Good morning and welcome to Ask A Geek Anything, Issue 13
Welcome back once again to our little spot on the interwebs. Here at AAGA we’ll try to answer anything that won’t get us put up in Pelican Bay. (for those not in the know, that’s the CA ultramax lockup, and all around, a place to be as far away from as you can get) So first up, Curious Writer asks- So I’d like to write about the military, but I never served. What are good resources for research?
Our lovely corespondent Amanda Fuesting answers:
I want to preface this answer with the warning that I have also never served. I did grow up as an Army brat, and so I have quite a bit of experience with servicemen of various branches. Frankly, I don’t think that that someone who has never served can quite capture the feeling that someone who has served does. It’s a matter of having the perspective of experience. There are a lot of good resources though. Talk to veterans about their time in the military. A lot can be gained by letting them tell their stories. Some will be more reluctant to talk than others, but most will appreciate that you want to portray them accurately. Be aware that they swear a lot, even if they are particularly religious, and tend as a whole toward very dark humor. Also keep in mind that you will have to earn their trust. You’ll need to be patient and spend time listening to them.
You can also check out veterans groups on the internet and do a bit of lurking. Pay attention to the language used. This will vary somewhat based on branch, as different branches have different cultures. It will also vary depending on what type of work the person does. Not everyone in the military is a door-kicker. There are a lot of people who work on computers, handle logistics, etc. For every civilian job you can think of, there’s probably a military equivalent. All of these people see different aspects of the military and have a slightly different perspective. It’s also important to talk to people you trust, or someone they know and trust. There’s no shortage of people who have never served and are happy to tell you about their time as a high-speed low drag space shuttle door gunner. In my experience, those with the most combat experience are the last to talk about it to civilians. It’s a hard thing to talk about with people who don’t understand. You will probably want to check the people you’re talking to against other vets to help determine the veracity of their stories.
Things very a lot depending on what era we’re talking about as well. The military of WWII was not the military of Vietnam, which is still different from the military of today. There are vast differences in climates, cultures, leadership, tactics, weapons, hell even language. You will need to fit your research to the era you want to cover. Some of what’s covered here will be helpful, and some may be totally off base depending on what you’re looking for. Most of this is focused on the modern day military.
There are also a number of books written by servicemen, or that are heavily researched. I will give a few examples here (with links), but there are really a ton. Generation Kill (1) was written by a journalist with a Marine platoon. Black Hawk Down (2) is a very well researched account of that event. RedCon1: Memoirs of a Fallujah Marine (3) is the account of a Marine who fought in the battle of Fallujah. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (4) is an account of one company’s experiences during WW2. The author relied heavily on interviews with the survivors. War (5) is written by a war reporter embedded with an Army platoon in Afghanistan. The Good Soldiers (6) is written by a war reporter with soldiers in Iraq. Black Hearts (7) is the account of 502nd Infantry in Iraq, and relies on first person interviews and first hand reporting. Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story Of American Submarine Espionage (8) is an account of submarine espionage during the Cold War. I am also including a link to a basic Amazon search of the Stackpole Military History Series (9), which covers a wide variety of eras and conflicts. Also recommended was the Marine Corps Commandant’s Professional Reading List (10).
In other media, I was recommended the webcomics Air Force Blues (11) and Terminal Lance (12). Air Force Blues is from the perspective of non-pilots in the Air Force. The page is a little weird because the author stopped the webcomic in exchange for syndication from the Air Force Times. Terminal Lance is from the perspective of the infantry. Said friend also recommended Skippy’s List (13) as an example of the idiocy that NCOs and Officers have to deal with daily. He also asked that I include the following information about the list, “It should be noted that the things on Skippy’s List are things that we hated hearing someone did (usually out of sheer idiocy as opposed to boredom, or vice versa), wanted to do at some point, or heard that someone did at some point (whether from the list or otherwise).” Generation Kill on HBO (14) was recommended as a good show with an accurate portrayal of the Marines. Restrepo (15) was recommended as a movie that portrayed the Army accurately. Korengal (16) picks up where Restrepo leaves off.
There are an absolute ton of other sources to look at, but I want to take this opportunity to note that if you ever have the chance to talk to a vet about their time in service, take it. Set aside as much time as they are willing to give you. Treat their stories like gifts and treasure them. Those stories are resources that the world will one day loose forever, and that is truly a shame.
Well, as a 20 year Submarine vet, I’ll weigh in on this too: You’re more likely to get NSTIW Stories (that’s one of those acronyms that we cover, and since I’m using it I’ll cover it now No Shit There I Was… These are often humorous, usually exaggerated stories of something stupid that happened.) than stories about the time they almost died, or thought they were going to. The fact of the mater is, there’s a warrior ethos, usually unspoken, and unwritten, that says you don’t admit to being too scared to piss, even if you were, and you don’t talk about things like that with anyone who hasn’t been there. A couple things to keep in mind, 1) believe it or not, the more outrageous the tale, the more likely it is to be true. My Best NSTIW story (unclassified) is completely unbelievable, except for the minor fact that I’ve got newspaper clippings and shipmates still alive to prove it happened. 2) If you want to hear the real deal, the stuff that violates the unwritten rules, wait until a couple of the guys that have BTDT (Been There, Done That, AKA “‘got the teeshirt, use it to wash my car”, or “got the teeshirt, threw it away” both of these riffs off of the old saying “Been there, done that, got the teeshirt) are starting to get in their cups.
Be quiet. Let them forget that you’re there. Eventually the stories will start to come out. There are things that we don’t talk about because frankly we don’t figure anyone else would understand. Some of them are things that well, we just can’t talk about, because they’re classified. Others are things that are just a little too close to home, or too personal. One of the things we learned on Submarines, and from the guys I know that were in the Teams, and in the Corps it was that way for them too, (side note, Cops are the same way) is you NEVER show weakness. If you show a button, something that can be pushed, the boys will push that sucker until it breaks, or you do. There’s a reason for this, though it’s not often brought up, or formally talked about: If you’re going to break, far better that you break from the boys fucking with you than you break because water is coming in at >800 feet, or the engine room is on fire. But there’s also that desire for, well, call it catharsis, to tell someone else about the stupid shit that about killed your ass. That’s the tales we only tell around the fire late at night, when there’s enough hootch on board to break down the filters, and the walls. If you are ever around to hear those tales, CHANGE THE NAMES, AND CIRCUMSTANCES before writing about it. If you don’t, and it was ME, there isn’t a hole deep enough to hide. Most of my brothers feel the same way. One final note, Technology changes, slang changes, to a certain extent, tactics change. People don’t. If we could find a way to allow a Roman Centurion to talk to a Marine First Shirt from Falluga with a “universal translator” within five minutes they would be brothers, telling each other about the stupid shit the Lieutenant did.
Well, I’m looking at the word count, and I realize that I’m over length already, so that’s all we have time for. Folks, thanks for stopping by, and be nice to the crew, they’re going to be keeping this running while I’m off at Pensic war beating the ass of who ever We (Antir) are fighting against this year.
On one final note, we’re running out of questions folks, help a brotha out?