Book Review - "Everything to Lose" by Andrew Gross
The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews by clicking on the Books category link on the far right sidebar.
Andrew Gross has written another intriguing book with his latest, Everything To Lose. As with most of his books he explores the question of how someone’s life can change in a brief moment. These random acts and their resulting consequences lead to dire penalties.
The plot takes off from page one when a down on her luck mother, Hilary Cantor, witnesses an accident while driving along a suburban road she has never taken before. Having just lost her job, caring for her handicapped son with Asperger Syndrome, and having a deadbeat husband she makes a fatal decision. Hilary discovers the dead driver has a briefcase stuffed with a half million dollars. In a weak moment she takes the money hoping to prevent her financial ruin.
It is with these scenes that Gross is at his best. He has the reader question how far would a parent go to protect their child; including doing something they knew was wrong? For Hilary this act entangles her in a twenty- year old murder conspiracy. Because she now sees herself in a position to lose everything, Hilary connects with a policeman attempting to get his life and his town’s life back together after Hurricane Sandy. They work together in an attempt to bring down a powerful enemy.
Gross told blackfive.net, “My idea for a novel is that something starts on a bit of a routine level and then the stakes become larger and larger. I think this is what makes a good thriller. I have this mundane act that just spirals and multiplies in consequence. I used these powerful words in the opening, ‘life is about one mistake and then what happens afterward.’ I like the sense of randomness where all the variables are put together to create an incident.”
His characters are well defined, believable, and very sympathetic. The reader gets to know the character, understand the character’s motivations, and can connect with them. Instead of thinking of Hilary as someone without moral integrity they feel for and root for her, understanding her hopeless feelings. Gross wants Hilary to be seen as “a sympathetic figure who is forgiven for taking the money. The book is about how this mother would sacrifice anything for their child including crossing over the line to do something criminal. If she did a bad thing for the right reasons does that make it forgivable? I hope people see Hilary as a gritty mom that is devoted and desperate.”
A supporting character in the book is Hurricane Sandy. The policeman helping Hilary, Patrick, is described in the book as “someone who would break an arm than his word.” Yet, because the storm devastated his sister’s house and she put in fraudulent claims he took over her debt payments to the insurance company by borrowing it from the Russian mob. Everything in the book is tied to this storm from having Patrick needing some of the money found to having clues washed up on the shore to a murder.
Most of Gross’ book are stand alones like Everything To Lose. However, his next book is the fourth book of the Ty Hauck series. Gross gave blackfive.net a heads up about this next novel. “Ty Hauck is no longer the head of detectives with the Connecticut police force and now works for a posh security firm. The new book takes place in Colorado and deals with corruption in the oil and gas business. The controversy is between hydraulic fracking and the effect on ranchers/farmers in the area. I consider this story a bit of a modern western.”
Everything To Lose is a novel about choices and consequences. Through well-developed characters and a riveting plot Gross is able to write a first-class book that the reader will not want to put down.
Massachusets National Guard Provide Security at the Boston Marathon
Army Spc. Brandon Smith provides security at the start of the 2014 Boston Marathon, April 21, 2014. About 600 Massachusetts National Guardsmen assisted local authorities to ensure the event would be as safe as realistically possible. Due to a record number of runners, Guardsmen from numerous states augmented the Massachusetts Guard's specialized units. Smith is assigned to the 169th Military Police Company, Rhode Island Army National Guard. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jerry Saslav
Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryan Cunningham, center, provides security during the start of the 2014 Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass., April 21, 2014. Cunningham is assigned to the Massachusetts Air National Guard's 102nd Security Forces Squadron, 102nd Intelligence Wing. About 800 Massachusetts Guardsmen assisted local authorities during the event. Due to the record number of runners, Guardsmen from numerous states augmented the Massachusetts Guard's specialized units. Massachusetts National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jerry Saslav
Photo - Free Fall Tracking
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class John Delong tracks with another parachutist during free fall training on Naval Station Rota Spain in Rota, Spain, April 14, 2014. Delong is assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 8. U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Nathaniel Spencer
Book Review - "The Auschwitz Escape" by Joel C. Rosenberg
The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews by clicking on the Books category link on the far right sidebar.
