Showing posts with label SEALs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SEALs. Show all posts

Monday, May 8, 2017

How Fast is FAST?

Most of us have read about our military elite operators: the SEALs who are connected with the United States navy, the Delta Force and Green Berets who are with our army. But few people have heard about our Marine special units. 

We talked about one of them the Marine Raiders HERE, but there's another Marine unit called FAST. Marine Fleet-Anti-terrorism Security Team.

I featured a Marine with the Marine Raiders in WASP, the first book in the Uncommon Enemies series, and in the second book, RELIC, Brian Ackerman, our hero, is retired from a FAST unit.

FAST units are deployed all over the world. You might be most familiar with them as the team that responded to the Benghazi attack from their base in Spain.

If there is a terrorist attack anywhere in the world that involves US forces, these guys are ready to be deployed. They have received special training to handle terrorists.

"They are highly skilled in counter surveillance, physical security, urban combat techniques, close quarter combat, and martial arts... Companies contain six platoons of fifty Marines. On deployment, FAST can be stationed in Spain, Japan, and Bahrain." (1)

Right now we have three FAST companies in the US as well as a training company. Companies A and C are located in Norfolk, Virginia, and Company B, which is located at Yorktown, Virginia. These companies operate under the control of the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment located on Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Virginia.

The Security Force Regiment Training Company is located on Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads, in Chesapeake, Virginia. (2)

Can I just say all four units are about two hours from my house where there is also a SEAL team - so in the event of a zombie apocalypse, or any other disaster - I know where I'm headed. 

Marines assigned to FAST have:

  • SOI (School of Infantry).
  • Security Force School - (NSA Northwest, Chesapeake, VA) - Teaches Combat Marksmanship (shotgun and pistol), Close Quarter Battle
  • FAST Training (5 weeks)-(NSA Northwest, Chesapeake, VA) Additional training in Advanced Urban Combat. (2)
Elite US Marines, ready, willing, and more than able!

In RELIC, Retired Marine FAST member is now working for Iniquus where his work as one of the nation’s top security professionals has fueled his lust for adrenaline-laced danger. While Brian’s private life may seem risky, his professional life is strictly business. Until he accepts two private protection contracts that is. 
Available on most e-readers
Two security assignments seem simple enough. Brian’s been wrong before.

The first assignment involves protecting archaeologists, Sophia Abadi and Nadia Dajani. While digging to uncover a remote site is a bit mundane by Brian’s standard, he welcomes the chance and the challenge.

The second assignment requires Brian to do his own digging to uncover the truth. The thrill seeker is contracted by the FBI to discover who is financing ISIS through the sale of conflict relics from Syria. Problem is, his suspects are also the two archaeologists.

His initial introductions to both esteemed scientists not only reveal the challenges of protecting them, but a shocking dilemma of honoring his security contract. Seems the woman he’d fallen for after one incredible night in New York is the very same Sophia he’s now charged with protecting and leading into an FBI trap.

Meet Brian Ackerman. He has a gun. He also has a heart.

I hope you enjoy reading RELIC, I look forward to hearing what you think!


Information for his article comes from:
  • (1)
  • (2)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Caught in a BOOBY TRAP: Information for Writers with Chris Grall

English: An animated GIF of a wood carving of ...
English: An animated GIF of a wood carving of the subject 'Three Wise Monkey' (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I knew a man who was robbed. Not once, not twice, but again and again over the years. It was the nature of his business. People see a quick fix for their financial needs when there are gold and diamond pieces on the other side of the oh-so-breakable window. 

Tired of going through the rigmarole associated with insurance claims and police reports, this guy took matters into his own hands. He booby trapped his shop. 

Every night before he locked up, he laid plywood boards side by side across the floor. Into these boards he had hammered long (extra sharp) nails. Each night, he pulled chains across the jewelry cases at ankle height, so someone coming into the store would trip and impale themselves on the nails. Oh, and to make sure that the would-be robber didn't see any of this and thus avoid it, the shop keeper bought and set up a film-making grade fog machine set to go off with any movement. If all that should fail to take down the bad guy/gal, well he had a back up plan. Hanging from the ceiling at about the average guy's head level, he hung dozens of monkeys made of pecan resin. Pecan resin, in case you didn't know, is very dense and very heavy. The theory was that the bad guy would walk into one of those monkeys and get a concussion - or at least be disoriented, lose his balance, and (you guessed it) impale himself on the spikes in the floor boards.


It really happened.

The subject of this article is BOOBY TRAPS. Let's lay out the basics first. It is ILLEGAL to booby trap -- your home, your car, your place of work, etc. So please remember that this site is for plot research only and this information is meant to further your story line ONLY. Right Chris?

Chris - 
CHRIS GRALL - TactiQuill


Fiona -
Chris Grall take a moment and give everyone a glimpse at your background and why you're one of my finest "go-to" guys when I'm trying to write tactical scenes right.

Chris - 
I graduated the U.S. Army Special Forces Qualification Course in 1995. My Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was 18C, Special Forces Engineer Sergeant. 

Basically, I was taught how to build stuff and then… blow it up. I had that job for five years before they moved me into an Intelligence slot and then, eventually, I became the Team Sergeant for an Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA). I was fortunate to be in the National Guard for most of my Army career. This gave me the opportunity to put my demolition skills to work as a building demolition contractor for a couple different companies. So I got to live the 18C dream… Blowing up buildings and bridges. 

I eventually took a full time position in training for the National Guard. I got to work with many SWAT teams and other Law Enforcement organizations passing on to them knowledge on a number of subjects, including the best way to deal with booby traps. Now I’m retired, and I consult for writers to improve the quality of their work and avoid errors both technical and tactical. And how I backed into this line of work is a tale all it’s own.

Fiona - 
Let's start with a booby trap definition, please.

Chris -
A booby trap is some device meant to kill, injure, or slow the enemy's progress. 

Injuring is always best. If you injure one you've removed two maybe three, because the injured will require aid and evacuation.

A booby trap is also a an anti-handling device meant to discourage use of an item by another party.

Fiona - 
So by that you mean, for example, a briefcase could be booby trapped so that only the person intended to see the contents could open it without blowing up?

Chris - 

Yes. Your character would have to know the sequence to open the brief case safely.

Fiona -
As part of your training, you learned to set booby traps. 

What kind of character would want to lay a booby trap and why would they do it?

Chris - 
First, look at what a booby trap is supposed to do. Sure they can be used to kill, but often times they are used to deny an area, restrict movement, or cause confusion...

In Sword of Gideon (movie) they were used exclusively by terrorists to kill.

In fact in most movies they are designed for that purpose, but in war, a mine field is nothing more than a bunch of manufactured booby traps used to channel an enemy force

There is a scene in Uncommon Valor (movie, Gene Hackman) where the character "Boomer" explains using booby traps in depth. channeling the enemy from one device to the next

So, I guess to really answer the question... A character who is either desperate or doesn't care about collateral damage would be the best bet. Booby traps have a random lethality... they don't care who they hurt, they just want to be triggered.

Fiona - 

Obviously one's mind goes to terrorists and the good-guys fighting the terrorists. But what about Joe's Mama who is escaping from a hoard of zombies, and she just needs a means to give herself time and space to run away? (Joe's Mama is an average modern woman with average skill sets.) Could someone with no tactical training rig a simple booby trap?
Chris - 
I like to divide booby traps into two basic categories... hunting style and explosive. In the case of Mom fleeing zombies...
Consider the character's target.

Zombies, being the unsophisticated creatures that they are, would very easily fall prey to a series of tripping hazards. So, rope or some other strong line would be perfect if anchored sturdily at about shin level. This would pile them up nicely and give plenty of time to escape. This is a simple trip trap similar to a stumble step used for castle tower defense in the dark ages.

Fiona -
"Trip trap" is fun to say.

I asked that question to point out that when writing a booby trap you have to consider a characters skill sets. Even if the only way to save my family from roving werewolves was to set up explosives, I couldn't do it - I don't know Jack about explosives. 

Chris, obviously our soldiers are schooled in booby traps But who exactly receives this training?

Chris - 
Almost all soldiers are trained to a VERY small degree to avoid traps, but emplacing traps is usually performed by "engineers" and sappers (specialized soldiers whose business is explosives).

This means Army MOS 12 series and Special Forces.

Fiona - 
Avoidance. That's important. What kinds of things would our military characters (and veterans, perhaps) be aware of as they move through a scene to avoid losing life or limb?

Chris - 

  • First and foremost, trip wires. any string or wire - could be camouflaged - is the primary threat...
  • Objects that are out of place or don't belong - the stuffed bunny in Full Metal Jacket.
  • Objects that have or appear to have value - the ammo can full of "Intel" in Platoon.
  • Anything that draws the curious
  • Any place that channelizes access to an area is a likely spot.
But! Camouflage is the big killer. If you're going to take the time to set in a device, you'll take the time to camouflage it.

And your characters have to think, if there's one... there will be more than one.

Fiona - 
Circumvent /disengage or clear/deactivate? What goes into that decision making process?

Chris - 
9 out of 10... disengage. Clearing is time consumptive dangerous work.

