Let’s remember and honor Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler

I wanted to take a moment to do my small part to honor a warrior and true American hero.

Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler was the first American to die in combat in Iraq in four years, and he was a highly decorated Delta Force member who was killed taking part in a joint raid to rescue 70 hostages held by ISIS.

The hostages were expected to be executed within hours, after morning prayers. In fact, their graves had already been dug.

Thus, a joint, night-time raid was launched with Kurdish commandos.

The fighting was fierce and scary, as evidenced by this helmet camera footage dug up by the Washington Post. You can just feel the fear and confusion in the video, as a fire burns, people scramble, and bullets snap past.

And going beyond the call of duty in this battle was Master Sergeant Wheeler.

The Kurds were trying to blast a hole in the outer wall to breach the compound, but were unable to do so, according to The New York Times.

Wheeler, just one of many Delta Force operators advising the Kurds, rushed to the front of the line to fix the charges. And when the hole in the wall was blown, Wheeler led the way through it.

“When you blow a hole in a compound wall, all the fire gets directed toward that hole, and that’s where he was,” said a former Delta Force officer, who once led Wheeler and was briefed afterward about the mission.

The New York Times wrote an impressive tribute to Wheeler, who leaves behind a wife and infant boy, plus three sons from an earlier marriage.

Incredibly, Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler had been on 14 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan since joining the Army, and he had already earned 11 Bronze Stars.

I’m not sure it’s possible to explain those kinds of numbers to someone who’s never served.

In my four years of service, I merely did two measly, six-month deployments, and only spent two days in harm’s way, and it COMPLETELY changed my life. This man may have spent as much as 10 years (or more) in harm’s way. (The math on that is that at one point Army deployments were as long as 13 months, assuming your unit wasn’t extended. Truthfully, we’ll probably never know the real figure, since the Army doesn’t even admit to Delta Force’s existence).

Nonetheless, you can’t really put 14 deployments into words. For instance, both of my deployments had major training work ups (one lasting six months), and these are exhausting and dangerous in their own right. These super-intensive training exercises are far more dangerous than more typical, peace-time training — we actually lost a great Marine during this kind of training, when Lance Corporal Foster died on April 10, 1999, while my company — Alpha Co., 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment — conducted highly dangerous jungle training in Okinawa. Foster drowned while crossing a roaring stream in full combat gear. (Photo by Cpl. Conwell.)

Additionally, there are also air alerts periods for units, where you can’t go far from the base and have to be ready to deploy within hours. (These air alerts involve drills, which are launched by surprise — usually at night or on the weekend! — and you have no idea if they’re real or not until the exercise is ended.)

I say all this because there’s probably no way to accurately measure how much time Master Sergeant Wheeler spent either on air alert, or impossible-to-describe training, or on dangerous deployments into harm’s way.

This man spent the better part of nearly 20 years in the complete, full service of our country. He was away from his family. He was away from comforts, such as a bed, a shower, a TV, or any of the other things we all take for granted.

And even when he didn’t have to be up front, when he could have taken his foot off the gas — he was planning to retire soon — he moved to the front and freely accepted the most dangerous position.

My former platoon leader Captain Eaton said it best.

“This guy had 11 Bronze stars. Even if the ‘plan’ is for foreign fighters to take the lead on a mission, U.S. Commandos will not be mere observers once bullets start flying. They are neither physically nor morally capable of just standing by.”

I wish we had more Americans like Master Sergeant Wheeler, who are neither physically nor morally capable of just standing by.

This man was a warrior. He was a hero. And his record of service and sacrifice should inspire us all.

And while not all of us can serve as Master Sergeant Wheeler did, we can remember that we still have a war going on. We still have troops in danger every single day. And we can do far more to support them.

Furthermore, we can remind our kids that real heroes don’t play on the football field or on the basketball court. They sleep in mud. They deploy thousands of miles away. And they rush through holes that they don’t have to.

