Monthly Archives: October 2012

Fiction & Fantasy Football: The 2012 James River Writers Conference

Last year I attended the 2011 James River Writer’s Conference full of self-doubt. I was nervous that I wouldn’t fit in with the scholarly, eclectic, and creative world. I’m an Army Officer. I’m not a writer. Could I be both, though?

I had written my first book while in Afghanistan. Big deal, right? I mean this conference was going to be full of serious writers. Surely they would look down on me. For the entire conference I was timid, stressed, and constantly trying to sell myself to possible literary agents and publishing folks.

Last year I had no website or Facebook page. I didn’t even know what Twitter was.

Of course, I was wrong on all accounts. I met tons of great people. I made great contacts that eventually led me to landing an agent. Yes, the 2011 James River Conference led to me getting that hard-to-land agent many writers strive for.

So this year as I drove up Route 64 towards Richmond for the 2012 James River Writers Conference, I listened to the fantasy football channel on my Sirius radio contemplating some lineup changes. I had no idea what agents were available for the one-on-one pitch session. I hadn’t spent hours writing and practicing a pitch for Pitchapalooza. I hadn’t even looked at the conference agenda to see which workshops I wished to attend.

I simply wanted to spend the weekend being surrounded by creativity. I also wanted see my editor and writing coach Ginger Moran and reconnect with the fabulous Book Doctors, Dave Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut. Ginger has been with me since the beginning, from editing the first draft to coaching me on the search for an agent to helping set up my website.

What a difference a year can make!

So this is what I learned at the 2012 James River Conference:

- The more you as an author do and are prepared to do to market your book, the better.

- Literary agents command respect when negotiating the sale of the book with publishers. They carry the weight of the agency and all its authors on their shoulders. Agents have established contracts with publishers.

- Independent authors sell an average of 345 books. Independent authors that self-publish have a tough road.

- I need a downloadable Press Kit on my website.

- I can use a lot of the material in Paws on the Ground that I cut in the revision as bonus material someday.

- I should place an actual email address in my contact link. It is easier than the form.

- I need to start collecting blurb commitments for my debut novel.

- (I gleaned a bunch of writing techniques and tips but will share those another time.)

I spent twenty minutes talking to the terrific and talented David Henry Sterry. Last year when I sat down with David I was sweating profusely and full of trepidation as I pitched him my book. This year I received a 20 minute lesson on the publishing world. What I love about David is his energy and passion for authors. He genuinely cares about authors. We discussed strategies to position myself for the best deal when my book is sold. I took copious notes!

One thing that annoyed me at the Conference this year:

I heard countless questions from aspiring authors in varying sessions about how to land representation from a literary agent. I was in their position last year. I understand.

So at first when several relatively new authors were on a panel talking about firing their agent or not signing with the first agent that offered them representation, I was aghast. Here they were on their perch, literally looking down on everyone, telling people who would kill for an agent not to take the first offer of representation. It pissed me off that they were talking about jumping to a new agent like it was as easy as changing dentists.

I say bullshit. I took the first offer and am quite happy.

After learning more about their situation, I understand what these authors meant. Two of the authors seemed to have started this journey with fringe agents. I only sought representation from credible agents from agencies with excellent reputations. That is my advice.

I was amazed when one of the literary agents attending said that she accepts only two new clients a year. She receives 150 queries a week. That is nearly 8,000 authors a year who are hoping she accepts them as a client. Two out of 8,000—those aren’t great odds.

Someone asked me how I landed my agent. Sure I won Pitchapalooza. But that didn’t guarantee me landing an agent. I was guaranteed an introduction only. The rest was up to me.

So here is my advice:

- Make your book stand out.

- Submit a finished product if you’re writing fiction

- Have a plan of attack for seeking an agent. (Here was mine)

- Start building a platform NOW

- Work your ass off and don’t stop

You are going to get rejections. Deal with it. Literary agents that request a submission are probably going to reject you. Deal with it. I kept all my rejection letters and emails. I even have a couple nasty ones that motivate me.

One last thing: You have a better chance of landing an agent when you receive an introduction. I actually had a few introductions from people I’ve met in the industry. What that does is move your manuscript higher in that agent’s slush pile. They will actually get back to you. Again, this doesn’t automatically mean that this agent will sign you.

Also, get your ass to a conference and meet the agent yourself. Pitch them. If your conference has a pitch competition, participate. Ask to pitch agents you aren’t meeting with anywhere except the bathroom. Use your exposure to them to get your project in their face and mind. Don’t be annoying or act like a nut, though.

OK, enough ranting about the Conference and landing an agent. Please feel free to post your link to any of your lessons learned or reflections from the conference.

What have you learn at a writer’s conference that really helped you?

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U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon Mann, a dog handler with Alpha Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, and native of Arlington, Texas, sights in with his infantry automatic rifle while providing security with Ty, an improvised explosive device detection dog, during a patrol here, Feb. 16. Marines and sailors with 1st LAR and India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, conducted clearing and disrupting operations in and around the villages of Sre Kala and Paygel during Operation Highland Thunder. Marines with 1st LAR led the operation on foot, sweeping for enemy weapons and drug caches through 324 square kilometers of rough, previously unoccupied desert and marshland terrain. Mobile units with1st LAR set up blocking positions and vehicle check points while India Company, 3/3 conducted helicopter inserts to disrupt insurgent freedom of movement.

