When writing fiction, your best work may come from what scares you the most: you take pen in hand and imagine the worst. When I first flew into Afghanistan, what scared me the most wasn't the thought of getting shot down and killed. It was the thought of getting shot down and not killed.
For most aviators, an encounter with the enemy usually happens in the form of lights streaming up from the earth. It has an air of unreality about it, almost like a video game. If those lights don't hit you, they don't hurt you. But what if you had an airplane blown out from under you and you met the enemy on his terms, in his territory? What would you face on the ground? What would your buddies need you to do? Under conditions of extreme duress and hardship, would you make decisions you could live with later on?
When I went to the Air Force Survival School years ago, an instructor gave a briefing I have never forgotten. He said, "Every Air Force flier shot down in Vietnam, captured, and dragged to the Hanoi Hilton sat right here in this auditorium and thought, 'It won't happen to me.'"
I still think it won't happen to me. But if it did? The Mullah's Storm is an imagining of that fear.
The book's action begins with the downing of a C-130 Hercules in Afghanistan, set at an indeterminate time in the war. It could have happened in 2001, or it might not have happened yet. A shoulder-fired missile blows my main characters out of their normal world and onto a journey that forces them to disregard personal safety and even personal loyalties for the sake of the mission.
My fears have become reality for some service members, and the characters in The Mullah's Storm are composites of people I have known. One of those people was an early mentor and squadron mate who had served as a Marine Corps helicopter crew chief in Vietnam. He enjoyed target shooting, and I assumed such an avid marksman would also be a hunter. But when I invited him to go duck hunting, he declined. He said, "When I was shot down in Vietnam, I learned what it felt like to be hunted. I have never hunted anything since."
Though my colleague's Vietnam ordeal echoes through the book, the characters draw their motivations and mindsets from veterans of the current wars. These service members, all volunteers, come from the best-educated military ever fielded. American troops have more skill and training than ever before, and their leaders have more confidence in them. They have more individual responsibility, and in extremis, more ability to act alone when necessary. They are not cynical, but neither are they naïve about their missions and the mistakes of those who send them on those missions.
Another difference with today's military is the greater contributions of women. Their presence as part of the team no longer raises eyebrows; in fact, it is taken for granted. My novel's female character, Sergeant Gold, was inspired by the women with whom I have served. Those real-life military women include some of the best pilots, navigators, and flight engineers I've known.
Other characters are from a U.S. Army Special Forces team. As a C-130 flight engineer, I often had the pleasure of working with Special Forces. Sometimes we flew SF troops during their parachute training, dropping freefall jumpers from so high that they breathed from an oxygen bottle on the way down. In addition to their other military skills, each SF soldier is fluent in a foreign language. Those guys are very smart -- From Amazon.com Amazon.com Review