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In His Service, Rick Bereit

Dawson Media, Colorado Springs, 2002.
Topic: Military life, Christian living

Col. Bereit wrote a good overall view of the military for those who know little of it or are considering joining it. The book is somewhat light on behavioral details and is not service specific (though the author is a USAFA graduate), but it is well referenced to Bible. His most in-depth chapter is that of discipleship. Col. Bereit relates the potential for hidden moral dangers in the military to “moral minefields.” He makes good use of this analogy to communicate the dangers of sex, drugs, profanity, lying, and then summing it up in a section of “How to Live Right.”

RecommendedRecommended for any Christian interested in military service.

This book is available from Amazon.


Christian Fighter Pilot is not an Oxymoron, Jonathan Dowty

Published 2007.
Topic: Military life, Christian living

Fighter pilots are known for their bravery, cunning, and skill in combat. They are also known for their expertise in worldly vices. Few people would think that Christian men and women could be a part of that military culture.

They not only can, but should.

Godly men and women can be both good Christians and good fighter pilots, Sailors, Soldiers, or Marines - something many people believe is a contradiction. From fighter pilot traditions to the controversy of military evangelism, Christian Fighter Pilot explains not only the popular fighter pilot culture, but also the sometimes secretive world of the men and women who fly and fight. Whether in training or combat, Christians are shown that they can live out their faith and still excel in the world's best military.

This book briefly introduces the basics of how to become a fighter pilot and what a fighter pilot is and does.  The bulk of the content focuses on how a Christian can live a life that is both honoring to God and to the military profession he has volunteered to serve.  Spiritual questions are discussed and practical living suggestions are made.  The book is aimed at Christians and is appropriate both for those who are thinking about becoming fighter pilot and those who already are.  While some of the book is fighter pilot specific, much of it is applicable to Christians in the military in general.

No recommendation.  This review was written by the author.

This book is available wherever books are sold.  It is also available from at
Amazon, Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers.  Cadets and college or high school students who may be unable to afford the book may contact the author through this website for arrangements.


Stories from a Soldier's Heart, Alice Gray and Chuck Holton

Multnomah Publishers, Sisters, Oregon, 2003.
Topic: Inspirational

Excellent collection of military stories, most in the first person, with a Christian perspective.

Recommended with CaveatsRecommended for those who enjoy inspirational military vignettes.  Not specifically geared for fighter pilots.

This book is available from Amazon.


Heroes at Home, Ellie Kay

Bethany House, Minnesota, 2002.
Topic: Military living

While written primarily from the perspective of (and by) a pilot’s wife, it contains good information even for fighter pilots. Chapter 3 contains good information from the perspective of a wife at home, regarding the uncertainty of moves and the potential for her husband to receive a remote assignment to Korea. Chapter 16 is devoted to military separations, and includes pre-TDY checklists, including a list of the “Top 12 Don’ts” regarding deployments (the list notably includes having a negative attitude, overdosing on TV, or spending time alone with other gender). Mrs. Kay has also written books on saving money, and some of her tips and ideas regarding money management are incorporated in the book as well.

RecommendedRecommended for Christian fighter pilots (and their spouses) looking for insight into basic military family and relationship issues.

This book is available from Christian Book Distributors and Amazon.


A More Elite Soldier, Chuck Holton

Multnomah Publishers, Sisters, Oregon, 2003.
Topic: Christian living

Mr. Holton’s book is not specifically for a Christian military audience, but it is very well written; it is essentially autobiographical relating to the author's time as an Army ranger, with analogies to Christianity, though the application is not specific to the military life.

Recommended with CaveatsRecommended for those who enjoy application of the military to Christianity.  Not specific to the Christian fighter pilot.

This book is available from Christian Book Distributors and Amazon


The Christian Attitude Toward War, Loraine Boettner

Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, New Jersey 1985.
Topic: Christianity and War

Though in some parts a treatise against communism, this book contains interesting research on the Christian and war from Biblical, historical, and philosophical perspectives.

Not RecommendedNot recommended.  If you are specifically interested in the philosophical discussion of the morality of war, the book is interesting, though it doesn't provide too much in the way of unique insight.

This book is available from Christian Book Distributors.


Now That You're in the Military Service, David Grosse

Beacon Hill, Kansas City, 1978.
Topic: Christian living

This "book" was apparently originally a pamphlet intended for young Christians entering the military.  It was written by a Nazarene Air Force chaplain.  The age (published in 1978) and abbreviated length of this book (62 pages) prevent it from being terribly useful, though it introduces some important topics. It is more "stuff to think about" than concrete behavioral advice.

Not RecommendedNot recommended, primarily because the information contained therein can now be obtained in more modern detailed sources.


How Christians Made Peace with War, John Driver

Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2007.
Topic: Christianity and War

Written by a Mennonite (generally considered a pacifist denomination), this book gives an interesting historical account of the relationship between Christianity and war.

Not RecommendedNot recommended.  If you happen to be interested in the church history of war and military service, it is a worthwhile read.

This book is available from Amazon.


Choosing Against War, John D. Roth

Good Books, Intercourse, PA, 2002.
Topic: Christianity and War

A pacifist exposition written after the New York terrorist attacks, it is a modern and relatively detailed book explaining the pacifist argument.

Not RecommendedNot recommended.  If you happen to be interested in Christian pacifism, it's a worthwhile read.

