1. How do you describe what you do for a living?
Semi-retired freelance writer and author. Like Gilgore Trout I write many things. Few are read. Even fewer are appreciated.
[Web Administrator notes that Nat’s book, Numba One-Numba Ten, is available at eBooks-Online.]
2. What inspired you to undertake this work?
In ’68 I fought with Marines in Northern I Corps for nine months. I owe them a huge debt. They were magnificent then and they have never lost their luster. When I got the chance to write about their exploits at Fallujah in 2004 I jumped at the opportunity. It came to me at the last real job I had editing Col David H. Hackworth’s DefenseWatch Magazine. Writing for DefenseWatch put me in daily contact with American warriors and wannabes. The book about 1st Sgt Brad Kasal and his Marines is a result of those contacts and gave me the opportunity to clearly demonstrate the difference between the two.
Perhaps because I am the son and grandson of professional soldiers there has never been a time I can recall I wasn’t interested in military affairs. I read everything available about warfare in the World Book Encyclopedia by the time I was eight or nine years old. I joined the Army in 1967 and went to Vietnam as soon as I was old enough. I stayed almost three years. The last time I was involved in combat was in Bosnia in ’93 during the civil war there and then I tried to walk away from it for good. Not participating at all in Desert Storm drove me almost crazy. When 9/11 happened and the Global War on Terror started I wanted to get involved again. My health and age prevent me from being involved directly in the war so I chose the second-best course, which I believe is writing about the warriors who are fighting it.
3. How do you approach the work?
Carefully, everything warriors say today is scrutinized. Somebody is always waiting in the wings to knock down our war fighters, pillory them, and even try to lock them up. The biggest problem I encounter is quieting truthful veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to prevent them from facing problems with their parent commands for telling the unvarnished truth.
4. Where do you find inspiration?
Ernie Pyle, Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Eric Severid, Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., and all our warriors past and present. I especially want to mention Michael Yon. The reader should understand I identify him not only because of my personal friendship and respect for him, but because Mike is a marvelous observer, a very brave man, and a grand commentator of the events swirling around us. He has earned his way and deserves to be listened to. That said, the most import influence on me was the late Col. David H. Hackworth, (US Army, Ret.) for marching to his own drummer and the skeptics be damned!
5. What books are you reading now?
I just finished reading “Fiasco” by Thomas E. Ricks as well as writing a review of it for the University of Michigan War Studies Group Book Review. I am now reading Lt Gen Lewis B Puller’s biography “Chesty” by Col. Jon T. Hoffman, USMCR and I am rereading General of the Army Omar Bradley’s “A Soldier’s Story” for about the fifth time.
6. What do you consider required reading in order for people to understand the world today?
I recommend reading current biographies, ancient history, “The Times” of London, military history, some of the more serious military bloggers, detective novels, dirty leg magazines featuring true men stories, and an occasional political pundit’s perspective of current events; and watching the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The characters in the movie “Men in Black” seem to have the clearest sense of where to obtain completely factual news today.
7. Whose work (in any field) do you admire the most?
Ernie Pyle and a Marine Corps Lt. Col named Willard Buhl, the commander of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines at Fallujah, Iraq during the terrible November battle there in 2004. Pyle because of his outstanding body of work and Buhl because he exemplifies the professionalism, profound sense of responsibility, and brilliant military savvy that embodies the best and brightest of America’s officer corps. There are many, many fine officers and enlisted warriors in all the services and whatever failings the Pentagon and the United States government suffers is not because of the failures of men like Buhl and their subordinates.
8. What do you consider as an overrated person, place or thing?
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld comes to mind right away, then Pentagon brass, OTV Body Armor and fast food.
9. What do you hope will be your most lasting contribution?
My book “My Men Our My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story” was a privilege to write. It provided me a sense of proportion about who is actually carrying the burden in the current conflict and how much America owes these warriors and their families. Just meeting them humbled me. I hope the book reaches as many people as possible and gives them a sliver of insight into the magnificent character of Americans put in an almost untenable position without losing their dignity, honor and courage.
10. When is the last time you laughed out loud about something?
Two things happened almost simultaneously just last week. The first yuk erupted when Michael sent me his story about the American cannibal in India. It takes somebody as weird as Yon to find someone as weird as Gary Stevenson, aka Kapal Nath, and proved that I am a sick person for being so fascinated at the same time. The second explosion occurred when I received Rick’s reply to my review of “Fiasco.” Both emails arrived in the same batch of mail. Ricks accused me of having a political agenda. I thought that was truly the pot calling the kettle black.
11. What do you think people need to spend more time doing (or paying attention to)
I think they better start watching what their government is doing a bit more closely. We are on the verge of World War III and Americans are sailing blindly on thinking it will all get better if they just stay uninvolved.
12. What is the most important piece of equipment (or skill) in your arsenal?
People with the character to tell the truth and the courage to say it.
» Read Nat’s article “Marine Veteran of Fallujah Honored for Bravery by Iowa Legislature” for DefenseWatch/SFFT.org as a PDF here.
» Read Nat’s article “The Incredible Saga of Sgt. Maj. Brad Kasal” from the VFW Magazine as a PDF here.
» Read Harold Hutchison’s review of “My Men are My Heroes” published at the Strategy Page as a PDF here.
» Read Kevin Horrigan’s article profiling Nat’s expose of problems with the Interceptor OTV body armor system in the St Louis Post-Dispatch. “Body Armor: The Rocket from Nat Helm’s Basement” is here as a PDF.