Monday, June 08, 2015

On Hiatus


I am on hiatus from my blog as of June 8, 2015 to complete the rewrites and edits on my current novel "The Rebuilder". I need to put all my time and focus in this area. Your understanding is appreciated. Update - I am still on hiatus caring for my wife as she recovers from surgery.

Jimmie Aaron Kepler
June 8, 2015

Thursday, May 28, 2015

41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush

I received 41 as a Christmas present in 2014. I took the time to read slowly and soak in a wonderful little book. Regardless of your politics, you’ll enjoy 41. It is the first time a President told the story of his father, another President. We get a unique picture through the eyes and words of 43, George W. Bush. Warning, spoilers follow in every paragraph!

It is a unique and intimate biography. The book covers the entire scope of the elder President Bush’s life and career. You get some family background. You start back in school with 41. It includes his service in the Pacific during World War II. You learn of his courtship and marriage to Barbara. You learn of his pioneering work in the Texas oil business. 

You’ll cry learning of a daughter’s death to leukemia. You will be surprised to learn of The Robin Bush Child and Adolescent Clinic at M.D. Anderson Hospital. It is named for the young daughter whom President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush lost to leukemia in 1953. 

You will see 41s political rise as a Congressman, U.S. Representative to China and the United Nations, CIA Director, Vice President, and President. You see how he excelled at personal diplomacy. The book provides new insight on both the accomplished statesman and the warm, decent man known best by his family. 

Also, George W. Bush discusses his father’s influence on him throughout his life. This influence covers from his childhood in West Texas to his early campaign trips with his father and from his decision to go into politics to his own two-term Presidency.

A huge surprise for me was to learn that George W. Bush did not use email during his presidency. It is a wonderful book I highly recommend. It is an easy read that will keep you turning the pages.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

American Soldier by General Tommy Franks

President Bill Clinton promoted General Franks to fours stars. President Clinton also appointed Tommy Franks as Commander in Chief of the United States Central Command beginning in July 2000. General Franks served in that role through July 2003. In between was 9/11.

Tommy Franks led the American and Coalition forces to victory in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The part of American Soldier covering these wars are the most interesting because they combine military maneuvers, politics, action, and commentary. This does not mean that the rest of his autobiography is dull. They are not. General Franks’ writing is clear and engaging and his insider's perspective is informative and interesting.

In addition to his years as a war general, his memoir covers his childhood, his early years in the Army, his tours of Vietnam, his return to college to complete his degree at the University of Texas at Arlington, and how he considered retirement before being called up as commander of Central Command.

The "good old boy" from Midland, Texas rings throughout the book. We also see the diplomacy of General Franks. He provides insights into many of the individuals he interfaced. Those looking for criticism of persons in political office will be disappointed. Many will see his expressing admiration for his own staff, for President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in particular, but he also has high respect for the office of the president leaving no criticism for Mr. Clinton or Mr. Bush. He lets us know he was surprised by the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that no WMDs were used against American troops under his watch. American Soldier is a compelling book giving significant insights on the war on terrorism from the point of view of both warrior and diplomat.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

“Exit Plan” by Mike Sixsmith.

Exit Plan by Mike Sixsmith
It took me a several chapters to get into “Exit Plan” by Mike Sixsmith. My ignorance of Arab names, customs and the geography became apparent when I started reading the book. This contributed to my original lack of understanding of what was taking place and my difficulty of initially getting into the book.  I am glad I stayed the course. Reading the book enlightened me in these areas. 

It is apparent author Mike Sixsmith has a strong personal back in the Middle East. His military, intelligence community, and “been there” back ground are captured on the pages of the book. He does an amazing job of painting descriptions of the various countries. The detail made me feel as if I were there. 

The longer I read, the more difficult I found to put the book down. The author has you reliving and walking the pages of the last dozen year’s history. Extremism and Jihadism are explained in a way where I could see how people might get pulled into their sphere. The complexity of the issues embraced give insight into the politics and history of the region.

Mike Sixsmith was written a very detailed, creative work that adds a British element to the assault on the World Trade Center in New York City.  You journey into the thoughts and learn the motivations of Shahid Al Sheehi. He is a British Muslim. You share his experience as he moves through his personal spiritual pilgrimage at a London mosque to his metamorphosis as a Jihad terrorist. You join with M16 agent whose is hot on his trail to thwart any more disaster. His name is Bill Sloan. 

Whether on the streets of London, in the caves of Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan, or the creek of Dubai, the action continues building reaching a fiery confrontation in Pakistan. The book is for anyone who loves military-political thrillers. If you read the first twenty-five pages, you will be hooked.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Embedded: A Marine Corps Adviser Inside the Iraqi Army by Wesley Gray

Have you wondered what it would be like to be in Iraq working with the Iraqi Army? Have you thought what it would like to get to know, work with the people in Iraq, and live with them? United States Marine Corps First Lieutenant Wesley Gray paints an insightful and sobering picture that answers these questions.

In 2006, 1st Lt. Wesley Gray was deployed as an U.S. Marine Corps military adviser to an Iraqi Army battalion in the Haditha Triad. For 210 days, he lived and fought beside Iraqi soldiers in the most dangerous and ruthless province of western Iraq. The province of Al-Anbar was filled with an insurgent population upset by a recent massacre of twenty-four men, women, and children shot at close range by U.S. Marines. They had been shot in retaliation for the death of one of their comrades in a roadside bombing.