If I encountered a trip wire and absolutely had to continue, I would mark the trip wire and move on.

Fiona - 
Mark it with...?

Chris - 
Colored tape, toilet paper, Kleenex... something obvious and easily passed on to others in the group.

Fiona - 
From reading and watching TV shows and the movies - what do you wish authors knew about booby traps so they could write it right?

Chris - 
The big one is the old "step on the mine" trope. The character steps on something, hears the click, and thinks, "oh crap!" Devices don't work that way... EVER!

Why would anyone design a trap with a means of escape?
It's dramatic, but nowhere near reality. The device will work, or it won't... that simple.
Then it's just a question of character experience with booby traps and how they interact with the device in question... example follows:
This is the standard "grenade on the door" trick -
Your character would pull a pin on the grenade. The weight of the grenade laying on the spoon keeps it from activating. If the door is opened the handle will turn and the grenade will fall to the floor, the spoon will fly, and 5 seconds later... boom!

That is, if you came at it from the other side of the door...
If I saw it from the grenade side, I'd say, "thanks for giving me a grenade!" I would grasp the grenade and spoon, not allowing it to activate and put a paperclip or clothes pin in through the pull pin hole rendering it safe.

An inexperienced character wouldn't necessarily know this

Fiona -
What does a soldier have on them in the field that would help them make an impromptu booby trap?

Chris - 

Readily at hand items: 
  • grenades(smoke/flashbang/explosive) 
  • parachute cord (550 cord) 
  • tape 
  • claymore mine 
This was Chris sitting on a spool of detonating cord when he was... younger.
  • C-4 
  • blasting caps
  • a booby trap device like the M142 firing device
The possible items depend on the mission the soldier is to perform and what equipment is organic (not specialized). I take most of this for granted because I always had a demolition kit with me... filled with all sorts of toys.

Fiona - 
A Quick C-4 tutorial if you please?

Chris - 
C-4 is a plastic explosive. It is very stable and can only be initiated with a military grade blasting cap, or detonating cord tied into the appropriate knot. C-4 can also explode if you apply pressure to it while it is burning. it is very stable and can be dropped hammered and molded without fear of detonation.

Fiona - 
When an author is setting up a scene, we're going to say this is a special forces operative, tell me about their perspective what are they thinking? What is the process they are going through?

Chris - 
First, think objective, what do I need to accomplish, then what do I want to accomplish. Next come the how.

Remembering that traps are random and people are even more random still...
I will need to set up devices in depth. If the first trigger is missed, where do I set the next one to ensure I meet my objective? I would analyze the terrain (floor plan) and look for the most likely traffic areas. Trap a doorway, not the corner of the room. Trap the latch side of a gate, not the hinge side.

If I really wanted to get you at a gate in the woods, I'd have one or two pressure plate devices by the gate. And a device on the gate itself.

  • If I get you with the pressure devices as you approach, YAY! 
  • If I miss you with those, maybe I get you with the device on the gate, YAY! 
  • If I miss you with that, and you kneel down to defuse the device, maybe I get you with another pressure device where I know you'll have to kneel to disarm it, YAY! 
  • And, if I've had time, I'd put a secondary trigger or ant-handling device on the device on the gate, so when you breathe that big sigh of relief... you forget to look for more... and I get you YAY!
Of course all of this takes time... and your camouflage needs to be good.

I camouflage one device poorly and/or use a false device and channel you to the real device.

It's like chess.

Fiona - 
Define pressure plate. 

Chris - 
There are 4 types of simple mechanical activation method: 
  1. Pressure: pressure activates a mechanical or electronic trigger (think switches here). 
  2. Pressure Release: the removal of a weight activates the trigger.
  3. Trip Wire, Pull: pulling the wire activates the trigger. 
  4. Trip Wire, Tension Release: cutting the wire releases the tension holding the trigger in a safe position.
There are other electrical permutations, but they all follow the same basic formula of applying a load or removing it to create an event.

Chris getting ready for an operation in Iraq

Fiona - 
Under pressure when adrenaline reduces fine motor ability how do professionals compensate?

Chris - 
Oh Fiona... you opened a big can of worms there.

Fiona - 

Chris - I've studied a lot about neurology, and I've come to a few conclusions and will point out some flaws in the loss of fine motor skills... "myth", for lack of a better word.

By definition, any operation performed with the fingers or hand is a fine motor skill. Any operation performed with the larger muscle groups is gross. If you've trained to perform an action, you will be able to perform that action under stress.
So, imagine that you are a civil war soldier, and you are standing in the front line of a formation of 100 men. Loading and firing a civil war musket is a ten-step process which included pouring powder into a little tube, ramming the ball down that tube with a metal rod, then re-stowing that rod in it's keeper, and so forth.