Marines and their Black Labs!

 U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon Mann, a dog handler with Alpha Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, and native of Arlington, Texas, sights in with his infantry automatic rifle while providing security with Ty, an improvised explosive device detection dog, during a patrol here, Feb. 16. Marines and sailors with 1st LAR and India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, conducted clearing and disrupting operations in and around the villages of Sre Kala and Paygel during Operation Highland Thunder. Marines with 1st LAR led the operation on foot, sweeping for enemy weapons and drug caches through 324 square kilometers of rough, previously unoccupied desert and marshland terrain. Mobile units with1st LAR set up blocking positions and vehicle check points while India Company, 3/3 conducted helicopter inserts to disrupt insurgent freedom of movement.Three Marines with 3rd Platoon prepare for a patrol while two others take a load off during Operation Double Check, an ongoing operation to promote legitimate governance and security within the Musa Qalâ¤?eh district.  The Marines belonging to Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, slept in the open during the operation and provided exterior security for their company, while their brother-in-arms with 2nd Platoon lived, operated and mentored the Afghan Uniformed Police in their newly established security outposts.

Three Marines with 3rd Platoon prepare for a patrol while two others take a load off during Operation Double Check, an ongoing operation to promote legitimate governance and security within the Musa Qalâ¤?eh district.  The Marines belonging to Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, slept in the open during the operation and provided exterior security for their company, while their brother-in-arms with 2nd Platoon lived, operated and mentored the Afghan Uniformed Police in their newly established security outposts.

Stormy, a working dog with the 2nd Battalion 11th Marines Headquarters Battery, takes a break and gets a pat from her owner, Cpl. Bryant Wahlen during a mission in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Stormy, a working dog with the 2nd Battalion 11th Marines Headquarters Battery, takes a break and gets a pat from her owner, Cpl. Bryant Wahlen during a mission in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon Mann, a dog handler with Alpha Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, and native of Arlington, Texas, helps Sgt. Guillermo Floresmartines, an assistant squad leader with Alpha Co., 1st LAR, and 25-year-old native of Menifee, Calif., out of a canal during a patrol here, Feb. 16. Marines and sailors with 1st LAR and India Co., 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, conducted clearing and disrupting operations in and around the villages of Sre Kala and Paygel during Operation Highland Thunder. Marines with 1st LAR led the operation on foot, sweeping for enemy weapons and drug caches through 324 square kilometers of rough, previously unoccupied desert and marshland terrain. Mobile units with1st LAR set up blocking positions and vehicle check points while India Co., 3/3 conducted helicopter inserts to disrupt insurgent freedom of movement.

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon Mann, a dog handler with Alpha Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, and native of Arlington, Texas, helps Sgt. Guillermo Floresmartines, an assistant squad leader with Alpha Co., 1st LAR, and 25-year-old native of Menifee, Calif., out of a canal during a patrol here, Feb. 16. Marines and sailors with 1st LAR and India Co., 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, conducted clearing and disrupting operations in and around the villages of Sre Kala and Paygel during Operation Highland Thunder. Marines with 1st LAR led the operation on foot, sweeping for enemy weapons and drug caches through 324 square kilometers of rough, previously unoccupied desert and marshland terrain. Mobile units with1st LAR set up blocking positions and vehicle check points while India Co., 3/3 conducted helicopter inserts to disrupt insurgent freedom of movement.

Read more about the Marine’s (not so) secret weapon in Afghanistan here! 

In case you missed or want to revisit prior weeks military dog picture of the week. Here are the most recent links.

Military Dog Picture of the Week: Troops & Their Puppies!

Military Working Dog Video and pictures from Afghanistan!

The Dog Teams of Regional Command – West, Afghanistan

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Marine Cpl. Jared Charpentier spends some much-needed down time with his partner Gracie, after looking for hidden bombs and explosive materials with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in Sangin, Afghanistan.

Canine Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome

This isn’t my story but I thought it was really interested and wanted to share. It also mentioned our pal- Gabe the Hero Dog ! Canine Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) is a very real challenge we are facing with our four legged service members.

The dogs of war: saving lives but paying the price
Story by L.A. Shively

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Can courage be measured in a canine heart? Can a dog actually be a hero?

Take Gabe for instance, a yellow Labrador Retriever who has three Army Commendation Medals and an Army Achievement Medal for finding explosives in Iraq. Actually, Gabe’s awards are not for finding weapons, ammunition, or bombs; but for saving lives.

How about Cairo, the Belgian Malinois that accompanied SEAL Team Six to Pakistan on the mission to kill Osama bin Laden? Cairo and the Navy SEALs were honored in a presidential ceremony marking the mission’s success – they got the bad guy.

U.S. Army Capt. SaraRose Knox, a veterinarian with the 401st Army Field Support Brigade Veterinary Services at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, plays with one of her patients, Tory, brought to the clinic after seven days of not eating. Tory had ingested part of a blanket and Knox and fellow veterinarian, Maj. Dennis Bell, had to operate and remove the mass from her stomach and intestines. Until her infirmity, Tory was "outside the wire" searching for bombs with her Marine handler at various forward operating posts in Afghanistan.

