Tuesday, December 13, 2011

EOD Bomb Suit Mile

EOD classes are often encouraged to participate in a fundraiser for the EOD Memorial, Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation, or some other worthy cause. Class 11-360-N will conduct a EOD Bomb Suit Mile to draw attention to and funds for the latter.

I highly recommend supporting this worthy cause. They can be followed on facebook, and EODbombsuitmile.org.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Publishing Announcement: The Recipient's Son

 I am pleased to announce that the Naval Institute Press will publish my second novel, The Recipient's Son, in September 2012. It is a novel about the son of a Medal of Honor Recipient who attends the U.S. Naval Academy. I will post updates here, and can be followed on my page on facebook; https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stephen-Phillips/49005121492

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Intelligence collection in its most visceral form.

Interrogation represents intelligence collection in its most visceral form. Sitting in “the box” with one’s enemy, maintaining composure and decorum, all while outwitting them to the point that they provide valuable information against their will requires the skills of a chess master combined with a thespian.  It is clear after reading The Black Banners that former FBI Agent Ali Soufan embodies this ability and more.

A Lebanese-American assigned to the FBI’s counterterrorism office in New York
City,  Soufan was pivotal as an interrogator for many investigations in the
war with al Qaeda to include the East Africa Embassy bombings, the attack on USS Cole, and 9/11. In fact, Soufan was in Yemen on 9/11 conducting the Cole investigation, and collected the first intelligence that proved al Qaeda was responsible for 9/11.

The Black Banners describes many interrogations that are reminiscent of other great books on the subject such as The Interrogators by Chris Mackey and Greg Miller and How to Break a Terrorist by Matthew Alexander. Like Alexander, Soufan provides detailed and convincing commentary on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (read: waterboarding and the like) versus The Informed Interrogation Approach. This alone makes his work an important book for all who work in the intelligence field.
Soufan’s book is equally valuable for its study of Al Qaeda itself. While it is not as informative as other examples that focus primarily on the terror group, like The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright, it serves as a great companion to such works.

The Black Banners is an important study of an American patriot and his invaluable service to our nation. It should serve as an addition to any student of modern history, and of course, military and intelligence enthusiasts. 

Thank you, Mr. Soufan.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Run out the guns!

Thorough research mixed with superior writing is the mark of Steve Maffeo. He has followed his non-fiction works, Most Secret and Confidential and Seize, Burn, or Sink with an informative and entertaining age-of-sail novel. The Perfect Wreck is an account of USS Constitution and HMS Java during the War of 1812. Maffeo used a considerable number of historical documents to ensure incredible accuracy, and includes a glossary that will respond to most anticipated queries. Most important is that The Perfect Wreck is a great read.

Maffeo’s style is reminiscent of both C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series, and Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels. Like Forester, Maffeo’s discussion of the ships’ design, details of their outfitting, dramatization of the daily routine, and descriptions of their sailing techniques is educational, without becoming too dry. In a manner similar to Shaara, he takes the reader from officers and crew on Constitution to Java and back again, humanizing them, solidifying the reader’s understanding of the age, and effectively building tension as the battle approaches. To be sure, the conflict between Java and “Old Ironsides” is not the book’s only engagement: like any good age of sail novel, the guns are run out numerous times. Here Maffeo really excels, providing a taste of battle with a perspective from the topgallants to the surgeon’s cabin.

Any fan of the age of sail or historical fiction should add The Perfect Wreck to their collection. It should be mandatory reading for any bluejacket.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cold War Undersea: Book Review of "Blind Man's Bluff," and "Project Azorian."

Many chapters of the Cold War were unseen and unknown to the general public. Among the most secret operations were those conducted undersea by the U.S. Navy’s submarine force. In Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew tell tales derived from interviewing submariners that include technological marvels and unparalleled courage.
            Before reading this book, most have a perception of the submarine force consisting of two main missions, attack subs to find and destroy the enemy at sea, and ballistic missile boats, or “boomers,” that serve as part of America’s Strategic Nuclear Triad.  Others may be aware that submarines have been employed to deliver UDTs and are used to transport SEALs and their Seal Delivery Vehicles (SDVs). Blind Man’s Bluff describes missions that were equally secretive, but that focused on intelligence collection, such as USS Halibut deploying saturation divers to tap into Soviet underwater telephone cables, or the secret mission to raise the downed Soviet submarine, K-129. Through each story the reader becomes acutely aware of the dangers, the skill, and the sacrifice and those in the “Silent Service.” Blind Man’s Bluff is an important read for any fan of naval or military history.

Norman Polmar and Michael White discuss the raising of K-129 in greater detail in a book and companion documentary that focuses on the subject entitled Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of the K-129.
            The whole project includes three major steps. First, find K-129 and determine if its condition was such that it could be salvaged in order to obtain intelligence in the form of details about Soviet submarine design, construction of nuclear weapons, and codebooks or other cryptological material. USS Halibut, an intelligence asset employed underwater cameras to pinpoint K-129s location three miles below the ocean surface. The photos revealed that the sub was salvageable. Next, a ship needed to be constructed that could raise the submarine. The bulk of Project Azorian describes in interesting detail the planning and construction of the Hughes Glomar Explorer, complete with lifting cables, a capture vehicle, and a “moon pool” to house the submarine once retrieved. Howard Hughes allowed one of his corporations to act as a front for the U.S. government to at least reduce Soviet suspicion of the ship’s actual mission. Publically, Glomar Explorer was trying to mine the ocean floor for manganese. Finally, the submarine and its contents were analyzed to derive as much intelligence value as possible.
            By highlighting this whole effort, Project Azorian serves as an important book on Cold War history. It is recommended for intelligence analysts and sailors alike as well as any fan of engineering marvels.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Hero: A valuable, detailed biography of T.E. Lawrence.

T.E. Lawrence is a fascinating historical figure whose life is often blurred between fact and fiction. This may be because Lawrence himself would simultaneously step into the limelight, while denying his own identity. He was a shapeshifter, “Lawrence of Arabia” one moment, Aircraftman First Class T.E. Shaw the next. Those around him went along with the ruse, like a Tony Clifton audience sans nicotine and alcohol, hoping he would revert to Colonel Lawrence, “the uncrowned King of Arabia” before the act was over. Michael Korda sifts through this, Lawrence’s interesting and confusing life, in the aptly-titled biography, Hero.
Korda starts with a description of Lawrence’s World War I service, his eighteen months leading the Arabian revolt against the Turks. The detail here is enough that someone who is unfamiliar with Lawrence will begin to realize why his actions were studied by Mao and Che Guevara, and remain important scholarship for unconventional warriors today. Hero then starts at the proverbial beginning, chronicling Lawrence’s childhood and college years where his intelligence, endurance, and quirkiness all combined to form this unique character. Most enjoyable are Korda’s description of Lawrence Oxford years, especially his study of archeology in Egypt, Turkey, and throughout the rest of what is today’s Middle East that made him so familiar with the various tribes, cultures, and dialects and thus invaluable to British efforts against the Turks.
Hero thoroughly covers the revolt in the desert, quoting at times from Lawrence’s own work on the subject, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Korda adds his own insight into some of the actions, and the geopolitical fencing between the French and British as they determined the lines to be drawn in this new territory vis-à-vis the Sykes-Picot agreement. He also includes a much appreciated discussion of Lawrence’s role as the advisor to Prince Faisal in the post-war talks.
Like Lawrence’s college years, Korda thoroughly covers the years when he sought anonymity while simultaneously publishing Revolt in the Desert and The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It is most curious that Lawrence would develop long friendships with the likes of Winston Churchill and Bernard and Charlotte Shaw (whose name adopted as his nom de guerre), while serving in the enlisted ranks as means to avoid attention.  He even surreptitiously attended Lowell Thomas’ performance in London of With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia, likely reveling in the tale while hoping nobody noticed him.
The whole account is a valuable addition to any library, but especially those who appreciate history and T.E. Lawrence in particular. Korda should be most commended for the aforementioned sections on Lawrence’s college and post-war years as they provide insight into the man not commonly found elsewhere.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

EOD Book Review: Bomb Hunters - In Afghanistan with Britain's Elite Bomb Disposal Unit

Bomb Disposal within Taliban Crosshairs:
IEDs are the weapon of choice for terrorists and insurgents from Afghanistan to Ireland. Among the best in the business of defusing these horrific devices are the Ammunition Technical Officers of the British Army’s Royal Logistic Corps. Commonly called “ATOs,” they are the equivalent of what Americans refer to as Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians or “EOD Techs.”

