Editor’s note: This is the third and final installment of a series of articles created by best-selling authors, who participated in the USO’s recent Operation Thriller III tour. The tour is the third in the USO’s more than 70-year history, where authors have been sent to visit and uplift military personnel in a combat zone.
“I have 22 days and a wake up.”
“I just got here three weeks ago.”
“This is my third tour. I’ve got nine months on this one.”
The calendar moves slowly for those that serve with our military units throughout the Persian Gulf. Every man and woman that wears our uniforms knows exactly his or her place on it. They know the holidays that will be missed. They certainly are aware of the family that is missed.
|Author Andy Harp (left) visits with U.S. military personnel during the Operation Thriller 3 USO tour.
Likewise, the same is true of those on the other side of the world. The family members sitting at home thinking of the same calendar. No rank, from private to colonel, from airman to master sergeant, from wife to child, or parent to grandparent, is exempt from this measure.
The Operation Thriller 3 USO tour got the opportunity to see what our fellow citizens need to see. A handful of thriller writers got a front-row seat at military operations that run much deeper than the 444th Company’s job on a non-disclosable base somewhere in the Persian Gulf. We got to see much more than the C-17 crews running missions on a daily basis, or the KC-135 refuelers launching another all night mission, or the firemen waiting for another urgent call for help. We saw more than the thousands of fork lift drivers, mechanics, explosive ordinance experts, soldiers, sailors, Marines and Airmen, who work it every day of the week, 24/seven in dust and dirt, and heat.
Heat that sometimes scorches the desert to such a degree that the Airmen who guard the fences wear facemasks to capture their breath because it is cooler than the surrounding air. Heat that melts the tires, if they stop too long, of the vehicles that the Motor T Marines are driving from one undisclosed location to another. Heat that only makes his job far more difficult when the aircraft chief mechanic from Columbus, Georgia, gets his bird ready for another mission from an undisclosed base. He knows every single part of this multi-million dollar machine. His mom knows the calendar as well. Just like the Airman from Buena Vista, Georgia, who has spent a career of 20 years working with that calendar.
What Operation Thriller got to see — and this includes now more than a dozen of some of the most popular thriller novelists over a three-year series of USO tours — is what every protagonist seeks. Michael Connelly sought it in “The Lincoln Lawyer,” David Morrell’s Rambo sought it in “First Blood,” Kathy Reich’s heroes seek it every day in episodes of “Bones.” They seek a learning of character.
Someone once said that character is not built by the easy conflicts. Steel is not tested at its strongest point. Life will not test these members of our military later on by whether they see a crime being committed and not call the police. It will be the hard decisions that will test them.
And the cement is being poured. It is being formed by the leadership of our commanding officers and senior enlisted in the middle of absolutely nowhere. On bases that I cannot even tell you about. The men and women of our next generation will cope with our problems because they have worked jobs that require them to stand shifts so exhausting that they have to sleep sometimes literally on their feet. Missions that require some to sit in aircraft ejection seats no wider than your hips for eight-, 10-, 12-hour days.
And each does his or her job with the exacting professionalism of a surgeon despite this clock. An Army sergeant manning a gate, locked and loaded for that one instance that tests his metal.
We are in a war. Our tactical operations succeed. But another military operation is succeeding as well. We are building character. Every uniform you pass when you walk through our airports knows exactly what I am talking about.
“I rotate out tomorrow.”
What golden words.
Andy Harp is the author of "A Northern Thunder," his first novel, which has received praise from both Marines and national reviewers (Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Midwest Book Review, etc.). His latest book, "RETRIBUTION" is out now. Harp lives with his wife and four children in Columbus, Ga.
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