U.S. Army Capt. SaraRose Knox, a veterinarian with the 401st Army Field Support Brigade Veterinary Services at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, plays with one of her patients, Tory, brought to the clinic after seven days of not eating. Tory had ingested part of a blanket and Knox and fellow veterinarian, Maj. Dennis Bell, had to operate and remove the mass from her stomach and intestines. Until her infirmity, Tory was “outside the wire” searching for bombs with her Marine handler at various forward operating posts in Afghanistan.

If dogs can be heroes, can they also suffer the ravages of combat, just as humans do?

Allie, a friendly black Labrador Retriever trained to find roadside bombs, was injured in a mortar blast in Marjah, half-way through her third tour in Afghanistan. This was her second injury and included complications and infection from a field suture.

“It traumatized her, so she’s having trouble with loud noises,” said Maj. Dawn Brown, a Marine Corps reservist with the 3rd Civil Affairs Group out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. A civilian veterinarian, Brown works with livestock and large animals in Afghanistan while deployed.

“She startles and shuts down during a bomb blast or small arms fire,” Brown said, adding she believes Allie is suffering from combat-related stress.

Brown, a native of Bonsall, Calif., walked Allie occasionally while the dog was at Camp Leatherneck for several weeks before being sent for evaluation and reset training.

Keeping the dogs in the fight save lives explains John Kello, one of the field service representatives contracted to train and coordinate the Improvised Detection Dogs at Camp Leatherneck.

“The dogs take the threat away from the human being,” said Kello, who hails from Windsor, Va. “Nothing is more effective at finding IEDs. Plus it’s a morale boost,” he said, adding the dogs offer a small respite for the soldiers and Marines.

“Everybody out there is sacrificing their physical well being, their families. They give a lot and it takes a toll,” Kello said.

When the dogs get sick or wounded, they are medivac’d out of the battle zone – if transportation is available. An Army veterinarian picks the patients up at the flight line and rushes them to the veterinary clinic for treatment.

Army veterinarian teams in Regional Command Southwest, Helmand province, Afghanistan, included Maj. Dennis Bell and Capt. SaraRose Knox, both with the 401st Army Field Support Brigade Veterinary Services at Camp Leatherneck, Capt. Sean McPeck, with 436rd Medical Detachment Veterinary Service at Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, and a veterinary clinic in Kabul, Afghanistan.

More than five percent of the nearly 650 military dogs currently deployed with American combat troops are developing a canine form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, said Dr. Walter F. Burghardt Jr., chief of behavioral medicine at the Daniel E. Holland Military Working Dog Hospital at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

Though veterinarians recognize behavioral problems in animals, the concept of canine PTSD is fairly recent, Burghardt explained; coming on the heels of a greater number of dogs used in theater to find bombs and explosive material.

Chance, a yellow Labrador Retriever trained to find hidden bombs and explosive material, eyes his handler warily. Now that Chance has a Kong dog toy, the dog's prized possession, he won't give it back without a fight � a 'play' fight that is. Chance and his civilian handler, Chad O'Brien, spent part of an afternoon playing fetch in an large sandy area on Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, with the toy, part of an exercise program the handlers follow with their dogs between missions. Getting to put that toy in his mouth means victory for the dog and signals a job well done.

Chance, a yellow Labrador Retriever trained to find hidden bombs and explosive material, eyes his handler warily. Now that Chance has a Kong dog toy, the dog’s prized possession, he won’t give it back without a fight â¤? a ‘play’ fight that is. Chance and his civilian handler, Chad O’Brien, spent part of an afternoon playing fetch in an large sandy area on Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, with the toy, part of an exercise program the handlers follow with their dogs between missions. Getting to put that toy in his mouth means victory for the dog and signals a job well done.

The Department of Defense considers improvised explosive devices to be the weapons of choice for terrorists in places like Afghanistan, an undeveloped country of mostly rural communities.

IEDs typically contain fertilizer and chemicals used in farming, with little or no metal making them nearly invisible to mine-sweeping apparatus – equipment that operates in a similar fashion as metal detectors.

Explosive detector dogs can sense odor concentrations as small as one to two parts per billion, too small to measure with current equipment according to an Air Force fact sheet on military working dogs. Labradors are used most often as they can smell 17 different odors associated with homemade explosives.

On patrol, the handler and dog team ranges ahead.

“When someone thinks there is something, the dog would go and check it out. We would have what we call confirms,” said Marine Cpl. Jared Charpentier, who spent several months in Sangin, Afghanistan, looking for IEDs with his partner, Gracie, a black Labrador Retriever.

“If she hit on something and there would be an IED – which happened a couple of times – we took care of it with (Explosive Ordnance Disposal). We didn’t miss anything, so I feel pretty good about the work that we did,” said Charpentier, a native of Moses Lake, Wash.

The corporal is glad he and Gracie have returned to Camp Leatherneck unscathed and that Gracie saved lives through their work together. Other dogs, like Allie, may not be able to continue hunting for bombs after they are injured.

“When a dog comes back with gunfire issues, we look at how she acts, how she reacts, where her tail is at and how she responds to commands,” said Chad O’Brien, a field service representative. “We have to see if they can deal with the gunfire and get back to work – that’s part of the game.”