The Auschwitz Escape is a riveting novel by best-selling author Joel C. Rosenberg. Using the Holocaust as a backdrop it becomes a psychological, political, and historical thriller intertwined with the mystery of how the concentration camp victims escape and whether they will survive. As Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 28th is observed, readers can reflect on this powerful story that is about the choices made in the course of one’s life.
Through the contrast of the characters Rosenberg highlights the different attitudes and reactions of those involved in this nightmarish part of history. The unlikely hero is a shy, obedient, seventeen year old German Jew, Jacob Weisz. He is caught in the middle of an on-going argument between his father and his uncle. His father represented those Jews who never faced up to the realities, instead coming up with rationalizations, even though there were enough warning signs to go around. On the other hand, Jacob’s uncle Avi saw the dangers, and constantly tried to get his brother’s family to leave before it was too late. Avi, a part of the Jewish resistance movement, refused to be submissive and saw it as his duty to help Jews escape.
The author told blackfive.net that the German Jews, as with those on the 9/11 flights, rationalized their predicament. He wants his readers to remember that Jews were used to violent anti-Semitism, just not on the level of the horrificness of the extermination camps such as the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp; just as the 9/11 victims accepted their hijacking but had no idea they would die in such a gruesome manner. Rosenberg noted, “Jacob is like one of those on the United 9/11 flight that went down in Pennsylvania. They fought back because they heard what happened to the other planes. Jacob saw what was happening in the camps and knew he had to take some action. He, as with the United passengers, had to make a life and death decision by using his wits. All knew that if they did nothing they would die anyway so why not fight for their freedom.”
Readers are taken on a journey with Jacob’s character from having to endure the German anti-Semitic laws to entering and surviving Auschwitz. It is based on the April 7, 1944, true escape by Rudolf Vrba, aka Rudolf Rosenberg, and Alfred Wetzler followed by the May 27th, 1944 escape of Arnost Rosin and Czeslaw Mordowicz. As with the real escapees, Jacob writes an eyewitness report, “The Auschwitz Protocol,” detailing the extermination camps and the threat to the Hungarian Jews. Although 300,000 Hungarians Jews were killed it is believed that 120,000 were saved.
Rosenberg commented, “There were approximately 800 attempts with about one hundred successes. Besides the four true heroes there were several Polish intelligence officers, one of which I created as a character in the book, who got out of Auschwitz. Unfortunately the West did not believe their warnings, seeing it as Polish propaganda. I decided not to use any of the real names and to write a novel because I did not want to put words in their mouths and thoughts in their heads as well as actions I could not verify as true. I did not want to compromise anything so I fictionalized the story and characters. Even Wetzler wrote his own story as a novel at first, changing his own name in the book. I knew I had to make sure every historical detail is rooted in reality as much as possible. My fictional characters had to operate in a realistic historically rooted world.”
He also points out through his different characters how they all endured the same atrocities even though they had different attitudes about religion. Jacob was a secular Jew who questioned that if there is a G-d how could the Nazis get away with taking away “his name, his clothes, even his dignity. But only he could give away his will to fight.” Contrast that with Abby Cohen, who falls in love with Jacob, a religious Jew who did not doubt G-d, and is described as someone thoughtful, insightful, intuitive, full of hope, with depth and purpose. There is also the character, a Protestant pastor, Jean-Luc Leclerc, who with others living in the French town of Le Chambon helped to rescue approximately 5000 Jews. He was eventually captured, tortured, and sent to Auschwitz where he meets up with Jacob, becoming his partner during the escape.
Rosenberg commented to blackfive.net, “The French town is real along with the story. The entire village rallied behind helping the fleeing Jews. Every single pastor was arrested by the Gestapo, sent to the concentration camps, with at least two murdered by the Nazis at the camps.”
Rosenberg believes no book can do the Holocaust justice; yet, The Auschwitz Escape comes close. In a suspenseful novel with heart wrenching characters he is able to individualize the six million who died. The readers can think of the six million simply not as numbers but people who should never be forgotten, as they form a bond both emotionally and intellectually with the characters.
