Combat Research and Prose: Where Warriors Write

“PROSE”: “the ordinary language people use in speaking or writing.”   -Merriam Webster

[Rod Carlson was a U.S. Marine helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. In this one-minute clip from the Fordham Veterans Writing Workshop, Mr. Carlson explains that writing has helped him come to terms with a lot of really troubling stuff.”  – writing programs can be found in a lot of places, including on-line. Mr. Carlson does a good job of boiling down what writing’s done for him.]

Please note: this website seeks info re writing opportunities and resources for current and former military, esp. from countries allied with the United States

The list of veteran-welcoming writing opportunities and resources at this new website is top-heavy with U.S. content. I understand from a couple of sources that there’s not much of that sort of thing available in the UK and British Commonwealth countries. If you’re aware of any such information from any genre that might be added to this page, then please share it. Thank you.

Links to writing opportunities, etc. for those who’ve served, appear after 2 short writings, one from each side of the pond (aka Atlantic), and a personal request from Army Staff Sgt Clinton Romesha, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the defense of Combat Outpost Keating.]

Image REDEPLOYMENT by Phil Klay accessed 9 July 2018. National Book Award 225 x 318

Excerpt: Redeployment.

We shot dogs. Not by accident. We did it on purpose, and we called it Operation Scooby. I’m a dog person, so I thought about that a lot.

First time was instinct. I hear O’Leary go, “Jesus,” and there’s a skinny brown dog lapping up blood the same way he’d lap up water from a bowl. It wasn’t American blood, but still, there’s that dog, lapping it up. And that’s the last straw, I guess, and then it’s open season on dogs.

At the time, you don’t think about it. You’re thinking about who’s in that house, what’s he armed with, how’s he gonna kill you, your buddies. You’re going block by block, fighting with rifles good to 550 meters, and you’re killing people at five in a concrete box.

The thinking comes later, when they give you the time. See, it’s not a straight shot back, from war to the Jacksonville mall. When our deployment was up, they put us on TQ, this logistics base out in the desert, let us decompress a bit. I’m not sure what they meant by that. Decompress. We took it to mean jerk off a lot in the showers. Smoke a lot of cigarettes and play a lot of cards. And then they took us to Kuwait and put us on a commercial airliner to go home.

So there you are. You’ve been in a no-shit war zone and then you’re sitting in a plush chair, looking up at a little nozzle shooting air-conditioning, thinking, What the fuck? You’ve got a rifle between your knees, and so does everyone else. Some Marines got M9 pistols, but they take away your bayonets because you aren’t allowed to have knives on an airplane. Even though you’ve showered, you all look grimy and lean. Everybody’s hollow-eyed, and their cammies are beat to shit. And you sit there, and close your eyes, and think.

The problem is, your thoughts don’t come out in any kind of straight order. You don’t think, Oh, I did A, then B, then C, then D. You try to think about home, then you’re in the torture house. You see the body parts in the locker and the retarded guy in the cage. He squawked like a chicken. His head was shrunk down to a coconut. It takes you a while to remember Doc saying they’d shot mercury into his skull, and then it still doesn’t make any sense.

You see the things you saw the times you nearly died. The broken television and the hajji corpse. Eicholtz covered in blood. The lieutenant on the radio.

You see the little girl, the photographs Curtis found in a desk. First had a beautiful Iraqi kid, maybe seven or eight years old, in bare feet and a pretty white dress like it’s First Communion. Next she’s in a red dress, high heels, heavy makeup. Next photo, same dress, but her face is smudged and she’s holding a gun to her head.

I tried to think of other things, like my wife, Cheryl. She’s got pale skin and fine dark hairs on her arms. She’s ashamed of them, but they’re soft. Delicate.

But thinking of Cheryl made me feel guilty, and I’d think about Lance Corporal Hernandez, Corporal Smith, and Eicholtz. We were like brothers, Eicholtz and me. The two of us saved this Marine’s life one time. A few weeks later, Eicholtz is climbing over a wall. Insurgent pops out a window, shoots him in the back when he’s halfway over.

So I’m thinking about that. And I’m seeing the retard, and the girl, and the wall Eicholtz died on. But here’s the thing. I’m thinking a lot, and I mean a lot, about those fucking dogs.

And I’m thinking about my dog. Vicar. . . .

[Re: Redeployment: collection of short stories by a former Marine captain and Iraq veteran focuses on the complexities of life for soldiers on the front lines and after, exploring themes ranging from brutality and faith to guilt and survival.]



Image of Michael J. Whelan courtesy of Michael J. Whelan. Accessed 9 July 2018. crop. 225 x 285HAUNTING FLIGHT

(Irish U.N. post coming under attack,

South Lebanon, c. 1990s)

Vibrating rings expand to edge of cup,

if I close my eyes it will be gone.