The average Civil War Soldier could perform this action 3 time in a minute. Now imagine, standing in front of you, 25 yards away is a group just like yours, they are also shooting at you, there are cannons blowing huge holes in your line AND... at any moment those guys over there could charge and try to ram a three foot long knife through you guts... were they under stress? Could they perform the fine motor skills required to load and fire a musket? 

Anything can be trained.

Stress is mitigated through training.

Fiona - 
Speaking of stress, we always ask for a harrowing story - or the story behind your favorite scar.

Chris - A harrowing Story. . .
You can’t spend 26 years in the Army without acquiring a few interesting tales, but my favorite explosives story was not harrowing for me as much as it was for the Bolivians we were training. We had been tasked with a training mission and as luck would have it, one of the topics was explosive safety and field expedient devices. Basically, building bombs out of materials on hand. The Bolivian Army at that time did not have much access to C-4 and had to use Dynamite.

Now, Dynamite in the U.S. has become a much safer explosive. The newer stuff is not as unstable as it is sometimes portrayed in the movies… The old stuff, DANGEROUS. The new stuff, not so bad. Of course the Dynamite they had in Bolivia, well, let’s just say the Bolivians had a very healthy respect for the stuff. So we were going to build devices out of their dynamite, but we also had some C-4 so we could teach them the differences.
The big day arrives and one of our guys is standing at a table with about 100 Bolivian soldados standing around him. He picks up the Dynamite, “Muy Peligroso…” (Very dangerous) They all nod. He hands off the dynamite to one of our guys and picks up the C-4. Then he tells them how safe it is. (English Translation) “In fact, It’s so safe I can beat it against this table…”

As he struck the table with the C-4, I detonated a pound of the stuff out on the range.

It took us about half an hour to collect them all back to the class and I think a couple had to go change their pants.

Fiona -

BTW  According to Today I Found Out:
[Booby trap, as it  turns out,] has nothing to do with the mammaries of the fairer sex, but rather has its origins in the Spanish word “bobo,” meaning “stupid,” “fool,” or “na├»ve.” This Spanish word in turn comes from the Latin “balbus” meaning “stammering”, which to the Romans was thought to be a sign of stupidity.
So, essentially, a “booby trap” is a trap that “boobies,” or idiots, are the victims of. Around the same time this first popped up, we also had expressions like “booby prize,” meaning a prize given to a fool. 
Okay, my dear fellow readers and writers all know that I'm a great big HUGE advocate of trying out the scenes to make sure they work, getting hands-on working knowledge of the subject matter, etc. 

OBVIOUSLY when we are writing things like C-4 and "grenade resting on a spoon" tactics, this is the point at which I say STOP! Consult a professional. Let them help you write it right.

To this end, Chris, you are a resource for writers through your business TactiQuill. Can you give us a basic breakdown of what your service provides and the costs?

Chris - 

TactiQuill Rates: (

TactiQuill provides firearms and tactical advice at the following rates: (For items 1 & 2, whichever is cheapest)

1. .015 Per word / 2000 word minimum ($30).
2. $3 per page / 10 page minimum ($30)
3. Phone/Video conference $125 per hour. (Plot / character / scenario development / firearms advice)

  • Analyze and critique action sequences - Armed and unarmed combat
  • Identify firearms mistakes 
  • Weapon specs
  • Weapon manipulation by characters
  • Weapon usage
  • Weapon pronouns 
  • Character actions vs level of training
  • Plot / action / scenario analysis
  • Review of all rewrites to the submission 
  • Mention anything that raises a question from the point of view of our experience and training.
  • Written review of the work (Manuscript only)
Fiona - 
Thanks, Chris, for all of this wonderful information. 

You all can catch up with Chris Grall on Twitter @dtn8or. 

And as always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Urban Ops in Your Plotline? Info for Writers with NY Times Bestseller Stephen Templin

I would like to welcome Stephen Templin back to ThrillWriting. If you missed his first article about SEALs you can find it HERE

Stephen Templin is a New York Times and international best-selling author. He co-wrote SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper and is the author of Trident’s First Gleaming, the first in his Special Operations Group Thriller series.

After high school, he completed Hell Week, qualified as a pistol and rifle expert, blew up stuff, and practiced small-unit tactics during Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training. Later, Steve left the Navy and became a missionary. Then for fourteen years he lectured as a tenured professor at Meio Universityin Japan, where he practiced the martial art aikido. His PhD is in education.

He has a new book out From Russia Without Love, that I devoured in one sitting.

