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The military service member is on the front lines of history. Whether we are the special operators, aviators, or support crews, our stories are like no others and they need to be told. However, all too often, we allow the civilian journalist to do our reporting for us. In the era of social networking, self-publishing, and online blogging, there is no reason to allow others to interpret our stories.
You may ask yourself, “why is my story special?” I would respond with the obvious statement that, at any given time, you are a member of the mere one percent of the total population that makes up the all-volunteer force, and with a rapid decline of living WW II vets, you are among the steadily shrinking number of Americans who have served at all. Each story is a precious documentary. Some are fortunate (or unfortunate) to be thrust into amazing events such as those in Lone Survivor by US Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, but many publications have been about gut wrenching boredom and lack of action such as Jarhead by US Marine Scout Sniper Anthony Swofford, which detailed concerns of irrelevancy and separation from loved ones that are often left out of many war books. One need not be a scout sniper or SEAL to write a great work as proven by myriad publications about Southeast Asia from the perspective of the average draftee such as If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home by Tim O’Brien.
The idea of writing a book is daunting if you’ve not done it, but the method I used to complete the rough draft of “Notes from Afghanistan,” was to write down 100 words on what happened each day. This doesn’t sound like a lot, and it isn’t. However, when multiplied by the length of a year-long deployment, it grows into 36,500 words, which, is nearly 100 pages of material for a standard book that can be fleshed out into something amazing with the right amount of effort.
The importance of writing each day cannot be over-emphasized. With time, all events become fuzzy, and we have a tendency to editorialize or dramatize events to make them look better or worse depending on our attitudes. With the technique of 100 words a day, we need take only a few moments to chronicle the who-what-where of our day, and we can leave the introspection of how and why for a later time.
This is an example of 100 words:
“I got up at 0400 today to the sound of a low flying jet. This was the third day in a row I’ve been woken up prematurely. I went to the gym for an hour of weightlifting before eating and prepping my kit for an uneventful patrol. Some locals gave us intel on the location of a weapons cache in the area that we will report later on. I was able to get online today and call my wife on Skype. She is having difficulty in getting my W-2 for taxes, but there isn’t anything I can do right now.”
While not Shakespeare, this provides the basis for elaboration later on when there is time for reflection. When you write every day of being woken up early, it will begin to form a pattern that indicates frustration with the poor sleep schedule. The daily activities of weight lifting and chow stand alone, but if the intelligence on the weapons cache turns out to be valid, then you now have the ability to connect the dots between two events that might not be remembered a year from now. Every one of us has dealt with the stress of trying to manage events back home that are largely irrelevant in the moment but important to those we have left behind.
Nothing I write is meant to suggest that every single service member will write the next Jarhead, but even if you never publish a sentence of your work, you leave behind a legacy for those that come after you. Your story begins now. Don’t wait until you are in the middle of something to begin furiously scribbling down the half-remembered details. Don’t wait until your kids start asking you about your time in Afghanistan or Iraq 20 years from now. Some of the memories you will never forget, but a lot of them you will.
“Notes from Afghanistan” by Steven Specht is available on iTunes and Amazon at: