The View From the Deck Plate
A few years ago, a retired literary agent and long-time friend of mine made a rather interesting comment about my naval warfare books. He remarked that I was rapidly becoming the first military techno-thriller author in history to build a successful career out of writing anti-war novels. Before I could respond, he went on to compliment me for weaving the anti-war message into my stories so subtly that no one had ever caught me in the act.
I honestly didn’t know how to respond. I’ll admit that I’ve explored certain themes in my writing. For instance, Sea of Shadows explores what might happen if an unprepared president takes military advice from his political cronies, while ignoring the counsel of the people who are actually qualified to guide him. The book also examines the dangers of becoming a slave to established doctrine in situations where it clearly doesn’t apply.
In my opinion, both of those concepts are worthy of discussion in real life, and they happen to double nicely as complicating factors in the story. But I wouldn’t consider them messages. In fact, I don’t consider them messages. I’ve never intentionally set out to imbed messages in my stories. I write thriller novels. My job is to entertain readers. Period. Not to educate them. Not to influence their opinions. Not even to broaden their horizons. If I can keep readers turning the pages and smiling, I’ve accomplished my entire mission.
So I was surprised (and frankly a bit upset) when this wise and trusted literary guru congratulated me for the clever subversiveness of my anti-war message. I asked him to explain. He did…
“You’re writing combat action thrillers,” he said, “but your stories are never about crushing the enemy. In your books, the U.S. military units fight until their objectives are satisfied, and then stop. The Soldiers and Sailors don’t wave the banners of victory and proclaim American supremacy. They do their jobs as quickly as possible, and then they go home. No fanfare. No parades. No grandstanding about the glory of war, or moralizing about how the bad guys had it coming.”
Listening to my friend speak, I started to get a glimmer of where he was coming from. Most of what he was saying was true, but I don’t think any of that qualifies as a secret message. It’s more like my basic view of military action, formed over many years of life in uniform.
War sucks. So does open heart surgery, and so does chemotherapy. Military intervention is never a good answer. But sometimes—for all of the attendant horror and suffering—it ends up being the best of all the bad options available. When that happens, like cardiac surgery or chemo, your best course of action is to get it over with as skillfully and quickly as you possibly can.
If you know anything at all about me, you’ve probably realized that I spend a lot of time talking about the nature of heroism. I keep coming back to this topic because I think it’s vitally important. Our very way of life depends upon people who are willing to face risk and bear the sacrifices required to keep our nation safe.
I recently came across a book that explores heroism from an angle which is too often overlooked. Heart of a Military Woman by Sheryl L. Roush and Eldonna Lewis Fernandez is a collection of stories, poems, musings, and sayings, by and about military women. Sometimes funny, sometimes profound, and sometimes heart wrenching, these are the thoughts and experiences of our women in uniform.
Sheryl Roush has kindly agreed to let me reprint one of the stories here…
The Price to Pay
I am a mother, wife, nurse, and an Army Master Sergeant. In February 2003, as a Reservist, I was mobilized to serve my country when my daughter was only three years old. If I had to think of the hardest event in my life, it would have to be the day I left. The front page of the Dallas Morning News said it all in a picture. It showed my daughter being ripped from my arms as I boarded the bus to leave. I have a love for my country and if everyone said, “Military life is not for me,” there would be no one to keep us safe at home. That heartache you never really get over it – and your child never forgets it.
It became a way of life for my daughter to have her mother leave. At age five, In December 2004, I was mobilized again. The sadness I felt was relived all over again. This time my daughter was more understanding. In her Kindergarten class she would say, “My mom is serving her country so we can live here free.” I do not know if she truly understood what she was saying, because it was so far beyond her years. But living the life as a military child teaches our children values others never really achieve.
I trained soldier medics, who were on their way to Iraq, the skills they must possess to stay alive and help others who were in need of medical help on the battlefield. The pride I felt – and still feel – to get an email back saying lives were saved from what I taught is beyond words.
As a woman and mother of three, I have a fear after 15 years of serving my country, I will get that call again. But it is a price I must pay to make sure my children will have a safe place in which to grow old.
—Angela Perez, Master Sergeant, USAR
I don’t know about you, but that short little piece speaks to me as a parent, as an old ex-warrior, and as an American.
Valentine’s Day is nearly here, and I’m willing to bet that three-quarters of the gifts exchanged in this country will fall into the same tired categories. (Chocolates, flowers, jewelry…) Do something different this year. Share this book with the person who shares your heart.
Before you know it, the last of the sweets will be gone and the roses will all have wilted, but these stories of love and heroism will remain in your minds and hearts. Click here to order your copy. You won’t find a more lasting gift than that.
A few days ago, I had the pleasure of attending a Surface Warrior Join-Up, hosted by the San Diego chapter of the Surface Navy Association, in partnership with the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens. In the spirit of full-disclosure, I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the event. I held membership in the SNA for a couple of years in the late 90s, and it struck me as a rather stolid organization. I agreed with the mission and recognized the good intentions, but the entire thing seemed to lack the sort of energy that made me want to get involved.
I rejoined the Surface Navy Association a little over a year ago, in the hopes that things might have changed in the years since my previous experience. I signed up, paid my annual dues, and then proceeded to ignore my new affiliation the way that most people ignore gym memberships. (Big plans, but no actual follow-through.) Probably, I had subconscious assumptions that I’d be letting myself in for the kind of disappointment I’d felt the first time around.
So I nearly ignored the invitation to the Surface Warrior Join-Up when it appeared in my email. But then I thought, what the hell? They’re holding the event at a very cool pizza restaurant/nightspot, and there will be free appetizers. How bad could it possibly be?
