Sunday, November 6, 2016

A SOLDIER'S HISTORY

I am honored to introduce Bob Kern and welcome him
to my blog. Please read his interview, leave a comment
for an opportunity to win his first three books.
This is a wonderful chance to meet a true patriot
and outstanding author.

INTERVIEW WITH BOB KERN


What inspired you to write your first book?
9/11 created a lot of patriotism in the country.  People everywhere started thanking veterans for their service.  I felt guilty when this happened to me and would tell people, “Thanks, but I didn’t serve in combat, I was a Reagan soldier.”  They would always tell me thanks for serving anyway.  I was very proud of my service.  I had a very distinguished career with two – four year enlistments in the eighties.  I still couldn’t shake the guilt.  I felt embarrassed when attending my grandkids Veteran’s Day ceremonies when asked to stand with veterans recently returned from the War on Terror.  At church, when the preacher asked all veterans to stand and be recognized, my wife had to nudge me to stand up. 
I realized the shame I felt was all in my head.  I suspected there were a lot of Cold War veterans who struggled with this and decided to write a book about my military career to show how difficult it was serving in the Cold War and to educate people about the threat of nuclear war we always knew was imminent while we prepared to confront the Soviet Union.  Serving in the Cold War was extremely difficult.  Over 40% of veterans of the Cold War are disabled.  I thought writing about my experiences might educate people about all of this and show that we Cold War veterans had nothing to be ashamed of.  We are the reason the world never faced a nuclear holocaust that a war with the Soviets would have resulted in.   We Were Soldiers Too; Serving As A Reagan Soldier During The Cold War is my story.

How did you come up with the title? 
“We Were Soldiers Too” is intended to remind everyone that even though veterans of the Cold War never fought in a war, “We Were Soldiers Too.”  The title also reflects the importance of every job in the military as important to the success of the mission.  

Is there a message in your book series that you want readers to grasp?
The series uses the careers of Cold War veterans, with different jobs over the years of the Cold War, as the thread through time to tell the history of the Cold War from their perspectives and time in service.  The goal is to write about more than the frontline jobs but to educate people on the support people and their roles in the big picture.  Cooks, finance, mechanics, and communication personnel are just as critical as the infantry soldiers, tank crews, missile crews, and so on.




What books have most influenced your life most?
At the risk of sounding egotistical, my book series We Were Soldiers Too has impacted my life the most.  My reading has always been in the fiction realm and yet my writing is nonfiction.  When I wrote my autobiography, the outpouring of gratitude I got from Cold War veterans was overwhelming.  These veterans were so grateful that someone had finally written a realistic book about serving in the Cold War and told it like it was.   Many of their messages and emails brought tears to my eyes.  When I decided to write a sequel using the careers of other veterans, I received such a strong response I decided I needed to turn my book into a series of twelve books.  This has become a project of passion for me to document this critical part of history that is overlooked.  I have met so many amazing people through this project how could it not influence my life.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Writing is easy for me.  (After finishing book three, I took a break from the series and wrote Memories of Mamaw; Losing A Loved One to Dementia in a week.)  It’s the marketing of the books that is difficult for me.  It’s very time consuming and takes away from my time to write.  Because of this, I only spend a few weeks marketing it.  I released two books in the series this year and have two more I am working on now for release at year end from spending less time marketing.

Did you learn anything from writing your series and what was it?
The books are written with each chapter covering the career of a different veteran.  I learn something from each chapter about the military, a specific job, a military assignment or duty station, and the Cold War.  For example, I was in the infantry for almost eight years and I had no idea that the soldiers serving in South Korea were patrolling with live ammunition and engaging the North Koreans in firefights occasionally. Book three also includes the careers of Paul Batchelor and Jim Hensley, two veterans serving in different units whose tours in Korea over-lapped.  In December 1983, both veterans found themselves in two different observations posts viewing the same gunfight below in the DMZ giving two perspectives of the same incident.
I was fortunate to be able to include Juanita Coover, one of the first women to serve in Germany in a combat arms unit.  This was a real eye opener about the difficulties a woman faced back then in a world of men.  I have Jerry Myers, a cook in Germany when the Iran hostages were released on the day Reagan was sworn into office.  Jerry was stationed next to the hospital where the hostages were secretly brought to that night.  The base personnel happened to be away on training so Jerry and the other cooks were grabbed and assigned as security in front of the hospital for when the buses and the hostages arrived.  Each book has countless stories like these as the Cold War unfolded around these brave veterans that served during it.
Most importantly, I have made friends for life with the veterans involved in this series and each one of them have taught me many things about the military and their lives after serving.  I have found we share a common bond and after the first hellos on the phone we talk for hours like we’ve known each other our whole lives.