The one o fives and one five fives are curving through the night,

my ears pick out the distant crump, crump, crump.


A tank-round bursts the silence,

transforming blast-walls in a multitude of sparkles,

lit up by a million flechettes puncturing concrete slabs.

The dancing shrapnel illuminates our billets to the violent night,

the echoes search, as red flares pop into haunting flight.


Then our radios whine up, their fans belch out a constant drone

of shoot reps and a firing close in response to RPGs,

panicked non-human voices fill the sweating room,

the carnival is back again but much too soon.


My chest rotates in anxious sickening trip,

it’s nights like this I feel that I could quit

the arc of noise and traffic through my sleep.

Michael J. Whelan

(Michael was born in Dublin and in 1990 enlisted in the Irish Defence Forces . . . During his career he served as an infantry soldier, signals operator, aircraft maintenance technician and also as a Peacekeeper with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and with the Peace Enforcement mission in Kosovo (K.FOR).)



Photo accompanying request from one warrior to fellow vets to write. image courtesy Washington Post. accessed 10 July 2018 275 X 203Dear fellow veterans: Tell your war stories

(Clinton Romesha is a former Army staff sergeant and author of “Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor.” He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the defense of Combat Outpost Keating. This excerpt is from Sgt. Romesha’s May 29, 2016 opinion piece in the Washington Post.)

In October 2009, my cavalry troop was preparing to shut down a remote outpost in Afghanistan when we were assaulted by more than 300 Taliban-led insurgents. In violation of the most basic principles of warfare, our base, Combat Outpost Keating, had been built in a valley surrounded by three mountains. It is almost impossible to hold and defend your ground when the enemy is free to shoot from above while observing every move you make.

Within the first hour of the attack, the insurgents had breached our wire, driving most of Keating’s 50 U.S. guardians into our final defensive formation inside a cluster of three hard-shelled buildings, known as the Alamo position.

It was then that five enlisted men volunteered to join me in a counterattack meant to drive the enemy back beyond the wire, rescue missing comrades and retrieve the bodies of our dead.

During the next several hours, we achieved these goals. But by the time the battle was over, we’d lost eight men. Three days later, we were evacuated, and the outpost was leveled by a series of American Hellfire missiles.

As far as the Army was concerned, that was the end of Keating’s story. But the men who fought saw things differently.

How do you consecrate the memory of your fallen when the place where they lost their lives is off-limits, terrain to which you may never return?

Generally, soldiers don’t like to talk about their most painful experiences. Most combat veterans have shorthand, watered-down versions of what happened to us that we recite, politely and dutifully, when asked. The real stories are almost never shared.

For the most part, we prefer to keep those memories safely locked away.

Why? For one, because language is such an imperfect tool. Anyone who has survived combat knows that words are entirely incapable of conveying the horrors of battle. Soldiers assume that any attempt to communicate such truths will merely underscore the futility of trying. This creates its own kind of defeat, another loss to be added to the balance sheet.

I cannot speak for every soldier. But this has been true for me and the men who fought by my side. And something else I know: Our tour in Afghanistan left a hole in all of us — a hole we weren’t able to identify, much less repair, because the Army had done almost nothing to prepare us for it.

We were given exhaustive training for the tasks set before us as soldiers. But when it came to coping with challenges after we came home, we were provided almost no resources.

This may have been the central insight — dimly realized and barely articulated — that led a group of us to conclude that if there were a path forward through the thickets of grief and loss, we would have to create it ourselves.

And that is how we decided we needed to tell our story.

By “our” story, I don’t simply mean what happened at Keating. The most vital component was building a testament to the men who did not come back. Who they were. How they died. And to the extent possible, measuring whether their deaths held meaning, given that their lives were sacrificed for an outpost that probably never should have been built.

[end of excerpt]


Here are just a few of the writing opportunities and writer resources available to those who’ve served. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to investigate each of these to know if a program’s still active or to form an opinion about it. Besides, my being a civilian might keep me from checking it out the same way that you would. Some of these links are to sources that provide their own lists that include writing opportunities. All types of writing can find homes somewhere within this collection of opportunities. But this list is just a start. I hope we can build this thing together. (Here is an alphabetical list of anthologies, contests, and literary journals that are soliciting visual or written work on themes related to military service, or have specifically called for work by military service members, veterans, and/or family members.)   (hyperlinks to some writer programs come with this article)

(re Home and Abroad: ) (O-Dark-Thirty is the literary journal of the Veterans Writing Project)

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a new open-source applied research initiative examining combat and those marked by it

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