Book Review - "American Spartan" by Ann Scott Tyson
The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews by clicking on the Books category link on the far right side bar.
American Spartan by Ann Scott Tyson, wife of former Major Jim Gant, can be read as three different chapters in their lives. The policy chapters concentrate on what is needed for a successful strategy in Afghanistan; the cultural section is seen through her eyes regarding the Afghan villagers, and the last part of the book deals with Gant’s feeling of betrayal by his commanders. In order to best understand the criticisms and the feelings of Gant/Tyson, blackfive.net interviewed those involved.
The book delves into the policy issues based on Gant’s paper, “One Tribe At A Time,” which applies the Foreign Internal Defense approach to Afghanistan. He calls for sending US Special Forces to train and empower the local Afghan villagers to defend themselves, while the Americans become culturally assimilated. In the book Gant was quoted, “Relationship building is the weapon, time is the bullet.” He explained to blackfive.net that those who criticized him for trying to take credit for creating this strategy are simply wrong. “All I did was to look at the history of Special Forces, what was done, and the readings of T. E. Lawrence. I asked myself why aren’t we doing this in Afghanistan. I never said this strategy was developed in my head. Unfortunately, the entire second chain of command was not supportive and enthusiastic about this strategy. I felt there was a betrayal by those US commanders, towards the Afghans, because they wanted to pull out.”
The problem with this portion of the book is that any discussion on strategy should include the pros and cons, especially since many non-military experts will be reading it. Bing West, American military author and former Assistant Secretary of Defense believes “sooner or later Gant was going to come home to America. Substituting Americans does not solve the problem and in some ways can make it worse. If they become reliant on him, when he leaves it will fall apart as was the case.” Similarly, Pete Hegseth, a former army counter insurgency instructor in Afghanistan noted, “At this point of time in Afghanistan it is too little and too late. It is very difficult on a large scale. You can’t take a regular troop soldier because there is a need for training on the culture, the language, and in Special Forces tactics. The theory is sound, but the political reality is just not possible.”
Tyson defends her position because she sees this book as more of a “narrative, non-fiction, and military biography. This is about a man, his mission, and the biography of an Afghan tribal leader. It is not an academic or journalistic book on military strategy. I was there as an author who used my skills and experiences from being a reporter in war zones. There were two drafts of the book. Because I was so engrained as a reporter to keep myself out of the picture I was uncomfortable talking about myself. But my editor explained to me in order for the readers to really get to know the Afghans I needed to put more of myself into the story. I rewrote it so readers could understand the Afghans through my eyes. It was a sacrifice I made to reach people.”
This leads to the cultural part of the book where she discusses how she and Jim became “a family” with the tribe. For example, she explains that even as an American woman she had to adhere to the rules of wearing baggy clothing, walking behind Jim, and acting demurely around Pashtun men. A quote from the book exemplifies this point of Gant considering himself as part of the tribe, ‘”Father, without you, there is no me, I told Noor Afzhal.’ (the village elder)…The message was clear. Jim was fighting not for his country, but for his family, his men, and his tribe.” She also wrote, “Jim had become more Pashtun than the Pashtuns,” in explaining the cultural attitude of honor and disgrace. Retired Colonel Joseph C. Collins regards this as “misdirected, dysfunctional, and more than a bit weird. The American army should be about American interests.”
The latter part of the book has Tyson criticizing Gant’s commanders for what she sees as a betrayal. His command was terminated for violating military regulations including possession of alcohol, prescription drugs, keeping classified information, and becoming romantically involved with the author Tyson while on a mission in Afghanistan. She noted to blackfive.net, “The command turned a blind eye because they know that drinking by Special Forces teams is rampant. Before Jim was pulled out his commanders had written him a glowing evaluation and gave him an incredibly demanding new mission with a new tribe. They recognized his knowledge of the area, his skill, and his ability. They cannot have it both ways.”