Do you have any advice for other writers?
         If you have the desire to write a book, then do it.  With the ability to self-publish being so easy and inexpensive, there is nothing to keep a person from becoming an author.  Most importantly, never forget that there is no secret to making lots of money from book sales.  Don’t believe the hype on the internet.  It’s easy to be a best seller but it’s hard work marketing your book and requires authors to spend lots of time promoting it.  Every book is different and there are no guarantees so don’t waste your money on books and programs promising success.

You mentioned that there will be twelve books in the series.  Can you share what the subjects of your upcoming books will be?

The second book covered serving in Germany from 1960 to 1989 and the third book was serving in South Korea and the DMZ from 1962 to 1991.  I am currently working on books four and five, the Cold War at Sea and Romeo’s; The radar crews of the Cold War.  I have veterans already lined up for book six about guarding and defending the Iron Curtain and seven; Nuclear Weapon Crews of the Cold War.  Other titles will likely be The Fulda Gap; Ground Zero for World War III, Ghost Walkers; Real or Fiction, Being a Peacetime Soldier in a Wartime Era, Cold War Anti-aircraft crews, and the Cold War from the Air.

Please give us an excerpt from one of your books.

Book 1
Chapter 2
Arriving at Fort Benning

I arrived at basic training expecting to be welcomed in a manner like what I had just experienced at Fort Jackson.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  No sooner had the buses parked when the yelling began.  Drill instructors entered each bus using extremely colorful language and barking orders for us to exit the bus and quickly form up outside.  Wide-awake now - terror has this affect - I quickly exited the bus and fell into formation with the rest of the platoon.  I was ordered to do push-ups until I could no longer push up no matter how hard I pushed.  Just when I was certain that I was about to die, they allowed us to stop, ending the pain for the moment.  We formed into platoon formation and marched to my assigned barracks.
In my training company, the platoons and barracks were divided by MOS.  We were all infantry soldiers, or grunts, but I soon realized that there are different types of grunts.  My platoon consisted of all the trainees for 11H heavy anti-armor weapons grunts.  There was another platoon with all the 11C indirect fire grunts, and last two platoons of your basic 11B grunts.  Expecting to be released from this abuse, instead, I was forced to do more push-ups.  There I was, a scared out-of-shape teenager, lying on my belly trying to look like I was doing push-ups when I was praying to wake up from this nightmare.  As I laid there with my arms shaking and weak, and my face flushed, I was certain my eyes were going to pop out of my head if I pushed any harder.  This whole time I was being told I was the lowest form of life on earth, lower than worms.  The berating continued relentlessly and they kept calling us a bunch of maggots, a name they seemed to like to call recruits because they would use it all the time.  My stomach churned and terror filled every fiber of my body as I realized my life was now in the hands of these raging madmen called drill sergeants.
Exhausted, weak and terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing, I was finally allowed to enter my barracks, an old, two story building nothing like the apartment-type barracks I had just left.  The first thing I saw when I entered the bathroom was the showers.  Excuse me, the latrine.  Calling it anything else, I quickly learned, resulted in more punishment and humiliation.
When I entered the latrine, the first thing I noticed was sinks and mirrors lining both walls.  Immediately to the left was the shower room, a tiled room with wall-to-wall showers.  But the biggest shock was the room to the right.  Upon entering it, I didn’t even notice the urinals lining the left wall.  Nope, what caught my attention was the row of toilets, side-by-side with nothing dividing them.  Nothing.  I didn’t even like using public restrooms so how was I supposed to do this?
Guys aren’t like women who will chat it up with the woman in the next stall.  When we go to the movies with a buddy, we always leave an empty seat between us.  It’s the same with public restrooms.  We always make sure there is a urinal between us and we never talk to the guy next to us.  No way!  It’s always eyes to the front, staring at the wall, then wash your hands and leave without a word said.  I found my heart racing as I realized I would have to do my serious business with no privacy at all.
Past this was a large open room with a row of bunk beds down each side.  Two adjacent lockers made a partition that separated each set of bunks. The room had a large rectangular outline painted on the center of the floor with a huge airborne insignia in the center.  Upstairs had a couple of small rooms that the drill instructors slept in and another large bunk area just like downstairs.  I was assigned a top bunk on the second floor.
After finding my bed, I began unpacking like I had been taught, clothes hung orderly and socks and t-shirts rolled and laid out uniformly in the drawers.  Once completed, we were all summoned to the upstairs corner of the barracks where I met my drill instructors, including my senior instructor Sergeant First-Class Lee.  He welcomed us and for a few minutes I got to experience my TV-like moment of basic.  Sitting and standing around him, we all shared a little bit about ourselves and where we were from.  This family moment passed soon enough and the door to hell was thrown wide open.
I was ordered back to my bunk area and told to fall in at attention along the line facing inward.  Then, in a way only drill sergeants can, I was reminded of my lowly wormlike status.  Terrified, I stood there and listened as my drill sergeant informed me that the center of the barracks was off limits. Since I wasn’t airborne qualified, if I touched the area inside the lines with the logo I would be disrespecting the honor of those who were airborne qualified.  In fact, I wasn’t even worthy enough to touch the line that bordered this area. I didn’t need to be told twice, so I never touched that line.  I would skirt it sideways to get to and from my bunk the entire time I was there.  I was finally ordered to bed but I didn’t sleep much that first night.
Before I knew it, I awakened by a large clamor and shouting coming from downstairs.  As the noise made its way up the stairs, I realized it was SFC Lee causing all the ruckus.  He was banging two trash-can lids together like a lunatic and shouting orders to get up and form up along the line on the floor.  I was immediately wide-awake and standing at my assigned spot on that line.  I am sure I made quite the picture standing there along that stupid line in my underwear, eyes staring straight ahead as I prayed silently that I hadn’t done something to draw attention to me.   I was then released and given two minutes to dress and form up in front of the barracks for my first session of physical training.
Just when I didn’t think it could get any worse, it did.  SFC Lee held up orange fluorescent vests when he addressed the platoon.  My heart sank when he told us these vests were for his fat boys and then he handed me one.  The door to hell hadn’t only opened; I had just been shoved through it.  I was regretting every fast food meal I had enjoyed that past summer.
Those of us labeled fat boys were given these vests and told we were to be road guards for the entire duration of basic training.  We were responsible for blocking traffic as the platoon marched or ran by intersections.  There were four of us, two positioned in the front of the formation and two in the rear.  The front two would run ahead to upcoming intersections and hold traffic for the platoon.  The back two would run up and relieve them as the platoon arrived to the intersection and hold traffic until everyone had passed the intersection.  I quickly realized this was his grand weight loss plan by making us run almost twice as much during PT with extra running when we were marching.  I vowed to myself to get off the fat boy list as fast as possible.
I was so determined to lose weight quickly and remove myself from the fat boy list I practically starved myself the first month.  Not the healthiest way to lose weight, but it worked and turned out to be quite profitable for me.  At each meal, I sold my meat and dessert for a dollar each.  I hated wearing that road-guard vest, not because it marked me as a fat boy, but for the pain it always brought.  It’s impossible to hide your struggles when you are outside the formation and wearing a bright, florescent orange vest.  I couldn’t fall out of formation to catch my breath or puke when I was responsible for stopping traffic as the platoon ran through each intersection.  I lost weight fast and by Christmas SFC Lee was no longer referring to me as one of his fat boys.  Nevertheless, I continued being a road guard for the rest of basic training, so I guess he hadn’t completely forgotten.  Consequently, I developed a high tolerance for pain during this time.  I didn’t want to do anything that drew the drill instructor’s attention my way, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that it worked.
It’s no secret that basic training is supposed to be hard.  The army doesn’t need unfit people trying to protect the country.  When I enlisted, I expected to be pushed to my physical limits but what I wasn’t prepared for was the mental abuse I had to take.  I had heard rumors of drill sergeants physically abusing recruits in the past.  I have no idea of the truth of those rumors.  I do know that when I was there in 1980 they would get in serious trouble for striking a recruit.  I quickly found out that they didn’t need to hit me to get my attention anyway.  Fear and humiliation was a much more effective tool to strip away self-worth and turn trainees into followers.
Later in my career, I took a college management course that covered different management styles.  One of these was the Theory X and Theory Y style of management.  Theory X was the belief that people are basically lazy and need constant supervision to get something done.  Theory Y is the belief that people are good and will always do their jobs without constant supervision.  Neither of these styles work in the civilian world.  I was taught the only time Theory X could work was in a combat environment where soldiers needed to respond to orders without question and with complete faith in the leader giving the order.  A big part of basic training was to transform recruits into followers who wouldn’t question their leaders.
My experience in basic training confirmed this to some degree.  It was the responsibility of the drill sergeants to break me down mentally and make me so weak that I would blindly follow those in charge of me.  They were good at making me feel worthless and incapable of making my own decisions.  The abuses they put me through mentally to mold me into a soldier changed me forever, which of course, was the objective.  Fear is a great motivator and I lived in a constant state of fear.