Keep the faith,

Stan R. Mitchell

About meStan R. Mitchell writes some of the most action-packed, fast-moving gunfighter novels around. Tired of slow-paced, investigative novels that take 300 pages to excite you? Look no further! Stan is the best-selling author of 5 novels in 3 different time periods. He’s also a prior infantry Marine with Combat Action Ribbon, and a former journalist who spent ten years in the newspaper business, learning how to hook the reader, cut out the filler, and just tell the story. In short, Stan is knowledgeable, he’s fast, and his books will blow you away. Don’t forget to subscribe for email alerts to keep up with his latest works.

Three times I wish I hadn’t been right…

When I write, I like to push the limits. Doing so allows you to increase the tension and make a book more engaging and fun to read, obviously.

But at the same time, we all know the moment an author crosses the line into the unbelievable, you’re immediately tempted to stop reading. And not just that book, but possibly even future things the author writes. Thus I tread carefully, before I even get close to that line.

Nonetheless, here are my Top 3 push-the-envelope moments, which have unfortunately all been born out by reality after I published the book. Each in REALLY big ways. (And don’t worry, I’ll keep all three vague enough that they’re not spoiler alerts if you haven’t read the books.)

1 ) Prison breakout, Mexican Heat. In Mexican Heat, I needed to have a cartel leader break out of the country’s most secure prison. I knew there were real life instances of break outs in more moderate prisons, but it would be seriously unrealistic for my character to be placed in a medium-secure facility. So in Mexican Heat, I had to take my chances and write that he was able to break out of the country’s most-secure prison. I thought I could take some heat for this, but thankfully readers agreed that in a country with a drug war that’s killed more than 60,000 people, a prison break out wasn’t that unbelievable. And then just a year after writing the book, ‘El Chapo’ Guzman escaped — even after our country warned Mexico he might.

2 ) Friendly fire incident, Afghanistan. In Afghan Storm, in order to facilitate some future turns of events, I needed to have a pretty serious friendly fire incident occur. Friendly fire incidents had occurred several times in the past decade-plus, but we’ve gotten better at preventing them. Unfortunately, I needed this to be a pretty serious incident, which I knew would be pretty unlikely. But it had to happen to make the book plot work, thus I wrote what I thought was a push-the-envelope attack, instigated by the Taliban, and hoped I wouldn’t be lambasted for it being outlandish. But just days after finishing the book, a Doctors Without Borders hospital suffered a far more horrendous and difficult-to-explain attack.

3 ) City seized, Afghanistan. Finally, in Afghan Storm, I wanted to have the Taliban seize a major city. But I knew I was pushing my luck BIG TIME on this one. ISIS has been pushing into Afghanistan, threatening the Taliban. And the country has seemed to stabilize and suffer fewer major Taliban attacks in recent years. But I believed I could make this attack believable, so I strategized with a prior Army Captain (and good friend) and did plenty of research on how it might occur. I SOOO did not want to be ridiculed for this scene, or hurt the possibilities for this book, which I felt was easily my best. In the end, I went with my gut, but worried greatly about the entire scenario. How would readers react? How bad would the reviews be? Could I even lose readers over it? But as you all know, while the book was literally publishing, the Taliban captured Kunduz, the capital of one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. And they not only captured it, they controlled it for 15 days and freed hundreds of fellow militants from the local jail — neither of which I would have dared predict.

So on the positive side, my author career is likely safe for at least a little longer. But on the negative side, each of these things were horrendous events that have caused unbelievable harm and loss of life.

I can honestly say I wish none of them had come to pass, and that I was forced to vigorously try to defend such “outlandish” events in my books. That, certainly, would have beat the alternative.

