Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “military life”

Battleground Iraq : journal of a company commander

Battleground Iraq : journal of a company commander by Todd S Brown; United States. Dept. of the Army – http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/070/70-107-1/index.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What was a night raid like in Iraq?
  • What was the routine of an occupying force?
  • How did some Americans see the Iraqis they encoutered?
  • How did US servicemembers pass the time in the field between assignments?


This book is the journal of company commander (then Captain) Todd S. Brown who led an army company in Iraq from April 2003 through March 2004. From the editor’s introduction:

There is a lot that Todd Brown’s journal is not. It is not an official account, nor does it purport to be. It is not consistent. Todd experiments with his writing style–he was a civil engineering major at the US Military Academy–and bounces around with respect to structure, organization, and delivery. He also bounces through mood swings reflecting good days and bad days. Reading a paragraph in isolation might cause one to believe that the war was winnable or hopeless depending on the exigencies of the moment rather than upon some overarching theory of campaign progression. Sometimes he speaks casually of breathtaking courage, and other times he seems almost whiny.

Captain Brown’s account is supplemented by editor supplied background material at the beginning of each monthly chapter. The work has a glossary and an index as well as five appendices, all of which will be helpful to the writer of stories set in this period:

  • A. Command and Control at the Brigade and Below
  • B. The Samarra Paper
  • C. Civil Samarra
  • D. Countermortar Operations around the LSA
  • E. Life Aboard the Bradley

Some of the relations with the Iraqis might be helpful in occupation stories set on other worlds.

US Coast Guard Cutter Campbell Cruise Book 1967-1968

US Coast Guard Cutter Campbell Cruise Book 1967-1968 – http://www.uscg.mil/history/WEBCUTTERS/Campbell_VTN_Cruise_Book.pdf  (site currently down 8/25/17)

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What sort of background might the captain of a 1960s USCG cutter have?
  • What operational sections did a Coast Guard Cutter have during Vietnam?
  • What sort of nicknames did enlisted men get on a cutter?
  • What did Guantanamo Bay look like in the late 1960s?
  • What did replenishment-at-sea look like?
  • What did the “crossing the equator” ceremonies look like?


From the introduction: “This is a story of a ship, and the men who serve aboard her. A remembrance of one year in the lives of the officers and crew of the US Coast Guard Cutter in Viet Nam.”

The book opens with a brief history of the ship, then has biographies of the captain and executive officer who served on the cutter during the year being documented. The biographies include state of origin, education and previous assignments. This section is followed by photographs of officers with notations of their assignments on the Campbell. Following photographs of the officers come descriptions of the ship’s different departments, including photos of enlisted and sometimes some personal detail about them.

The description of ship’s departments is followed by a large number of photographs broken up into sections, but minimal annotation and virtually no identification.

The sections are (pages refer to PDF file):

  • Departure and Training (p.27)
  • Operation Market Time (p. 30)
  • Replentishment at Sea (p. 37)
  • Gunfire Support (p. 50)
  • Medical Assistance Aboard (p.57)
  • Med Caps Ashore (p. 61)
  • Work Parties Ashore (p. 63)
  • Boardings (p. 67)
  • The Off Hours (p. 72)
  • Harold’s Night: Gambling in the Campbell’s Plush Floating Casino (p. 75)
  • Crossing the Equator (p.78)
  • Cookouts (p. 81)
  • Ships Parties (p. 83)
  • Personnel Inspection (p. 87)
  • Destruction of a Derelict (p.90)
  • Home Stretch (p. 92)

While the book definitely suffers from the lack of an index, table of contents or careful annotations of photos, writers ought to be able to construct a reasonable “life aboard” story from this cruisebook. At 102 pages, this is short enough to be browsable.

Marines and Military Law in Vietnam: Trial by Fire

Marines and Military Law in Vietnam: Trial by Fire. LtCol Gary D. Solis, USMC. 1989. 295 pp

Print – http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/24248654 

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • How long did US servicemembers serve for the murder of noncombatants?
  • What were characteristics of servicemembers found guilty of fragging their commanders?
  • How widespread was marijuana use in Vietnam? How did the military legal system fight it?


A mostly chronological history of the institutions of military law and how they functioned in Vietnam. A number of courtmartial trials, including some for the murder of noncombatants are described. Chapter subheadings are descriptive and there is an index. Some of the subchapters that might be helpful to writers of stories set in the Vietnam War are:

  • From a Lawyer’s Case File: The Marine Corps’ First War Crime
  • Conviction in Vietnam
  • From a Lawyer’s Case File: Pilot to Copilot to Brig
  • Homicide on Patrol; Men. Women, and Children
  • Transportation: Hitchhiking to Court
  • Fragging: Friendly Fire With Malice
  • Racial Conflict: Black, White, and Green
  • Closing Cases Versus Best Defense

Captain William J. Longhi Collection: Naval Communication Station Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam (Album) (Naval History and Heritage Command)

Captain William J. Longhi Collection: Naval Communication Station Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam (Album) (Naval History and Heritage Command) – https://web.archive.org/web/20131002115202/http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/albums/s588/s588.htm

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Where can I find a picture of a soldier playing with base dogs?
  • What did CO quarters look like during the Vietnam War?


From the website:

This collection contains photographs and documents concerning personnel and activities of the U.S. Naval Communication Station Cam Ranh Bay, Republic of Vietnam during the period 1970-1971.

The photos are presented as small album pages with captions. Clicking on the picture brings up a larger version.

World War II era WAVES (Naval History and Heritage Command)

World War II era WAVES (Naval History and Heritage Command) – https://web.archive.org/web/20141026031220/http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/prs-tpic/females/wave-ww2.htm

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What did the acronym WAVES stand for?
  • What duties did the WAVES perform?
  • What did a WAVES uniform look like?
  • What values did WAVES recruiting posters invoke?


Website featuring many annotated photos and posters of the US Navy women known as WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Site is divided into the following areas:

  • Recruiting and Training
  • Quarters & Meals
  • Recreation, Leisure & Good Deeds
  • Ship and Aviation Orientation
  • Transportation
  • Occupations – Aviation Related
  • Artworks and posters of wartime WAVES “Recruiting Posters for Women from World War II – The WAVES”.
  • Additional information Women in the U.S. Navy.

Each area has a textual overview up to several paragraphs. This site will be useful in describing WAVES characters and keeping them in era-appropriate occupations.

Initial Selection of Candidates for Pilot, Bombardier, and Navigator Training (WWII)

Initial Selection of Candidates for Pilot, Bombardier, and Navigator Training, by Robert L. Thompson (1943). 66 pages. – http://www.afhra.af.mil/Portals/16/documents/Studies/1-50/AFD-090602-023.pdf

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Were 28 year olds less likely to graduate from flight school than younger students?
  • When did the Army Air Forces start pilot training for African Americans?
  • What were the three aptitude tests pilot cadets had to pass before being accepted into training prior to 1942?
  • What was an example of a reading comprehension question required by the Aviation Cadet Qualifying Examination?


The PDF file for this work is mostly blank up until page 13, where you will find the table of contents. The first part of the book covers World War I and the interwar years. Material pertaining to World War II will be mostly found in two chapters:

  • IV – The Aviation Cadet Qualifying Examination, 1942-1943
  • V – Other significant changes in the initial selection procedures, 1941-1943

The work also contains a bibliography, a glossary of Abbreviations and an index.

Coast Guard Recruiting Handbook, 1942

Coast Guard Recruiting Handbook, 1942 – http://www.uscg.mil/history/docs/1938RecruitingHandbook.pdf

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What is the shortest or tallest someone could be and still accepted into the Coast Guard?
  • How many teeth did the Coast Guard require its recruits to have?
  • What was the salary for a married apprentice seaman with three children?
  • Where can I find genuine WWII era Coast Guard application?


A hand illustrated, six page document describing the requirements and benefits of joining the Coast Guard.

Center of Military History Online Photograph Library

Center of Military History Online Photograph Library –  http://www.history.army.mil/html/artphoto/photographs.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What did a radio operator’s equipment look like in World War II?
  • Where can I find scenes associated with the Battle of the Bulge?
  • What did a Buffalo Soldier training camp look like?
  • What did Army Nurse uniforms look like in World War II?


This library has collections of photographs that encompass a number of eras. The collections that cover World War II are:

  • Battle of the Bulge Images
  • Buffalo Soldiers on the Eve of World War II
  • Images from World War II: The Early Years
  • African Americans in the U.S. Army – Early World War II
  • Images from World War II: Preparing for Battle
  • Photographs of World War II Ireland
  • The Normandy Invasion: The Story in Pictures
  • Army Nurses: World War II & Korean War Images

The presentation of each photograph varies, but you can usually rely on a caption for each photograph. In some cases information about the collection from which this came from will be offered.

A History of the Women Marines, 1946-1977

Stremlow, Mary V. 1986. A history of the Women Marines, 1946-1977. Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps.

(Paper with link to online version: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/14158802)

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What occupational classes were available to Women Marines?
  • What did uniforms for Women Marines look like?
  • When were African-Americans admitted to the Women Marines?
  • How did training vary between men and women in the Marine Corps?
  • When were Women Marines allowed to become MPs?
  • What were the circumstances behind dropping separate units for Women Marines?


This well illustrated, 250 page text is mostly arranged chronologically, with separate chapters on:

  • Recruit training
  • Officer training
  • Administration of women (including barracks, daily routine, and discipline)
  • Promotions
  • Marriage, motherhood, and dependent husbands
  • Uniforms
  • Laurels and Traditions

The narrative portion of the book ends with biographical sketches of the Sergeants Major of Women Marines and of the Directors of Women Marines. The work as a whole concludes with several appendices and an index. The appendices of most interest to writers include:

  • Occupational fields for women officers
  • Occupational fields for enlisted women
  • Women Marine units, 1946-1977
  • Women Marines who served in Vietnam, 1967-1973

If you are writing about female characters of this period who are Marines, think of this book as a character bible. What your character wore, what ranks they could attain and what military specialties they could work in are all here. If you’re writing science fiction about worlds where women are just starting to come into their own, this book might help you describe that world’s military service.

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