U.S Army 2017 Best Sapper Competition

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The 2017 Best Sapper Competition just finished up a few days ago.  The Best Sapper Competition was started in 2005 as a means for military members in the Combat Engineer skill areas to show off their training and skills. This three-day competition is open to Soldiers and Marines, E-4 and above. At least one competitor on each team must have earned the  Sapper tab.

Organized into 50 two-person teams, the competitors compete in a 50 hour, fifty mile course, completing grueling physical requirements and many technical skill events. The competition is designed to not only determine the next “Best Sapper” team, but to also challenge and test the competitors’ knowledge, skills, physical prowess and mental fortitude. By the final day, the competition has been whittled down to the top 20 teams. My nephew, Staff Sgt Brendan Gilbert, and his fellow team member, Staff Sgt Jacob Brittian, made it to the top 20 … beating out 30 other teams. They finished in 11th place, which is quite a great accomplishment.  We are all very proud of them … all of them.

To wear the Sapper Tab, a Soldier must graduate from the Sapper Leader Course operated by the U.S. Army Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The Sapper Leader Course is a 28-day course designed to train joint-service leaders in small unit tactics, leadership skills, and tactics required to perform as part of a combined arms team. The course is open to enlisted Soldiers in the grades of E-4 (in the Army, specialist) and above, cadets, and officers O-3 (Army, captain) and below. As students can come from any combat or combat support branch of the service, female soldiers are permitted to attend, but priority is given to engineering, cavalry, and infantry soldiers.  The course is divided into two Phases

PHASE I
The first 14 days cover general subjects including medical, land navigation, demolitions, air and water operations, mountaineering,  landmines and weapons used by enemy forces

PHASE II
The remaining 14 days cover basic patrolling techniques and battle drills that emphasize leadership. The subjects include urban operations, breaching, patrol organization and movement, and reconnaissance, raid and ambush tactics. It concludes with a three-day situation training exercise, and five-day field training exercise. These missions are a 60/40 mix of engineer and infantry missions. Each training event is graded and scored. To graduate, a sapper must earn 700 out of 1000 points in order to wear the sapper tab.

All of our military service members deserve our respect and gratitude. Events such as this demonstrate just how well-trained and dedicated they really are.

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North Carolina Writers Network 2017 Spring Convention

Saturday, April 22, I attended the North Carolina Writer Network’s 2017 Spring Convention on the campus at UNC Greensboro. It was a great experience.  I picked up a lot of good actionable information and even made a few new friends.  The atmosphere was very friendly and informal.

There were a good many smaller publishers and editors with tables set up in the main hall. All were friendly, helpful and willing to share information and advice. One that really stuck out for me was Bull City Press in Durham. They are still small, but growing. I got on their mailinglist and talked a good deal with Ross White, the Executive Director. Who knows, maybe we will do business in the future.

Russell_HatlerFor the morning session, I attended a great workshop called Social Media for Self Published Authors.  This seemed to have me written all over it. The presenter was Russell Hatler who, it turns out, also lives in Cary.

Russ has written and published several novels most of which are mysteries set in Las Vegas. His session was lively and entertaining, and full of very helpful information.  It was also apparent how much he really enjoys doing the research for his novels in Las Vegas. Several of his novels are available on Amazon.com.  I was intrigued by one in particular titled Caught Red Handed. Perhaps I will procure a copy and do a book review here on my blog.

A nice feature of the conference was having lunch with an author of your choice.  Not really knowing who to choose, I did the old eany, meany, miny, moe thing and chose Edmund Schubert, which it turns out was a great choice. Edmund R. Schubert is an author and editor best known for his work in the fields of science fiction and fantasy. While not really two of my favorite genres (I am more the historical fiction, spy thriller type), the conversation proved to be very interesting. We touched on many topics such as integrity in writing and the trouble with separating artists and their work from their human failings. For example, Bill Cosby came up in the conversation.

magical-wordsWhile Edmund Schubert writes mostly short stories, he does have a published novel out there along with several collections of shot stories. Since 2006, he has also been the editor of an online science fiction magazine called Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Edmund Schubert was nominated for several awards including the Edgar Award in 2006 and the Hugo Award in 2015. While I did not pick up any of the books books he has authored, I did pick up two books he has edited.  This was actually not by design, but just the way it worked out.  I picked up How to write Magical Words and tales from the asylum, an anthology of poetry and fiction, year 3.

I think the first book will be a big help to me in developing my skills as a writer. The second just really sounded intriguing! I mean, poetry and fiction from an asylum?  Who would not be intrigued?

After lunch, I attended a workshop given by James Tate Hill on The Mystery of Plot in Fiction.  It was really good! We covered useful tricks and rules to stay “on plot” and how not to get lost in the weeds. We also touched on avoiding writer’s block, managing multiple storylines and multiple points-of-view.

The workshop was enhanced by his great sense of humor. He kept thing light and several of us were chuckling quite frequently.  academy-gothicMr. Hill, it turns out, is visually impaired, which he joked … was helpful in away, because he was not constantly interrupted by people wanting to ask questions … since he could not see them raise their hands!

James Tate Hill is the author of Academy Gothic and if his writing as half as good as his presentation, it should be well-worth a read. Mr Hill is the Winner of the 2014 Nilson Literary Prize for a First Novel.  I am going to have to read this book!  I did check and saw that it gets great reviews for both deadpan humor and its scathing satire of academia.

Last but not least, towards the end of the convention I spoke for a time with a great lady, Karen Newman.  She was present at the  “Lunch with an Author” session I was in. It was apparent from her comments in the conversation that she is an editor. We later crossed paths again in the vendor area and talked about my book for a few minutes and what services she provides. Her company is Newmanuscripts . I will probably be talking to her again in the future when it comes time for the final edit of my novel.

This convention was a great experience and I would certainly recommend it to anyone thinking about writing as a hobby or a career.  I had a great time and really learned a great deal.  I will definitely be back next time!

Easter Day Musings

Easter Sunday was a beautiful day. It was also Sophie’s birthday. She is now one year old. I decided to take her on a walk at Bond Park here in Cary. It is one of our favorite places to walk and practice her training regimens. We walked about four miles including the two-mile Lake Trail that circles Bond Lake.

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As we walked, enjoying the sunshine and friendly passers-by (Sophie always garners plenty of attention), I began to ponder the Easter holiday and what it means to me. Beside eating jelly beans, I mean!

I am not sure what sparked it.

Perhaps it was the recent bit in the news about some Muslim guy claiming that Jesus was never crucified. I have heard claims such as this before. I have heard some argue that there is no proof that Jesus ever even existed  … outside from the Bible, of course.  From what I see, most of the people who make this claim never looked outside the Bible … or anywhere else for that matter!

For those who do dig a little deeper, you can find evidence from non-Christian sources that help point to who Jesus was and what happened to him. This is often held up as proof that he existed and was indeed crucified. Much of Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, was based on evidence of this type. This non-Christian evidence is often written by those who were hostile toward the early Christians, which makes it an interesting spin on things … at least to me. And, I have looked at much of it. There are records from Roman era historians such as Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, or Flavius Jospehus, who are often ridiculing those early Christians and their crazy Messianic leader.

Then there are those who like to argue that these Roman historians are all liars, or that somehow their works are all some kind of forgeries … they must be part of some kind of ancient right-wing pro-Christian conspiracy I guess! I must admit it …  I find this claim by those people even more fascinating.

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Anyway, we continued on our walk and enjoying the beautiful day.  I was busy watching Sophie enjoy all the sights and smells and chasing after bumble bees, when I suddenly decided none of that really mattered much to me. What really matters is what you believe, and I do believe that one of Jesus’ primary  teachings,

Love your neighbor as yourself,

is simply a pretty darn good rule to live by. Jesus stated this very same concept several times and in several different ways throughout his journey toward his death.

To me, arguing over whether Jesus was actually the Son of God or not, or whether he was crucified or not … does not in anyway make this basic concept any less profound.

This is not a statement of faith for me.  My faith is very personal. I am not very evangelical. I will discuss my beliefs with a certain few people, but I will not argue about it with anyone. I know what I believe. You can believe what you want to believe.

But, it does seem to me that if more people followed this simple “golden” rule, life would be much better for many of us!

I remember going to a J.C. Penny Golden Rule Award ceremony some years ago (during the mid-1990’s) in Knoxville, Tennessee when I was working as an Anderson County CASA volunteer. It seems this same “Golden Rule” can be found, perhaps worded a bit differently, in every major world religion: Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism (and Commonsenseism … kidding here). I found that to be really fascinating at the time.  A guest speaker read each version and stated the religion in which that version was based.

I also got to meet Jack Hanna there.  That was pretty cool to!

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So, anyway, Happy Easter to you all … from me and Sophie!

Review: SoulGuard by Christopher Woods

SoulGuardI had the pleasure of meeting Christopher Woods at McKay’s Used Book Store in Knoxville, Tennessee a few months ago.

A science fiction / fantasy author, Christopher Woods was holding a book signing for the newest installment in his series of five SoulGuard books.  Since I was also an aspiring author, I stopped by his table to chat for a few minutes. Christopher Woods was very gracious and even shared a few pointers that he had picked up along the way to becoming a self-published author himself. I figured the least I could do then, was buy one of his books in appreciation for his being willing to share a few tips.  So, I bought a hardcover copy of the first book in his series, titled SoulGuard, which Mr. Woods kindly autographed.

Over the last few weeks, I finally got around to reading his book. I must admit, upfront, that I am not a big science fiction / fantasy reader.  I typically prefer genre’s such as historical fiction, or spy novels and political thrillers.  This is probably why it took me so long to read it. But, this book was a pretty darn good read!  I cannot say I have been “converted,” but I probably will read the rest of the series.

This first installment centered around the main character, Colin Rourke, who has been doggedly hunted his entire life by a race of creatures known as Demons.  Demons  travel through portals to our world to kill or capture and enslave our people. The Soulguard, a mysterious warrior group  with knowledge of how to harness and use the power of the Soul to combat these demons, wage a secret war against them to protect the people of our world.

Colin, who is special, has been kept hidden and raised in secret by two legendary Soulguards. He has now reached the age where he can take his place in their ranks and help protect the people of our world. Colin has abilities that have not been seen a very long time (at least a thousand years) and his very existence has the potential to start an all out war with the Demons who are desperate to destroy him.  This war could quickly evolve into a holocaust that threatens to destroy our entire world.  Only Colin and the Soulguard have any chance of stopping what is coming.  Will they succeed?  Or, will our world become enslaved by this race of Demons?

I did enjoy reading this first book in Christopher Woods’ series! It is a great story with darn good dialogue. The action is fast paced throughout the book and keeps things moving nicely. The interaction between characters is nicely done. The character development is pretty darn good. I especially enjoyed the interesting thread of humor throughout the dialogue, but then … I do have a strange sense of humor.

My only complaint is that, for me, there could be a bit more development around the SoulGuard and their training or development and use of their “Soul” power.  But, that may just be the martial artist in me … I like the long-suffering, dutiful warrior arts training scenes! I guess not everyone needs that. I just think that would be interesting for me and perhaps, add just a bit to the story line.

All in all, I think this is a great first book in the series and would definitely recommend it to anyone, and especially those who really enjoy this genre!  As I stated earlier, despite being a genre I do not typically read, I will probably read the rest of the series before I am done.  It is available from Amazon Books.

The Golden Pig … Great Korean Food

I wanted to get off the politics for a few posts and since I recently revisited one of my favorite restaurants in Cary again, I decided to make my first foray in to the world of the food critic, or perhaps just give an endorsement for my favorite local Korean restaurant!

Kimchi Soup

If you want authentic Korean food that is consistently well-prepared, then you need look no further than the Golden Pig on West Chatham Street in Cary, NC.  Having spent a year eating Korean food while stationed with the 1/17th Infantry at Camp Casey in South Korea, I know what I am talking about. Wherever I was stationed, I tended to, as the Army says, “go native.” This essentially means I rarely ate in the mess hall. If I was off duty, I was off post.  While the U.S. Army kind of frowns on that, it’s the only way to really experience the local culture!

This great little restaurant serves traditional Korean food in healthy portions. I have eaten there several times now and each time I have left very happy and satisfied. It was just like revisiting a restaurant in Seoul or Tongduchon again.  Also, if you take a look around the restaurant while you are there, you will see a lot of Korean families happily eating away … typically a good sign as to authenticity and quality.

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The staff is very friendly every time I visit. The pickled vegetables and Kimchee are great. I especially like the chicken BBQ and the Bibimbap, But I’ve also had the Beef and Spicy Pork Bulgogi and they are both great to!  The last time I was there, the owner brought out a serving batter-friend vegetables for me to try at no charge … Delicious!

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The Golden Pig is a great place for both lunch and dinner. They are open quite late as I recall. The atmosphere is casual dining with both tables and booths available. They have a full bar, and serve both beer and wine. Don’t be shy to ask for help or an explanation, but please do be patient … they certainly try, but English is certainly not their native language.

So You Think You Want A German Shepherd!

Sophie_10WFor a long time, I have wanted a German Shepherd. I think it stemmed from watching the show Run, Joe, Run which aired in the mid-70s.

The show centered on Joe, a German Shepherd dog in the military’s K-9 corps, and his master, Sergeant Will Corey. One day, during training, Joe was falsely accused of attacking his master, a crime for which the dog would be euthanized as punishment. However, he escaped before being killed and a $200 bounty was put on his head.

Sgt. Corey knew Joe was innocent and so pursued him, hoping to find Joe before the authorities did. While on the run, Joe would help people he encountered. Looking back, it was a silly show, but it certainly made me want a German Shepherd.

German Shepherds are probably best known for their heroic work as rescue dogs or as K-9 police or military dogs. However, there is so much more to this great breed. They are big, courageous dogs with a sensitive side.

Sophie_9WI got Sophie from a breeder in Fayetteville, North Carolina in May of 2016. She was 6-weeks-old. There were two females left in the litter, Sophie and her sister. Sophie was the smaller of the two but she bravely walked right up to me, sniffed my fingers and then squatted and piddled. It was a done deal! I brought her home that day and named her Gilbert’s Princess Sophia. Of course, that is her official AKC registered name.  I call her Sophie for short!  Sophie is now almost one year old. Over this past year, I have learned a great deal about German Shepherds.  Here are the Top 10 things I have learned:

1. German Shepherds are extremely intelligent. You cannot pull the same trick on Sophie more than maybe twice. It simply will not work on her any more after that because she has figured it out. German Shepherds also have great problem solving skills! Sophie loves solving puzzles.

2. German Shepherds are absolutely fanatic toy hoarders and they really don’t like to share at all. We are working on that one.

3. German Shepherds always happy to see you, whether it’s been all day or 10 minutes … but I guess that can also be said of most dogs. However, Sophie can also be very in tune with my feelings and will definitely act accordingly.  She also firmly believes she is a lap-dog and works hard to make me a believer too

Sophie_10M4. German Shepherds are working dogs and happiest when they have a job to do. Right now Sophie loves her training and wants to please me. One afternoon, we were working on the “Place” command and she had real trouble getting up on a high narrow brick wall. It was not easy, because it was too high to step up onto and she could not see the top to well. She had to jump up and land on a rather small area. She failed several times and become despondent when she simply could not seem to do it. It was clear we could not leave her like that! So our trainer Taylor, with Off Leash K9 dog training, and I worked maybe another 30 minutes getting her to succeed at that task. She lit up like a little kid when she succeeded … after that, we just couldn’t keep her off that wall. I am going to have to find more work for her. I am looking at agility training and getting her a backpack for hiking. Taylor, by the way, is a great dog trainer!

5. German Shepherds are very communicative. Sophie doesn’t really bark for barking’s sake, but she certainly does talk to me. She tries to tell me what she wants or needs! Sometimes she even smarts off a bit (we are working on that as well).

6. German Shepherds are always ready to accompany you wherever you go. They are truly a companion dog and with training, really know how to be well behaved in public.

7. German Shepherds want to be first in your life and will work hard to make sure you never have a quiet moment to yourself. They want to be where you are at all times. Even while running and playing at the dog park, Sophie will keep tabs on where I am at all times (must be that herding instinct!).Sophie_9M

8. German Shepherds really do shed a lot … and, by George, I do mean a lot! However, I soon discovered, upon recommendation by few folks at the local dog park, that the Furminator is a godsend to German Shepherd owners!

9. Yes, German Shepherds can certainly be fierce and protective, but they are also big lovable, fun-loving playmates when it comes to family, friends and even other family pets.

10. German Shepherds love water almost as much as they love their people. Sophie loves swimming in Jordan Lake, splashing in puddles and running around in the rain (not my favorite thing to do … but hey). She even tries to climb into the shower with me (we are also working on that). Sometimes when it gets too quiet and I wonder what she is up to, I find her laying in the bathtub gazing up longingly at the shower nozzle.

That really cracks me up!

My New Author’s Webpage

 

ProfileKind of exciting!  I am pretty busy these days, so I got some help with my author’s webpage at Fiver.com.

Mandyai_Amit is the seller I used. Very affordable and he got me off to a great start.  I would recommend him and have done so on Fiverr. I will be using his services again.

This Fiverr thing is pretty cool.  I actually started selling on Fiverr and have three gigs currently.  I will write book descriptions (for book covers), martial arts fight scenes for novels, and I will do proof-reading / editing.  So far I have sold 4 book descriptions and have a Five Star rating!

Now. as far as the my author’s website, I can simply concentrate on modifications and improvements rather than the whole set up process.  I certainly need to add more content, get some new pictures and tweak a few items, but it up and running with very little effort on my part.

My new website can be found at: www.darrengilbert.biz. Let me know what you think!

God, Guns, Martial Arts, Food, German Shepherds, Books and Politics! You know … important stuff!

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