In Bomb Hunters, former British para-turned journalist Sean Rayment tells the story of Royal Engineer Search Teams (REST) that locate IEDs, the “bleeps” that jam the electronic spectrum to prevent radio-controlled detonations, the ATOs who take “the long walk” to disrupt, defuse, or render safe IEDs, and the weapons intelligence specialists who collect post-blast information that can lead to the bomber or bomb-maker. Rayment specifically focuses on counter-IED efforts in Helmand province in Afghanistan based on several visits there between August 2008 and March 2010.

Rayment relays in vivid detail the challenges of bomb disposal while enveloped in unbearable heat and operating – literally –  within Taliban crosshairs. The heroism described through Bomb Hunters, including one ATO disarming IEDs with one hand after his dominant hand is broken, and the somber remembrance of several ATOs who made the ultimate sacrifice, will humble any reader. The book also includes several accounts of direct action between British soldiers and the Taliban before, during, after, and outside of counter-IED operations. Perhaps Rayment’s most salient and interesting account is not of bomb disposal, but of a sophisticated ambush derived from the British study and analysis of Taliban tactics vis-a-vis medical evacuations via helo.

Bomb Hunters is another important book on the war on terrorism that will prove invaluable to soldiers, historians, and the friends and family of disposaleers who served so honorably in Helmand Province.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spike TV looking for former U.S. Navy EOD

As the old jodie goes, "Feeling fine and looking good, I outta be in Hollywood."

Former U.S. Navy EOD Techs interested in joining a show on Spike TV, read below.

"Hi Stephen-
My name is Jennifer and I’m one of the casting producers for a new TV show “Most Lethal.”  It’s a great show that will feature the World’s Best Special Forces Operatives in an array of combat challenges.  We’re looking for operators who are currently INACTIVE, physically and mentally strong, and great with weapons.  Please find our casting info attached in this email.  I came across a number of articles about you online, and I would love the chance to talk with you more about the show.
In addition, this show has proven to be difficult to cast, as we are looking for the most elite SOF operators—which is a small group combined with the fact that they are extremely private. I’d appreciate *anything* you could do to help us spread the word to members of this elite community.  If you know any men/women that I just described, please pass along my email/contact info.
 For additional questions or to recommend a particular person, please call me at 818.728-4131
 Thank you for your time.
Jennifer Dyal
Casting Associate
Spike TV "Most Lethal"

Friday, January 28, 2011

Proximity available on iBooks

Proximity: A Novel of the Navy's Elite Bomb Squad is now available for Apple platforms through iBooks. Look for it now for your iPhone, iPad, or iTouch.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"So, you wanna go EOD,"...an EOD Book Round-up

A master chief twin-pin (read SEAL & EOD qualified - an increasingly rare breed) from EOD Mobile Unit Two assembled a group of EOD and SEAL "wanna-bes" on the pool deck near SEAL TEAM TWO's compound onboard Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Virginia. They were about to begin a physical screening test for EOD or Naval Special Warfare starting with the first step, the 500yd swim.

Before they began the master chief asked a question. "Who knows who Draper Kauffman was?"
Only one candidate who stuck out his hand.
"Draper Kauffman is the father of the Navy EOD and Special Warfare communities, Master Chief."
"That's right, sir. Hooya."
The master chief asked a few more questions about Rear Admiral Kauffman. The lieutenant was able to answer most of them.
"All of you should know about Draper Kauffman. It is important to understand the heritage of this community, where we came from," the master chief announced to the whole group. "All of you need to get up to speed with the lieutenant here."

Next, the master chief went down the line asking each sailor what his scores on the test were going to be. Some expressed that they had no idea, as he got closer in line to the lieutenant, others started guessing.
"I'm going to swim in about 8:58, Master Chief. I will max push-ups and sit-ups at 100 each, then get eight to ten pull-ups, followed by around 11 minutes on the run."
The scores that the lieuntenant announced we good, but not stellar. He was certain others in the group would have more pull-ups and a much faster run time.
"Sir, that's pretty specific. How do you know those will be your scores?"
"Because I perform the EOD screening test myself every Friday afternoon in preparation.

The lieutenant has made a positive impression upon the master chief. As a result, the second part of his interview ended before it started. The EOD officer who was assigned ot interview him to ascertain his suitability for EOD said words to the effect, "Master Chief already told me you've got the gouge and that you are serious about this community. As a result, you are going to get the highest recommendation from me."

