Monthly Archives: July 2012

Tough Love and Top Level Editors

I waited on pins and needles as my new editor, John Paine, read my novel. I was worried he would read it and tell me that is was garbage. Or that I couldn’t write. Yes, my self- doubt was kicking in again.

To occupy my time I delved into platform development. I started building my own Word Press site and writing blog posts as they came to me. (I’ll talk about the importance of platform-building in future posts.)

Finally after about month John was able to read my book and provide feedback. We talked for an hour and a half about the book. He followed up with a detailed written four-page editorial report. First off—he didn’t tell me the novel stunk or my writing was horrible. OK, so  that was a good start.

John told me that the book’s concept was tremendous, the cast solid, the plot (after an initial false start) built steadily and was capped by an exciting climax scene. I didn’t realize it at the time, but these were pretty much the last words of praise I would receive from him until the re-write of the novel was complete.

I’m paraphrasing here, but what John told me was, “You aren’t paying me to tell you what is good about the book. So we are going to focus on what needs improvement.”

I was OK with that philosophy. I can handle some tough love.

In November of 2011 I had gone into this edit thinking John would make recommendations about where to cut the first part of the book. He might recommend a prologue and make some minor tweaks. My intent was to get the novel back into the hands of the interested agents as soon as possible. I thought we could do this by January 1st. After reading his editorial report, though, I knew there was a lot more work to be done.There were four main tenets of revision and two minor ones that needed to be fixed. These are my words and not John’s:

     1. Lose the back story. I’ve talked about this before. But John reconfirmed what I already knew. This piece had to go. I just wasn’t sure how much. At first he mentioned 50 pages. I can tell you that we ended up cutting a lot more than that.

   2. Sammy (a dog) needs to be a true character. I had this idea that I would break up Sammy’s pieces to give the reader a break from the two main characters. I had put his pieces in italics and they were generally short. I learned that this wasn’t a solid concept.

   3. Stop skimming on the surface of scenes. I needed more details and more of the characters’ thoughts. Remember when I told you I had cut 14K words with reckless abandon before I sent the book to John? Yep, I really regretted that edit now. But that was only part of it—I needed some more in-depth writing.

  4. Stop shuffling so quickly among plot lines. He was right—I did do this.

The other two smaller issues were that my ending was too drawn out and he thought a character should be in the book earlier than he was presently.

As I read through the comments from his editorial report I felt as if I were reading a report from a surgeon who was dissecting my novel. I guess that is why John was a successful “Book Doctor” for 15 years at Penguin.

I receive a lot of recommendations from folks about critique groups and beta readers. I certainly don’t discount their utility and would love to find a couple of trusted beta readers. However, I don’t see that as the best path to follow for me.

I get what folks are telling me, but here is the deal—John has been in the publishing industry working on manuscripts for 25 years. He has edited hundreds of books including many New York Times Best Sellers. You can’t replicate this level of experience and knowledge in your critique groups or beta readers. Sure he costs money, but so do the very best surgeons, lawyers and other professionals. Are you looking for a medical student to perform that critical surgery for you or do you want an experienced surgeon?

You get what you pay for in this life. I recommend that serious aspiring authors go find themselves an editor. I also believe that this shows agents that you are serious.

All right, let’s put it another way. A few years ago my wife and I had new countertops put into our house. With that came a new sink. I tried to hook up the sink and garbage disposal myself. I did a pretty good job but couldn’t get the last couple steps completed to prevent it from leaking. Sure, I could have had a committee of my buddies come over and we might have been able to fix it.

Or I could hire a professional plumber to come over. Since I already completed most of the work, I knew it wouldn’t cost me that much. But that professional would provide me the peace of mind to know, if I wasn’t home, the sink wouldn’t gush water on my wife. Maybe you are a plumber or have a close friend that is one. I am not and don’t. In my editor, I trusted.

John told me to focus on the last three major tenets and we would figure out the beginning later. For the next six weeks I spent every spare moment doing exactly what my editor recommended.

Has anyone else had to endure a major rewrite?

Am I wrong about critique groups and beta readers?

Are critique groups and beta readers better than editors? Why?

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A Video that Hits Home

I love this video for the content but it truly resonates with me on a much deeper level. The video was filmed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Wilson in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan.

When I oversaw the dog program for Afghanistan, FOB Wilson was where the plea for additional dog teams originated. That plea and the sequence of events afterwards forever changed my life.

By the end of my tour in Afghanistan we had flooded hundreds of “Paws on Ground” to FOB Wilson and the surrounding bases. FOB Wilson was the epicenter for the 2011-2011 fight for the dreaded Arghandab River Valley.

FOB Wilson and the Arghandab River Valley is also where a large portion of my first novel, Paws on the Ground, is set.

I’ll never forget flying in a helicopter from Kandahar Airbase to FOB Wilson and taking notes about the scenery in my little green notebook. It was that day I knew I would be a writer someday.

In the video is Staff Sergeant Abdnon who I knew as a young Soldier when we were both stationed in Germany and later Iraq……many years ago. Staff Sergeant Abdnon sphere of control grew from a dozen to ten times that number as we flooded dogs into Afghanistan. Because of Staff Sergeant Abdon’s tireless efforts with dog teams and the Tactical Explosive Detector Dog program many lives were saved.

Great memories….. Times I will never forget.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/QrJYgzoA8gw[/youtube]

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Military Dog Picture of the Week. (July 25th, 2012): Dogs Down Under

Military Working Dog Handler Leading Aircraftwoman Samantha Vassallo and Military Working dog ‘Ally’ practice winching during continuation training at RAAF Tindal. CHC Helicopters and RAAF Tindal Security Police dog section conducting winch training, the training provides both SAR and RAAF Security Police a chance to maintain and increase their Search and Rescue skills. (Photo by LAC Terry Hartin)

Australian Military Working Dogs

Military Working Dog Handler Aircraftman Lloyd Burbage and Military Working Dog ‘Khan’, practice winching techniques before attempting the real thing. CHC Helicopters and RAAF Tindal Security Police dog section conducting winch training, the training provides both SAR and RAAF Security Police a chance to maintain and increase their Search and Rescue skills. (Photo by LAC Terry Hartin)

Australian Military Working Dogs

Leading Aircraftwoman Heather Shepherd and Kruger, her military working dog, spend time together at RAAF Base Darwin. Military Working Dog (MWD) Kruger and Leading Aircraftwoman Heather Shepherd have been working together since 2008. MWD Kruger is now finishing his Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) career. They have worked together at RAAF Base Williamtown and were then posted to 13 Squadron at RAAF Base Darwin in early 2012. 13 Squadron Military Working Dog Section provides security for the base.    (Photo by ABIS James Whittle 

Australian Military Working Dogs

Military Working Dog Handler Corporal Damien Martin and Military Working Dog ‘Trooper’, prepare to attack (using blank ammunition) the enemies’ position during a training exercise. Military working dog section at RAAF Tindal practice fire and movement techniques on a regular basis. This training is assisting the Military Working Dogs prepare for the increased activity during Exercise Pitch Black 2012. Security Police is providing critical support to RAAF Base Tindal for Exercise Pitch Black 2012. One of these elements is the unit’s Military Working Dogs and Handlers, both of whom are highly trained to provide security to the base and its high value

Australian Military Working Dogs

In case you missed or want to revisit prior weeks. Here are the links.

Military Dog Picture of the Week. (July 18th, 2012): Javelin Thrust

Military Dog Picture of the Week. (July 11th, 2012): Lucca

Military Dog Picture of the Week. (July 4th, 2012): Therapy Dogs

Military Working Dog Anax

Marc & Anax Part 5: Will Dark Ever Pass Certification?

This is Part V of The Marc and Anax series. You may wish to read Part IV or skip right back to Part I first.

 “Whittaker, you need to spend less time with Anax. If you want to pass certification next month, then you better spend some overtime with Dark. We need you to pass certification. We can’t use you or Dark with you guys not being certified. We’re getting hammered with missions to support. ”

Specialist Marc Whitaker didn’t want to spend more time with Military Working Dog Dark though. He wanted to spend his time with his best friend, Military Working Dog Anax. The dog that took a bullet for Marc in Afghanistan. The dog that lost a leg for him.

The dog Marc was awaiting for the adoption paperwork to process so he could take him home to Texas.

“Roger, Sergeant.”

Marc knew better than to argue with the sergeant. He also knew the sergeant was right. He needed to do a Marc in Afghanistanbetter job of working with Dark. It wasn’t Dark’s fault that he wasn’t Anax. Plus his fellow handlers needed Marc to pull his weight.

He walked swiftly down the hall and made a quick left and proceeded down the kennel run hoping he was undetected. He was relieved not to hear Anax bark. Marc looked down at the long black-haired dog and smiled. Dark whined lightly and brushed the door softy with his paw that was far too large for his small body.

Marc felt a sharp pain shoot through his knee cap as he lowered himself to look into Dark’s eyes. Dark pressed his charcoaled snout through the metal chain link fence. Marc peered into the sauce red black eyes of his new dog and smiled. He rubbed Dark’s wet nose.

