My series of articles called Writing Soldiers are specifically written to help writers create more realistic military characters. These posts include, among other things, information on rank, uniforms, tactics, relationships, and other military environmental themes that are constantly confused or misunderstood in the movies, on television, or in books.
I think there are a lot of misconceptions about Soldiers in the United States and around the world. This is apparent to me every day by the types of questions I get asked, but three specific incidents really hammered this point home to me.
The first incident happened to me in the late 1990s, I was driving a Hum Ver (Hummer) from NC to VA for a training exercise, I was one of a number of vehicles in a convoy, we were all in uniform and we stopped at a rest stop. Sitting in the grass eating a picnic was a young 20 something couple, looked a little hippie, and the girl approached me and asked, “So, this is a hummer.” I replied, “Yes it is.” Then she said, “And it’s bulletproof?” I was standing next to a hummer with a plastic roof.
This was before 9/11, before bulletproof hummers were a real thing. Up until this point in my life, I had never seen a bulletproof hummer, I didn’t even know if they existed. And I had no idea where she got the idea that it would be bulletproof. Though, it was obvious to me from the plastic doors and roof, that this particular hummer was definitely not bulletproof.
It’s interesting that one of the serious problems at the beginning of the Afghan and Iraq wars was the lack of bulletproof hummers (little known/ remembered fact – which is why I want to write this blog).
I once read an interview of Lee Childs, author of the Jack Reacher novels. They are great action novels, and everyone loves them and the movies starring Tom Cruise. But when I read the first book and an article, I was blown away about how much the Mr. Childs didn’t know about the US Army.
In his first Jack Reacher Novel, Killing Floor, from 1997, he explains his view of Army Military Police, Jack Reacher’s profession, and why Reacher is such a badass:
“A military policeman deals with military lawbreakers. Those lawbreakers are service guys. Highly trained in weapons, sabotage, unarmed combat. Rangers, Green Berets, marines. Not just killers. Trained killers. Extremely well trained, at huge public expense. So the military policeman is trained even better. Better with weapons. Better unarmed.”
Totally false. I think the Army MPs would be the first to admit this. Green Berets and Rangers are super well trained in hand to hand combat and weapons, MPs are more trained in police procedures but any additional training beside periodic range training is all on their own. As a former Ranger and Green Beret, I was on the range sometimes 30 days a month, and learned how to use more than 20 types of guns. We have our own hand to hand instructors and training area. Tim Kennedy is a green beret, a UFC fighter, and formally won the service-wide combatives (Hand to hand) tournament three years in a row.
I also read an article where Mr. Childs discussed how he came up with his character. He said he wanted to make him an officer which would explain why he didn’t wash his clothes and bought new ones all the time, because as an officer jack Reacher was accustomed to having he enlisted men wash his clothes. I’m not sure if that is true in the British Army, but it is definitely not true in the U.S. Army.
He did get some things right. About a newly separated military man being sort of a loner and wanderer. He also said later that in retrospect, he would have made Jack Reacher a senior enlisted man instead of an officer, as that was more accurate with reference to Reacher’s experience and skills.
Sometime in late 2009 or so I was asked to pre-read a play that had a military theme. The playwright had a couple misconceptions that I tried to correct and which he fought me on and finished by saying I didn’t know what I was talking about. One was he wanted to set his play during the Iraq War in 2002, to which I said we didn’t invade Iraq till 2003. So he said, that’s alright, I’ll change the setting to Afghanistan. His plot mainly dealt with tanks, and I told him we didn’t use tanks in the war in Afghanistan. He didn’t believe me. He also had a major scene taking place off base where all his main characters were drinking beer in a bar while wearing their uniforms. I told them that no one does that and once again he insisted I was wrong.
I could go on, as he was wrong on a number of other details too.
We decided to agree to disagree. he didn’t even pay me or thank me for the time I invested in his project. My cousin later told me that he went on with the play, but he did a pre-showing and a couple ex-military in the audience called him out, and eventually they dropped the whole idea.
But that whole experience just justifies my reasoning for writing this blog, the misunderstanding of life in the military.
Let me know if there are any military themes or topics that you are writing about, I’d be glad to assist!
If you want to see more applications of the Story Grid methodology, below are links to my analysis of various novels and television shows in blog posts and podcasts:
Story Grid Showrunners Podcast – Parul, Melanie, and I analyze hit TV series using the Story Grid methodology.
My blog posts analyzing other Television series – my person take using the Story grid 5 Commandments to look at my favorite TV series – Jack Ryan, Batgirl, For All Mankind, Hanna, and more.
Novel analysis – I analyze some of my favorite books using the Story Grid 5 Commandments and 6 core questions – First Blood, Old Man’s War, Waylander, and more to come!