Hide and Seek
Alton, what was it like as a writer to work with a soldier and capture the stories for the new book Hide and Seek?
AG: It was enlightening. At first, I thought my biggest challenge would be learning the terms and tools of the contemporary soldier. As it turns out, the great challenge came in understanding the soldier's mind and heart. A novelist must be able to see through the eyes of others, to feel their joy and their pains, and then put it on paper. In writing this book and the others that came before it, I had to imagine what it was like to leap out of an airplane in the middle of the night, to be hunkered down under live fire, to see a comrade wounded and killed and to stand on a foreign field when my mind was home with my family. Doing so gave me the new insight into the work and the sacrifices made by the dedicated soldier.
Jeff exemplifies the qualities of the 21st-century soldier: intelligent, brave, sacrificial, but very human. In my discussions with him I came to understand the split loyalties that every soldier faces: duty, country, family.
I tried to take some of the admirable qualities I saw in Jeff and put them into the fictional soldiers who risk their lives and transfer all that to the printed page. I could come up with the plot and the twists and turns, but Jeff had to provide the realism. The series of books has been a real education. I am blessed for having been a part of them.
Jeff, now that you are retired from active service, do you reflect on some of the stories that developed differently than what you thought they would?
JS: I don't think that being retired from active duty in the US Army has changed the way that I reflect on these stories, but it has given me a greater appreciation for the quality of men and women in the military. Now that I am a private citizen (so to speak), I have the chance to compare the work ethic, the sense of duty and the patriotism of the men and women in the military with the rest of the US population. I never realized how different many warriors are from the citizens that they protect and serve. I am also seeing the selflessness and sacrifice of the military family compared to that of the average family in our country and am surprised by these differences.
Alton, did the process or the relationship change the way you view those in the military and what their families go through?
AG: Absolutely. I always knew there was great sacrifice involved in being a soldier. Coming from a Navy family I even knew the families of military made their share of sacrifices. Writing about them, however, made it real for me. One thing every novelist does is to insert himself or herself into their characters–good or bad. It can be an emotional roller coaster. Writing these books has tattooed the image of their sacrifice on my mind and heart. From the beginning, Jeff insisted that we show the heroism of those who remain home while their husbands and fathers face death in some foreign territory. In the case of our heroes, they did not even have the satisfaction of knowing where their loved ones served. In many ways, they waited in the dark.
I've always admired those who serve in the military, but now I admire their families just as much.
Jeff, what are your thoughts on this?
JS: Writing with Al has been eye opening for me personally. He really gets it. I have never known someone to be able to pick up the dedication and motivation of a warrior and their family as quickly as Al. On a couple of occasions, I commented to Al that he writes like someone who has been in the Army all his life. He has a great grasp on what a warrior's family goes through when the phone rings in the middle of the night and they have to say goodbye to a loved-one, knowing that they may never see them again. It takes a special kind of person to be a military family and Al depicts that as well as anyone I know.
Alton, do you have some funny stories about connecting with Jeff while he was still in active duty? Code language?
AG: Mostly I teased Jeff about the superiority of the Navy or the Army. I don't think I've been able to convince him yet. There were a few interesting times when we would exchange e-mail or talk on the phone and I had no idea where Jeff was. I would simply receive a quick note that he was going to be out of town on business. There were times when we spoke that I was pretty sure he was in some far-off part of the world. I still don't know.
In one of the previous books, I had written a scene that I was especially proud of. I struggled to get the details right, to create a believable scenario. When Jeff was reviewing the scene he called to say, "You can't use that." I argued that it was a good scene, that it helped the plot, that it tied up some loose ends. He agreed then told me to take it out. When I asked why, he replied, "You aren't supposed to know that." I protested that I didn't know it. I'd made the whole thing up. He sympathized with me and told me to take it out. I've often wondered what I got right.
Jeff, what are your writing goals now that you are not in active service? Do you have more leeway/freedom to pursue some things that you were not able to previously?
JS: My writing goals have become a bit more ambitious now that I am retired. For the rest of my life I will have to balance describing cutting-edge military technology and procedures without giving away national secrets. (Some of those secrets I have sworn to take to my grave.) At the same time, I think the reader deserves an accurate picture of what life is like for a warrior on a dangerous mission somewhere around the world tonight. I hope to be able to continue to paint that picture for readers.
I also had to balance a very difficult workload of trying to communicate with Al and writing some of these books while I was away in Afghanistan or in Iraq. (Needless to say, my mind and attention were a bit preoccupied at those times.) Now that I am retired from the Army, I hope to be able to dedicate more time to writing books that will exalt the great name of Jesus and inspire readers.
Alton Gansky is a Christy Award-nominated and Angel Award-winning author who writes to stimulate thinking about spiritual matters. He served as a pulpit minister for twenty years and has published nearly thirty books.
Chaplain (Major, Ret) Jeff Struecker is a decorated member of US Army Rangers, the Army's most elite fighting corps. His personal experiences in Mogadishu, Somalia were documented in the New York Times bestseller and major motion picture Black Hawk Down. During his thirteen years of active duty, he also fought in Operation Just Cause in Panama and Operation Iris Gold in Kuwait. As a chaplain Jeff has done multiple tours in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now retired from military service, Struecker currently serves as the associate pastor of ministry development at Calvary Baptist Church in Columbus, Georgia.
For more information visit www.JeffStreucker.com