Marc knew Anax would understand. Anax would want him to pull his weight and help this puppy.Military Working Dog Anax

“We can do this, Darky. I’ll teach you everything you need to know, you silly puppy.”

That was exactly what Marc did. He committed everything he was capable of giving to building that critical handler/ dog bond and training Dark. They spent countless hours training and playing together. He saw rapid improvement in Dark’s narcotic-detection ability. More importantly he saw a huge rise in Dark’s detection confidence and this confidence ran up the leash to Marc. They were gelling as a team.

But he still worried.

Marc stressed the entire three-hour ride to his certification site at Baumholder, Germany. He worried about all the important things he needed to remember for certification.

The biggest concern he had with Dark was that Dark had a tendency to false sit.

A false sit means the dog isn’t sitting at the training aide. Dark’s other issue was fringing. Fringing is when a MWD sits when he hits just the initial odor cone. He is not at source of the odor but sits at a distance away.

Marc thought about the actions he needed to take if the certification official said “not at source” or “reverse” and so forth. He would have to guide Dark into the source. Dark would have to listen.

A Narcotics Dog team must certify at 90%, so that means you can have four mistakes-two misses and two false hits. Any additional mistakes and they would fail certification. This is exactly what faced Marc and Anax on the last day of certification.

“Whittaker, you have one more chance at the warehouse trial. Pass this trial and you certify,” said the certifying official.

Marc nodded. It didn’t have to be said. Marc knew what would happen if they failed.

Why couldn’t Dark to be just like Anax and have that HIGH HIGH drive to work and find the odor. High-drive working dogs have a very high drive for odor. This means that they have a really, really high drive for their reward. That is when the prey drive kicks in. That prey drives them to be an effective working dog. Dark was Marc’s third dog and he had never had a dog without a high prey drive.

Marc pulled Dark’s face to his and said, “This is important, Dark. We need this one. I need you to work hard, pal. Can you do this?”

Dark slobbered his slimy pink tongue on Marc’s stress-creased face. That wasn’t the response he had wanted. Anax would have barked in compliance. Anax would have practically pulled Marc’s shoulder out of place pulling at the leash to get working.

“Seek,” Marc commanded.

Dark strolled past Marc, tail wagging widely as if he were exploring the warehouse instead of searching it. Marc’s heart pounded and he pulled his entire lower lip into his mouth. He already knew they were through.

The drive back to Heidleberg seemed to take forever. Marc couldn’t even look at Dark.

Head down, feet shuffling Marc walked into his kennel master’s office to face the music.

Military Working Dog Anax“Whittaker,  I am telling you this one last time. Build an even strong rapport with Dark. You are to limit your time with Anax and spend more time with Dark. You guys will go back to certification next month. “

Marc’s jaw nearly fell to the floor as his sergeant stormed out of the office.

First he couldn’t get this cherry-ass puppy Dark righted and now he had to limit his time with his son Anax? His world was quickly spinning into a world he had never known.

Can Marc fix MWD Dark?

Can they pass certification and work as a team?

Should Marc ignore his sergeant’s order to stop spending so much time with Anax?

 Click here for the next exciting chapter in this story!

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Charlie Brown

10 Steps to a Great Pitch!

Is your literary conference having a Pitchapalooza or similar pitching event? Do you have an opportunity to pitch yourself to a literary agent in a one-on one-interview? Do you want to learn how to pitch yourself right into an introduction to a literary agent or a request for a submission? Follow these 10 steps to blow your audience away with your pitch!

Step 1: Participate!

Seriously, you can’t win unless you drag your butt up there on that podium or to that chair across the desk from that agent. Give it a whirl. I know you’re nervous and that’s all right. Here is a little secret: everyone else is as well. Afraid to be embarrassed or humiliated? Don’t be! Take control of your fears and insecurities. What do you have to lose?

Step 2: Don’t wait until the night before to write your pitch.

Actually the morning of the event isn’t a good idea either. Write it out a week before. Re-read it, reflect on it, and have some of your peers read it for you. You wouldn’t submit the first draft of your novel for publication, would you?

Step 3: Rehearse your Pitch.

You don’t have to memorize your pitch but be comfortable with it. I rehearsed my Pitchapalooza pitch hundreds of times. I rehearsed several days prior, the day before and that morning. I even rehearsed in the hallways during the conference breaks the day of the event. Did I have the pitch memorized? Yes. Did I have my pitch in my hand when I delivered it? Yes. Did I look down from time to time for reassurance? Yes.