Maj. Dawn Brown, a Marine Corps reservist with the 3rd Civil Affairs Group at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, plays with Allie, a black Labrador Retriever, employed to search for terrorists' bombs and explosive materials. Though Allie had survived two mortar attacks during this third deployment, she was badly injured during the second assault and started running away from loud noises and gun fire. The Marines she was with decided it would not be safe for her, or those who were chasing her when she ran, to stay in the field, so they sent her back to Camp Leatherneck for decompression and eventual return stateside. Decompression at Camp Leatherneck requires lots of socialization, so Brown took Allie for walks and brought the dog to her office to be around other people. Once Allie returns to the U.S. she will go through retraining and revaluation for continued work finding bombs. If she cannot recover, she will be adopted out as a pet.

Maj. Dawn Brown, a Marine Corps reservist with the 3rd Civil Affairs Group at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, plays with Allie, a black Labrador Retriever, employed to search for terrorists’ bombs and explosive materials. Though Allie had survived two mortar attacks during this third deployment, she was badly injured during the second assault and started running away from loud noises and gun fire. The Marines she was with decided it would not be safe for her, or those who were chasing her when she ran, to stay in the field, so they sent her back to Camp Leatherneck for decompression and eventual return stateside. Decompression at Camp Leatherneck requires lots of socialization, so Brown took Allie for walks and brought the dog to her office to be around other people. Once Allie returns to the U.S. she will go through retraining and revaluation for continued work finding bombs. If she cannot recover, she will be adopted out as a pet.

Different dogs exhibit different symptoms, but those symptoms are similar to indications of PTSD in a human. Some dogs become hyper-vigilant or overly aggressive, while others hide or shut down completely.

Although Allie still fetches her Kong toy and continues to sniff for explosive material on command, at the sound of gunfire at a nearby training range, her tail goes down and she becomes skittish.

When a dog stops hunting for hidden bombs and explosive material – running off to hide at the onset of gunfire or explosions – handlers end up chasing them, creating an unsafe situation in a combat zone.

“It’s not worth the risk if the Marines have to go find her,” O’Brien, a native of Burnham, Maine, said.

Allie was with the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines who deemed she was no longer fit for service in the field. She was returned to Camp Leatherneck for decompression and then sent back to Southern Pines, N.C. for reset training. Some dogs may return to Lackland for reset as well.

“Just like with a person, you bring them back and give them time to rest and recover and then re-expose them to that and see how they behave and react,” explained Bell.

Reset training involves desensitizing the dog to the loud booms of simulated mortar rounds and arms fire. There is a lot of emotion in each scenario too. But no matter the amount of training, the actual experience of being under fire cannot be reproduced.

“You can’t duplicate what goes on outside the wire,” O’Brien said. There’s no way – that energy; that fear; that excitement. We simulate, not duplicate [the experiences].”

Allie has three shots at recertifying and being returned to bomb sniffing in Afghanistan, O’Brien said. But for the most part, dogs sent out of theater do not come back into the battle space.

“If they can’t make it here on game day, they can’t do it,” O’Brien said. “You can’t train for the Super Bowl the day before.”

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U.S. Army Spc. Ahren Blake, a combat medic from Clinton, Iowa, with Company D, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Ironman, a part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Red Bulls, holds two puppies he found at an observation post in the Aziz Khan Kats Mountain Valley range near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, April 15. The puppies have been living with the Afghan National Army Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 201st Infantry Corps, which man the Ops that 3rd Platoon visited.

Military Dog Picture of the Week: Troops & Their Puppies!

U.S. Army Spc. Ahren Blake, a combat medic from Clinton, Iowa, with Company D, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Ironman, a part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Red Bulls, holds two puppies he found at an observation post in the Aziz Khan Kats Mountain Valley range near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, April 15. The puppies have been living with the Afghan National Army Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 201st Infantry Corps, which man the Ops that 3rd Platoon visited.

U.S. Army Pfc. Matthew Thomas from Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, holds a puppy during a patrol in Waza Kwah District, Paktika province, Afghanistan, July 10.

Lance Cpl. James R. Borzillieri, a gunner with 81 mm Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, plays with a puppy during his break between patrols in Marjah, Afghanistan, May 9. Marine and Afghan soldiers went out on a 48-hour operation, where they manned checkpoints and conducted patrols around the market and residential areas in the center of the city.
Brig. Gen. Casey Blake, deputy commander, Joint Theater Support Contracting Command, U.S. Central Command, Afghanistan, stops to pet some puppies during a project site visit in Sharana City, Paktika province, Afghanistan. The puppies were rescued from a nearby location. Blake�s visit to the site was part of an assessment of civil military operations in Paktika.

Brig. Gen. Casey Blake, deputy commander, Joint Theater Support Contracting Command, U.S. Central Command, Afghanistan, stops to pet some puppies during a project site visit in Sharana City, Paktika province, Afghanistan. The puppies were rescued from a nearby location. Blake’s visit to the site was part of an assessment of civil military operations in Paktika.

A small puppy wondered up to U.S. Marines from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion 6th Marines, in Marjah, Afghanistan on *****. After following the Marines numorous miles, a soft hearted Marine picked the puppy up and carried the puppy in his drop pouch. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl Charles T. Mabry II)

In case you missed or want to revisit prior weeks military dog picture of the week. Here are the most recent links.

Military Working Dog Video and pictures from Afghanistan!

The Dog Teams of Regional Command – West, Afghanistan

Military Dog Picture of the Week. (September 20th, 2012)

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

Marc w Anax lying down next to him

Marc & Anax: Can Marc Certify with his new dog Dark?

This is the next chapter in the compelling story of Army Specialist Marc Whittaker, his military working dog (MWD) Anax (now retired) and his new MWD, Dark. I suggest you read the first few pieces to get caught up if you haven’t already.

