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April 2014

Photo - Mortar Setting Session

Hires_140425-A-RU942-004U.S. Army Pfc. Joshua Brown and Spc. Nicholas Morton check the settings on a target site during training on Forward Operating Base Lightning in Afghanistan's Paktia province, April 25, 2014. Brown and Morton are assigned to the 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Squadron, 71st Calvary Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Dixie Rae Liwanag

Photo - Yuma Proving

Hires_140409-M-BZ307-165cMarines board a helicopter after helicopter raid training as part of a weapons and tactics course for instructors on Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., April 9, 2014. The training teaches the basics of Marine Corps aviation and provides strategy, tactics and execution experience. The Marines are assigned to 2nd Marine Division's India Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Christopher A. Mendoza

Book Review - "50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany"

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.

9780062237477_p0_v3_s260x420Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 28th emphasizes the response of Americans to the widespread persecution of the Jews in Europe. A recently published book by Steven Pressman, 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany, is a gripping story. The author superbly intertwines the events of the Nazi tyranny towards the Jews with the theme of hope, showing how two Jewish Americans, Gil and Eleanor Krause, became involved with rescuing refugees in 1939.

The book is based on the HBO documentary (http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/50-children-the-rescue-mission-of-mr-and-mrs-kraus#/) 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus, yet has a much more in depth description of the Krauses life and the rescue itself. The first part of the book discusses the events in Germany and America that led to the desire by Gil and Eleanor to initiate a plan of rescue.  The second part of the book goes into a fascinating account of the rescue itself and how the children were chosen. The author explains that in 1939 Jews were encouraged to leave after all their possessions were seized.  The last part of the book allows the readers to gain a glimpse of the children’s lives as they adjust to America and afterward.

Pressman told blackfive.net, “I wanted to weave the rescue with the historical events happening in Europe at that time.  I did not think the story could be told without telling the story of Kristallnacht, a series of coordinated attacks against the Jews, and that story could not be told without explaining how Austria was annexed by Germany.  I wanted to show the broader historical context but also to explain how these two secular Jews took action at a time when it was still possible to save lives.  They left their own two children at home while risking danger by entering Nazi Germany to save the lives of children they did not know.”

Pressman is hoping that readers understand that the Krauses faced many obstacles, some obvious and some not so obvious.  The obvious is the Nazi regime itself.  Pressman noted, “In Austria there were banners and storm troopers everywhere.  There were signs in almost all the shops that said ‘Jews are forbidden here.’  They knew as Jews they were in the belly of the beast.  They literally had to sit across the desk from a Gestapo officer explaining how they planned on taking the fifty Jewish children to America.”

Anyone who has read about pre-WWII might have grasped how America’s immigration laws, leaders, and different administrative departments prevented many Jews from being rescued.  The State Department actively thwarted Jews from legally entering America.  Pressman gives a very good detailed account how the number of visas in the 1930’s actually exceeded the number of immigrants actually entering the US, mainly due to the State Department’s employees who had no sympathy for the plight of the Jews and were openly anti-Semitic, such as Breckinridge Long. A powerful quote from one of those who were rescued, “This was a time when everybody could get out but nobody would let us in.”

The not so obvious obstacle Pressman informatively discusses is that the Krauses had to deal with their fellow American Jews.  For some it was pure jealously and for the organizations there were turf wars. Yet, for others it was the constant fear of backlash that Jews had to live under, even in America. The book has a telling public opinion poll, while 95% of the America public was against liberalizing the immigration laws a more telling statistic is that 25% of American Jews also did not want to increase immigration. 

50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany is a brilliantly written book that takes the reader on a journey back in time.  Yet, it is relevant today because Gil and Eleanor’s story proves that individuals with courage and strength can overcome the odds.  In this case the fifty children saved by the Krauses turned out to be the single largest group of unaccompanied children brought to America.  Everyone should take the time on April 28th to remember that fewer than 1,200 unaccompanied children were allowed into the United States throughout the entire Holocaust, in which 1.5 million children perished. Steven Pressman’s book does just that and is a very insightful read.

You Are Cordially Invited

UPDATE: In response to requests, we are:

• Offering a $20 ticket for those who do not wish to partake of the open bar, but do want to attend and drink water or soft drinks.

• We know that some of you who work for financial firms have found Square blocked at work. If you let us know that such was the case, we will honor the advance ticket price for you.

• Planning to share several bit of good news and updates

• Silent auction will feature autographed books by Williamson, Kratman, & Weber; wine; clothing from B.N. Shape Clothing; a Lock-N-Load Java prize package; wine, and more.  See link below for the latest information. 



On Wednesday 30 April, there will be a reception for Mission: VALOR at the historic Garryowen Club.  We will be sharing some news, having a silent auction, and more.  More details can be found here

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.

9780061656002_p0_v4_s260x420Andrew 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

Hires_140421-A-ZZ999-1776cArmy 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

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.

9781414336244_p0_v2_s260x420The 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.

9780062115003_p0_v5_s260x420American 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.