Step 4: Don’t start out “My name is Jane Smith and I’ve written an 85,000 word Young Adult novel.

Everyone does this. Be different, standout, but not in a bad way. Don’t give your pitch while doing a handstand! If your characters and plot are compelling enough then the panel will figure out the genre and won’t care about the page length.

Step 5. Be a Tease!

You don’t have the time to explain your character’s journey. Get to the heart of your story immediately. Take them to the ledge of the cliff, let them peer down, and then pull them back. Tease your audience and the panel with the characters and conflict. Give them enough to be intrigued and then be gone.

Step 6: Um is not a transitional word!

Wiktionary says that using the word “um” means to express confusion or hesitancy. Yes, they said confusion and hesitancy. Is this how you want to be portrayed? Practice your pitch, have someone listen, and focus on not saying “um.” If you need to pause or transition, it’s all right to do this silently!

Step 7: Stop speaking AT people!

You don’t need to wink at them, but connecting to your audience, judging panel, or agent is important. Smile and make eye contact with them. When you see them smiling back at you, focusing on your words and nodding their heads as you speak then, you know that you have them!

Step 8: Follow the Rules!

Don’t go over the allotted time if you are in a timed contest. You will be stopped in mid- sentence and you will not win. If you followed Step 4 then you should know how long it will take for you to deliver your winning pitch. If you are over in your rehearsal then you will go over during the competition or your agent one-on-one session. My winning pitch was 154 words and I delivered in 46-48 seconds during rehearsal. During the competition I delivered it in 59 seconds. When I pitched to Dave Sterry during my one-on-one pitch it lasted under two of the seven minutes I had allotted with him.

Step 9: Remember, the only failure is the failure NOT  to try!

Life is short. Don’t spend the next year regretting that you didn’t follow Step 1.

The Final Tip: Don’t look like a bum or bag lady! Perception is reality. How you look matters.

Here is my pitch that won Pitchapalooza:

Boots on the ground – Paws on the Ground. This novel is about US soldiers and the dogs who protect them.

Caleb, Megan and Ramon are young Americans who are fighting for the US in Afghanistan — and Brady, Sammy, and Chica are the dogs who stand between them and death or terrible injury.

(I removed 38 words here. It details the climax of the book. Sorry I’m afraid it would give to much away and those in the publishing world wouldn’t like this) I did step 6 here though.

Dogs are outperforming million dollar pieces of equipment on the battlefield, finding improvised explosives with their noses and instinct. I’m Major Kevin Hanrahan and I’ve witnessed this first hand in the treacherous and alien terrain of Afghanistan.

I’ve written a novel about the true and ancient bonds of friendship, love, and loyalty as they are tested in the world of modern warfare

Notes:

-Read this piece by David who provides his own list of tips for pitching on his Book Doctor Site. (Follow Them)

-These tips can be used for any elevator pitch or oral presentation.

United States Army Major, Kevin Hanrahan is the winner of the 2011 James River Writing Conference Pitchapalooza contest. He has received outstanding ratings in oral communication in every military school that he has attended. 

Moxie, a military working dog with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, escapes the heat under a truck's shade during Large Scale Exercise-1, Javelin Thrust 2012, July 11. The newly activated battalion conducted training exercises at the Combat Center in support of Javelin Thrust

Read more: http://www.dvidshub.net/image/623335/military-working-dogs-keep-their-cool-during-javelin-thrust-2012#ixzz20iwFI6fS

Military Dog Picture of the Week. (July 18th, 2012): Javelin Thrust

Moxie, a military working dog with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, escapes the  heat under a truck’s shade during Large Scale Exercise-1, Javelin Thrust 2012,  July 11. The newly activated battalion conducted training exercises at the  Combat Center in support of Javelin Thrust.

Cpl. Dwight Jackson, a working dog handler with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force, cools off his dog, Hugo, during Large Scale Exercise-1, Javelin Thrust 2012, July 11.Cpl. Dwight Jackson, a working dog handler with 1st Law Enforcement  Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force, cools off his dog, Hugo,  during Large Scale Exercise-1, Javelin Thrust 2012, July 11.

Cpl. Fidel Rodriguez, a military working dog handler with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force, pets his working dog partner, Aron, during Large Scale Exercise-1, Javelin

Marines with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion let their military working dogs rest in the shade during Large Scale Exercise-1, Javelin Thrust 2012, July 11.

Marines with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion let their military working dogs rest in the shade during Large Scale Exercise-1, Javelin Thrust  2012, July 11.

