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April 2015

Book Review - "Leaving Berlin" by Joseph Kanon

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link on the right side bar.

9781476704647_p0_v5_s260x420Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon is a gripping historical thriller.  The book’s plot takes place in Berlin four years after the end of World War II.  What makes this novel special is that through an action-packed plot readers gain a glimpse of what it was like at the start of the Cold War, where the Stalinists replaced the Nazis.  In many ways it is so realistic people will forget it is a thriller.

The storyline is based on the adventures of Alex Meier, a German whose father was Jewish and who sees himself as a socialist.  With the help of his family he escaped to America before the Holocaust.  Although he did not have his heart with the Communists he still was swept up by the McCarthy era after refusing to name names to a Congressional committee.  To avoid jail and wanting to continue being a celebrity novelist he makes a desperate deal with the CIA.  He must return to Berlin, pose as a disenchanted exile, and gather actionable intelligence by spying on a former lover. Alex finds that espionage in Berlin is a fact of life. 

Kanon commented to blackfive.net, “Alex does not seem to have his heart in communism.  He saw two sides with the Nazis representing the right and the communists representing the left.  At one point in the novel Alex refers to having attended a communist meeting in California.  He basically went with someone who invited him, but he never becomes a party member or commits to it.  I would describe him as a Socialist, partly because he never abandoned his Judaism.  When he got caught up in the cross hairs of the McCarthy sweep he got into trouble because of his principled position of not naming anyone else.  This ruined his life.”

Throughout the story Kanon shows the characters to be unlikely spies. There are some scenes that might suspend belief as Alex suddenly develops into a master manipulator and is able to handle violence with self-confidence.  He is an amazingly fast learner in the art of spy craft, but without this the thriller would be lacking in suspense.

Kanon sets the tone for the readers in the very first pages as he explains in an author’s note about the setting and the various organizations that played a key role in the story.  Readers learn through the main female character, Irene, about the double-dealing that is done to survive by working with the different secret organizations.  Another character to survive is her brother-in-law, an unapologetic Nazi doctor who worked for the Third Reich’s euthanasia program.

The author noted to blackfive.net, “We must remember that the population in Berlin was dependent on the rations for their survival.  There are no jobs or food except what is given out by the occupying forces. How someone answered a questionnaire is one of the ways to determine the amount of rations they received. Irene lied partly for self-preservation, partly because she was devious, and a part for survival. She is damaged by the war, wounded.”

Leaving Berlin is about betrayal, murder, and survival.  It is filled with intrigue that reminds readers of a period and place where loyalties were conflicted and political maneuvering was prevalent.  This is a must read for its complex, riveting, and intricate plot.

Photo - Dignified Transfer

Hires_150414-F-RB000-001BAir Force Rabbi (Maj.) Sarah Schechter reads from the Torah while the honor guard escorts the casket containing the remains of Capt. Richard D. Chorlins into the Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., April 14, 2015. Chorlins was killed in Vietnam in January 1970. His remains were transferred to the academy in a dignified arrival ceremony for burial in the Academy Cemetery April 14, 2015. Schechter is a Cadet Chapel Jewish chaplain. 
U.S. Air Force photo by Liz Copan

EFMB - Giving it your all

Found this on Facebook today.  Some folks are saying...well, she barely made it and needed encouragement....

Says I:  Standard met = "Go" at this station.

CPT Sarah Cudd from Public Health Command, Fort Knox is only 1 of the 46 candidates who earned the EFMB yesterday at Fort Dix, NJ..27 April 2015. This is her last few seconds of the 12 Mile Foot March. The Foot March is the last event of the Expert Field Medical Badge (EFMB), and must be completed within 3 hours. If you want it, you have to go get it. Watch this video. This EFMB candidate wanted it, and she got it. It took heart, guts, determination, falling down and getting up, and a little motivation from the crowd to get across the finish line. Check this out.

Kudos to young Captain Cudd.  That's probably the toughest thing she ever did her life and NO ONE can take that from her.  We need to see more of this in our military.

Photo - Raid Exercise

Hires_150411-M-SV584-061cMarines ride a rigid-hull inflatable boat to their objective during a certification exercise off the coast of Los Angeles, April 11, 2015. The Marines executed a simulated precision raid at the Port of Los Angeles to test their skills before deploying. The Marines are assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Maritime Raid Force. 
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Anna Albrecht 

Book Review - "And the Good News Is..." by Dana Perino

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 on the right side bar.