SEAL Team Six veteran Chris Paladin left the Navy to become a pastor, but CIA spook Hannah Andrade pulls him back into Special Operations Group to locate the White House Chief of Staff’s kidnapped son-in-law before he is executed by Greek terrorists. Cantankerous Army Delta Force operator Sonny Cohen reunites with Chris and Hannah as they race the clock to save the hostage.

In Athens, Chris and his teammates discover that Russia is secretly behind the kidnapping, part of a murderous plan to attack the flow of natural gas in Europe. The Cold War has heated up again.

Chris and his crew’s rescue quickly changes into a mission to capture-or-kill a Russian spy.

Amazon Link
First let me say - what a fun read. And I very much appreciated the romantic non-romance

Steve -
Oh, thank you

Fiona - 
Steve, you just came out with a new black ops novel called From Russia Without Love, and it started with a bang, literally.

Steve -
Yes, love to start with a bang.

Fiona - 
It was actually quite a complicated issue of a three man black ops team (well one woman) trying to follow a businessman around an area with rifles.

Can you tell us some of the issues that came up with writing this scene right? Let's start with what kinds of guns and why?

Steve - 
Yes, it was easier before they knew an assault was about to take place. They could travel lighter. But once they figured an attack was about to happen, they wanted to be better armed, and that required some more tricks and concealment.

With the rifles, a .223 caliber assault rifle is nice because it can be short for use in tight places such as inside buildings, yet reach out and touch someone--out to 300+ yards

It's quite versatile

For a sidearm, there are two trains of thought--the lighter 9mm pistol and the heavier .45 pistol.

The 9mm is a bit smaller, easier to conceal, holds more rounds, and reaches out a bit farther.

The .45 packs a meaner punch and is useful for shooting through a car window.

SEAL Team Six vets like the main character Chris aren't bashful about using the 9mm. Army Delta guys tend to like the .45.

The 9mm is also easier to obtain abroad. 

Fiona - 

  1. Will 9 mm not shoot through a car window? Or does that depend on the bullet choice? 
  2. What was your bullet choice for urban area?
Steve - 
I would use a special type of ammo to shoot through a car window with a 9 mm.

Urban or in the outdoors, either 9 mm or .45 are fine

With rifles, you'd want something longer for longer distances like the outdoors.

Fiona - 
Were you using hydro-shock or hollow-point to stop the bullet from flying through the bad guys? (see BULLET blog article)

Steve -
Either of those are good rounds.

Fiona -
You tricked out the weapons with specialized equipment, suppressors and so forth, a
nd modified the firearms to fit their shooter. Is there a difference between red dot and laser?

Steve - 
Red dot is something that only the shooter sees in the scope, and the optics could be magnified or not. That's great for all around use.

Infrared is more specialized for night ops. Shooting becomes more like a video game--the technique is different. Infrared laser can be seen by the shooter with infrared vision. So you just line up the laser with the target. Different from lining up a red dot with a target. Or a front sight-rear sight with the target.

Just regular laser is a bit dangerous because the target can see where the laser is coming from.

Fiona - 
That's what I thought and too doesn't it make the shooter dependant? SEALS don't normally use that do they?

Steve -
SEALs use a variety of weapons and optics. The red dot seems the most common, but it all depends on the mission, the platoon, and the individual.

Fiona - 
Your team modified their firearms to fit their shooter - what kinds of modifications might a professional want to include?

Steve - 
For the Glock 9 mm pistol, the main character Chris (and I do, too) takes off the plastic sights and replaces them with more durable metal sights.
He puts a plug in the empty space near where the magazine is inserted, so debris doesn't clog up in that empty space. Chris also uses a match grade barrel for improved accuracy.

For wet or sweaty hands, it can help to add some stipple to critical spots, to help maintain one's grip when those parts get slippery.

These are not so many mods. Some people do more, but often doing too much can ruin a nice weapon like this one.

Fiona - 
Match grade barrel simply refers to the quality of engineering it has a tighter tolerance and is used professionally or for competition. Correct? 

Steve -
Yes, the match grade barrel is a higher grade that is used for professional shooting matches. And efficient killing of terrorists.

Fiona -
So now your heroes have the right equipment for shooting. You also gave them some interesting comms. Can you talk about the ear piece and vocalization?

Steve -
Yes, they use a wireless throat mic.

It's mounted on a band and is concealed by the collar. It transmits via vibrations in the throats rather than over open air. More covert.

And the earpiece is a magnetic wireless bud about the size of a pencil eraser that's dropped inside the ear canal. Because its magnetic, it can be retrieved via something metal such as a key.
Also quite covert.