Cpl. Fidel Rodriguez, a military working dog handler with 1st Law  Enforcement Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force, pets his working dog partner, Aron, during Large Scale Exercise-1, Javelin.

Cpl. Dwight Jackson, a military working dog handler with 1st Law  Enforcement Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force, tries to shake his dog, Hugo, off as part of a demonstration during Large Scale

In case you missed or want to revisit prior weeks. Here are the links.

Military Dog Picture of the Week. (July 11th, 2012): Lucca

Military Dog Picture of the Week. (July 4th, 2012): Therapy Dogs

Military Dog Picture of the Week. (June 27th, 2012)

Click here to subscribe and receive my weekly blog posts directly to your email. You don’t want to miss a thing!

 

 

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris Fall, a Military Working Dog handler, relaxes with his dog, Glenn, a Patrol Explosive Detection dog, before an early-morning training exercise at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on July 9, 2012. The handlers and their dogs rotate through Kandahar Airfield for validation prior to moving out to Forward Operating Bases around the country where they will lead combat foot patrols and sniff out IEDs and other explosives. (U.S. Air Force photo/TSgt. Stephen Hudson)

Dog News Directly from Kandahar Afghanistan: Validation

This isn’t my story but I thought it was really cool. In many of my posts I discuss the challenges of validation for our dog teams. Remember Noah and Chuck’s challenges with validation?

Every team must complete validation when they first get into country. Validation is a series of trials to test a team’s proficiency in the local environment.

I’ve seen validation first hand and it is grueling and stressful. This story provides great insight into dog team validation.

Story by Tech.  Sgt. Stephen Hudson

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Larry Harris, a Military Working Dog handler, with his dog Aaron prior to training at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on July 9, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/TSgt. Stephen Hudson)

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — His nose is working overtime.  Seeking and scanning the dirt for the unseen. Aaron, a Military Working Dog, and  his handler, Air Force Staff Sgt. Larry Harris, work their pattern back and  forth, while Harris gives Aaron’s long leash slack letting it drag it the  ground. Harris gives his commands of “Seek” followed by words of praise.The teams have already walked several miles from the kennels to the training  site while U.S. Army Staff Sgt.’s Daniel Turner and Joshua Parker have buried  several training aids along a dirt road. This day, the dogs, while working with their handlers, will seek out  the training aids that simulate IEDs. For the next five to six months this will  be their mission, saving lives by finding roadside bombs and other explosives.

Once the training aids are discovered there is a reward – Harris hands  over a blue rubber toy. It signifies a job well done, but the reward is short  lived. It’s back to work for Aaron because there is one more to find before the  exercise ends. He is one of four Military Working Dogs running through a battery of scenarios early in  the morning here before the sun’s heat becomes unbearable.
What they do  is vitally important yet terribly dangerous. While seeking out explosives is  deadly serious work for the handlers and dogs,  their work is priceless to those on the ground they work to protect.

“Soldiers love having dogs out there, and they  are an irreplaceable asset,” said Turner. “When it’s nature over high tech  machines – nature is going to win every time.”

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Mosher, a Military Working Dog handler, and his dog, Zix, a Patrol Explosive Detection dog, prior to early-morning training on July 9, 2012 at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The handlers and their dogs rotate through Kandahar Airfield for validation prior to moving out to Forward Operating Bases around the country where they will lead combat foot patrols and sniff out IEDs and other explosives. (U.S. Air Force photo/TSgt. Stephen Hudson)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Mosher, a Military Working Dog handler, and his dog, Zix, a Patrol Explosive Detection dog, prior to early-morning training on July 9, 2012 at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The handlers and their dogs rotate through Kandahar Airfield for validation prior to moving out to Forward Operating Bases around the country where they will lead combat foot patrols and sniff out IEDs and other explosives. (U.S. Air Force photo/TSgt. Stephen Hudson)

Turner, a handler since  2003, works training and evaluating the teams coming through Kandahar Airfield.  He gave the analogy of how the dogs can sniff out  explosives.

“When we smell a hamburger, we smell the whole thing. The dogs can smell each component of that burger from  the meat, the cheese, and the rest,” he said.

Since World War II the  military has embraced using dogs in a variety of  combat roles, and the job of sniffing out explosives is at the heart of what the dogs can do.

Tech. Sgt. Matthew Mosher,  who is stationed at Eielson Air Force Base, sat in the shade roughhousing with  his German shepherd, Zix, and talked about the mission of canine. Zix puts his  head down nudging Mosher to pet him more.