However, none of the former military people interviewed believed Gant received a raw deal. Eventually he was reprimanded, removed from the Special Forces Regiment, stripped of his Special Forces tab, fined, and retired as a Captain. West told blackfive.net, “Gant engaged in reckless and selfish behavior and as a leader he should have known better. I would have relieved him. What he did was reckless and inexcusable. He crossed the line and he knew it.”
Tyson herself in the book stated, Gant told the villagers “I was his wife… In bringing me to Mangwel, Jim was taking an incredible risk. If any of the tribesmen disrespected me in the slightest, he would be honor bound to fight them, a conflict that could endanger his hard-won relationship with the Mohmand tribe.” She implies that the military were the bad guys, “…to try to escape the US military and disappear into Afghanistan…. I felt giddy. I was escaping the Americans, surrounded and protected by Afghans.” She also describes how the investigation found empty alcohol bottles, controlled medications, including pain pills, steroids, sleeping pills, and most damaging the photographs, “including two in which I was partly nude.”
Gant responded to these charges by telling blackfive.net, “The physical, emotional, and psychological difficulty of conducting this mission was infinitely harder than I thought it would be. I was exhausted on all accounts. I have never said in any form to anyone that I did not accept my punishment or thought it was over the top. What I did say was that they could have dealt with me honorably. I had a face-to-face conversation only when they were telling me I was a disgrace to the Special Forces. I would not have been able to accomplish anything without some alcohol and medications. I worked 20 to 22 hours a day, risking my life and my guys’ life. Obviously you and others thought I was running around Afghanistan with a bottle of Tequila in my hand, which was not the case. I am still a warrior and will be when they put me in the ground. I struggle day to day (he has PTSD and TBI), and see my job as being a good husband and father.”
Concerning the betrayal there are two schools of thought. One is embodied by the military correspondent David Axe who told blackfive.net, “Gant appears to be a reckless loud mouth who didn’t see himself accountable to the US Army command and the American public. He completely disregarded common sense and decency.”
The other point of view is exemplified by Colonel Collins who agrees there was a betrayal, but not in the context of how Tyson writes about it. He told blackfive.net, “I cannot understand how then Major Gant was not seen as a psychologically wounded warrior and not fit for combat. This is a deployment that should have never happened. The commanders who seized on his fresh ideas, skill, and reputation did not look out for his welfare. I wondered, over and over, how he could pass a pre-deployment physical and maintain a security clearance. In a 22-month tour, why were there no visiting lawyers, medical officers, Inspectors General, or no-notice command inspections to catch Gant in the act of being Gant? No one looked into how the people really lived there. The U.S. Government chose to wage large-scale, protracted war in part by grinding down the best and the bravest until many of them died, broke, or fell from grace. However people should understand that the guys who ultimately punished Jim Gant were every bit as heroic and true to the Special Forces creed, and not the high bound bureaucrats as Tyson implies. They just did not go off the deep end and he did.”
Anyone reading American Spartan must realize that it is not intended to be an objective book, but as a defense of Jim Gant’s life and implementation of a strategy he strongly believes in. Gant should not be considered a hero or an anti-hero. It is an interesting read for those who want to understand the Afghan tribes, the Afghanistan strategy, and the fall of a self-proclaimed warrior from the perspective of his wife.
Rollin' with the B5 Crew
Spent a couple of days last week with Uncle Jimbo and his girl, who are good people. Apparently Special Forces training teaches you how to grill an awesome steak.
Any time I get together with Jimbo or Wolf, it looks and sounds a lot like one of "The Damn Few" Ranger Up videos. Here are two of the best ones they've put together, to help your imaginations along.
Thanks for having me. It was a blast.
Want Some Signed Books?
GONE! Thanks to the donor and to Michael Z. Williamson for his incredible offer and support.
One last update and bump. The second $250 grand prize packge was to go away today, but because of the site issues, it will stay active until tomorrow. So, if you want:
• Limited edition signed copy of Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson
• Hero, signed by Michael Z. Williamson and John Ringo
• Clan of the Claw, signed by Michael Z. Williamson and John Ringo
• a copy of Tour of Duty
• a signed and personalized copy of A Different View: Travels to Al Qa'im and Beyond by yours truly
Make your donation here using T-Bone Level, by 1700 hours tomorrow (23 April 2014) and they are yours. Mike will ship his and I will ship mine separately.
UPDATE: One $250 grand prize package has been claimed (19 April 14, 2100 hours app.). However, Mike is up to do one more, and so am I. So, be the next person to donate $250 and the books are yours.
Update: One book is claimed; another has been put back for another to claim; and, the grand prize package still is not claimed. Could it be yours? Think about it, for a $250 donation you get books signed by Mad Mike, John Ringo, and even myself. Several books in the package, check it out. Putting full text of the FB post below.
Michael Z. Williamson made an offer to anyone donating to help Mission: VALOR raise funds to defray the cost of the 501(c)(3) application process. I've added another incentive to that, and may sweeten the pot even more. If you want books autographed by Mad Mike, John Ringo and/or me, check it out.
NOTE: Donations now are not tax deductible per the IRS. If the 501(c)(3) is approved your donations may be deductible. The IRS likes us to note that you should contact a tax professional for advice.
MIKE"S POST: Help Mission: Valor raise their 501(c)(3) fees. I have TWO of the limited edition copies of Freehold - Fiction signed, and I will personalize and inscribe to the first two people to donate $50 and send me a copy of their receipt. They'll even be dated before the official release date of 6 May. Plus from the comments: At $250 I'll add in The Hero - Fiction signed by me and John Ringo and Clan of the Claw signed by us both, too, in hardcover, and a copy of Tour of Duty. Further Note: at $250 I put in an autographed and personalized copy of my second book of photography from Iraq, not a fuzzy/blurry shot of the moon to be found in it anywhere.
The military as a socialist paradise?
Riiiiiggghhht! This guy is playing at claiming so.
The U.S. military is a socialist paradise. Imagine a testing ground where every signature liberal program of the past century has been applied, from racial integration to single-payer health care—then add personal honor, strict hierarchy, and more guns. Like all socialist paradises, the military has been responsible for its share of bloodshed, but it has developed one of the only working models of collective living and social welfare that this country has ever known.
This is a brilliant example of....well...nothing. The points he makes are pointless except to point out that some are willing to sacrifice some of their rights to secure them for the rest. A better example would be saying that the military is a fashion designer's paradise because all of the troops have adopted the combat couture. What a buffoon.
Now he has served in Iraq and Afghanistan so I thanke him for that as should we all. Then we can laugh as he trolls the internets trying to get a rise out of me and you. Congratulations Mr. Siegel you win, I mock thee. But I remember you, weren't you that smart ass Spec 4 barracks lawyer always telling people they didn;t have to get up and do PT because it was against labor regulations, or that they couldn't make cut yrou hair because of the 1st Amendment. I knew you and all the other semi-pro wankers who always had a dumbass, poorly thought out reason why the man couldn't tell them what to do.
The problem is that you are not really one of the more entertaining ones. You pale in comparison to the mighty Skippy. Do go read the full list. It is the greatest thing ever published on the internets.
Skippy’s List: The 213 things Skippy is no longer allowed to do in the U.S. Army
1. Not allowed to watch Southpark when I’m supposed to be working.
2. My proper military title is “Specialist Schwarz” not “Princess Anastasia”.
3. Not allowed to threaten anyone with black magic.
4. Not allowed to challenge anyone’s disbelief of black magic by asking for hair.
5. Not allowed to get silicone breast implants.
6. Not allowed to play “Pulp Fiction” with a suction-cup dart pistol and any officer.
7. Not allowed to add “In accordance with the prophesy” to the end of answers I give to a question an officer asks me.
8. Not allowed to add pictures of officers I don’t like to War Criminal posters.
9. Not allowed to title any product “Get Over it”.
10. Not allowed to purchase anyone’s soul on government time.
11. Not allowed to join the Communist Party.
12. Not allowed to join any militia.
An Event, Some Thoughts, An Invitation
Recently, I invited any of you in or near NYC to join myself and Army Week for a special screening of Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 at HBO (who hosted the event). More than sixty people did show up, and enjoyed a nice reception, the screening, and a panel discussion on the crisis that is veteran suicide. The panelists included the producer of the documentary, Dana Perry; the chairman of the NYC chapter of The Soldiers Project, Jason Walter, LMSW; the founder of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, BG Loree Sutton (ret); and, suicide prevention program manager of the 99th Regional Support Command, Dr. Paul Wade. Most importantly, we had the audience.
