Buy This Book: “Green Card Soldier”

Former Army Public Affairs colleague and outstanding public affairs practitioner Bruce Zielsdorf has penned “Green Card Soldier.”  It’s a novel that…  Well, duh!  It’s his book.  I’ll let him tell you about it:

GCS_cover_frontGreen Card Soldier is an historic adventure novel that follows the exploits of Andro Babich – a naïve, but inquisitive teenage soccer star frustrated by his mundane life on the family farm in Bosnia. In the early 1990s, Andro’s sporting hopes are drowned as the former Yugoslavia is battered by thunderous storms of religious and nationalistic disgust that rip apart families, villages and the vast Balkan countryside. Once-civil debate decays into hate mongering, land grabbing and ethnic cleansing on all sides.

‘This tragic tale is told by Heath Winslow – a cynical, yet self-deprecating, war correspondent who, for decades, has seen much the same in other locales around the globe. Both characters challenge readers with the question: Can life become richer – and people stronger – when we look beyond labels to appreciate one another for the unique individuals we are?

“In the years that follow, Andro escapes to Greece, sails to America and joins the Army. As a Green Card Soldier, he soon earns his U.S. citizenship. Andro then returns to Bosnia as a USAID worker. During these vexing escapades, he meets a multitude of dynamic people and faces a mountain of barriers to reaching his life’s goal. This swarm of forces tests his drive and attempts to skew his moral compass. Andro eventually has an epiphany about achieving his quest… his life’s goal. In the end, our Green Card Soldier identifies several simple, but universal truisms that he intends to plant as part of his former homeland’s rebirth.” 

You can see more about Bruce and his book by clicking through to the book’s website here.  From there, you can download a preview and preorder the book.

Go ahead.  I’ll wait.  Come back when you’re done.

Good job and welcome back!

It’s being released in paperback on January 14th by Hellgate Press. I’ll be there to get my copy.

You should be too.

Congratulations on the book, Bruce!  All of us from Army Public Affairs are proud of you!

Bruce Zielsdorf, author of "Green Card Soldier"

Bruce Zielsdorf, author of “Green Card Soldier”

From the “Day Late and a $100,000 Short” Department

Quoted from Department of Defense Email:

Statement by George Little on Death Gratuity Payments

Today, senior DoD leaders consulted with the leadership of the Fisher House Foundation on moving forward with providing death benefits to the families of fallen service members.

Now that Congress has enacted legislation permitting DoD to provide families these benefits directly during the government shutdown, DoD is moving expeditiously to pay each family the $100,000 death gratuity they are owed. These payments were initiated today and the families will receive them early next week, when their banks reopen for business. In addition, Fisher House Foundation will donate $25,000 to each of these families from its own funds.

Secretary Hagel greatly appreciates the generosity of the Fisher House Foundation, as well as other groups which have stepped forward to help these families in their time of need. With Congress no longer preventing DoD from making these payments to the families directly, he is pleased that DoD will be able to fulfill its responsibilities to the families of the fallen. The Secretary remains deeply concerned about the disruptive impact the ongoing shutdown is having on Departmental operations, and continues to urge Congress to restore funding to the entire federal government.


One Day in the Oval Office

Let’s make a couple of assumptions here.

For the sake of our hypothetical situation below, let’s assume that the White House was notified at 9 AM about the lack of payments of death gratuities and other benefits to the survivors of the four Soldiers killed in action whose remains were returning to Dover. Let us also assume the existence of telephones, a chain of command, a White House Secretary and common sense.

I’m also assuming that the Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, owns the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Department of Defense agency which I believe actually pays these benefits when any Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine is killed in the line of duty. (I bet a months pay that he does and they do, but I’m unemployed so a month’s pay ain’t much.)

Let’s also assume that we’re in the Oval Office at that very moment just after 9am that the Commander in Chief is being notified that these families are not being paid.