“What we are doing is back to  the roots of canine – leading combat foot patrols,” said Mosher, an Orrville,  Ohio native, and handler for five years. “This is what we are intended to do.”

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Larry Harris, a Military Working Dog handler, rewards his dog, Aaron, for finding simulated explosives buried along a road at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on July 9, 2012 during a training exercise while U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Parker looks on. The handlers and their dogs rotate through Kandahar Airfield for validation prior to moving out to Forward Operating Bases around the country where they will lead combat foot patrols and sniff out IEDs and other explosives. (U.S. Air Force photo/TSgt. Stephen Hudson)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Larry Harris, a Military Working Dog handler, rewards his dog, Aaron, for finding simulated explosives buried along a road at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on July 9, 2012 during a training exercise while U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Parker looks on. The handlers and their dogs rotate through Kandahar Airfield for validation prior to moving out to Forward Operating Bases around the country where they will lead combat foot patrols and sniff out IEDs and other explosives. (U.S. Air Force photo/TSgt. Stephen Hudson)

Zix, and the other three dogs running  through these early-morning drills are Patrol Explosive Detection Dogs.  These dogs and their handlers are passing through  and work a schedule of six days a week of two-a-days. The dogs  and their handlers live and work side-by-side honing their skills through the  Joint Military Working Dog kennels at Kandahar Airfield; where teams rotate in  and out on a constant basis. The teams train to acclimate to the terrain and  weather, and for validation – a process that can take two weeks to 30 days. This  place is the hub for all dogs for RC-South.

Once the validation process was over, the teams are sent from Kandahar Airfield to forward operating bases around Afghanistan, where they will work for  five to six months.

“Our ops tempo is high,” said Mosher, who is on his  third canine deployment.

As Harris and Aaron join Mosher and Zix in the  shade after their turn, Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris Wall and his four-year-old  Malinois, Glenn, make their way down the dirt path. Sniffing and seeking, Glenn  works his pattern and Turner offers words of advice to the handler to improve  their technique.

All of the teams are working well and it won’t be long  that the training is replaced by actual missions. These dogs, and their handlers, will be the running missions  seeking out explosives before they can kill. These dogs are trained to save lives and that is not lost on  those who depend on them most.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris Fall, a Military Working Dog handler, carries his dog, Glenn, through a ditch at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on July 9, 2012. Glenn is a Patrol Explosive Detection dog and together they are working on their validation prior to deploying to a Forward Operating Base to work with ground forces seeking out IEDs on combat foot patrols. (U.S. Air Force photo/TSgt. Stephen Hudson)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris Fall, a Military Working Dog handler, carries his dog, Glenn, through a ditch at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on July 9, 2012. Glenn is a Patrol Explosive Detection dog and together they are working on their validation prior to deploying to a Forward Operating Base to work with ground forces seeking out IEDs on combat foot patrols. (U.S. Air Force photo/TSgt. Stephen Hudson)

“Whenever they [soldiers on the ground]  have a dog, it lessons their chance of getting blown up,” Harris said.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Mosher, a Military Working Dog handler, and  his dog, Zix, search for simulated explosives buried along a road at Kandahar  Airfield, Afghanistan on July 9, 2012 during a training exercise while U.S. Army  Staff Sgt. Joshua Parker evaluates their performance. The handlers and their  dogs rotate through Kandahar Airfield for validation prior to moving out to  Forward Operating Bases around the country where they will lead combat foot  patrols and sniff out IEDs and other explosives.

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Danica with truck

A Child of War Clears Her Country of Landmines

Did you read Part I of this series yet?

So what is a patriotic citizen of Bosnian Herzegovina to do when her country is paralyzed from landmines? Go find the mines and remove them. Isn’t that what we would all do?

According to Wikipedia there have been 498 deaths and 1210 serious injuries from land mines in Bosnia Herzegovina since 1992. I have read other reports that say that the number of land mine casualties may be closer to 5000.

As I mentioned in my last post, Danica Dada Djikov was a child of this war. Danica’s hometown of Drabinje, Bosnia Herzegovina and the surrounding countryside was littered with mines after the Bosnian War.

The great majority of families felt the effects of these landmines. Danica was no different. She lost several close members of her family to land mines. She also had close friends that lost their legs due to landmines. These memories are so painful that she can’t talk about them to this day.

Danica went to the newly established Canadian International Demining Corps with more than 100 candidates. She and three other candidates were chosen that first day to become mine detector dog (MDD) handlers.

Danica met the new center of her world—Mine Detector Dog Cindy. Cindy was one-year-old German shepherd.