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

Readers Digest version: Anax is injured in Afghanistan protecting Marc. Anax loses his leg as a result. Anax is now located in Texas with Marc’s family. Marc is in Germany trying to get back “on the leash” and channel his passion for dogs through MWD Dark. But MWD Dark is no MWD Anax.  

Marc Whittaker slammed his hand down of the buzzing alarm clock and turned over. He wasn’t in the mood today. He pulled the sheets over his shoulders tightly. He lay in bed not wanting to move. But that wasn’t an option.

He was a Soldier, an Army dog handler, and there were dogs at the kennels that needed his attention. Two dogs to be exact: his current dog—patrol narcotic dog Dark and his former dog, patrol explosive detector dog (retired)Anax.Army Specialist Marc Whitaker with Military Working Dog Anax

The frigging military system was taking forever to approve Anax’s retirement. There were so many bureaucratic hoops to leap through. Anax had three legs for God’s sake. You would think it would be easier for Anax to retire and then for Marc to adopt the dog that lost his leg protecting him.

Be patient, Marc, he told himself. It will happen. Everything happens for a reason. If the process was quicker Anax would already be home in Texas. Then you wouldn’t get to see him every day, he told himself.

It was time to get back on the horse. It was time to regain the swagger he lost during the fire fight in Afghanistan, the same fire fight that injured his pal Anax.

He had certification coming up with Dark. They had failed certification last time. Marc wasn’t used to failing anything, so it was a bitter pill to swallow. It was embarrassing that he couldn’t work law enforcement or missions with Dark. It sucked that other teams in the kennel had to pick up his slack.

He was determined to get Dark righted and put on the correct path. He would fix this puppy, they would certify, and things could resume some semblance of normalcy until he got ready for his Permanent Change of Station. The newest and greatest news was that Marc had been able to land a slot at Fort Hood, Texas. In October he would leave Germany and be about three hours from his home town.

He was ready for a change. No, he needed a change—a fresh start, a new kennel, and a new dog were exactly what he needed.

But that was in the future. He had work to do here in Germany first. He needed to fix Military Working Dog Dark. So he would fix Dark.

After his last certification his supervisors ordered him to spend less time with Anax. But that was never going to happen. Marc would never give up spending time with his little son Anax. So he snuck extra time in with Anax whenever he could. But he spent the majority of time training Dark.

The other handlers of the kennel stood behind Marc. As a kennel they worked hard on fixing Dark’s issues. Marc was confident he could fix Dark because his fellow Soldiers had his back. Another team from his kennel, SSG Lee and MWD Fibi, were preparing to deploy, so SSG Lee and Marc spent a lot of time training together.

Dark’s first problem was that he was fringing. Fringing is what it’s called when a working dog gives a final response like sitting as soon as he is in the odor cone of the explosive. This means the dog hasn’t identified the exact location of the odor but is close. In the dog community this is referred to as “not working the odor to source.”

Dark’s second problem was his false sitting. Dark just sat even when there was no odor in the area. Marc knew that his dog was just frustrated and wanted his toy. He knew that Dark was trying. He also knew that Dark’s frustration could be running down the leash from Marc.

He refused to allow that to happen again. He would be patient with his new puppy. He just had to come to terms with the fact that Dark wasn’t Anax. Of course it would be nice if Dark had a high drive like Anax. But he didn’t, so Marc was stuck with this low drive puppy.

Marc was excited as he drove to his second certification attempt in Grafenwoehr, Germany. He was confident in them as a team. He knew he wasn’t devoted or attached to Dark like he was with Anax. Sure, this could hinder their FULL potential as a team. But he was confident they would pass certification.Marc in Afghanistan

He was elated to see the same certifying official, Master Sergeant Hillis, from his last certification in Baumholder. Marc wanted to show Hillis that he had listened, fixed his dog’s deficiencies, and was on track.

His heart beat fast and he nodded with anticipation as HIllis provided instructions.

“Whittaker, you and Dark are up first,” Hillis said.

Marc nodded and knelt down next to Dark.

“You can do this pal. I believe in you,” Marc whispered as he stoked Dark’s head.

“Whittaker, let’s go,” Hillis said.

Marc stood back up, looked down the road he was preparing to search, and nodded. He leaned over, released Dark from his leash, and commanded, “Seek.”

Dark surged forward. His tail wagged slowly, his nose was about eight inches from the ground, and he searched the road in a tight pattern.

Marc smiled. He knew this was it. He was going to do this!

How does Marc fare at his second attempt at certification?

Has Marc’s frustration affected Dark’s performance?

Can he ever build a bond with Dark like he had with Anax?

Stay tuned for the next chapter in this series! 

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U.S. Army Soldiers watch a movie on a portable DVD player inside of their tent on Combat Outpost Cherkatah, Khowst province, Afghanistan, Nov. 26, 2009. The Soldiers are deployed with Company D, 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment.

How do our Troops Live Deployed?

I’ve always said that everyone’s Iraq/ Afghanistan experience are different. You can spend the entire deployment working on a  large camp in an office. Or you could be “outside the wire” intermixing with the public/conducting missions/ engaging the enemy in combat for the entire deployment. I’ve had both types of deployments.

