Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Neil’s Best and Worst Books of 2017: Update With Full List


I had a few people who read this post ask me about the rest of the list, so I am going to add the additional titles with only an occasional comment. They will be in my arbitrary categories.

The list below represents the best and the worst of the 52 books I read in 2017. Only two of the books were published this year. The majority of the authors are alive and I went to readings by two of them.  I am an obsessive reader; both in wanting to read and in trying to read everything by an author I love.  In that regard, 2017 was a wonderful year because Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in literature. I started reading him four years ago and in a few days will have read all of his novels and stories. The last book, The Unconsoled will be on next year’s list. All the links are to the author's page or a page about the author. I picked a book or two in each of the categories I sorted them into.  

The recommendations are brief. Each of those books I believe are worth reading for anyone interested in that kind of book. I wanted to write only enough to say, "This is great!" But the last review, the book I did not like, goes on for a thousand words. If you have not read the book, it will be dull since it refers to specific disagreements I had with the author's assertions, and I do not present his side of the argument.  Enjoy! Except the last one.


My largest category this year by number of books was poetry at 13 books.  The best book in this category is, for me, the completely predictable choice of Inferno by Dante Alighieri.  This is my eighth time reading this first book of the Divine Comedy but the eighth different translator, this time the Lombardo translation.  It is good, but I still like the Pinsky translation best.  This time, because I was in a class studying Dante, I read aloud and listened to Roberto Benigni read all of the cantos. I never read the Italian before.  I recommend it, just for the sound.

After Dante, the next best was Nativity Poems by Joseph Brodsky. An émigré communist Jew writing on the theme of the incarnation was not just a one-time crazy idea, Brodsky returned to the theme of nativity throughout his career. A lovely collection.

The rest of the poetry list:
I also read Brodsky's Selected Poems and two other volumes titled Selected Poems by Vladimir Nabokov and Boris Pasternak.
Staying with Russians, I read Veronezh Notebooks by Osip Mandelstam and a collection titled Four of Us with poems by Mandelstam, Pasternak, Anna Akmatova and Marina Tsvetaeva.

The Bad-Tempered Man a comedy by Menander
How We Must Have Looked to the Stars by Alysia Nicole Harris
Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics by C.S. Lewis
Some Ether by Nick Flynn, which is a memoir in poems
Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver
In Flanders Field poems about World War I by several poets.


The best of eleven works of fiction I read was Identity by Milan Kundera, or The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I read a week later.  I had never read Kundera so seeing the world through the eyes of his obsessive, alienated characters was lovely.  These two books also represent two phases of his life. Unbearable Lightness was written when he lived in Prague in what is now the Czech Republic. Identity was written in Paris after he left the Eastern Bloc for the west. I was in Prague and Paris this summer so the two books helped bring back these two lovely cities in my mind. 

Also wonderful: Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. If you only saw the movie, read the book. It is so beautifully told and the poetry in the novel was so good, I next read a volume of Pasternak’s poems.

In addition to Identity,  I read two other books originally written in French:
The Lover by Marguerite Duras
Femme Fatale by Guy de Maupassant
And two books in French
D'Artagnan by Alexandre Dumas, an abridged version for middle/high school
Il Etait Une Fois three Once Upon a Time stories
Two novels about the Vietnam War by Tim O'Brien:
If I Die in a Combat Zone
The Things They Carried

I read a funny book titled Greek and Roman Comedy by Shawn O'Bryhim
Another Russian novel The Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin, a book that is dark and funny and violent and so entertaining.
Finally How I Learned to Drive a play by Paula Vogel.  A strange and compelling play. I could not put it down.


I read eight memoirs this year, but the one that spread into my soul and will not let go is Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi.  I read this book a couple of months before visiting Auschwitz and seven other concentration camps and Holocaust memorials. When a book conjures a nightmare, no two readers will have exactly the same terror.  In my case, the most vivid and painful of all the stories was the man who had earned the Iron Cross for gallantry under fire in World War I and thought his bravery proved his patriotism.  Even though he earned the equivalent of the American Congressional Medal of Honor, he was a Jew; he went to the gas chamber.  Since Trump’s election, I have had several people tell me that I have nothing to worry about because I am a veteran.  But the men who marched in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” would kill any Jew, veteran or not. 