I was terrified of my drill sergeants and anyone else I encountered with rank.  But the people who treated recruits the worst were the drill corporals.  These were soldiers who had only recently completed basic training and had been given temporary promotions to corporal.  The logic for this was probably that these guys could better communicate with trainees.  They had just gone through a process designed to make them soldiers who would blindly follow orders.  As a reward for finishing at the top of the class, they found themselves working beside the drill sergeants they had just come to worship.  They were completely unprepared for these roles and had no idea what being a good leader meant or looked like. Taking soldiers fresh out of basic training and placing them in a leadership positions over vulnerable recruits is not a very smart thing to do.  This boneheaded policy quite often led to power trips with these guys.  In many cases, they ridiculed recruits for their own twisted pleasure.  Some of the things they did was excessive and only served their bloated egos at the expense of the recruits’ dignity.
The humiliation I was subjected to did what it was supposed to.  I quickly learned my place at the bottom of the pecking order and how to be good little soldier. This didn’t change the abuse because it was a form of brain washing and the pressure had to remain to ensure I never forgot that soldiers take orders and follow them, no questions asked.
Sleep deprivation was another tool used to change me into a soldier.  A tired brain made me react to commands unquestioningly, making the mental abuse I went through more effective.  My body was learning through repetition while my mind was kept sluggish.  I was being turned into a follower.  Late to bed and early to rise left me tired every day.
The pressure from the drill instructors was never-ending. One instructor was always with us and they rotated who spent the night in the barracks.  I was awakened every morning by screaming and the clamor of two trashcan lids being beaten like cymbals in a nightmare band.  I would still be exhausted from the previous day but couldn’t linger in bed.  There was no snooze option.  Those trash cans would immediately send fear shooting through my body and I would jump up and fall in.  Standing at attention with my toes on the centerline, I would say a silent prayer every morning that everyone made the formation on time.  If the drill instructors saw anyone late or not standing at attention properly, we would all be ordered to the ready position for pushups.  Cadence was called while we did pushups until everyone had surpassed their physical limitations.  Eventually, we would be called back to attention and then released to prepare for morning PT.  There were many days I think they made up our “mistakes” just to torture us into shape.
Challenging the physical limits of my body was obviously an important part of basic training.  Most kids who enter the army are like I was, out of shape.  Even those who thought they were in good shape quickly found out they weren’t.  Honestly, nobody could be ready for all the physical demands of basic training back then.  To graduate, I had to pass every single phase, which included several physical tests.  I never would have passed without being forced through all the grueling torture I was put through.
One requirement was to run two miles in fewer than nineteen minutes and five miles in fewer than fifty-five minutes.  We ran every morning in formation to get fit enough to pass.  Since we also needed to learn the importance of working as a team, and as a unit, our morning PT became a tool to teach this as well.  A painful tool, not just for us road guards but for everyone.  As we ran, there would always be some who fell out of formation.  These recruits were not as fit as they needed to be and every platoon had them.  Every time this happened, the formation looped back to pick up the stragglers.  This made sure we finished as a platoon.  The distances would gradually increase each morning, eventually getting to five miles.  It tires me just thinking about those morning runs.
These runs were tough on everyone because.  We knew we had to complete them in the required time if we wanted to graduate.  The constant loops back to pick up stragglers frustrated all of us each morning.  Listening to the drill sergeants berate and humiliate the stragglers made us angry with the few who kept causing us to turn around.
The worst result of these methods used to transform us was it also took away any feelings of sympathy we might have had, so we never considered what the stragglers felt.  This isolated these poor kids and it still breaks my heart thinking back on this.  These guys had volunteered to serve their country and didn’t deserve to be treated as outcasts and isolated this way.  To make matters worse, some guys bought into the drill instructors methodology and would berate these same guys in private.  One day a drill corporal pulled a few of these idiots aside and convinced them to coordinate a “blanket party” for one particular guy.
A blanket party is the same in real life as depicted in movies.  In the darkness of night, a group of soldiers will sneak up on a fellow soldier while he is asleep.  A blanket is thrown over the sleeping soldier and he is beaten.  Sometimes he is pummeled with fists and kicked but usually it is done with small shovels known as entrenching tools.  Sneaking in the dark while the guy is asleep and covering him with a blanket so he can’t see you is cowardly.  How beating a guy with a small shovel is supposed to make him a better soldier evades me.
A few of the guys approached me to participate. To the credit of my mother, I refused to be involved in this.  I did convince them not to use shovels but this doesn’t absolve me of the guilt and shame of not stopping or reporting it, and it shouldn’t.  This is a classic example of bullying and peer pressure and its negative side effects.  It shows how the psychological bullying used to instill a group mentality by the drill instructors can also make you look the other way when horrible things like this happen.

My thanks to Bob for sharing about himself and his remarkable career. I have read Mr. Kern's first book and though I have never served in the military I do have family members who have. His accounting is unique and yet similar to others. 

The most important thing for me is his willingness to learn, become a good soldier, and to serve his country. November 11 is Veterans Day and I cannot think of a more appropriate author to interview this week.

You may reach him at  http://www.weweresoldierstoo.com/
Books are available through www.amazon.com
He is a new member of Rave Reviews Book Club. Welcome, Bob.

6 comments:

  1. I recall those thirteen days in October when the Cuban missile crisis had the entire world holding it's breath. It was a time of fear and turmoil in a world weary of war. The role played by military support staff is essential to the entire survival of the 'military' itself. Stand tall and proud Bob Kern, your service was exactly that a 'service' to your country and one that has my immense respect. I'll raise a glass to you on November 11th.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. For many veterans serving in the Cold War, especially in Germany, every day was like those thirteen days in October. We never knew when the Soviets would cross into the Fulda Gap but we were certain they eventually would, such were the tensions of the Cold War. We also knew the use of nuclear weapons was a given.

      I am trying to document for people what the Cold War was really like from the veterans perspective.

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Delete
  2. I will raise my glass also and say thank you to every person who has and is serving our country. Thank you, Soooz.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for sharing about this gentleman and his stories. I look forward to reading Bob Kern's stories. Blessings to Bob and his family.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have read his first book and am anxious to read his others. His books are well written and most informative.

      Delete
    2. Thank you Melissa for the blessings. I am honored to be entrusted by the many veterans who are allowing me to use their service in these books.

      God Bless!

      Delete