They both suck. Check out what they are doing below to build an outpost. I’ve done some of this myself!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NY2RPODy2g8[/youtube]

I’ve personally never deployed to large camps like Victory/ Anaconda (Iraq) or Bagram/ Kandahar (Afghanistan). I prefer smaller intimate camps. (not that I had a say in the matter) Plus there are less things to spend your money on if there is no Coffee Bean, post exchange filled with tempting treats or a pizza parlor (Kandahar). As a leader, a smaller camp provides you more control over your troops. I like that.

But that doesn’t mean that living on these larger camps aren’t dangerous for our troops.

Large camps/ bases are a softer/ easier target for the enemy to attack. You can also be drummed into a false sense of security by your daily routine.  That is until that rocket comes crashing down on your hooch. Hopefully you were at chow when this occured. There are just more creature comforts for the troops at these large installations. Yes, running showers are a creature comfort! I didn’t shower for 39 days when we invaded Iraq. I took sponge bathing to a whole new level! I don’t even want to get started about no air condition in Iraq in the spring/ summer!

Ha! Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Remember our boys in the Ardennes forest during World War II? (Check out Steve Ambrose’s WWII book or watch Band of Brothers). The hardships our troops go through today pales in comparison to those days!

But the most difficult hardship that all service members face while deployed spans all generations. We miss our loved ones and life back in the states. We think about it constantly and dream of returning home. Not being with our loved ones is the worst.

This isn’t my story but I think it speaks to the great disparity in a service members experience while deployed. I figured you wouldn’t want to see picture of huge dinning facilities of coffe shops. So I included some great video and picture of some hard living while deployed.

Story by Sgt. Daniel Schroeder

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHUKVANI, Afghanistan – When you ask soldiers about their deployment experience, you might hear about them going down to the PX at Kandahar Airfield or about how they were in the middle of nowhere using water bottles for brushing their teeth, shaving, or using baby wipes for a shower.

Soldiers of the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade are witness to these contrasts as they exist between service members at Kandahar Airfield, which has more services and resources to offer, than to the soldiers at smaller forward operating bases.

Service members at even smaller outlying FOBs must continue normal operations without the services and resources of the larger FOBs. Soldiers of Company C, 1st Battalion, 169th Aviation Regiment, currently attached to the 25th CAB, conduct medevac operations out of FOB Shukvani with only essential tools and equipment.

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

“When we first arrived here, the only thing for us was a bunker,” said Staff Sgt. Mike Berry, a flight medic with C/1-169th Aviation, originally from Covington, Ga. “We sent a three-man advance team to set up our area. They drew up the floor plan, set up tents, built floors, and coordinated with the Marines here for generators, constructing outhouses and emplacing HESCO barriers.”

Another experience the soldiers at FOB Shukvani experience is living with no plumbing. For bathrooms, they had to construct outhouses and equip them with exposable baggies known as Wag Bags. Within the past couple of weeks, they received two portable toilets. Another new addition is a tent equipped with water bags and nozzles so they can shower.

“The shower was the biggest improvement for us,” said Sgt. Cherie Flett, flight operations non-commissioned officer, C/1-169, from Smyrna, Tenn. “Before the shower tent, we were using water bottles for showers. Since being here, we are still making improvements like making walk ways, building doors for the tents, just the small things to make it more homely.”

The bigger bases have several dining facilities with chicken, steak, tacos, hamburgers, hot dogs, salad bar and a dessert bar. The smaller outlying posts have nothing of the sort.

“We receive T-Ration meals twice a day, one for breakfast and one for dinner,” said Berry. “For lunch, we have Meals, Ready-to-Eat, or make what we can out of snacks.”

On rare occasions, the soldiers on FOB Shukvani get a taste of the big FOB life. For example, the nights of “surf ‘n turf,” which is slang for steak and seafood; the shrimp is delivered in a garbage bag. The shrimp is in addition to the four trays of steak and rice that are about as wide as a laptop computer and as thick as a stack of printer paper.

Since the medevac company is split up between three different locations, they receive assistance from their counterparts in Kandahar Airfield or Dwyer to bring out needed supplies, parts and food via.

“One of the things that help keep us going out here are the care packages from home,” said Flett. “We get mail about once a week. My husband and I are both deployed out here. Since we are located at different FOBs, we send each other care packages containing movies we watched with letters. It gives us something else to talk about out here other than work.”

With every installation not the same, soldiers must bond together to take care of each other and accomplish the mission.

“We have to do what we can to get by out here,” said Flett. “Being out here makes you grateful to be able to walk to, and buy, the simple things. When we go back home, I won’t take it for granted.”

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Gabe wins

Specialized Search Dog Gabe: Hero Dog Winner

Great news this weekend! Our hero, Specialized Search Dog Gabe, was awarded the title of Hero Dog by the American Humane Association ! This is the first time a military dog has been recognized for this prestigious award.

Congratulations Gabe! Also, a huge congratulations to Gabe’s dad, Chuck Shuck. Chuck has worked tirelessly over the past eight months or so campaigning for Gabe. Chuck committed himself to this exhausting campaign in order to bring recognition to all military dogs. Gabe won $15,000 which will be donated to the United States War Dog Association.

Specialized Search Dog Gabe in HumveeThe association sends care packages and assistance to dog teams deployed.

 During the first stage in the competition Gabe went head to head with other military dogs.  Thankfully Gabe emerged victorious.Then he faced the daunting task of facing off with the winners of seven other categories such as police and therapy dogs.