Fiona - 
ThrillWriters/Readers here's a video quick study

I want to talk with you about urban surveillance, but first let me touch on something that really needs to be considered for characters and that's weather - I know we consider night and day, but you had them in a shootout in a torrential downpour. What conditions make life difficult and if you could mention a few of the problems a non-shooter might not think about - temperature for example.

Steve -
Yes, the shootout in the rain can be tricky for a variety of reasons. One is the red dot on the rifles--when the rain gets too tough, you can't see the red dot anymore. So it's critical to have back up iron sights. In From Russia Without Love, Chris runs into this problem, so he uses the quick release lever on his red dot and pockets the red dot. Then he pops up his irons sights and goes to them. Problem solved.

Dealing with the wet and/or the cold, hypothermia can become an issue. Which can result in death if one isn't careful.

(Of course slipping and falling in the water with a loaded weapon is always of concern for buddies)

Fiona - 
Now in urban surveillance - it's important to work as a team can you start us off with a little surveillance 101 basics?

Steve - 

The challenge of urban surveillance is dictated by:
  •  the location
  •  the target's awareness
  •  available assets
  •  your purpose.

For location, if there are a lot of people around it's easier to remain concealed. Blend in with the crowd and follow your target.

As for the target's awareness, if they're a clueless person, that's wonderful. But when going spy vs. spy, it becomes more challenging.

In From Russia Without Love, Chris finds himself in a situation where he has to conduct surveillance on his own, which is the most challenging. During the Cold War, Russia would have lots of surveillance people on a target, and that's the easiest for the surveillance team.

Finally, objectives can be things like assassination, kidnapping, theft and so on.

Fiona - 
Blending - the businessman was dressed correctly but moved like a tourist instead of a fellow office worker. What are some things to keep in mind when trying to blend with your surroundings?

Steve - 
It's important to avoid marked appearance or behavior. Business Traveler was dressed right for the environment, but he erred in looking around like a tourist rather than appearing bored like others on their way to work.

Marked appearance can mean tattoos, facial hair, or other such things. Unless you're fitting into a motorcycle gang, then that'd be unmarked appearance.

For behavior, it's helpful to observe the environment and do as others are doing.

This extends to vehicles, too. An expensive vehicle in a poor neighborhood is going to stand out, and a cheaper vehicle in an expensive neighborhood will stand out.

Fiona -
Another way to blend was to peel off. Your team would watch and then walk away that way if they were made, it wouldn't seem obvious - an everyday person might not see this, would a professional spy? Would they rely on sixth sense?

Steve - 
If peeling off is done with a natural stride with the natural flow of pedestrians, that can work. But a sudden change in direction or pace will alert a professional. Yes, different people have different levels of sixth sense, so it can be helpful to not think directly about the target. So those who are sensitive to the thoughts of others won't pick up on that they're being watched.

Mostly, a professional will rely on experience, training, and instinct.

Fiona - 
I loved it when Chris wouldn't think the guys name for fear he would pick up on his thoughts. Is that something you train - something you've experienced?

Steve - 
Some train it, some don't. I've experience it and others have, too. My buddy, Howard Wasdin was a SEAL Team Six sniper, and he was careful not to raise the sixth sense of his target/subject. We mentioned it in our book, SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL sniper.

Fiona - 
Yay - that's queued up in my Kindle.

Steve -
Have you ever thought someone might be watching you and turned around and caught them? It's that.

Fiona - 
Steve, thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us.

You can catch up with Steve through this website here, also TwitterFacebook, and Goodreads.

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Home Front: Military Family Life - Info for Writers with Marliss Melton


I'm so pleased to introduce Marliss Melton today. I really enjoy Marliss's writing, and I believe I've read all of her work. Fast pace, intelligent, well-researched; strong, capable, caring heroes and heroines makes her my kind of writer.

Not only does Marliss do on-going research for her books, but she has her writing vetted by a SEAL to make sure she gets both the dynamic action and the personalities right. And she pulls from her own life story. 

Fiona - 
Marliss, can you share a little of your military history?

Marliss - 
As the daughter of a foreign service officer, my many siblings and I grew up in mainly third-world countries, settings that later helped to inform my stories. 

My travels gave me a facility for language, and I have taught Spanish, ESL, and linguistics at my alma mater, The College of William and Mary. I married an Army officer right out of college, but he died eight years
into our marriage, leaving me with two sons. 

Love brought a Navy man into my life, along with four more children! I’d like to think this makes me an expert at parenting. More likely, it has enriched my understanding of family dynamics, something that also shows up in my books. 

My membership in the military community has left me with an understanding of military customs, jargon, and protocol and a huge appreciation for the bond of brotherhood that forges warriors together. 

