slide slightly forward and cramp inside the toes of the boot. That didn’t last long, but it did give me some misgivings for a few days. I don’t notice that problem anymore though.
Another thing I noticed was that white fiber is visible along the edges of the material where the lace eyelets are. It’s not much white fiber, and after the first time I walk through mud it’ll never be white again. But it’s something that’s just out of place on a combat boot. As minor as this is, I still think S&W should fix it. The 1980s Marine part of me says you don’t market boots with visible white material to combat troops.
But these two issues are minor. Out of the many boots I’ve worn over the last 24 years, I’m pretty confident in saying these are second only to the Danners. And it’s not really a fair to put the S&Ws in that #2 spot, because the Danners were with me in some really crappy situations. The S&Ws haven’t had a chance to impress me like the Danners did. But they seem like they would do just as well under stress, or maybe even better.
Since I wrote this I’ve put the boots through a little more stress. I wore them for a three mile run at a park, and they felt like running shoes. A few days ago I wore them for a 5K run in ACUs with a plate carrier, plates and water, and they did great.
As for bad points, I’ve discovered a couple. Some thread came out at the back of the right boot just above the heel, but the material was also glued down and the boot isn’t coming apart. Stitching also came loose on a small tab that goes over the top of the zipper, so the tab is now in two parts. No big deal, it’s not a critical part.
I’ve also discovered these boots are not the least bit waterproof. I mean, not at all. I walked through wet grass with them and soaked my toes. I suppose that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Jungle boots had holes in the side and wearers expected to get their feet wet; the holes helped them drain and dry faster. But it’s something to be aware of. I wouldn’t wear these in cold wet weather, although hot wet weather is probably fine.
All in all, I still really like these boots.
Filed under: Gear reviews | 2 Comments
Tags: boots, breach, S&W, veteran writers