I also read three memoirs by Nick Flynn.  The best was a short collection of poems called Some Ether. The other two by Flynn were Another Bullshit Night in Suck City and Reenactments a memoir about making a movie about the other memoir.  I listened to Flynn speak and met him after his reading.  He is about my age and grew up near where I grew up. It is funny he is a memoir writer.  His books and presence reminded me of being beaten up by Irish kids when I was in grade school. 

Gamelife by Michael Clune
The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Why I am so Clever a funny little book by Friedrich Nietzsche
My Fellow Prisoners by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. This last one is a prison memoir in character sketches of fellow prisoners written by the first billionaire Putin jailed, way back in 2003. He got 10 years. 


Six Days of War by Michael Oren topped the short list of four history books I read this year. It is the story of the stunning victory of Israel over Egypt, Jordan and Syria in that order. Israel was outnumbered 100 to 1 and beat three bordering Arab nations in sequence in roughly two days each.  The book shows how the blindness of arrogance can lead armies with overwhelming numbers in men and equipment to ignominious defeat.  If you wonder how a small army can defeat a huge one, this book shows every step in how Egypt took every advantage they possessed and threw it away. It also shows how reluctant allies can be almost as bad as enemies.  Syria especially held back in a way that assured the defeat of Egypt and Jordan. 

I began the year reading the book Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. The book is the basis of the HBO series of the same name, which is my favorite video production on war. The book is good, but there is nothing better than the HBO series.
Lenin's Tomb by David Remnick. The last days of the Soviet Empire.
Histories by Herodotus, Book V partly in Greek, partly in English.


I was going to highlight On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder as my top politics book for 2017.  But I am going to re-read it in 2018 along with The Prince by Machiavelli.  Both books in their own way are handbooks on how politics really works. Machiavelli advises the prospective leader on how to take and keep power, Snyder tells the rest of us what to do when a tyrant is taking control. If Robert Mueller is fired in 2018, Snyder will be the top of my list next year, assuming ordinary citizens are allowed free use of the Internet. 

With Snyder pushed to next year, I will turn to American Vertigo, one of two books I read this year by Bernard-Henri Levy, French Philosopher who travels the most dangerous corners of the world writing and producing movies about cultures in conflict.  He has written about Libya, Syria and much of the Arab world with insight and empathy rare in any writer, but all the more in Jew born in the rubble of France after World War II.  In American Vertigo Levy reprises the journey of Alexis de Tocqueville took in 1831. Tocqueville planned to write about prisons in America, which he did, but then wrote arguably one of the top political works ever, one still quoted by Americans of every political affiliation.  Levy begins in Rikers and winds across our continent to Alcatraz and loops back through the South.  It really is a delightful view of America, by a visitor clearly delighted with America.

I read another book by Levy, which is the best book in my last category.
How to Cure a Fanatic by Amos Oz
Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit


This year I read some of the best science books I have read in years, maybe ever! The Gene: An Intimate Story by Siddhartha Mukherjee wove together the entire history of the gene with Mukherjee’s family history and the cultures he inhabits.  Improbable Destinies by Jonathan Losos gave me the clearest explanation of the interaction between natural selection and chance. I also read Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel which is a social science or psychology book.

But by far the best was Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hariri.  The last time I was this delighted with a history of science book was Guns, Germs and Steel the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Jared Diamond.  Sapiens recounts the full history of the rise of Homo Sapiens from somewhere in Africa to literal world domination. The early bloodthirsty success of our species is fascinating.  Unlike other human species, we could cooperate in groups as large as 500 to trap and slaughter large species. We wiped out mastodons, saber-tooth tigers and many other large species across the globe and in a bit of multitasking, wiped out Neanderthals and every other humanoid species.  After explaining our proficiency in communication and killing, Hariri contends our hunter-gatherer life was much better than the lives most sapiens lived after the rise of agriculture 10,000 years ago. When agriculture arose, a few benefitted, but many had shorter, more brutal lives of servitude and disease.  From there he takes us right to the present with the rise of culture and shows why tribalism persists.  I am reading this book again next year.


My last category is Faith.  For someone like me with a believer’s turn of mind, every book has a faith dimension of some sort. The Divine Comedy is a poem, but is also a map of the Catholic view of the universe, physically and spiritually. Every memoir implies life has meaning and value and significance. 

The book explicitly on faith that moved me the most was The Genius of Judaism by Bernard-Henri Levy. This book looks at the history of the Jewish people and Israel through the lens of the Book of Jonah.  Levy shows us Judaism and his view of the Jewish world by his interactions with “Nineveh” in the form of modern-day enemies of Jews and Israel.  One modern Nineveh he visits is Lviv, Ukraine.  I knew my trip last summer was to visit Holocaust sites would center on Auschwitz, but this book led me to pair Lviv with Auschwitz as two sad extremes of the Holocaust.  Auschwitz is the most industrial site of slaughter, Lviv is the most personal.  At Auschwitz, the Nazis built a place of extermination. In Lviv they simply allowed the local population to act out their own anti-Semitism.  Lviv was the most personal of the sites of Holocaust slaughter.  Neighbors killed neighbors and dumped their bodies in ditches.  Levy went to Lviv to make peace with this site of unbridled hate.  He seems to have succeeded.  I did not.  Ukraine tried to kill my grandparents. Ukraine remains a cauldron of anti-Semitism. 

Overall, the book left me wondering about my identity as a Jew. The book helped me to decide that I could reconnect with the Jewish part of me in a positive and growing way, a process that began last spring and is still going on as the New Year begins. 

From the well of hope that Levy opened for me, I will now turn to the dry, barren waste of Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option.  

When you want to say the nation is going to Hell, you first need a villain. Then you need to say how that villain is going to ruin everyone’s lives. The central theme of The Benedict Option is Dreher predicting the end of Christian culture in America through gay rights and the gay agenda. Dreher is sure that Christian hegemony in America is over. The only option is to withdraw from life in corrupt America into intentional communities of those committed to real goodness. 

The first question I have is, ‘Why will the gay agenda ruin our nation after it flourished with a long history of slavery, Jim Crow and betrayal of Native Americans?’ Is a nation really blessed by slavery and genocide and cursed by gay marriage?

America perpetrated the worst slavery in the history of the world on Africans. They were kidnapped and brought here in chains to be slaves until death for generation after generation. America had slavery with no hope of buying oneself out or getting free. The center of that slavery was the New Orleans slave market.

Dreher grew up in Louisiana and returned there to withdraw from life in big cities.  He is in a state and a region with a horrible history of slavery, followed by 100 years of apartheid called Jim Crow. What could be worse than men who would buy and sell human beings, fight a war to keep their slaves, and then oppress their victims openly for a century after losing the war?

Every confederate battle flag represents unrepentant racism, slavery and murder.  And yet, Dreher says, it is gay rights that will kill Christian faith in a way that Pride, Murder, Rape and Greed could not. Dreher says at the end of the book historians will wonder how a 3% minority killed a great nation like ours.

If America can perpetuate slavery longer than every civilized nation, break uncountable treaties, slaughter Native-Americans, allow Jim Crow laws in the south for a century, and then put a racist sexual predator in the White House with the support of 81% of "Christian" America, can the Gay agenda really trump everything else we have done? Dreher has his enemy.

Dreher begins the book saying he was led to the idea of withdrawal from culture by thinking of his son’s future from the moment he was born.  The book has many instances of Dreher and other Christian parents making what he calls sacrifices for their children.  Dreher writes as if parenting were the central Christian ministry.  As a father of six, I would say parenting is one of the central delights and urges and vanities of the Human Condition.  Can any parent really say that spending their time and money toward the success of their children is a sacrifice?  Does working toward the success of my own children make me the equal of Mother Teresa caring for the poorest outcasts in a Calcutta gutter?  No, it doesn’t. My bright, successful, funny children are a delight, they are not a ministry.  And they in no way set me apart from the world.

I heard many idiots in focus groups and on the news say one proof that Trump was obviously a good guy because he is a good father whose children love him.  Saddam Hussein loved Uday and Qusay. The worst Roman emperors were the beloved, spoiled children of previous emperors.  Trump is, by his own words a racist who is willing to grab other people’s children by the pussy. Parenting does not excuse pandering.

Dreher should know well that nothing ties a person to the world like having children.  No actual Benedictine has kids.  The withdrawal from the world with kids that Dreher posits is not a new monastic movement, but a gated community with spiritual decorations on the iron fence. 

Compared to, say, Coptic Christians in Cairo and other believers facing danger and death, the Benedict Option like a military video game, allowing the out-of-shape, pale player to pretend he is a combat soldier while in the comfort of mom’s basement away from the blood and bullets of battle.

I would have called it the book the Benedict Fiction.


A category I did not list was language. I don't expect these books to jump on anyone's 2018 list.

Language Learning

Между Нами a Russian textbook.
English Grammar for Students of Russian by Edwina Cruise (no relation to Tom Cruise)
Introduction to Greek by C.W. Shelmerdine

That's the Whole List! 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Dixie Pig, Motorcycle Racing and Missing my Tank

I am watching the second season of "The West Wing." A suspect in a plot to kill the President in this late 1990s drama was arrested in a Dixie Pig restaurant.

The only time I ever ate in a Dixie Pig restaurant was in 1987 when I took a weekend course to get a motorcycle road racing license. We all had lunch at the Dixie Pig and got a two-hour lecture on the basics of road racing. There were a dozen racers in the room. I was the only one who ordered the vegetable plate.

We were in Virginia. It was July and 95 degrees. We were wearing full leathers in the sun for the next phase after the lecture lunch. I am not a vegetarian, but eating pork barbecue before practicing mass starts and cornering seemed crazy. So I ordered the vegetable plate. When I did, the blond, blue-eyed sugar-voiced waitress said, "You don't want no meat? None?"

I got the license the next day, and I never raced again after the ten-lap road race that was our final exam.

In just ten laps of the two-mile, ten-turn Summit Point Road Course the two instructors lapped all of us. They were riding RD350 Yamahas.

Our machines varied from my 500 Intercepter to a 1000cc FZR Yamaha.

Serious motorcycle road racing means sliding the rear tire in every turn to get the best launch out of the turn. I knew at the end of that ten-lap race that sliding every lap was way beyond my modest skill level and I would be little more than a rolling chicane for the real racers.

Motorcycle road racing was the first of many things I did to replace the excitement of tank gunnery in my life after I left the Army in 1984. I continued to ride motorcycles for a few more years, but by 1992 had switched to bicycle racing.

The switch was healthier in the sense that I was exercising on the bicycle unlike the motorcycle. But racing and speed on two wheels can end with the rubber side up.

In twenty years of motorcycle riding, I had four accidents which resulted in four broken bones, four concussions, two surgeries and two weeks in the hospital--one of the accidents was by far the worst.

Although bicycling can be safer, it is not with me on the bike. Twenty-five years of bicycling includes 14 broken bones, six concussions, three surgeries and eight nights in the hospital.

The military was definitely safer. Eighteen years of active, reserve and Guard service led to just three broken bones and two concussions, but also seven surgeries and seven nights in the hospital. The surgeries were to remove shrapnel from my eyes and reattach two fingers after a missile explosion.

Clearly, I never found anything in civilian life as exciting as Armor. In 2007 I re-enlisted and spent almost ten years in Army Aviation, sometimes flying in Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters in the U.S. and in Iraq.

And this whole thing started when I saw the Dixie Pig on Netflix.

Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Who Fights Our Wars: Sons of Veterans

Myles B. Caggins, III, promoted today to Colonel

Today, I heard one of the best speeches of a man honored in his profession that I heard in years, maybe ever. 

Two kinds of people make acceptance speeches for honors and high awards.  One thanks everyone who helped and guided the awardee to the honor they just received. These speeches can sometimes be overly long and not finish well.  Today's speech was the right length and finished on a surprising and passionate note.

The other kind of speech I have often heard is the one that says it was all me.  Today's speech was definitely not that kind.

This afternoon, Myles B. Caggins, III, was promoted to Colonel on the top floor of the National Press Club. Caggins is an ROTC graduate of Hampton University in his 21st year of military service and way ahead of the average trajectory to achieve the highest rank below general officer. 

He could very well have talked about leading a company in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as a young captain in command of a support company.  He could have talked about switching to Public Affairs then serving as the Public Affairs officer for 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division in Iraq where we met in in 2009.  Or his subsequent service in the Pentagon and on the National Security Counsel in the Obama White House. 

But he didn’t talk about what he did.  He talked about what others did for him and how they put him where he is today.

When Caggins mentioned his combat command in Iraq, he introduced a staff sergeant who was one of his troop leaders. Caggins said this sergeant "Kept me straight."  

When Caggins talked about his various public affairs assignments from Camp Adder, Iraq, to the Pentagon, to the White House, he introduced soldiers he served with at each of those places.   

He then introduced his parents, Myles and Ann, and the rest of his family. His father is also a Colonel: Myles B. Caggins, Jr., retired and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.  Caggins introduced his sister’s family and other close relatives.  He then introduced his Hampton University ROTC classmates and other friends including a major he is mentoring who served as master of ceremonies. 

After all that warmth and honor for people throughout his life, Caggins ended his speech with a passionate account of the struggle his father faced 50 years ago as a young officer in the U.S. Army. With his voice breaking slightly with emotion, Caggins repeated part of the oath he just swore in front of all of us to “Support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.”

Then Caggins talked about the world his father served in as a young officer in the 1960s Army, an Army with bigots who would walk across the street or duck in a doorway to avoid saluting an officer who was not white. His words painted a picture of the struggle Black officers faced before Civil Rights became the law of the land and Jim Crow was abolished.

“My Dad and his generation served an America which did not serve them, when they were not allowed to vote in free and fair elections,” Caggins said. “I couldn’t do it, but he did.” 

Caggins closed by saying this may be the last time he is promoted in the Army, but for as long he serves he will, “Use these wings (colonels wear eagles) to help others soar.”

When his talked ended, he received a standing ovation from an audience that filled the ballroom and the balcony.  

This year Caggins is a National Security Fellow at Harvard University’sKennedy School of Government.   

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Family Black Sheep Flies a MEDEVAC Blackhawk

Brooklyn-born Amira Talifi, (not her real name) is a helicopter pilot I served with in the Army National Guard. She is one of seven children, the only one who is not a doctor, a lawyer or in finance.  She flies a MEDEVAC Blackhawk helicopter. Her parents wonder where they went wrong.
            When her parents came to America they were determined their children would work hard, go to college and then law school, medical school or into business.  Asian families that come to American, whether from Beirut, Baghdad, Bangkok or Beijing, are known for pushing their children toward professional success.  Amira followed the family program until age 20 in 2008 when she enlisted in the New York Army National Guard as a Chemical Specialist.  She chose that field because the armory she trained in was near her home in Brooklyn and the career field paid a $20,000 bonus.
            During her first two years in the Guard, she continued to attend college, though she switched her major from Philosophy to Industrial Organizational Psychology.  “I thought it made sense of the Army and how they do things,” she said.  While she switched her major, she continued with a minor in French.  But it was her ability to speak Arabic, which she spoke at home, that proved much more useful when she deployed to Iraq with a Military Police unit from Queens, New York.
            In 2010, Amira and her Military Police unit deployed to Iraq. They were attached to the 82nd Airborne Division.           
“When we first got Iraq we were under 82nd for about three months, then with 3rd Infantry Division,” she said.  The leadership of 3rd ID “approached my commander about getting females to come with them on their civil-military engagements. Iraqi females would come in and needed to be searched.”
“Whether we were the primary searchers or just supervising the Iraqi police women searching, they needed women,” Amira said.  “Then my commander said, ‘I have an Arabic girl for you.’ So I ended up going on every single one of those missions.”
Amira speaks fluent Arabic.  “The Iraqi dialect took a while for me to pick up, but once I did, I was good to go,” she said. I think I was pretty useful. I like being actively engaged.”
The desire to be actively engaged led Amira to switch from security to aviation when she returned from deployment in April 2011.  “I like being an expert,” she said.  “That’s what attracted me to being a pilot.”
            The switch from security to aviation became complicated. “New York had no slots for aviation,” she said. “People were on like a three to five-year waitlist. In New York, you go to the board. You do everything that you have to do, then you wait for your flight seat to come up, and then they give you two weeks notice, or a week’s notice, and you pack your bags and head down to Fort Rucker (in Alabama) for flight school.”
            She went to Pennsylvania and was accepted for the warrant officer flight program, even before she was officially a Pennsylvania National Guardsman.  “My full-time job was for the New York National Guard, and I didn’t want to leave that until I had my flight seat. So, Pennsylvania was nice enough to let me sit for the board, even though I was not a Pennsylvania National Guardsman. That’s not something that they normally do,” Amira said. “When they sent me to flight school, so I switched to Pennsylvania and haven’t looked back since.”
            The plan at the time was to become an NYPD officer after Flight School.  But after flight school, the plan changed. Amira moved to Pennsylvania to get in her required flight hours without the 100-mile drive each way from NYC. 
            “After being in flight school and, just thinking like long-term, what I want my life to look like, I don’t think I would be happy as a cop.” She said, “It’s not really my personality type. I realized I would like to make a career flying. Not necessarily helicopters. I like flying Blackhawks and doing Army missions, but airplanes interest me also, and I like the lifestyle of a commercial pilot. It’s nowhere near as fun as flying a helicopter. It’s just like, I mean helicopters are super exciting. But I don’t know if I want that excitement all my life.”
            She likes the intermittent schedule of the National Guard—one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer, maybe a few weeks of school here or there.  “It’s an escape from the real world,” she said. “You go away and it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m a soldier again’.
The reason I’m not active duty is because I like having a separate life and having my civilian life, my own apartment and all that.”
            In the Army the biggest step for an enlisted soldier is to be promoted to sergeant. Suddenly you are in charge.  And the senior leaders, if they are good, do their best to move you from the culture of “the guys” to the unit leadership. An even more jarring transition is to become an officer.  Your drinking buddies become the soldiers who salute you. Amira had that transition when her training overlapped with her former military police unit.  They were training at the base Amira was assigned as a pilot.  Her current unit was packing to leave while her former unit was arriving.  She was now an officer,  meeting up with people she served with in the enlisted ranks.
            I went over to their barracks and saw all my friends,” she said. “The people that I had been there in the dirt with. I showed them my uniform. They’re like, ‘Holy shit, Amira, you really did it. You’re really a pilot.’”
Amira was clear that the move up to the warrant officer ranks put her at the bottom of a different hierarchy.  “I may be a Warrant Officer instead of Specialist now, but I’m just a junior pilot,” she said. “I graduated flight school and the learning has just begun, but I know that being a pilot is not like you just graduate and bam you’re a pilot. It’s a lifetime of learning, but that’s what I signed up for.”
Five Years Later
I interviewed Amira several years ago shortly after she left flight school and was anticipating her first flights as Blackhawk pilot. In the years since we spoke, she has moved to central Pennsylvania and is one of the pilots in the MEDEVAC company that is part of the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade. 
Flight crews train on different schedules than the other soldiers in an aviation unit, so I only spoke infrequently to Amira in the years since she became a Blackhawk pilot.  About three years ago, she went to school and became a fixed wing pilot. She got a job with a regional airline.  She is a pilot in the Army and a pilot in civilian life. 
Her choice is not unusual. Although an airliner is vastly different than a combat helicopter, a lot of the skills are the same. Many men and women who fly in the military have aviation jobs in civilian life. In fact, one of the Army air traffic controllers who guide pilots in the 28th is a regional airline pilot in civilian life.  
Amira also has a quirky presence on Facebook unlike any other Army pilot I have followed.  Her page is jokes and comments about life in general and life as a pilot in particular.
Her sunny face on Facebook and her radiant smile on the flight line cover serious thinking and choices on her part. She started college as a philosophy major.  Though she switched to a business major, she speaks with passion and insight about classical and contemporary philosophers and about all the choices that add up to a direction in life. Amira is a Muslim woman in the U.S. Army, a combat veteran of Iraq, and a MEDEVAC pilot who could be called to serve in a war at any moment. 
While I was still serving with the 28th I wanted to write about Amira for an Army publication, but she gently refused. It would have been fun for me to write about her, but she lives in a culture that profoundly hates the media. Soldiers, from Generals to enlistees are mostly suspicious of the all media, even their own media.  So even if I wrote about Amira for an Army publication the soldiers she served with would be negative about her simply consenting to an interview. 
Amira is just over five feet tall with long black hair nearly to her waist that she ties up under her helmet to fly. She often flashes a bright smile, has a wicked sense of humor and is both an airline pilot and a MEDEVAC Blackhawk helicopter pilot, wearing a uniform for both jobs.  Did I mention she is funny?
Some of the funniest things she says are about dealing with men, both in an out of the Army.  Recently she posted this on Facebook:
How to get men to stop talking to you:

“You look exotic, where are you from?” 
“Oh I’m from the islands” 
“Which one?” 

            I never flew in her aircraft as a civilian or in the Army. MEDEVAC helicopters don’t carry passengers. But I would be happy to fly with Amira at the controls of any aircraft.  And it is interesting to see through social media how she navigates life in 21st Century America.

Who Fights Our Wars? CSM Donald C. Cubbison, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division

In the fall of 1977, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division got a new Command Sergeant's Major.  Donald C. Cubbison, veteran of the Vietna...