Fellow veteran and author Jack Murphy just released his second novel, Target Deck. If you haven’t read any of Jack’s stuff yet, trust me, it’s good. I’ll try to get a review of the first book, Reflexive Fire, up soon, followed by a review of this new one. In the meantime, head over to Amazon and pick up a copy.
Since I’m reading through the rough draft of Henry Brown’s next book (It’s good), I thought I’d go back and review his first, Hell and Gone.
Hell and Gone is set just before the opening of Operation Iraqi Freedom, in 2003. The CIA has gotten wind of one of the suitcase nukes that Aleksandr Lebed warned about in the ’90s. It’s in AQ hands, in Sudan. Commander “Rocco” Cavarra, a former SEAL, is hired to head a team of soldiers-for-hire to go in and secure the warhead.
The team is a Dirty Dozen/band of misfits crew. There are some serious personality clashes that ring true to an ad hoc unit thrown together at the last minute.
On the book’s website, Hank compares the book to “The Expendables.” I’d argue that it’s better. The scenario is certainly better thought-out, and involves real-world factions, including the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the Sudanese Janjaweed militias. The characters also have more in common with real-world veterans than Hollywood stereotypes of mercenaries.
The action is well thought-out and engaging. The final few chapters are well worth the build up, and will keep you flipping pages. The prose does have a few rough edges, but they are more than made up for in the quality of the tale.
Overall, an excellent entry in the genre, and well worth the read.
I don’t know who came up with this, or why so many officers and NCOs seem to think it’s gospel, but this is a concept that has to go away.
The idea of the “combat BZO,” and I’ll get into BZO (battle-sight zero) in a minute, is that in order to have your weapon properly zeroed for combat, you have to zero it while wearing all your kit, because somehow the kit on your chest and head changes the impact of the round.
Anyone with the slightest grasp of basic mechanics should see in a matter of moments how wrong this is. The zero is a mechanical relationship between the alignment of the sights and the barrel. Nothing more, nothing less. If your weapon is properly zeroed, then correct sight alignment, sight picture, breathing, and trigger control will cause the round to impact where it is aimed. That is all. If you are off because you’re wearing your kit, it has nothing to do with your gear, it just means that your gear isn’t set up correctly for you to get proper sight alignment, in which case you need to fix your kit. The whole concept of “battle-sight zero” being somehow different from a strict zero is equally flawed. A zero is a zero. Either the sights are properly calibrated to the track of the bullet, or they aren’t.
The only thing trying to zero in armor, ammo, water, and helmet ultimately does, is create enough discomfort that it becomes more difficult to group well enough for a solid zero. The end result often turns out to be a “good enough” zero, which might be in the ballpark, but isn’t really on.
Unfortunately, what should take only a few moments of thought and common sense seems to elude a lot of people, and often those with the rank and experience that they should know better. I’m not sure where it comes from, though I suspect it has something to do with following procedures rather than really getting to know your tools.
A carpenter knows his tools. An electrician knows his tools. A shooter should know his tools at least as well, certainly understanding how they function at a level higher than “pull the trigger and it goes bang.” Simple, easy-to-acquire knowledge, not to mention a handful of seconds to think, would make this disappear, and get back a lot of wasted time and ammunition.
First off, I’ve already said my piece on CT elsewhere, so I’ll leave that alone. I want to keep this blog about military fiction and related subjects.
So, while I might be a little behind the power curve compared to some, I finally finished Black Powder, Red Earth, a graphic novel series by Jon Chang, Kane Smith, and Josh Taylor, set in what used to be Iraq in 2019. The series is four volumes, and the latest one just came out in October. Finances being what they are, I just got it this month.
I’m not a huge comic book guy, but this series drew me in. The protagonists are ex-JSOC shooters with a PMC called Cold Harbor, which is working for, among others, Ayatollah Sistani in Basran, the Shi’a majority state that formed in south-eastern Iraq. Their primary missions revolve around foiling an Iranian push to take over Basran as a staging point to go to war with Saudi Arabia.
The pacing steadily picks up over the four volumes; the first includes a lot of meetings and making contacts, then the bloodletting steadily ramps up until the fourth volume is pretty much all running and gunning over a single night. The dialog is believable, especially if you’ve been around any SOF types at all. The scenario is even more so.
There are some definite resemblances between this story and the upcoming sequel to Task Force Desperate, tentatively titled Alone and Unafraid. That might be part of why I like it, but its authenticity is definitely a draw.
Since it’s a graphic novel, I should mention the art. Anybody who’s been to the sandbox will recognize the setting. They got the look of Iraq down. The violence is graphic, and well portrayed.
Even if you’re not into comics, I’d recommend this one, purely as a military thriller, and a plausible look at what might be in the future for Iraq.
Jack Badelaire has posted a review of TFD on the Post Modern Pulp Blog. High praise from Jack, I’m a little humbled.
I got the idea to write this article when I read Nate Morrison’s piece on “Has Gear Evolved? Or Did It Just Change?” ( http://morrison-industries.com/blogs/news/6944242-has-gear-evolved-or-did-it-just-change ) He made some very good points that I grumbled about for the better part of six years in the Marine Recon community, especially involving the impact of kit on combat performance.
I didn’t go into a great deal of detail on individual kit in Task Force Desperate, aside from guns and optics, largely because it would have been tedious. In an outfit like Praetorian, no two operators would likely have the exact same gear, so describing everybody’s different vests and chest rigs would have eaten up page space. So I left it be.
In the real world, however, gear can have a huge impact. That impact can, under certain circumstances, mean life and death.
My first deployment I didn’t do a lot as far as gear went. I tried a few different configurations during the workup, but I was woefully inexperienced, and largely ended up going with something as close as possible to my Team Leader’s kit. We all did. We didn’t have a lot more than regular grunts did at that point.
The next time around, we started off with the issue FSBE kit, but as we’d all had issues with its bulk, as soon as we got to Iraq, we visited the tailor’s shop on Camp Fallujah and had pouches sewed on the Second Chance vests, to hold plates. We now had all of our required armor in a much more streamlined package than the FSBE carrier.
This meant we had to use either chest rigs or vests to carry our ammo, comm, water, med gear, etc. There was as wide a variety as there were Recon Marines in the platoon. I took to using a BDS patrol vest over my armor. I still have it, it’s in the cover photo above. It’s a great piece of kit, for a long-distance patrol with a ruck and no armor.
The problem was, over body armor it became too bulky. It was a constant pain to climb in and out of the Humvee turret, or any other opening. It had become what I began calling “The Fat Boy School of Combat Equipment.”
I started to try to figure out what I could do to streamline things with the extra gear I’d taken. The end result was a gunbelt with six mags, three 40mm grenades, one frag, one smoke, MBITR, medical pouch, “possibles” pouch, and drop bag. I used tubular nylon and dental floss to make suspenders. When I was finished, my platoon sergeant looked at me with a grin, and said, “We’ve got all this space-age gear, and Pete goes back to 1960.”
But the fact was it worked. It was light, streamlined, and didn’t hinder my movement at all. I could carry everything I needed, with far less bulk. Several other Marines voiced jealousy that I could move as easily as I could in that rig. Unfortunately, looking through my deployment photos, I don’t have any of that setup.
The following platoon was not nearly as open-minded. Platoon SOP was established for what would be carried and how. I had to ditch my belt rig for first a Rhodesian chest rig, then, when we actually deployed to Afghanistan, the issued Scalable Plate Carrier.
It was there that I really observed the impact of gear that wasn’t just heavy, but bulky. I thank God that we didn’t take contact during some of those foot movements in rural Helmand, with all of our kit on, as the combination of my pack straps and my plate carrier was actually cutting off the circulation in my arms. Some companies have come up with innovative solutions to this, such as the Mystery Ranch pack cinch. However, it wasn’t a solution we had available at the time.
I could go into the ordered dropping of on-kit magazines to five, while keeping the side-SAPI plates in place, but the rant about firepower vs. armor will have to wait for another day.
There is a tendency on both ends of the spectrum to select and set up gear based on appearance. The inexperienced soldier or Marine wants to set up his kit so it “looks cool,” but the higher command is often guilty of the same sin, wanting all their troops to look uniform and squared-away. Neither attitude has any place in a combat situation.
When setting up your kit, practicality and common sense have to prevail. “What do I need, and how can I carry it with as little bulk and weight as possible, while making sure everything is also accessible without taking the gear off?” That’s all there is to it. Not only does a lack of mobility, brought on by both bulk and weight, put you at a disadvantage in a fight, it also wears on you physically, no matter how fit you are. The faster you get worn down, the sooner you start to go into survival mode, and you start to miss details.
And the devil, as they say, is in the details. They can mean the difference between coming home with everybody intact, and having funerals to attend.
So, Jack Silkstone, author of the PRIMAL Unleashed series, has put a review up on amazon, and he liked the book. http://www.amazon.com/review/RJOOS34UQ06GB/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00A0OJP7A&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=133140011&store=digital-text
The PRIMAL series was one of the first of the “new wave” of military fiction that I picked up, after Jack Murphy‘s Reflexive Fire. It’s good stuff, fast-paced and well thought-out.