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Middle School Band Concert
Review: SENATOR'S SON
Nearly 25 years ago, as a freshman college student balancing a science major with the obligatory credits in the Humanities, my English 101 professor introduced me to the concept of “verisimilitude”: the likeness or resemblance of a creative writing effort to reality. While this was a difficult feat for me in my writing assignments, it is something that Luke Larson has effortlessly achieved in his first novel, Senator’s Son.
Luke was a journalism major at a rival PAC-10 school, courtesy of an NROTC scholarship to the University of Arizona, and as a junior officer in the U.S. Marine Corps served two tours in Iraq (both in al Anbar province – first in 2005 during the election of the Iraqi Transitional Government that was to draft a permanent constitution, and again in 2007 during the Iraqi national referendum and the start of General Petraeus’s “Surge”).
Senator’s Son wastes no time hurling the reader into the breech. Written in a tempo prestissimo style, this rapid-fire novel gives you a no-holds-barred perspective of modern counterinsurgency from multiple perspectives: the families at home with a dissociated populace; the wounded warriors battling the demons of recovery, opiate pain-killer addictions and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; the careerist bureaucrats that infiltrate every large organization; and most importantly the junior officers and non-commissioned officers who must make up for “higher’s” planning inadequacies and strategic myopia. Larson’s use of a 2047 scenario in the southwest Pacific, with a lone Senator holding the deciding vote on whether or not to commit U.S. military power abroad, helps to reinforce the strategic consequences our actions today can have on future generations.
Set in 2007 Ar Ramadi, a city of nearly a half-million that serves as the provincial capital of al Anbar province just west of Baghdad, Senator’s Son is the story of the platoons of GOLF Company. GOLF is a Marine company (part of a Marine battalion tied to an Army brigade) responsible for sweeping missions in south Ramadi in the days prior to the 2007 Iraqi national referendum (and a few months prior to “The Surge”). Their early ventures from the “Snake Pit” (a heavily fortified Marine firm base) poignantly demonstrate the complexities of contemporary warfare.
The force protection concerns are palpable – one can almost smell the raw sewage flowing through the ruined streets of a dying city, and feel the peering eyes of snipers tracking you in their sights. Every piece of litter is a potential Improvised Explosive Device, and every sound a threat. And like Mayor Giuliani’s “Broken Windows” theory in late 1990s New York City, the reluctant shift from a hardened, up-armored patrol mindset to one of cooperative engagement with a foreign culture underscores the essence of counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine now codified in FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5: Counterinsurgency.
Like real life, there are few “happy endings” in this book. Each platoon commander in GOLF has his own strengths and fallibilities: from steadfast Bama’s bravery and bigotries to the maverick Greg’s ingenuity and independence. And each must face his own demons in the prose that Larson deftly weaves.
At a minimum, Senator’s Son is a brilliant primer on leadership: how to learn which rules are worth breaking, the importance of adaptability when there are no black-or-white situations but only gray, and the primacy of relationships.
But it is also a tribute to those who answer a call to serve – whether they serve in their own communities as volunteers, or have the privilege of wearing the Eagle-Globe-and-Anchor of a Marine (like my grandfather, a mortarman with CHARLIE-1-6 in Guadalcanal and Tarawa, and my grandmother, a clerk-typist at Hunters Point-San Francisco who met my grandfather after his malaria washed him out of the Fleet Marine Force). Senator’s Son is a testament to the resilience of those who carry the burden of personal sacrifice with such humility that we can take our own freedom for granted.
This book is a “must read” for anyone who cares about the greater world beyond our neighborhood – and the role that power (be it the “hard” power of weaponry and kinetic energy, or the “soft” power of relationships) can play in shaping the world for better or for worse.
A Different Kind of "Intel"
¡El mejor burrito en todo del mundo!
A Tale of Two Boots
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ..."
SnoFest 2010, the annual snow festival hosted at Keystone Resort for Front Range military installations, took place this weekend. The weather was perfect, the snow was perfect, the equipment was... well.... not so much.
Never mind that my Koflach ski boots would have been more at home in a museum than on a black diamond run in Colorado. After all, I purchased them 19 years ago on consignment in Banff, Alberta (i.e., used, putting their age around 20-25 years) for CAN$90 -- about US$60 at the 1991 exchange rates. And never mind that, upon buckling up for my first run on Friday morning, one of the upper buckles snapped off. Big deal, I thought, I have three more buckles!
" ... it was the age of foolishness ..."
All was well, truly the best of times, until I ventured onto North Peak's Geronimo: the run in the top photo of this post, which is accessible only from a narrow roped-off gate, with a sign warning of "hidden obstacles" and "variable terrain". So I pointed my 195cm Olin 870s (no, not parabolics) into a nice fall line, made a turn, made another turn, then bounced off one mogul into a trough in a puff of powder. When I looked down, one chunk of my boot was next to my skis and another (from the other boot) was uphill. That red you see on the back of my foot on the photo below should have been covered by rigid white plastic....
This is the chunk from my left boot (the right boot piece is still somewhere on Geronimo):
So what is one to do when barely one-quarter of the way down the most remote run in a massive resort like Keystone? Why, keep skiing!
That lasted all of four more turns. When your ankle is free to move independently of your feet, your skis will go whichever way they want, and the red plastic digs into your achilles....
By the time I actually reached the bottom of the run, I had perfected the fine art of "butt sledding" -- carrying my poles in one hand, my skis in the other, braking with my boots, and crab-walking over moguls when my momentum slowed.
Once I made it down to Silver Mill Village (after riding the flat, non-mogul portion of the run on the skis; taking the chair lift to the summit; then riding the gondola down), I stopped by Christy's Sports. I asked the folks in their rental shop (who put a nice belt wax on my Olins that morning for my 27-second NASTAR race time, and who found a reasonably close facsimile to replace the lost basket on my boss's poles that I borrowed since my poles were left in Colorado Springs) about one-day boot rentals. When they said boots cost $20/day (i.e., 1/3 the price I paid for my boots 19 years ago!), plus $10 to adjust my bindings, oh and the caveat that they can't touch bindings that are out of warranty (which I guarantee my 20-year-old Tyrolias are), that made my decision for Saturday's gear trivial: