Book Review: “Scars And Stripes” by Tim Kennedy & Nick Palmisciano

Scars and Stripes: An Unapologetically American Story of Fighting The Taliban, UFC Warriors, and Myself

By Tim Kennedy and Nick Palmisciano

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this book should come with a WARNING label. Why? Because when you read it, it’s going to affect you in two profoundly different ways. First, it’s going to make you feel like a giant worthless turd. I know, this isn’t a good thing, but stay with me (and I apologize for making you read the word “turd”). The author(s) of this book have done so much cool and extreme stuff, that you, the reader, are going to find yourself really second-guessing a lot of your life decisions. This is especially so if you’re listening to the audiobook while you sit in your vanilla cubicle and sadly watch the geese meander across the office complex parking lot to crap in front of your car door. (They do this because they don’t respect you.) If you’re the right type of person, you’re going to get mad. Mad at yourself for underachieving. Mad for every time you’ve slept in, skipped a workout, or just taken the easy way out. (Still isn’t good, I know) The second thing this book will do is negate those first feelings of inadequacy by filling your motivational tanks to the brim (there we go, that’s better). After reading Scars and Stripes, you too will be inspired to go out and do great things, though I’d highly recommend against jumping into a UFC cage fight or catching a plane to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan without proper training first. 

So what’s this book about? This book is about Tim Kennedy. Don’t know Tim Kennedy? Well, come out from beneath that rock you’ve been under. Tim Kennedy might be comparable to a modern-day Kit Carson. The dude has been everywhere and done everything. He’s been an EMT, a firefighter, a policeman, a U.S. Army Special Forces operator, and a mixed martial arts warrior. He’s a veteran of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has been on numerous TV shows and at least one zombie movie, he’s hunted Nazis around the world, relentlessly pursued human traffickers, and even participated in a civilian-led initiative to extract Americans and other allies from Afghanistan during the country’s tragic 2021 collapse. He talks about all of it in this wild book. Through it all, Tim attributes his accomplishments to just being “too dumb to quit.,” as he replied to me in a recent Tweet. I appreciate this humble approach because I too am incredibly humble (read in Drax voice), but I think we all know there’s a little more to it than that. You don’t get to be one of America’s elite warriors if you’re a big dummy and you sure don’t get asked to hunt Nazis and human traffickers either. Don’t get me wrong, Tim’s definitely taken his fair share of traumatic blows to the head. As a UFC fighter, that’s just part of the deal, but one can’t help but assume there’s some kind of “Homer Simpson Syndrome” going on there (man, I hope at least some people get that reference) because Tim seems to have come out of it no worse for wear.  

One of the pieces I most appreciated about this book was Tim’s open discussion of his failures. Tim doesn’t shy away from them and, in most cases, he’s brutally honest about the mistakes he’s made along the way. But like all successful people, Tim seems to realize that these mistakes and failures have played just as big a role in shaping him, as any of his successes. There are two types of people in the world, those who dwell on their mistakes and let them cripple them, and those who learn from their mistakes, bare down, and drive on. 

Plain and simple, this book is about not giving up. About being relentless. We live in a world that constantly tempts us into a state of willful sedation. It’s too easy to give in to that next batch of streaming TV shows or to spend hours scrolling aimlessly through social media feeds, negatively training our brains with microdoses of dopamine, like dogs responding to treats. If we want to be anybody or anything worth remembering, we need to break free from those time eaters, that wasted existence. We need to go out and push ourselves to the point of discomfort and, once there, push past it, instead of retreating back. The one thing you won’t read in Scars and Stripes is about Tim spending days and weeks nursing his wounds or feeling sorry for himself or binge-watching the new season of Sex In The City or some garbage like that. He’s always in motion, building momentum to the next big thing. In a world of lethargic slugs, be a Tim Kennedy. 

You can pick up a copy of Scars and Stripes right here.

Book Review: “Dodgebomb: Outside The Wire In the Second Iraq War” by Darin Pepple

The Iraq War is still a bit abstract to me, even though I spent many months training to deploy there. When I was coming up in the Army, still a wet-behind-the-ears Second Lieutenant, Iraq was all the rage. In the parlance of our times, Afghanistan was tired and Iraq was wired. Everybody who was anybody was going to Iraq. But not me. After months of training up in 2008, my Brigade’s deployment orders were switched from Iraq to Afghanistan and the rest is history. Now, years later, I still seek out novels and memoirs that will give me an accurate account of the Iraq experience to better understand my close friends who deployed there and the day-to-day of the young leaders on the ground. I recently had the privilege of readying Darin Pepple’s debut novel, Dodgebomb: Outside The Wire In The Second Iraq War, which is an excellent depiction of exactly these things from the perspective of a junior officer in the most excellent type of combat unit: the Cavalry.