In spite of the high tensions created by the shootings, Gray was able to form a bond with the Iraqis because he had an edge that very few U.S. service members possess - the ability to communicate in Iraqi Arabic. His language skills and his understanding of the culture led the Iraqi soldiers to call him a brother and fondly name him Jamal.

Gray draws on the brutally honest and detailed record he kept during his tour, including extensive interviews with Iraqi soldiers and citizens. He offers an all-inclusive portrait of the struggles of the Iraqi people to make their country a nation once again and includes a compelling report on the status and prospects of the U.S. government's strategy for success in Iraq.

1st Lt. Gray’s stories range from hilarious to tear inducing. I have two favorites. First, the story about getting information on who plants improvised explosive devices (IED) is chilling. Here the Iraqis tell Gray we are going about getting information in the wrong way. We should give them 24 hours to tell us who planted the IED. He is told we should demolish a house if we fail to get info. If that doesn’t work we should then demolish a block of houses. Then we will have the information. Second is the story of Major Gaines using the bathroom outdoors with a “toilet kit” at night and his getting upset as the spotlights are turned on him.

Gray also outlines Iraqi history, attitudes about leadership, and the outlook for the future of a unified State in the absence of American troops. Most of his forecast is grim.

The book is a good read and would be a valuable addition to all community libraries. It gives a realistic insight into what the USA is still confronting. The book gives answers about Iraqi culture, military culture, and is filled with a war stories and some exciting activity.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Never Surrender: A Soldier's Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom by LTG (Ret.) William G. Boykin and Lynn Vincent

Few people have been involved in as many significant US military operations over the past three decades as has LTG (ret.) William G. "Jerry" Boykin. From being a founding member of the Delta Force to commanding all US Army Special Forces, he shows that a person can be a committed Christian and a soldier.

Co-written by New York Times best selling author Lynn Vincent, Never Surrender: A Soldier's Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom gets your interest on page one and keeps it through the entire book. The book's structure helps with the presentation. It is divided in thirteen sections. Each section covers one of the stages of Jerry Boykin's life or a major US operation he was involved in. Each section is divided into short, action-packed chapters.

The book tells story after story of how famous military operations went down. The Iran Hostage Crisis, Sudan, Grenada, Panama, Waco and the Branch Davidians, Columbia, Somalia, the Balkans and more give great insight into contemporary US military history.

Jerry Boykin is a born-again Christian. The role of his faith is very tastefully woven into each story. You will not feel preached at, but rather have an appreciation of how his belief in God sustained and directed him through the years.

One of my favorite stories in the book involved Panama, the playing of loud, rock music and Manuel Noriega. The media thought the US Army was using the loud music as a psychological weapon against Noriega. The original intent of the music was to keep the media from being able to eavesdrop on the conversations between Boykin and the Vatican embassy where Noriega was hold-up.

The most insightful section was on Mogadishu, Somalia. It gives the real story that the movie Blackhawk Down omits. Boykin was the leader of the mission. He had to make the tough decision of leaving a man down in order to save others. He said that was the worst thing he has ever experienced.

Boykin has never been afraid to admit he is a Christian. Some things he said during the most recent war in Iraq upset people. He said that he believed God put George Bush in the White House. The news media quoted that statement. What the media didn't quote was that he continued by saying God put Bill Clinton and every other American leader in their positions. Boykin was pretty much beat up in the press over this. He was completely exonerated by internal military investigations.

I highly recommend the book. It provides fascinating insight into military tactics and life behind the scenes of Delta Force. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Monday, May 04, 2015

White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple

He had seen men enslaved, and seen death in battle on a terrible scale. So when a young, unknown poet named Emily Dickinson wrote to ask whether he thought her verse was “alive”, Thomas Wentworth Higginson – a critic for The Atlantic Monthly and a decorated Union veteran – knew he was seeing poetry that lived and breathed like nothing he had seen before.

Higginson was immediately awed by Emily Dickinson, and went on to become her editor, mentor, and one of the reclusive poet’s closest confidantes. The two met only twice, but exchanged hundreds of deeply personal letters over the next twenty-five years; they commented on each other’s work, mulled over writers they admired, and dazzled each other with nimble turns of phrase. After she died, he shepherded the first collected edition of her poetry into publication, and was a tireless champion of her work in his influential Recent Poems column for The Nation.

Later generations of literary scholars have dismissed Higginson as a dull, ordinary mind, blaming him for the decision to strip some of the distinctive, unusual structure from Dickinson’s poems for publication. However, Brenda Wineapple offers a portrait of Higginson that is far beyond ordinary. He was a widely respected writer, a fervent abolitionist, and a secret accomplice to John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry; wounded in the first year of the Civil War, he returned to service as colonel of the first federally-authorized regiment of former slaves. White Heat reveals a rich, remarkable friendship between the citizen soldier and the poet, a correspondence from which Dickinson drew tremendous passion and inspiration – and which she credited, more than once, with saving her life.

Brenda Wineapple is the author and editor of five books, including the award-winning Hawthorne: A Life and Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in The American Scholar, The New York Times Book Review, Parnassus, Poetry, and The Nation. She teaches in the MFA programs at Columbia University and The New School in New York.

Source: Pritzker Military Library .