Gabe had this to say about his victory, “We are speechless right now. We are so honored and humbled. Our charity just won $15,000 and that is so amazing. Thank you GABE NATION and you better believe that was the last thing we said on stage!!!”

All the competitors are heroes in their own right. I salute them all!

Daniel: Emerging Heroes

Holy: Service Dog

Jynx: Law Enforcement Dog

Soot: Search and Rescue Dog

Stella: Therapy Dog

Tabitha: Guide Dog

Tatiana: Hearing Dog

“Last night Gabe won the 2012 American hero dog award and we are so amazed. All 8 finalist were so amazing. We got to honor all fallen MWD’s and handlers on a national stage so it was so worth it,” Sergeant First Class Chuck Shuck.

I’ve written a few posts about Gabe starting way back in March. Hopefully when things settle down I can learn more about Gabe’s adventures and write about them for you!

Military Working Dog Gabe searchingUntil then here are Gabe’s past stories:

Military Working Dog Gabe: The Street Dog Part I

Gabe: Pound Puppy Turned Military Working Dog Part II

Chuck and Gabe: Guns & Cookies in Iraq  Part III 

Once again, congratulation to Gabe, Chuck and all of Gabe Nation. This honor bestowed on Gabe wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Gabe Nation. A win for Gabe is a win for you all. Thank you all for voting and supporting Gabe.Military Working Dog Gabe

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Command Sgt. Maj. David Inglis, 3rd Infantry Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion command sergeant major, wears a protective suit and is attacked by a military working dog during a demonstration of the dogs� abilities at Kandahar Airfield, Sept. 29, 2012. The military working dogs, from 3rd Infantry Division�s K-9 unit, are used for various purposes including sniffing for explosive residue and protect military personnel.

Military Working Dog Video and pictures from Afghanistan!

Command Sgt. Maj. David Inglis, 3rd Infantry Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion command sergeant major, wears a protective suit and is attacked by a military working dog during a demonstration of the dogs abilities at Kandahar Airfield, Sept. 29, 2012.  The military working dogs, from 3rd Infantry Divisionn K-9 unit, are used for various purposes including sniffing for explosive residue and protect military personnel.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjlglbc-WQ0[/youtube] 

This edition features a story about Staff Sergeant David Macdonald, a military dog handler originally from Mobile, Alabama, tells us about the importance of his job. (Produced by Marine Cpl. Liz Cisneros, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.)

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Should You Hire an Editor or Join a Critique Group? (Part II)

So Barbara Longley and I decided to go a second round with our discussion. Should an author work with an editor or a critique group. As you might remember I support going with an editor. My long winded and talented colleague, Barbara Longley is a huge supporter of critique groups.

Honestly I think Barb wanted to go a second round because she couldn’t handle that I was so spot on in that first post!

So here we go….round two….. I’ve got one gloves raised high to protect my face and the other lower……. Barb can’t be trusted to spar cleanly!  

KEVIN: I have a lot to say Barb? Really….Really? You just tripled my word count!

I’m not going to match you though. I don’t feel like I must. Why?…… Because I believe in myself. I don’t need affirmation that I can write. Especially from people who are of equal or lesser positions than me in this publishing world. O wait….. 

Before I forget though I should share the rules of this little spat Barb and I are having.(In my world rules are good.) I’ve laid out my initial position (critique groups are a waste of resources) Then Barb responds. Clearly we don’t agree on this point so further bickering is futile. That piece of the discussion is over and we will throw it at you, the readers, to give us your thoughts.

Then Barb will lay out a second reason of why she supports the use of critique groups.

Of course Barb has broken the rules and laid out two initial positions……..

Editors are writer’s lap dogs. Editors do whatever the writer wants to please him/ her.

Critique groups provide valuable feedback and insight to one’s book.

Wow! Lap dogs huh, Barb. Editors will tell me whatever I want to hear because I am paying them? It is clear to me that you have never met my editor. The dude didn’t say a kind word to me for over five months.

He initially read my novel and then provided me four pages of editorial notes. He gave me four larger tenants and three smaller to fix. He told me and I quote, “There are a lot of things really working for this novel. But you aren’t paying me to tell you what works. So let’s talk about what doesn’t.”

Every phone call, every email and every time he put his nose in my book it became a Hanrahan beat down session. At times I loathed talking with him because I knew what was about to happen.

At one point I said to my wife, “I’m not even sure if this guy sees anything good about the book because all he does is point out flaws.”

I almost had a breakdown when he told me my heroine’s story line needed to be completely reworked. That I wasn’t getting to the core of what she brought to the book. My heroine in Paws on the Ground, Megan Jayburn, is the healer of the novel. She is a veterinarian technician who cares for the military working dogs. She is a nurturing dog whisperer who reveals her inner “badass” when backed into a corner.

Anyway, my editor told me to rework and add content to the first 150 pages of her storyline.  Guess what? It was like a light bulb went off when he told me this. How the heck didn’t I recognize that? Until then her character was not equal in stature to the hero of the novel. Now Megan’s storyline easily rivals the heroes storyline. But I digress……

I finally asked him, “John, do you think this book has legs? I just want to make sure I am not wasting my time. That you think the book has potential.”

He replied, “You already know the answer or you wouldn’t have come to me.”