[On a side note, several military bloggers (myself included) met Dana Perino on her first day on the job as Press Secretary for President George W. Bush.  It was also Tony Snow's last day on the job.  I was able to say thank you to him, and, class act that he was, he pointed at Dana Perino and said, "she'll be here for you now."]

9781455584901_p0_v5_s260x420And the Good News Is by Dana Perino is an inspiring book.  It combines a self-portrait of her early years, her journey culminating in becoming the first female Republican press secretary, and her ability to give very practical advice.  No matter what a person’s political affiliation they can draw from this book refreshing stories of loyalty, humility, friendship, and family.

An insightful chapter in the book is her feelings about civility.  She is straightforward in her insistence that America has lost something by disagreeing without respecting one another.  She stated, “there are ways that we can deploy some gentler words to our debates that can make us more productive. There’s no sense in working against each other if we have the same goals in mind, hashing out differences doesn’t have to be a blood sport.  We make a choice when we open our mouths.  Are we going to be gracious or not?” 

Perino portrays President Bush as being gracious, which she sees as effective and persuasive.  Having never sought the limelight or criticized President Obama he understands that his comments could be very damaging. She noted to blackfive.net, “One time I asked President George W. Bush why is that we always have to turn the other cheek and they don’t.  He responded, ‘well its our burden to bear.’” On the other hand, she compares that to Senator Harry Reid who is “a destructive force in Washington D.C. Look at the incivility that is prevalent all over Washington and you will find it leading directly to Harry Reid’s doorstep.”

Perino writes in the book that she had to follow her own advice while dealing with the press’ constant criticism of the President.  While forcing herself to be outwardly civil as press secretary, she secretly released her emotions by sometimes flipping them the bird under the podium, while holding a glass of water and keeping a pleasant look.  She noted, “it was my secret way of firing back when the briefing questioning got heated.”

Readers are reminded how G. W. Bush was very supportive of the military.  As President he would send a personal note to all families who lost a loved one while serving their country. There is a heart-wrenching scene where a mother whose son was on life support severely criticized President Bush.  She writes, “He didn't leave. He stood there, almost as if he needed to absorb it and to understand it. Commanders in chief make really tough decisions, and we went on to the next rooms, and I remember those being experiences where the families were very happy to see him. But when we got on Marine One to fly back to the White House, the president was looking out the window, and then he looked at me and he said, "That mama sure was mad at me." And then he looked out the window and he said, "And I don't blame her a bit." And a tear rolled down his cheek, but he didn't wipe it away, and then we flew back to the White House.”

Perino discussed with blackfive.net the unbelievable attitude of those who have criticized the movie American Sniper.  As someone who was able to personally interact with Navy SEALs she finds it humbling to be around them and respects them for “their courage and bravery.  They’re remarkably unselfish, honorable, strong, and courageous. One of the themes of my book is optimism.  I am very optimistic because all this criticism has backfired on those protesting the movie because Americans are not persuaded by the left’s call to not support it.  The market obviously showed the condemnation is not working.”

Readers will find And the Good News Is, a book that has a positive outlook toward America, with an optimistic undertone.  Through her anecdotes and stories Dana Perino offers advice that is both practical and moralistic.  This book is written in a witty and articulate manner that will have readers go through a gamut of emotions as they reflect on her personal experiences.

Photo - Phoning It In

Hires_150416-A-WG858-003cU.S. soldiers transmit information while conducting zone reconnaissance during exercise Saber Junction 15 at the U.S. Army’s Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, April 16, 2015. The exercise prepares NATO and partner nation forces for offensive, defensive and stability operations and promotes interoperability among participants. 
U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Lloyd Villanueva 

Photo - Canine Chat

Hires_150415-F-MC546-390cAir Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Rettschlag talks to his military dog, Onur, during Gunfighter Flag 15-2 on Saylor Creek Range, Idaho, April 15, 2015. Rettschlag is a military working dog handler assigned to the 366th Security Forces Squadron, which participated in the exercise to train in realistic scenarios with joint service members in a tactical environment. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Connor J. Marth

Photo - Growler Takeoff

Hires_150419-N-TC437-036cAn E/A-18G Growler launches from the flight deck of the USS John C. Stennis in the Pacific Ocean, April 20, 2015. The Stennis is training to assess its abilities to conduct combat missions, support functions and survive complex casualty control situations. The E/A-18G Growler is assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron 133. 
U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ignacio D. Perez