I have an enormous appreciation for our special operators and the risks they take to protect American lives. My desire to produce realistic fiction has led me to seek out the expert advice of a Navy SEAL commander, Mark Divine, who answers my many questions and edits my action scenes for authenticity. 

As a military spouse, I have endured long separations and experienced the fear that the families of today’s military members feel. 

I’m also an avid animal lover, which causes me to bring dogs, especially, into my stories. LOOK AGAIN, A Novella, has raised thousands of dollars for Hero Dogs, Inc., which trains service dogs for injured U.S. veterans. All in all, my background has given me all the right tools to create military romantic suspense that is both realistic and touching.

Fiona - 
When you were growing up in a military family - were you living on bases?

Marliss -
I've lived in both on-base and off-base housing. In Laos, Thailand, and France, we lived in the capital cities among the locals.

The military base I lived in was here in the USA, in Virginia.

Plus, as an Army officer's wife, I lived at Fort Dix, New Jersey for three years.

Fiona - 
When you were living locally, were you attending school on base?

No, I never attended any base schools. I attended the American School of Paris and the International School of Bangkok, in Thailand.

I could tell you in Thai what colors to wear on what days of the week! (That's been terribly helpful as you can imagine).

We spent a lot of time learning local customs and the language. As a result, I never learned all the U.S. states or their capitals. I barely knew any US history by the time I returned to the states for 6th grade.

Fiona - 
I'm wondering about "kid culture" on bases did you participate? Or did your living off base mean that you were more imbued with non-military friends and doings.

Marliss - 
From 6th grade through high school, I lived on a base, and there was definitely a kid culture there. None of my friends or I knew stuff that American kids knew. Who were the BeeGees? What clothes were cool to wear? We had no idea, and we didn't really care. Traveling the world had opened our minds to larger issues and more important things about humanity.

Some of us had fathers who had seen and done some gruesome stuff. One of my father's friends committed suicide on Christmas morning. We were aware of the sacrifices and struggles involved in upholding US interests overseas.

A lot of my friends and many of my siblings went on to serve our country in various ways. I really can't say what my sisters do for a living, but I'm doing my part, too, raising awareness of the lifestyle of our military men and women--especially Navy SEALs so that readers have a better appreciation for what these operators endure to keep us all safe.

Fiona - 
Let's talk about that for a moment. What did the parents say to their children about what their military parent did for a living? What did people say to each other? Was this subject openly discussed? Just a known part of life?

Marliss - 
In the segment of the military in which I grew up, the parents were not at liberty to discuss their missions. We kids had to read between the lines, taking note of current world events and guessing how our parents played a part.

Of course, the adults knew what was going on.

Fiona - 
How did that feel to you, reading between the lines? Do children discuss their concerns with one another? Or is it considered the norm? For example, my kids don't sit around talking about what either my husband or I do for a living.

Marliss - 
The kids would certainly discuss things and speculate. Many of them had fathers who would take off for years at a time. This made kids more aware than your average American teen. So many have gone on to serve their country in the armed services, and some in humanitarian ways. It was normal to be aware and to ask yourself "How can I do my part when I grow up?"

Fiona -
What kinds of systems are in place to help the families stay whole?

Marliss - 
I don't think there were any systems in place to help families at that time, but that has certainly changed in the past two decades. 

The military has services in place to help families cope with hardship and to get psychological help and find the support groups they need. People are much more open in confessing that they have trouble coping. Back when I was younger, that wasn't the case. Suicide and alcohol were very prevalent, even among the children of servicemen/women.

Fiona - 

When a service member passes away, a family is living on base, what happens to their living arrangements? Can they stay there for awhile with the friends and supports, or is it necessary for a new widow to move quickly?

Mariss - 
They are not hustled out of their home. I am not positive of the time they may stay but I believe it is long enough to allow children to complete a school year. Families of deceased veterans continue to receive benefits until the spouse either remarries or the children are considered adults. The military takes care of its own.

Fiona -
That's so good to know.

Marliss - 
I will say, on the previous subject, that it is harder for Navy SEALs to admit that they are having problems. Mental strength is of paramount importance to them, so they don't want to admit that they might be cracking. As a result, there is some drug use with a small segment of special operators, but by and large, they have taught themselves to think positively, to reframe negative aspects of their lives in order to thrive even in a hostile environment.

When you read the bios of Navy SEALs, you can see a common thread: They are uniquely capable individuals with an almost superhuman capacity to overcome hardship.

Fiona -
When you are reading books/watching TV and films that include service families. Do you find some common mistakes? Common prejudices (both good and bad) that you disagree with?