Dodgebomb focuses on the deployment of 2nd Lieutenant Eddie Fitzgerald, a fresh-faced Cavalry Officer, who is deployed to Iraq to serve as a replacement Platoon Leader in a Troop operating from a remote Patrol Base in Iraq. After a long, tedious journey from the States to his new unit in Iraq, Fitzgerald first meets his Squadron Commander, a brash and egotistical, Lieutenant Colonel who is eager to show everyone just how smart he is about war. This seems to be the predominant trope for officers of that rank in GWOT literature and it’s satisfying every time. As Fitz gets closer to his ultimate destination, Patrol Base Murray, he meets an array of Soldiers who view him with annoyance and skepticism, at having to risk life, limb, and eyesight ferrying this new officer to his post, where he will, in their minds, probably be just another worthless “butter bar”. Even before they reach PB Murray, Fitz experiences his first of many tragedies in the war, as one of the convoy’s trucks strikes an IED, killing an American Soldier. This sudden trauma sets a tone of uncertainty for the rest of the book, which is perfect given how fast things can change in a warzone. The rest of Pepple’s Dodgebomb follows Fitz through the remainder of his Squadron’s deployment, where he earns the respect of his soldiers and peers, experiences victories in combat, endures no shortage of tragedies, continues to be plagued by the pompous pageantry of his superior officers, faces awkward interaction with weirdly over-eager local nationals, and endures his first-ever Squadron staff meeting, a hellish nightmare I know all too well.

What I enjoyed most about Dodgebomb was the way Pepple captured the subtle nuances of deployed life, especially for a first-time deployment. Pepple starts the novel with an excellent example of this as the reader accompanies Fitz on the last part of his long, awkward trip from the States to his assigned Troop, all the while only vaguely knowing where he’s supposed to go and how he’s supposed to act around other soldiers who’ve already been around the block a time or two. Fitz’s introductions to his Platoon Sergeant and other Platoon Leaders are perfect. As several very different personalities collide, you can almost feel the men measuring each other up and gauging each other’s level of competence and professionalism. These morph beautifully into ever-progressing relationships throughout the book. Fitz is thrown into action almost immediately upon arrival and he is again measured up by this Commander, fellow Platoon Leaders, and soldiers. For anyone who has ever arrived at a new military unit, you understand this behavior well. 

I highly recommend Dodgebomb to anyone looking to understand what life was like for veterans of Iraq or to any veterans looking for a trip down memory lane (which was recently cleared of IEDs). For me, it painted a much clearer picture of what day-to-day life was like there and I am continually surprised by how different the Iraq experience was from an Afghanistan deployment. It’s strange how two Army Officers of the same rank and similar dates of service, could have two dramatically different experiences in two very different wars, serving under the command of nearly identical personalities. This, in itself, highlights the importance of novels like Dodgebomb. I’m grateful to Pepple for writing this and to all veteran authors who share their stories, helping us to better understand each other as we figure out where to go from here.

You can pick up a copy of Dodgebomb: Outside The Wire In The Second Iraq War by Darin Pepple here!

Book Review: “Keeper Of The Dead” by Ryan Young

I don’t normally read in the horror genre, cause let’s face it, I’m a bit of a pansy when it comes to stuff like that. Ask my wife. She’ll tell you that I’m rarely willing to watch movies or shows that most people wouldn’t dub even moderately scary. I get nightmares, okay? Leave me alone. Anyway, I decided to make an exception for this book, Keeper Of The Dead, written by fellow indie author and friend, Ryan Young. 

Keeper Of The Dead is Young’s debut novel and boy is it a great one. Calling “Keeper Of The Dead” simply a zombie book or a horror book would be doing it a disservice because it’s much, much more. The novel follows two different timelines, the “then”, which chronicles the survival efforts of Viktor, the main character, at the start of a terrifying new pandemic (timely, right?) that transforms its victims into the ravenous undead (much the way social media does), and the “now” which follows Viktor several years later, as he sets out on a quest to track down a mysterious woman from a driver’s license he’s collects in his travels. The weaving of these two timelines is masterfully done and each section leaves the reader wanting for more as Viktor gets deeper and deeper into trouble.

In many ways, Keeper Of The Dead is more of a survival book than anything, as Young goes into great detail describing the various ways in which Viktor has adapted to survive in his new harsh environment, not only physically but mentally as well. Not to give away any spoilers, but it makes me wonder if Mr. Young spent a fair amount of time living in self-constructed treehouses to research for the book. I wouldn’t blame him, cause that sounds awesome. Hopefully, though, he doesn’t have a collection of dead people’s driver’s licenses hidden in his basement somewhere. 