Keep the faith,

Stan R. Mitchell

About meStan R. Mitchell writes some of the most action-packed, fast-moving gunfighter novels around. Tired of slow-paced, investigative novels that take 300 pages to excite you? Look no further! Stan is the best-selling author of 5 novels in 3 different time periods. He’s also a prior infantry Marine with Combat Action Ribbon, and a former journalist who spent ten years in the newspaper business, learning how to hook the reader, cut out the filler, and just tell the story. In short, Stan is knowledgeable, he’s fast, and his books will blow you away. Don’t forget to subscribe for email alerts to keep up with his latest works.

How safe is our banking system?

A couple of weeks back, I received a fraud alert from my bank. Clearly, this scared the crap out of me.

I immediately jumped online and saw with relief that my account was still accurate. The money was still there.

But the scare ignited a fear I used to not sweat, since I rarely had more than a thousand dollars in my bank account after going all in to launch a newspaper. These days, thanks to you guys, I worry a little more. : )

So following the scare, I started digging online. I had heard in the past from a few prepper-type folks say how screwed we’d be as a country if hackers — or a foreign government such as Russia or China — attacked our banking system and wiped out all of our digital accounts. Of course, there’d be complete anarchy if such a thing happened, and it is a scary thought.

But the more I dug, the less reliable information I found. It seems not many people want to talk about this, or if they do, you can’t find the info with a cursory internet search. (And what you do find initially is stuff written by preppers, which only further frightens you.)

I finally broke down and burned some political capital. I wrote a person who’s an insider on computer security. I can’t identify this person, but they agreed that I could print their answer, after I persuaded them it was the best answer I had seen anywhere. (They’ll probably send a virus to wipe my server after I post this, to protect their anonymity — they’re big on staying below the radar like that.)

At any rate, it’s safe to say this girl — or guy? — works for a major Fortune 500 company in their IT/Internet Security Department, and this person really knows their shit.

Their degree comes from a prestigious university, they regularly travel to pricey conferences with the best in the business, and they work with a talented team to remain vigilant 24/7 protecting an incredibly important asset from tons of super-sophisticated hackers.

Here’s the person’s answer to my question of “How safe is our banking system:”

My short answer is that against catastrophic attacks our banking system is very safe; much safer than our water, power, transportation and healthcare systems anyway.

Longer answer: Large scale banking attacks are one of those rare attacks that are much harder than they sound to carry out (most cyber attacks are the opposite, unfortunately). Besides layers of security protecting the account information, copies of all the information is stored in multiple redundant databases all over the world and any transaction or change in the account sizes is cross checked against all those separate databases in a cyclical fashion that has to pass through multiple fraud and error checks. Thus, changing someones account size from 10 to 10 million dollars isn’t as simple as breaking into the right machine and changing a single database entry; it would require breaking into a least a dozen machines at different sites and changing the information in all of them within a few milliseconds of each other and then changing the logs and transaction records in each of them to hide what you did and avoid getting caught. Wiping out all the account information entirely would be even harder because it would be recognized immediately and automatically reversed from a regular backup unless you managed to nuke all the different storage and backup systems simultaneously.

It’s not impossible, if my career in cyber has taught me anything it’s that nothing is, but it’s an extremely tall order for one account set and exponentially harder to do for a bunch of them. More to the point, as the Target and Home Depot break ins taught the world last year, there are much much easier ways to get rich in the hacker world than knocking over banks directly. As long as credit cards are plentiful and easy to skim, they’ll continue to get the lion’s share of the criminals’ attention.

Hope that helps set your mind at ease and wasn’t too verbose (I do go on sometimes …)

So there you go. Reading his answer helped me feel better about the situation, and I’m sharing it in the hopes that it gives you some peace of mind, as well.

Keep the faith,

Stan R. Mitchell

About me: I’m a full-time, action-fiction author with books similar to Vince Flynn, Stephen Hunter, and Tom Clancy. I’m also a prior infantry Marine with Combat Action Ribbon, and a guy who spent 10+ years writing every day in the newspaper business. Please consider subscribing for email alerts — I mostly post about things that either motivate you, inspire you, or make you laugh.