Great Read for Veteran’s Day

If you’re looking for a good read about the Iraq war, and the life of a veteran in general on or near vet’s day, I highly recommend reading my book called Quest For War, and One Green Beret’s Subsequent Evolution. It is about Special Forces at war, and post traumatic success. here is a synopsis and a description of why I wrote it.

About two years ago, I started to notice that when I introduced myself in meetings to the other people sitting around the board room table, everyone usually thought the brief description of my life story that I provided was interesting (to my surprise, many thought it was awesome). I’m a CTO of a great company right now, but about 13 years ago I was someone totally different; I was an Army Green Beret weapons specialist, and an Infantryman before that. Before being graciously asked to be the CTO of PlanetRisk, I was a Director at DigitalGlobe. Before DigitalGlobe, I was a Lead Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, all extremely techy companies. How did I go from gunslinger to technology leader?

Back in 1996, way before all these post-war, post-military tech jobs, I was a new Special Operator, fresh out of the Infantry, dying to ship out to war somewhere, like a football player dreaming of the super bowl. I did two tours in post-war Bosnia as what was called the Joint Commissioned Observer mission, which means I continuously met with the awesome people of Bosnia to figure out what was going on and report “situational awareness.” After that I pulled a tour in Kosovo, where I did joint patrolling on the border to Serbia alongside Russian Spetznatz, and won an award for valor. After Kosovo, on the invasion of Iraq, I was part of what is called “Advanced Force Operations” in Northern Iraq, then I fought alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga in one of the biggest Unconventional Warfare operations in history called Operation Viking Hammer. Viking Hammer was epic, I won another award for valor, and I witnessed some of the most hideous, surreal, glory-shattering images of war possible. I then fought the Iraqi Army along the Green Line; a harrowing experience that challenged everything I thought I knew about war, and my quest for it.

After returning from Iraq with some mental issues because of what I saw there, I was reassigned to Ft Bragg and I became a Special Forces Intelligence instructor, where I was told I was going to teach a technology called GIS. At first I assumed GIS must be some kind of weapon, I’m not kidding, then I learned that GIS was an acronym for Geographic Information Systems, and that it did something called analytics. I didn’t know what information was, I didn’t know what a system was, and I didn’t know what geography was in relation to information or systems, and I thought the term analytics had to have been some kind of medical term. This was the moment when I tripped and fell into the technology industry (without knowing what an industry even was). Since I had just learned that war really sucked, and that I actually hated the whole concept of it, and after experiencing my first deliberate right-click on a GIS map (literally, I hadn’t right-clicked before this), I fell in love with the craft of GIS and analytics. I had found a new calling, and I started going to college at the same time because my wife told me I really needed some education. While getting educated, I became completely obsessed with philosophy, GIS, and technology in general, and within the course of about two years, my English Lit degree at NYIT and tech OJT turned me into a philosopher, and a significant slinger of SQL and VB code. In fact, code and intellectualism was the only thing that effectively kept my mind off the recurring horrors of war that I was having a hard time getting over. I pulled all-nighters two or three times a week to get through school and I absorbed everything I could about literature, philosophy, code, geography, analytics, data, databases, etc; I did this all from complete intellectual scratch using simple, sheer determination.

After being an instructor, my evolution continued when I was reassigned to USSOCOM to run a team of software engineers and geospatial analysts, and my tech competency became turbo charged, so I started a masters in Software Engineering at Regis University. I was the lead developer of a system that processed millions of documents, worked on NLP technology to make sense of them all, and did all kinds of awesomeness using Java,, SQl, Python etc. When I finally retired as an E8 in 2011 I could code fluently in C#, Java, four dialects of SQL, Python, etc, and I rolled right into Booz and took over a massive Oracle implementation, dove into the whole Hadoop big data open source world and data science while learning how to be a civilian. Soon thereafter, I actually became an Apache Software Foundation coder on OpenNLP, and now I’m a member as well. I moved on to becoming a Director at DigitalGlobe where I worked on Vector aspects of Geospatial Big Data, as well as some fascinating image mining machine learning (and I absorbed a massive amount of intelligence from all the insanely smart people who work there). Now I’m the CTO of PlanetRisk, and I will never stop slinging code with my team. I truly went from knuckle-dragging gunslinger to programming freak and technical leader over the course of about 13 years of passionate self awareness, humility, and deliberate learning.

Anyway, I decided to write a serious book about it (way more serious than this post), and I named the book “Quest for War, and One Green Beret’s Subsequent Evolution,” it’s available on Amazon right now, and here’s why I wrote it:

·       I just want my daughter and grandkids to know what I did, the horrors I saw, and how I overcame it all. I thought it might help explain to them why I’m so weird.

·       I like to think I’m proof that humans are capable of self propelled massive changes for the better, so I think my story will inspire someone…one single person inspired would make my two years of writing worth it

·       I wanted to convey the seemingly imperceptible magnitude of war to everyone, to make it accessible. You don’t have to be a veteran to feel the gravity of it with my book. I just wanted to educate people on the horrors, paradoxes, and stupidity of it. My book has epic war imagery and a lot of deep contemplation on the philosophy of war.

·       I wanted to illustrate the power of education and compassion and motivation, because those things fueled my positive change.

·       I wanted to educate people about military life, philosophy of war and strategy (or lack of strategy), and PTSD, and I needed to get some stuff off my chest. I dedicated an entire section to philosophical introspection about it all, which I am sure some people will find enlightening, or possibly controversial.

Some have said that War cannot be conveyed effectively in literature. I think it depends on how we define the word “effectively.” In most cases I think war veteran authors expect their writing to convey their own hellish memories with the same clarity and intensity that they still see in their minds eye. This is an impossible expectation, and I think these authors are missing the point when they abandon their work. They fail to realize that what they’ve written is better than nothing, and although lacking in proper magnitude to them, their words may project shocking revelations to the layman. Authors of war must always keep trying, despite an inevitable and continuous failure to transmit war’s full gravity, with the simple hope that maybe humanity will listen, and realize the magnitude of war’s unnaturalness, and plain absurdity.

Moreover, technology has given us the ability to assemble a war narrative of unprecedented scale. All veterans of all wars from all countries should write down what happened to them; their individual view of it all. Be it sloppy, inadequate, and generally unkempt, or eloquent and epic, we can now amass a collection of inglorious war stories that in aggregate could posture an unprecedented influence over future leaders.


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