I ask this because the background and personalities that come to life in your writing are so real, and I feel I am learning about the culture, which fascinates me.

Marliss -
Oh, totally! I started watching a recent Navy SEALs movie, and it was all wrong! The TV portrays SEALs like they are regular military people, with strict protocol and procedures. "Yes, sir," "No, sir," etc. It's not really like that at all. With the SEALs, even the lowliest enlisted man is treated as someone with something important to contribute. They are much more slack on the "sirs," and the difference between officers and enlisted is minimal.

What the SEALs and all military units have in common is the bond of brotherhood that is prevalent with all of them. It is especially powerful among the Teams because of the extreme hardships that these men have faced together. They have all been driven to extremes that would break most men and the way they survived was by pulling together. Once a Team man, always a Team man. They are bonded through the unique experience of BUD/S (Basic underwater demolition training), where perhaps 16 men will graduate from the original 212 that enrolled.

Fiona -
What personality traits do you frequently see in the wives of SEALS - that must be a special brand of woman both to catch his interested and to be able to deal with the lifestyle. What about the children? Do you see a pattern of traits in them? Their fathers are the best of the best and always in danger.

Marliss - 
I haven't gotten to know the children of any Navy SEALs, but I've met and exchanged emails with some of the wives. As you would expect, SEALs have extremely high standards, especially SEAL officers. Their wives are lovely, but they are also extremely smart and just as driven as their husbands. They have a "can-do" attitude that is critical if the marriage is going to survive. They have to have TRUST in their husband's skills, and FAITH that their men are doing something critical to the country. They have to be willing to accept their husbands' possible demise by reminding themselves that their man died doing what he loved--that he would not have wanted to die any other way. These women are STRONG.

SEALs make great fathers. When they are home, they devote themselves to family life. 
I think most SEALs who are fathers are motivated to make the world a better place for their children.

Fiona - 
If a writer is working on an MS that includes SEALs do you have any resources you could suggest to help them get their writing right?

I'd recommend: 
LONE SURVIVOR, by Marcus Luttrelle 
SERVICE, also by Marcus.  
THE HEART AND THE FIST by Eric Greitens 
FEARLESS by Eric Blehm 
NAVY SEAL DOGs by Mike Ritland 

I trust you would find them as stimulating and inspiring as I do!

Fiona - 
I have one more military life question for you, but before we get there, can you tell me about your favorite scar or harrowing story?

Marliss - 
This prompt gives me serious pause. I have several scars and several harrowing stories to tell, but none of them would leave a reader feeling good. I’m still in my forties, but I’ve hit a lot of bumps along the way, and readers of romance prefer to read stories with happy endings. But often tragedy ultimately results in happiness, so I will share the story of my mastectomy scars. Last winter, I was diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer. I had a lumpectomy, but the margins weren’t satisfactory, so I had a another, and that’s when they found even more cancer. Rather than risk dying in ten years, I opted to have my breasts removed. Turns out that was a good decision as the lab found still more cancer in tissue that was taken away. Losing my breasts caused losses in other areas. But the entire experience helped me to appreciate what so many women have to endure. I’ve gained empathy and wisdom and connected with so many fabulous ladies because of the experience. When something good comes out of something bad, the human spirit triumphs. I can say I’m proud of those scars!

Fiona - 
Thank you so much for sharing such a personal story. My very best wishes for your health.

Let's talk about Christmas and the military - many trees are missing a mom or dad lounging nearby. Many kids are sitting on Santa's lap asking that their parent come home safely as their most wished for gift. If our writers have a military family's Christmas in their plotline - what should they know from your life experience? 


Marliss -
Christmas can be an especially tough time for military families. It's just not the same when a family member is away on Christmas Day. Military families have learned to be flexible--sometimes they celebrate Christmas early...sometimes they delay. They know that Christmas is more "real" when everyone is there. 

Wikipedia Army Raider Brigade at Christmas

My advice to writers would be to go ahead and depict a Christmas where Dad or Mom is missing. Reach into your readers' hearts and strum a cord that will tune them in to the sacrifices so many service people are enduring. And while you're at it, do something special for a military member this year. I'm going to donate a box of books to the local Army base library who will ship them to service people overseas. Send cards. Donate online--not just at Christmas but all throughout the year. As long as you are conscious of and grateful for the scary, lonely sacrifices being made on your behalf, you can help to mitigate them. Merry Christmas and God bless us, everyone.

Fiona - 
Thank you so much for being here today, Marliss.

To you and my readers,
may you and your loved ones be safe, warm, cared for, and appreciated - now and all year long. 

My special gratitude for those in our military, first responders, nurses and doctors whose service to us keeps them in the trenches and away from their families.

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.