Let’s listen in for a few moments. Here’s what should’ve happened:

Jay Carney (White House Press Secretary): “Mr. President, we’re getting reports that the remains of the four Soldiers who died in Afghanistan are coming back to Dover and their families aren’t getting their death benefits because of the shutdown. The press is killing us, sir and we’ve got to do something about this.”

(Now and hereafter, please imagine the voice of the president in your head as you read his words.)

Obama: “I’ll get right on that Jay.” (To his secretary) “Get me Secretary of Defense and the Chief White House General Counsel on the phone immediately!”

A few minutes pass by, and the President’s secretary buzzes in. “Mr. President, I have Defense Secretary Hagel and the General Counsel on the phone for you.”

Obama: “Thank you”  (To the Defense Secretary and the General Counsel now on a conference call) “Good morning gentlemen. I understand there’s a problem with paying death gratuity to the families of four Soldiers returning to Dover who have just given their lives in the service of this great Nation of ours. Have it fixed by noon.” <click, dial tone>

Here’s how it probably went:

Jay Carney (White House Press Secretary): “Mr. President, we’re getting reports that the remains of the four Soldiers who died in Afghanistan are coming back to Dover and their families aren’t getting their death benefits because of the shutdown. The press is killing us, sir and we’ve got to do something about this.”

Obama: “Gee, that’s a shame. Wish there was something I could do about that.”

Oh, and confidential to Jay Carney, I know there are lengthy, convoluted processes involved with getting things done in Washington. Six years in the Pentagon led me to that conclusion on my own.  But when you’re the President of the United States and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, and you make a call to get something done it shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to cut a couple of checks.

This is an unparalleled failure of leadership.

Those of who have had the honor of serving in the United States Army know precisely what it means when they say, “There’s Strong and then there’s Army Strong.”

Watching this unfold, I now know that there’s despicable and then there’s White House despicable.

Acting and Bosnia (from 1997)

I just discovered a Facebook group for former people assigned to the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS).  I casually leafed through the entries, If one can call browsing a site “leafing” as you would a book.  I saw quite a few familiar names and it reminded me of this piece I wrote back in 1997.  I had been in Los Angeles playing actor when I got called up to go to Bosnia for nine months and at the time, I wanted a way on my actor’s web site to explain my absence.  

Reading about all the AFRTS, history, I was reminded that we made a little AFRTS history of our own but more importantly, it reminded me of all the people with whom I’ve served over the years.  

On January 5, 1997, the world as I new ceased to exist. The wanna-be actor known as Dan Wolfe had to be put on hold. This was coming — I knew it. We all knew it. We had all been well prepared and trained. After over six years of “one weekend a month and two weeks a year,” Uncle Sam called me and the other members of the 222nd Public Affairs Detachment, U.S. Army Reserve to active duty for a period not to exceed 270 days. It was 270 days that changed the way I saw the world. And gave me the mission to safeguard the very lives of six soldiers as they traveled to Bosnia Herzegovina to entertain the peacekeepers.

Bosnia053-medAs a public affairs detachment, we were a reserve radio and TV station, capable of producing broadcast programming for the U.S. Forces 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Only six of us were activated to go with this group, but we were joined by several members of the Active Army upon our arrival in Germany. With about 12 soldiers, we assumed the military radio and television broadcast operation in Bosnia Herzegovina, Hungary and Croatia as the American Forces Network, The Balkans.

afn-e-As the unit’s commander, I didn’t get as much opportunity to be on the air as I would have liked. But my job was to command, make policy and keep everyone safe. I got to be on the air from time to time, practicing precious few moments and exercising the voice over and acting skills taken from that civilian world I left behind. For 270 days, we did the mission and did it well. While it absolutely killed my commercial acting career, I would not trade the experiences I had, nor the relationships I developed for a hundred national spots. (Well, maybe a hundred, but not fifty. Ok, maybe 30 and ten regionals?) In all seriousness, the relationships created when a dozen people share cramped quarters and unusual experiences (rarely, but occasionally life threatening) it creates something nearly magical. The soldiers, sailors and airmen with whom I served were among the finest people that the U.S. Military has to offer. If I were to choose a team to take back into a combat zone, I would choose the same group — no questions asked.