What struck me most about this book was the way Young got into the head of Viktor and how precisely he paints the picture of this man who has survived unspeakable horrors, his mental state, and the habits and hobbies he’s developed to keep himself pushing forward, taking one day at a time. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself reflecting on how you’d survive in similar situations and if you’re really like me you’ll come to the conclusion that you’d be zombie lunch before the end of the first act.

The book is a heck of a lot of fun, in a terrifying way. If you’re looking for a great read, that will keep you on the edge of your seat or you just want to study up on how best to survive the inevitable zombie apocalypse, I’d highly recommend Keeper Of The Dead. The nightmares are worth it. 

Sidenote: Deer hunters beware when reading this book. I won’t say anything more than that, but when you read it, you’ll know.

You can find Ryan Young’s Keeper Of The Dead here on Amazon or ask for it at any of your local bookstores. 

Book Review: “Endure: How To Work Hard, Outlast, and Keep Hammering” by Cameron Hanes

Ever read the right book at the right time and the message strikes home just that much harder? That’s what Cameron Hanes’s book Endure: How To Work Hard, Outlast, and Keep Hammering did for me. For a while now, I’ve been deep in the querying trenches, trying to find a literary agent for my new novel. Turns out the publishing world is a tough nut to crack and when your network of industry professionals is six dudes you’ve only met on Twitter, it can be hard to get an agent to even open your submission. It’s easy to get discouraged, to wallow in your imposter syndrome, shame-eat a couple dozen donuts, and start contemplating throwing in the towel or spiking your laptop in the driveway. This is where I was, right before I read Endure and Cameron Hanes gave me the metaphorical slap in the face I needed to get my head right and, as Cameron says, “keep hammering.”   

If you don’t know who Cameron Hanes is, let me fill you in. He’s a bad mama-jama from Oregon who’s made his name as one of the world’s foremost backcountry bowhunters and as one hell of an endurance athlete. What makes Cam unique (can I call him Cam?) is that he combines his two passions and uses his insane physical fitness to get him further into the backcountry than most bowhunters could ever dream, affording him opportunities to harvest game that most hunters will never even see. All of this has resulted in Cam smashing the curve on success rates in elk hunting and ruining it for the rest of the class. Thanks, Cam.

Throughout Endure, Cam drives home the fact that he’s just a regular guy. But regular guys don’t have 1.3 million Instagram followers, so what gives? Cam explains further that he’s just a regular guy who has built every inch of his success through perseverance and dedication to the activities he loves. He gives the reader a full-disclosure view of his average Joe (no offense, Rogan) upbringing, his angst-filled teenage years, and his humble beginning as a novice hunter and bowhunting writer. Cam doesn’t really talk about any big breaks. He just talks about how he kept going. How he kept his nose to the grindstone and carved out his place among the greats one arrow and one run at a time. 

Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed is that Cam doesn’t tell you what you have to do to be successful, he just tells you what worked for him. He doesn’t tell you that you need to wake up every day at 4:30 am and run a marathon. He doesn’t tell you that you have to hit the gym for four hours daily and then eat 5 pounds of protein powder, dry, between handfuls of organic, homegrown kale. He doesn’t tell you to eat the raw heart of a bull elk to harness its power. He just tells you to keep hammering. To zero in on your goals and never let up, whether it takes 5 years or 50. And then once you’ve reached those goals, set new ones and keep hammering. 

What sets this book apart from most in its genre is that Cam uses his platform to give credit where credit is due. He talks at length about the people in his life who have helped him and built him along the way, from his father to his family to his lifelong hunting partner Roy Roth. Cam rarely takes credit for his own success, which is a rare trait in itself. 

Endure resonated with me because, like Cam, I too am a bowhunter. Unlike Cam, I kinda suck at it. I’ve been shooting archery since I was 8 years old, but I’ve just recently started hunting and I haven’t seen a lot of success yet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a bad shot, there are just other factors in play: time available, location, my inability to sit completely still for more than three seconds, etc. Also like Cam, I’m a runner and though I’ve never completed an ultramarathon, I do have a few regular marathons under my belt, and I do get up every morning at 5 a.m. to workout so it doesn’t hit as hard when I shame-eat a couple dozen donuts. But here’s the great thing about Cam’s book Endure: you don’t have to be either of those things to enjoy it and benefit from it.
The only criticism I can offer of this book is that some parts are repetitious in their message, but I guess that’s not really even a criticism. Mantras are meant to be repetitious, right? And that’s what this book is at its heart, one long mantra to building a better you through the historically proven method of muscle-grinding, mud-eating, hard work. Read this book if you want to learn a little about bowhunting. Read this book if you want to learn a little about ultramarathoning. But mostly, read this book if you want a good jolt of motivation to get you moving or keep you going. Recharge your batteries with Endure. And keep hammering.

Here’s a link to where you can get a copy of Endure: How To Work Hard, Outlast, and Keep Hammering