Cindy had a very strong temperament and was a hulk of a dog. When Danica first saw the aggressive Cindy barking and jumping around, she was petrified of her. Her instructor, Sid Murray, gave her the leash and told her, “Go get your dog.”

At that time, Cindy was much stronger than Danica. As soon as she placed the leash on Cindy, Danica was jumped on and pushed down to the ground.

The students and instructors all laughed. Though she was embarrassed, Danica couldn’t help but join them in laughter as Cindy slobbered over her with kisses.

“They really worked well together and I found Danica to be very hard-working to get the training with Cindy right,” Sid Murray, Danica’s former instructor at the Canadian International Demining Corps, said.

Danica and Cindy were both green—meaning that neither of them had the basic knowledge of how to work together. Together, they learned from the ground up to search and find mine landmines. Danica also had to pass her de-miner certification. That’s right, she didn’t just find them. Danica trained on how to remove the landmines and destroy them. Danica excelled at the training.

“Whenever there was something to do or to get, she was the first to get up and go do it. Danica was first to encourage the other handlers and help anyone who needed help,” Sid Murray said.

After she got started training with Mine Detector Dog Cindy, the hardest part of Danica’s day was leaving Cindy at the kennels each night. The separation became unbearable so Danica went out and purchased a German shepherd puppy, Maxi. But she kept finding herself calling her new puppy Cindy. So she changed Maxi’s name to Cindy. Danica now had a Cindy at work and a Cindy at home.

After graduation Danica began her quest to help her homeland. Danica and Cindy began working six days a week for 11 months a year in the minefields of Bosnia Herzegovina. As they travelled, worked and lived together all over Bosnia Herzegovina, their bond continued to strengthen. They began clearing Bosnia Herzegovina of mines at a rate of 1600 square meters per day. This is equivalent to .4 acres a day.

“Working in the mine fields is truly frightening, but at same time it is the most beautiful feeling when you find mines and clean a land mine area. That feeling when you know that your find most likely saved someone’s life is priceless,” Danica Dada Djikov says.

During the eight years Danica and Cindy cleared minefields she witnessed several people either killed or injured from mines. She felt the loss of every one and constantly wondered if she could have made a difference or if it should have been her.

The worst part of clearing mines was when Cindy actually alerted. How did she recall Cindy without Cindy making a movement that would cost her life? She is, after all, a dog. This became the hardest part of clearing mines for Danica. She wasn’t worried about hurting or killing herself. She was worried about her Cindy.

One of the scariest moments of Danica’s life was when she was clearing a road in the mountains near Sarajevo. There was a truck tire half dug into the road. She left Cindy in the truck and walked down to move the tire.

She slid her hand into the hole and could feel cold metal and wires and froze. Her heart began to pound and she knew she had found an improvised explosive device. Inside were three hand grenades connected with wires.

She slowly moved her hands out and moved back to the road. Cindy had pressed her head up against the window and was staring at her. Danica knew that she was saying, “What the heck are you doing without me, Mom. I’m supposed to be out front.”

For eight years Danica and Cindy spent the majority of their life in the minefields of Bosnia Herzegovina. As a team, they are credited with clearing a half a million square meters of mine fields.

What leads Danica to Afghanistan?

What happens to Cindy?

The next chapter (III) in this series, From the Minefields of Bosnia- Herzegovina to the IED of Afghanistan is already published!

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Military Dog Picture of the Week. (July 11th, 2012): Lucca

Lucca, a 8-year-old Belgian Malinois military working dog, sits in front of a  Marine Corps flag at Camp Pendleton, Calif., July 2. Lucca deployed twice to  Iraq and once to Afghanistan where she was injured by an improvised explosive  device.Military Working Dog Lucca

The injury led to the amputation of her left front leg and retirement from  military service. Cpl. Juan M. Rodriguez, miliary dog handler with 1st Law  Enforcement Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force, is scheduled to escort the  veteran K-9, July 5, from the base to Finland where she will reside with Gunnery  Sgt. Christopher Willingham, Lucca’s original trainer.

Military Working Dog LuccaDuring a turnover at  O-Hare International Airport in Chicago, Ill., Lucca will be honored during a  ceremony by American Airlines, which will provide transportation to Rodriguez  and Lucca through its partnership with Air Compassion for Veterans.

Military Working Dog Lucca

ACV is an  organization that provides medically related air transport services to service  members, veterans and their families. During her military service, Lucca  uncovered more than 40 IEDs and saved countless lives. (Photo by Cpl. Jennifer Pirante)Military Working Dog Lucca

Lucca in Action!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8wHGStGKTs[/youtube]

In case you missed or want to revisit prior weeks. Here are the links.