Did this experience help my military career? Definitely! I have been selected for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel and assigned as a brigade level deputy commander — a good thing, for those not familiar with the military. Did this experience help my acting career? Nope. In fact, I was doing pretty well right before I left. And those of you in the biz know that if you take a break, coming back is like starting over.

Was it worth it? Yeah, I think so. I saw from the back seat of a UH-60 helicopter, the lush, green valley surrounding the city of Sarajevo bathed in light morning clouds . The beauty and serenity of the vision above belied the destruction below and the eerie presence of 10,000 bodies buried just outside of Zetra Stadium, once sight of the Olympics. I saw American soldiers perform acts of kindness to local children who had been all too young to see anything remotely resembling “ethnic cleansing.” I saw the American sport of baseball introduced to Bosnia (albeit under heavy military guard!) I sent a 19 year old Army journalist to travel with an infantry unit during a period of great tension, and wondered if I had sent him into a situation where he might not come back alive. (He did.) I traveled in a “Humvee” down Sarajevo’s “sniper alley” with two of my colleagues, boisterously displaying our Americanism by playing ” The Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits” CD as loud as we could. Just yards away, I saw the ruins of the former Olympic Village, humiliated by mortar and gunfire, never again to house the living, let alone world class athletes.

Now, in the retrospect of having seen all this, I suspect that I AM a better actor for having experienced all this. After all, as actors, we draw on experiences — ALL of our experiences — to create complex, multidimensional characters that our audiences are compelled to believe in. Some believe that the more life experience, the more rich the acting experience. I agree.

So for those of you reading this who might wonder why I don’t work much after 8 years in L.A., I stepped out of the business for awhile and let that alter ego take over for 270 days. (And this was the third time the Army called me for this sort of thing. Though never to an overseas combat zone.) And while my acting career was just starting to pop, I wouldn’t trade the delays for any less that 20 national spots!

Our Team:

CPT Shawn “Caffeine J.” Jirik MSgt Rick “Thick” Blackburn, USAF
SSG Tom “The Geez” Owens SPC Darius Sims
SPC George “Julio” Lopez SGT Eric “Chuckles” Harding
SSgt Kenny Adams, USAF SGT Jennifer Braden
SPC Jennifer Lopez (no, not THE Jennifer Lopez.) SPC Lloyd “Stretch” Phelps
SGT Mark Parr SGT Pete Pirkle
JO3 Eric Deatheridge, USN PFC Brian Cox
SPC Rebecca Sue Cox SPC Heatherann Bozeman
JO3 Sean Everette, USN SPC Eric Hendrix
SGT Gerald Malec SSG Brian Scott
SSG Hank “The Big Sarge” Minitrez SSG Jimmy Colon
SPC Stephen Wylie SGT Tom Shanks
CPL Cory Check MSG Jerry Grams
JO1 Paula Nowalkowski IC3 Cynthia Shattuck

There are many others who unquestionably contributed to our mission and made our trip an unqualified success.  To those not listed here, who helped us get through the long weeks (and whose first names I don’t have on file,) thanks for a job well done!

Bosnia051-med Bosnia056-med Bosnia055-med Bosnia050-med Bosnia052-med

Facebook Humor Worth Repeating

Mike Downs at the Saudi version of the Grand Canyon an hour and change outside Riyadh.

Mike Downs at the Saudi version of the Grand Canyon an hour and change outside Riyadh.

Posted on Facebook by my friend, Mike Downs, with whom I served in Saudi Arabia in 2001-2001:

One morning, a grandmother was surprised to find that her 7-year-old grandson had made her coffee! Smiling, she choked down the worst cup of her life. When she finished, she found three little green Army men at the bottom. Puzzled, she asked, “Honey, what are these Army men doing in my coffee?” Her grandson answered, “Like it says on TV, Grandma…The best part of waking up is soldiers in you’re cup! Re-Post if you smiled….You know you did.