Leaving aside my thoughts on several topics, I want to focus on the key point: doing something about veteran suicide. I will admit, the film brought out some conflicting emotions. It was good to see behind the scenes at the hotline center, and to know that they were able to talk some people down and get them help. It was good to know that they could, in some cases, cut through the BS at the VA and get people in to the right programs and people. I cringed at some of the questions they have to ask, especially those involving weapons -- and was somewhere between understanding and furious at a delay in treatment/intervention for a vet caused when paramedics had to wait for the police since there were weapons in the house. I do understand the need to see to the safety of responders, but...
The documentary was good, make no mistake. The panel discussion that followed, along with the audience participation, was amazing. The short version is that the panelists and the audience agreed that more needs to be done. The lack of trust in the system was understood by all, as was the need to find ways to restore that trust. Further, the fact that the current outlook by the DoD that robs troops of being involved and a contributor to their unit and the DoD if they admit to having a problem -- now and forever -- needs to be eliminated as it does prevent people from seeking help. Having a soldier in the audience stand up and talk about how he almost became a statistic because of the system, and having a panelist talk about losing their spouse to suicide because they trusted the system, hit home.
Two key points came out that I want to share. One, the current mindset within DoD sucks. As the soldier in the audience pointed out, troops are sent to the dentist twice a year but there is nothing done to deal with preparation for or treatment of combat stress and related issues. Two, the national hotline is the current frontline, and that sucks too. BG Sutton is right, the frontline needs to be in the community, both the military community and the local community where our troops live. If you truly want to make a difference, the only place it can and will be made -- and made well -- is local.
If you lived in the area and didn't come out, you missed out. If you want to learn more about Army Week, then come out to this event on Wednesday. Sorry for the FB link, but TypePad has been having issues from an attack and I still can't post images.
Photo: Arabian Sea Swim Call
U.S. Navy sailors and Marines participate in a swim call off the stern gate of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde to celebrate the 121st birthday of the chief petty officer rank in the Arabian Sea, April 1, 2014. The Mesa Verde, with the embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, is deployed to support maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Shannon M. Smith
U.S. Marines prepare and ready their vehicles to depart Forward Operating Base Delaram II in Nimroz province, Afghanistan, for the last time as they head back to Camp Bastion in Helmand province, April 8, 2014. U.S. Marines Corps photo by Sgt. Frances Johnson
Free Book For You
UPDATE: You now can download it for free from Amazon!
Regular readers are likely already familiar with LTC Tom Kratman (ret.) [trust me, you want to go read the quotes at the page linked, really] and his outstanding Carrera series of books. He's added to his non-fiction list of books with Training for War, and Baen Books is giving it away for free. Yes, you will have to register with Baen, but do I really have to point out that you can then download other books from them for free in a variety of e-book formats? I'm not finished reading it yet, but I think that anyone interested in the military, and in good and effective training, will find this of more than a little interest.
Photo: Marine VBSS
Marines travel aboard a rigid hull inflatable boat in a visit, board, search and seizure training mission during Amphibious Squadron Marine Expeditionary Unit Integration Training off the coast of San Diego, April 11, 2014. Marines conduct amphibious operations, crisis response and contingency during the two-week predeployment training. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jonathan R. Waldman
Airborne Sergeant Kyle White to Receive the M.O.H.
You might have seen the announcement or even read the citation that will be presented with the Medal to Sergeant White. But you should go here to read about Kyle White's actions from someone who witnessed his uncommon valor under extreme conditions over at From Cow Pastures to Kosovo. Five paratroopers and one Marine lost their lives that day...it's certain that that count would be higher if it had not been for the actions of the platoon RTO.
It's worth your time to read.