Then he went right back beating me down. My editor doesn’t give a damn about pleasing me. His only goal is to improve my book.  Why?

His professional reputation is at stake here. He is successful because his authors are successful. We are forever linked. You can’t say that about a critique group. Do they really care about your success or do they care more about their own?

My editor has been in this business for twenty five years. Fifteen of those years were as a book doctor for Penguin. He had edited thousands of novels to include multiple New York Time Best Sellers. You can’t tell me that your critique group’s advice is more valuable than my editor’s. I simply don’t believe it. That is like saying I should listen to a group of business school student rather than Warren Buffett when I am looking for investment advice.

Or so you can better understand let’s talk hair dressers. Do you let your neighbor do your hair or do you go to a professional hairdresser? Why don’t you let your neighbor do your highlights, Barb? I’m sure she will do a great job!

If your book has an issue then my editor has seen it before. If you are stuck somewhere or unsure where to go talk then all I needed was a five minute phone call with my editor. Why? Because my editor knows what he doing.

Working with my editor felt as if I was going through five months of an intensive writing course. My editor is the master and I was the student.

You get what you pay for in the world, Barb. I sought out professional guidance much like you do when it is time for a haircut. Critique groups? Hah! No way……I’ll put my novel in the hands of a professional!

Wowzer! I just rocked that out over a couple cups of coffee. All right…. I am nearing Barb’s word count so I’ll be brief with this next point.

Critique groups lack perspective. My editor read my entire book first. He needed to understand the big picture before he focused on the plot, subplots, structure and prose of the novel. If a critique group reads and provides feedback of one chapter then how can they provide feedback on a novel’s turning points, structure of the scene in regard to its placement in the novel? Your critique group has no clue about the pacing of your novel.

Hay! I just threw down the gauntlet Barb! Please take note….. I was short and concise with my points. Let’s save your long winded conversations for those critique group sessions when you hem and haw about each other’s work….. o… wait…that is a future point I have! 

BARBARA: Whatever. Once our novels are done, we CPs read the entire thing through for all those things you mentioned, plus I have a group of Beta readers who read my books for me as a market test. You don’t think I’m “professional guidance” to my CPs?? Snort. You don’t think they’re “professional guidance” to me? You think they “lack perspective?” Snorting again because you do not know what you’re talking about. By the year 2014, I will have seven books out. I get advances, and I have contracts. That makes me “professional.” If I didn’t get how to write and edit, if I had no perspective, I wouldn’t be published at all. You wanted to take a shortcut. Fine. You wanted to spend mega bucks to get to the same place I’ve gotten on my own with my treasured CPs. Fine. Just don’t malign the “professionals” I work with. Most of my CPs from over the years are successfully published authors with multiple titles to their credit. My neighbors aren’t critiquing my work; professional writers are. Also, you learn a lot about writing through critiquing the work of others. A point I forgot to make previously.

I too have a great deal of confidence in my abilities as a story teller and in my CP’s abilities as well. The difference is: I didn’t pay anyone to help me improve my novels or my craft as a writer. I became a professional through dedication, drive and hard work—along with other writers who are equally dedicated. What you described I also go through with my editor/s, only I have a contract and they pay me to go through the process.

I’m not saying paying an editor is entirely a bad thing. I can see the merit, and a lot of self-published writers would surely benefit. But that’s the difference. If you’re planning to self-publish, then yes. You should hire an editor. A writer can save themselves a lot of embarrassment by doing so, because we all need a fresh set of eyes looking at our work before sending it out into the world. But if you’re on the road to getting published, embrace the process, learn with others along the same road. It’s well worth it.

You know what I think the difference is? Some writers just can’t take criticism from other writers. They just can’t. I’ve tried to work with a few writers like that over the years, and they didn’t last. (Nor are they published to date.) They thought they knew better than the rest of us, and were blind, deaf and dumb to what we had to say because of their defensiveness and/or arrogance. Maybe writers like that need to pay someone in order to be open to the criticism. Some authors just can’t work with critique partners, and that’s OK. Whatever works for you. Go pay someone to tell you the same kinds of things I would if you were my CP. I guess the money makes it more legit for you.

Yeah, we’re not going to come to terms over this issue, Kevin. That’s all right. We’re writers on a journey. We have stories to tell, and it’s an intrinsic imperative that we tell them. However we get to the finish line is good, one way or the other. I’ll do it my way; you’ll do it your way.

In Summary:

Well, I’m going to wrap this up because I know Barb would continue to put me through the wringer if I don’t. Don’t you just love her passion and loyalty to her critique groups? It is clear they have helped her immensely. I’m sure they a very special group of talented authors.  Most of my friends look at me like I am insane when I tell them I’ve written a novel and am 1/3 complete with my second.  So yes, I guess I’m a little jealous.

I have no doubt that the passion and eloquent writing of my colleague, Barbara Longley, radiates though her work. If you are interested in reading more about Barbara’s novel, Heart Of The Druid Laird- Carina Press please head to her website. She also has a new trilogy coming through Montlake Publishing beginning with Far From Perfect releasing October 23rd.

Critique groups or an editor?

Has Barbara swayed me?

Nope.

In my editor I trust.

While I certainly see the value of working with other authors there is no doubt that is has to be the “right” group that you vest your time with. Likewise, if you are planning to spend money on a professional editor then you should be selective and land the “right” editor. 

When it comes down to I think you need to determine what works best for you.

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