Military Dog Picture of the Week. (July 4th, 2012): Therapy Dogs

Military Dog Picture of the Week. (June 27th, 2012)

Military Dog Picture of the Week. (June 20th, 2012) Video footage directly from Afghanistan!

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Cemetary

I’ve Seen Enough Death for a Lifetime

I hate war. I hate death. I hate funeral homes, wakes, and cemeteries. Heck, I even hate hospitals. When I was a young officer, wearing my dress uniform and attending ceremonies was fun because it always seemed to be about celebration. For the past 11 years it has symbolized death and tragedy. Over the past 11 years I’ve been to way too many memorial services for my fallen brothers.

Last Friday I buried my 40-year-old brother in my hometown of Whiteman, Massachusetts. My bother Brendan left behind a wife and three small children. In February of 2011 he was diagnosed with lung cancer that spread to his lymph node and brain.

After I stoically delivered my eulogy, someone asked me if I had ice going through my veins. I had some choice words to say but opted for a simple statement: “No, I’ve just seen a lot of death in my life.”

This was my fourth eulogy. One for my father, one for my blood brother, and two for soldier brothers.

People that have never been to war just don’t understand the death and destruction war causes. They don’t understand what these experiences do to us service members. But the war is only part of the challenge we face as service members. I was in Afghanistan at the time Brendan was diagnosed and was unable to be there for him. Fortunately our family, his friends, and nearly the entire 13,000 residents of Whiteman rallied around Brendan and his family.

Brendan entered into a ferocious battle and defeated the cancer in his chest. Unfortunately the cancer in his brain was simply too much.

He lived in Whitman his whole life. I left when I went to college.

This past week, our small town south of Boston flooded to the wake and funeral. I stood for hours receiving condolences and making small talk with people, most of whom I had never met nor could I recall their names.

They loved and respected my brother. They barely know who I am.

The community rallied around my brother and his family. The community surged to help. There is truly something magical about a community of people who pour their hearts into supporting one of their own.

When my brother could no longer work, this town sprang into action. The Whiteman Mothers Club hosted a fundraiser. Brendan’s friends hosted another a month later. An anonymous donor made it possible for Brendan’s family to take the trip of a lifetime to Disney World.

Meals were planned and delivered each night to Brendan’s home by wonderful people. People lined up to take Brendan to his never-ending doctor appointments in Boston. There were always ample volunteers to babysit the kids.

We do these types of things in the military as well for our fallen comrades, but it is not the same. The military life is extremely transient. You make friends that you keep forever, but you never stay together for very long. My family goes back three generations in Whiteman, Massachusetts.

Here is a great example. My mom babysat for Kathy.

Kathy babysat for my brother and me.

My brother and I babysat for Kathy’s kids.

You can’t replicate that type of history as a soldier.

There are support networks for Soldiers. But it is not the same as having the community you grew up in rally around you.

Marines knelt over with a Military Working DogService members have a sense of community, but it is always in a state of flux. It is also diluted if you chose not to live in the (generally speaking) outdated, cramped and project-like military housing on the military base. You just simply lose something when you are constantly starting over in a new location.

Someone is always coming or going. You or your friends are constantly changing duty stations. Your circle of support is never stable. Local family support for military members is limited in most cases.

The military is a fast and exciting lifestyle. It is filled with hardships and triumphs, heartbreak and jubilation. As service members we make many sacrifices. After witnessing the support the community I grew up in this past week. I believe the most important thing service members give up in defense of this great nation is the people we leave behind–our friends, family, and most importantly our community.

You want to always be there for your family in a time of need. But you can’t. You want to always be there in the good times as well. But you can’t.

I’ve buried a lot of brothers over the past 11 years, but this was my first and only brother of blood. I’m lucky though—I have a band of brothers that I’ve served with. I can call upon them anytime. But it is not the same as the person I have 38 years of history with.

I’ve always been proud to say that I am from Whitman, Massachusetts. It is a small, blue-collar town that provided my foundation. It wasn’t until my brother’s battle with cancer and subsequent death that I realized how much I cherish the community where I was born and raised.

Kevin and Brendan Hanrahan

Brendan and I a month after I returned from Afghanistan. Mark Herzlich wore number 94 for Boston College. Mark was considered an early-round prospect before being diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of cancer that attacks the bones. He went undrafted after missing an entire season of football. He now plays for the New York Giants. Brendan never wanted to be a professional football player. He just wanted to be a husband and father.

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