Monday, March 01, 2010

Speaking of The Hurt Locker...

Author Mark Monday recently sent this email to members of the National Press Club's Book & Author committee, about his work on an "Ambush Field Manual" for the US Military, available to the American public from under the title Killing Zone: A Professional’s Guide To Preparing Or Preventing Ambushes:
Being a writer you may appreciate the thrill of penning some scribblings that can potentially save the lives of our soldiers. Pardon my post, but now that I am effectively out of journalism there are few people, other than those of you with me on the Book and Author Committee at the National Press Club, with whom I can share my euphoria. Few people, usually only other writers, fully understand the experience of writing.

Although most American troops killed in the decades from Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq have died in ambushes of one kind or another, including explosive IED ambushes, the U.S. military has not published an ambush field manual since the 1950s. Troops had to find mentions of ambushes in other manuals, five pages here, three pages there and perhaps two pages somewhere else. In 1994 Gary Stubblefield, a former Navy SEAL commander, and I tried to fill the gap. A publisher friend agreed to put the book on his list. Our book, Killing Zone, provided extensive basic instruction in the area. The book was never designed to be on the New York Times bestseller list; it certainly met its design. But we found out later to our satisfaction, that Killing Zone was being used by U.S. military instructors as a supplementary text when training troops. LTC Joshua Potter, a Green Beret now on his fourth tour of duty in Iraq, was one of the Special Forces members trained using Killing Zone. Josh and I met in 2008 at a government conference on complex operations. A year ago he told me had been trained with Killing Zone and had used the knowledge successfully in the war zone. But, he cautioned, much of it was outdated by new equipment and techniques. He was thinking of handing out a sheaf of update papers along with the book when teaching his own troops. I suggested we ask the publisher to allow us to revise the book—if Josh would lead the effort. Josh agreed. The publisher agreed. Over the last year LTC Potter and I have been reviewing and revising the original version to create a book that you, and most Americans, will never have any interest in reading. That revision, Ambush! was formally published this week.

There is a corollary to this: Shortly before LTC Potter revised the book, writers whom I had worked with—writers doing a manual for Navy SEALs—phoned to ask if they could include parts of Killing Zone in the new manual they were writing. Since the original idea of Killing Zone was to help our service personnel I immediately gave permission. But I was curious to see what part they found useful enough to plug into their manual. I asked. The reply was “we can’t tell you what we want to use. It’s classified.” But both Killing Zone and Ambush! are easily accessible by troops, unlike the SEAL manual.

As Richard Danzig, the former Secretary of the Navy and an advisor to the Obama campaign, wrote in his foreword to the new version – Ambush! – “For those who are smart enough not just to read it, but to study and apply it, this manual will save lives.”

Of all the words I’ve ever penned, the ones in this book probably have the best potential of saving lives of our Soldiers. I cannot think of a higher compliment to LTC Potter’s work, his dedication to protecting his troops by educating them about the most prevalent enemy tactic, or his efforts to improve their own offensive operations than Secretary Danzig’s words: “this manual will save lives.” I’m thrilled to have a small part in this project.

Mark Monday