The lesson learned from this yarn is that many are attracted to the EOD/NSW communities, but few demonstrate serious commitment. They talk a lot about the warfare pins, the social life, the machismo. The lieutenant's actions portrayed someone who had researched the EOD community thoroughly and prepared seriously to apply. It made a lasting impression.

I employed this same technique when interviewing EOD candidates. My first question would always be "Who was Draper Kauffman?" Those who knew and could tell me more about the community they were applying for got my highest recommendations for EOD school or BUD/S. For those that did not, I recommended that they do some research and find out more about the community.

The best book available to learn about Draper Kauffman and the origin of the EOD community is America's First Frogman, The Draper Kauffman Story by Elizabeth Kauffman Bush. I reviewed it here on this blog and on Amazon. This is the first book anyone should read who wants to be an EOD Tech or a SEAL.

A Cold War Story by Jim Conkey is a novel about Navy EOD that takes place in the 1950's. I've also reviewed it on this blog and on Amazon. This also provides invaluable insight into the U.S. Navy EOD community's heritage.

The third book I'd recommend for those who want to learn about the U.S. Navy EOD community is The Day We Lost the H-Bomb by Barbara Moran. This is a true account of a B-52 crash and the loss of four nuclear weapons in 1966. One of the key figures is a legend in Navy EOD, Commander "Red" Moody. Add this to your required reading list if you wanna be a crab-wearer.

It is equally important to understand the EOD world today, what it means to serve as an EOD Tech in the global war on terrorism. Currently, there are not many good books about American forces conducting EOD, but there are two that cover our UK brethren. They are Eight Lives Down by Major Chris Hunter and Red One: A Bomb Disposal Expert on the Front Line by Capt Kevin Ivison. Again, I've written detailed reviews on this blog and on Amazon. Note that in the British Army tradition, EOD Techs come from the logistics corps and are called "Ammunition Technical Officers" or "ATOs."

Much of the modern counter-IED techniques evolved from ATOs' efforts battling the IRA in the Northern Ireland conflict they called, "The Troubles." There are also several good books on this subject. In particular, I recommend A Special Kind of Courage by Chris Ryder and The Longest Walk by Peter Birchall. The are both excellent sources of historical accounts of valor by British ATOs in Northern Ireland and other theaters. I've also reviewed these through this blog and on Amazon.

For all those who seek to become an EOD Tech - get in physical shape - but also start with the lessons learned and the history encompassed on these pages to ensure you're on the  right track.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

EOD Book Review - RED ONE: A Bomb Disposal Expert on the Front Line by Captain Kevin Ivison, GM

In Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers have displayed countless acts of courage, and demonstrated immeasurable heroism. Through his autobiography, RED ONE: A Bomb Disposal Expert on the Front Line, Captain Kevin Ivison reminds us that courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome it, and heroism occurs not only during one’s service, but in the sacrifices endured long after it.

Ivision, a British Ammunition Technical Officer or “ATO” – the UK’s term for Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians – deployed for four months to Northern Ireland followed by four months in Al Amarah, Iraq. While there, he and his unit defused improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by day and endured indirect fire by night.

An IED attack against a convoy of paratroopers at a spot in Al Amarah the Brits called “Red One” became the defining moment in Ivision’s deployment. He was called to render safe a “secondary,” an explosive formed penetrator (EFP) that was not triggered, within sight of two fallen Paras before the force could safely extract. He did so while an angry mob threw rocks at the security cordon and a sniper took shots at them. To make matters worse, his EOD robot and the team’s electronic jamming equipment were inoperable. Ivision defused the IED with his wits alone. He was subsequently awarded the George Medal, second only to the Victoria Cross.

Upon returning to his parent command, Ivision soon discovered that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder or “PTSD.” His initial cries for help, including reaching out to medical personnel, went unheeded. As a result, his struggle back to normalcy was almost as arduous as combat on Red One…and maybe a continuation of it.

This is the one of the rawest books about the war in Iraq from a man who served there in the most dangerous of professions. It is recommended reading for all who serve in combat arms, and especially those who are or seek to be disposaleers.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Jones International and the Navy Memorial

Jones International University was founded by Glenn R. Jones, a former U.S. Navy EOD Officer. They sponsored the EOD exhibit at the Navy Memorial and the event last October, "Navy EOD, Then and Now." I was honored to be a panelist at that event.

Now, they've released a video to advertise the exhibit and honor the Navy's EOD community. I'd like to simply say, "Thank You, JIU!"