That turned out to be the wrong question. I should have been asking, ‘How good could it possibly be?’ Because it was amazing.
I walked in the door expecting a sedate group of old-timers (like your faithful blogger here), swapping sea stories about the good old days, and grumbling about the directions being taken by the “new” Navy. Instead, I found myself in a crossfire of enthusiasm and information exchange. The energy in that place was palpable. The pool table went untouched the entire time I was there, and I rarely saw anyone standing at the bar. The men and women in that room were too busy mixing around and connecting with their fellow Surface Warriors. They weren’t swapping predictions about the Super Bowl, or grousing about their chains of command. They were trading ideas, lessons learned, and plans for improving their divisions, departments, and ships.
In the space of my first half hour I got in on a great conversation with some officers from LSC Squadron One about the conversion of future Littoral Combat Ships to Frigates, with some fascinating thoughts about what needs to happen in terms of design changes and mission planning. Ten minutes later, I got drawn into an exchange about how Merchant Marine ships fit into Surface Warfare strategy—what the Navy’s doing now; what the Navy used to do in World War II; and what the Navy should do in the future.
If that doesn’t sound exciting, you’ve never been around Surface Warriors when they get fired up. I heard the gamut, from funny, to thought-provoking, to head-shaking, to appalling, to positively brilliant. And all of it was geared toward making the Surface Navy into a more capable and resilient force.
The whole night was like that. I’ve been to full-blown parties that weren’t nearly as much fun, but despite the air of enjoyment, it wasn’t just an entertaining evening. It was vision, and improvement, and change. In other words, it was everything I’d been hoping for way back in the 90s.
It was a gathering of heroes… The Surface Warriors of the United States Navy. And I was honored to be in their presence.
A few days ago, a reader dug up an old entry from my Sea Story archives, and wrote a nice comment about some hijinks from his own Navy days. In the process of replying to his comment, I looked over my old story and found myself chuckling a couple of times.
Not hysterically funny, but smile-worthy. That’s all the excuse I needed to polish up the story and share it here.
Duck-Nappers At Large…
About halfway through a Westpac deployment, AJ, one of the guys in my division, received a care package from home. In addition to the usual assortment of snacks, family snapshots, and miss-you notes, it contained a stuffed duck. (The cute and cuddly toy animal kind, not the taxidermy kind.) The Sonar Gang aboard USS Towers was known for having a twisted sense of humor, so AJ wisely decided to hide his fluffy buddy from the rest of us, to protect it from horrible pranks. Despite his best efforts, it was only a matter of time until the little quacker was duck-napped.
I won’t say that I was in on the snatch, but I will admit to being a co-conspirator. Once we had possession of the duck, we decided to hold it for ransom. AJ had a stash of Australian candy bars in his locker, and we hoped to ransom the duck for some Polly Waffles. Foolproof, right? That’s what we thought.
Our brilliant plan quickly ran into a snag. Word of the duck-napping had gotten around, and AJ began receiving anonymous notes from several sources—all claiming to have custody of the missing duck.
We realized that, tf we were going to cash in, we would need proof that we were the real duck-nappers. We figured we’d take a photo of the duck and attach it to a ransom note made from letters cut out of magazines; just like in the movies. Unfortunately, digital cameras hadn’t been invented yet, and we couldn’t find anyone aboard with a Polaroid. After several hours of fruitless searching, I got a brilliant idea… If we couldn’t photograph the duck, we could Xerox it.
As the originator of this brainstorm, I was elected to do the dirty deed. A buddy let me into the Administration Office after hours. Safely inside with the door closed, I shoved the duck under the lid of the copier and began trying to get a good copy of it. The bulk of the stuffed toy made it impossible to get the lid lowered properly, so too much light kept getting in and washing out the image. We flipped off the light switch and were happily Xeroxing the duck in the dark, when the door opened and the lights came on.
It was the Executive Officer, dropping by to pick up some paperwork. He looked at me. Then he looked at the duck squashed into the copier. Then he looked at the stack of duck images in the out-tray of the machine.
He stood there for about ten seconds, then he gave a heavy sigh and turned the light switch back off. Standing there in the dark, my face illuminated only by the shuttling green glow of the copier light, I didn’t know whether to laugh it off or try to explain. I expected the XO to leave, but he just stood there, silhouetted in the doorway.
Finally, he shook his head and spoke softly. “I’ve got a leak in One-Alpha Oil Purifier. I’ve got two idiots who missed ship’s movement. I’ve got a stack of overdue reports on my desk, and a Second Class Electrician’s Mate who likes to dress in women’s clothing every time we pull into a foreign port. Now, I’ve got perverts Xeroxing farm animals in the dark. Why did I ever agree to take this job?”
He closed the door and walked away.
Jeff Edwards is back, with twice the action! Twice the excitement! Twice the suspense! And more cute little umbrellas than ever before…
(Please disregard everything in the previous paragraph, except for the part about cute little umbrellas.)
It’s true that my latest book is hitting the shelves just in time for Christmas, but it’s not exactly your typical Jeff Edwards adventure novel. The Lonely Little Bumbershoot is a children’s story, co-written with my wife Brenda, and beautifully illustrated by the amazingly talented Brise Birdsong.
If you’re looking for cutting-edge naval combat action or a dystopian future detective thriller, this ain’t it. But if you’re interested in a heartwarming family-friendly tale about love, loss, and the journey toward a new life—this just might be the book for you.
We hope The Lonely Little Bumbershoot will bring a tear to your eye, and a smile to your lips. (It still gets us every time, and we’ve lost count of how often we’ve read it.)
Wishing you all the blessings of a joyous Christmas, and a happy and prosperous New Year.