November 11th, 1918. At 11 A.M., the War to End All Wars came to an end with the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany. Over the course of the war, the United States had suffered over 320,000 casualties. In Europe, an entire generation was wiped out.
In the years to come, November 11th would become a day of remembrance: Armistice Day. But it wasn’t the end. War never ends. And it never changes.
Over the years I spent writing my political/spy thriller Pandora’s Grave, US troops took part in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Soldiers are stationed across the world from Germany to Japan, and along the DMZ in Korea. In care packages for these men and women in uniform, books are one of the most requested items.
The emotional cost of these wars has been tremendous, and capturing a fraction of that psychological stress was part of the mission in writing Pandora’s Grave.
Pandora’s Grave is the story of CIA paramilitary operations officer Harry Nichols. It’s the story of the emotional cost of leadership under fire. Of the consequences of one man’s resolve to complete the mission at all costs.
You can read reviews of Pandora’s Grave at the following websites.
And the Suspense Magazine review, posted at Weldonburge.com
I would particularly like to thank ManofLaBook and Collette Scott for their support of Blog Tour de Troops. Stop by and check them out.
Long-time readers of this blog will recognize the name Michael Piro, whom I mentioned toward the end of my 4th of July blog on PTSD(Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Mike is a veteran of the Iraq War and the creator of www.ptsdsurvivordaily.com, a site I highly recommend for veterans and their families.
This Veteran’s Day, I’m honored to welcome Michael Piro to my blog for this one-on-one interview.
Stephen England: This Veteran’s Day, I suspect one thing on the mind of many Americans will be the recent announcement of the planned withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq. As a veteran of the Iraq War yourself, would you care to comment on the withdrawal and what we accomplished in the country?
Michael Piro: I’m not sure I can comment on what we accomplished. I have been removed from Iraq for 5 years, so my experience “in country” is a little out of date. I can say that I am thankful we are finally moving to a withdrawal plan. I am not sure that Iraq will stay stable without our presence, but they are a sovereign nation and are asking us to leave. I think our legacy will not be solidified for quite some time and I will leave that to the historians.
SE: It’s been a number of years now since you were in Iraq for your final tour in ‘06. I know the old saw is that “time heals all wounds”, but do you feel that your own struggle with PTSD has gotten any easier with the passage of time?
MP: I think time heals wounds, but the level of the impact of the scarring is another matter. I worked very hard in therapy and at home to get to the level to a level of understanding and normalcy. Certain aspects are not necessarily easier, but more manageable. I still mourn my friends, and I still can get very angry very quickly, I am just able to manage it better now. I think, though, that without addressing the wounds, you can stay in the same place for a long time or even get worse. I attend group therapy with mostly Vietnam Veterans. They are still dealing with issues they repressed for a long time. I am trying to get out in front of this…
SE: From reading your blog I understand that your wife was also deployed to Iraq during the time that you were there. How did that reality affect the challenges of your tour over there and your life now that you’ve both left the military?
MP: Well, over there, I think I naively thought it would be easier than it was to manage worrying about my Soldiers and my wife. I had two units that I was familiar and close with instead of one. As a leader, you feel responsible for your Soldiers and their actions. It was essentially doubled on the deployment we were together. My wife and I went through things that few other couples come close to, especially at a young age. It has helped us communicate and understand each other more.
SE: Since meeting you on Twitter earlier this year, I’ve seen you reach out to your fellow veterans on-line, through the mediums of the blog and social media. How has this helped in your own healing process?
MP: One of the therapies I went through early on was Cognitive Processing Therapy. In that therapy writing was the main method of expression. I think that as I have become more secure in my own understanding and been able to work through some of my own demons, writing has established itself as my favorite form of expression about PTSD. The blog is my favorite because I can work through things at my own pace. The social media component to interact with others is helpful because of the encouragement and support from within the community of Veterans and Veteran supporters.
SE: With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve had to come to terms with the tragic number of soldiers who have committed suicide after returning home. I know it’s something you’ve dealt with in a number of your blog posts. In your opinion, is there more that the military could and should do to prepare its members for the reality of what they will face in combat?
MP: I do not think you can ever be completely prepared. You can get close. You can train effectively and hard, but using blanks or shooting at inanimate targets is a completely different universe than being on the receiving end of angry bullets. That said, there are experienced Soldiers in every unit who return from deployments. They can definitely shepherd along the new Soldiers. War is something you will never know unless you experience it first hand. That being said, I don’t think the military should do more to prepare them for what they will face in combat. I think they can do a better job of preparing them to face the world after they return. I am lucky that my wife was in the military. She gets it. If a Soldier comes home and tries to return to normal life without a support network, the feeling of isolation can be tremendous. In this aspect I think we can do a much better job of helping our returning Vets.
SE: One of the consequences of our all-volunteer military is a steadily decreasing number of those who have actually served in the armed forces. I think this factors into the difficulty that families have in helping a loved one with PTSD. If there was one thing you could say to a family in this situation, what would it be?
MP: That is a tough question… I don’t think there is only one thing. I would say that the top of the list of things is don’t try to understand your Veteran more than you try to support them. You can read blogs, you can read books, you can talk to other Veterans, but what is going on will take its course. There is an inherent “us” and “them” with Veterans. As much as a family member may not want to be in that group, by matter of experience, they are with “them”. I think that what is more important than trying to understand their Veteran is coming to grips with the adjustments the family will have to make to be more supportive and understanding. It is hard. Most look the same on the outside, but there is a lot more going on between their ears. And, I’m not saying you give them a pass on unacceptable or unhealthy behavior. There will be a lot of adjustments, being mentally prepared for them is going to take a lot of effort.
SE: Since your own retirement from the Army, you’ve become a member of the advisory board at VeteransAid. Could you tell us a little about your role with them and the work that they do in helping veterans?
MP: An old family friend approached me about joining up with VeteransAid on the advisory board. The executive board is comprised of Veterans from other eras, but none from the current wars. He asked me if I could lend my insight with my struggles with PTSD and help the group.
SE: And finally, a book-related question, for Blog Tour de Troops is, after all, a book event. For an author like myself—and I know I’m not the only one—one of the great struggles of writing fiction involving soldiers and war is that I’ve never stood in your shoes. I also know that if I had, I probably wouldn’t want to write about it. What advice would you give to writers who wish to ensure that they treat the subject with respect? Or what common mistakes do writers need to avoid?
MP: I think the word that nailed the expectation is “fiction”. If you are mastering your craft I think you would read non-fiction accounts, wherever they may come from, to get ahold of necessary details to make the story more engaging and realistic. But, at the end of the day, it is still a work of fiction. I think that the readers will let a writer know if they disagree with the amount of respect they pay towards a topic, either with their wallets or otherwise. I have not written much fiction, so I cannot say what a writer should avoid, but I would just say go with your gut.
Thanks for joining us today, Mike. God bless
To receive your free e-copy of Pandora’s Grave, please leave a comment sharing the title of your favorite “military” novel and your e-mail. And please thank Mike—it’s been a honor to have him on the blog today.