This book is available from Christian Book Distributors and Amazon.


Battle Hymn, Dean E. Hess

Buckeye Aviation Book Company, Reynoldsburg, OH, 1987.
Topic: Christianity and War

Battle Hymn is the true story of a preacher who became a fighter pilot and fought in World War II and Korea.  Col Hess is largely credited with the forming the Republic of Korea (South Korea) Air Force and being the driving force behind Operation Kiddy Car, in which hundreds of orphans were flown out of Seoul to avoid the Communist invasion.

Though some sources question the bravado of Col Hess, the story presents an interesting look at a spiritual man in what sometimes seems an unholy profession.  Apparently the book was also made into a movie by the same name (starring Rock Hudson) that strayed slightly from the true storyline.

RecommendedRecommended.  While not always complimentary of Hess's actions (both as a Christian and an Air Force officer), it is a worthwhile read.  It is a particularly interesting read for young fighter pilots who are looking to an assignment at Osan or Kunsan in Korea.

This book appears to be out of print, but the most recent (1987) and older versions are available through re-sellers at Amazon.


In, But Not Of, Hugh Hewitt

Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 2003.
Topic: Ambition

Even though "In" is only 25% of the title, it makes up more than 90% of the book. There are only one or two of 48 chapters dedicated to a Christian topic, and the implied motivation of those chapters is still questionable. (For example, there is a chapter on making sure you attend a church, but the implied purpose is to have a “guardrail” to your conscience—something to keep you honest while you’re working in the world.)  All other chapters are simply about how to succeed, with a sentence or caveat at the end of the chapter about how a Christian shouldn’t have pride (which is apparently the only vice “of the world” the author is concerned with).

The book primarily focuses on living in the right place, going to big name schools, understanding a professional sport, and looking good to your boss. In civilian terms, Mr. Hewitt states that politicking is a legitimate means of endearing yourself to the appropriate people for their favor: “People rise in the world because they attract the attention and approval of powerful people” (p50). He accurately asserts that “authority requires credentials,” and lists Paul’s resume’ in Philippians 3:5-6 as a Biblical example, which takes it somewhat out of context, particularly since Paul’s credentials were all prior to his conversion. Mr. Hewitt asserts that one cannot be both a pastor and influential in the world (Chapter 11) because “a preacher has next to zero credibility on any issue of politics or public policy…” (p62).

Mr. Hewitt’s brand of “in but not of” suggests a paradigm of cloaking Christianity in order to succeed; he seems to think that using a Christian phrase might torpedo someone’s perceptions of you and thus your potential to advance professionally.

Not RecommendedNot recommended.  The book is predominantly about how to advance yourself, not dealing with Christian ambition.

This book is available from Christian Book Distributors and Amazon.


Every Man's Battle, Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker

Waterbrook Press, Colorado Springs, 2000.
Topic:  Sexual purity

The Battle series is immensely popular right now. While it’s not perfect and there are issues with some things they say, it is a good book with plenty of advice for dealing with sexual temptation.

Notably, it was surprising to see them mention the evil of the double entendre, something that had heretofore not been addressed outside of the pilot community (p13). On a less positive note, the authors set out to “bust the myth” that men can’t control themselves, though in at least one instance they qualify masculine traits by saying "How could he help it?" (p184).

RecommendedRecommended for those who may struggle in the sexual arena, and as a means of preparation for those entering the sexually laced fighter pilot community.

This book is available from Christian Book Distributors and Amazon.


Biblical Ethics, James P. Eckman

Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 2004.
Topic: Modern ethics

A concise Christian perspective on ethics across the spectrum of modern issues, including culture, politics, and war.

RecommendedRecommended.  While not specific to the Christian fighter pilot, it can provide a greater understanding of the reason a Christian should make the choices he is obligated to.

This book is available from Amazon.


Becoming a Contagious Christian, Hybles, Bill and Mark Mittleberg

Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994.
Topic:  Evangelism

While formulaic (the book is structured around the equation “HP+CP+CC=MI”), it does offer some unique insight into witnessing.  In one chapter (“Strategic Opportunities in Relationships”), the author specifically addresses some concerns with living “in” the world with non-Christians.  The only disappointment in that chapter is that his primary emphasis is the impact of such a choice on those we would evangelize; his only nod to the perceptions of other Christians (which is often crucial) is the potential impact on our “reputation,” which he brushes off as “we’ll be misunderstood, just like Jesus was.”

Recommended with CaveatsRecommended for those looking for insight into Christian witnessing.

This book is available from Christian Book Distributors and Amazon.


Crash and Burn, Jack Edward Wright

Winepress Publishing, 2003.
Topic:  Autobiographical

Mr. Wright’s book is advertised as a book about a pilot who has an accident that brings him to God. While it’s an interesting look at the Air Force of 20 years ago and dramatically conveys the details of Wright’s tragic accident, it says little of his life afterwards, and it says even less of substance about the potential spiritual impact on his life.

The book is interesting in its portrayal of Mrs. Wright’s response to many of the pilot activities.  Of note, Winepress is a reputable self-publishing company.

Not RecommendedNot recommended.

This book is available from Christian Book Distributors and Amazon.


Know What You Believe, Paul Little

Cook Communications, 1999.
Topic: Theology

An informative book that covers the basic tenets of the Christian faith across the spectrum

Recommended with CaveatsRecommended for those who need to learn more about the foundational facts of their faith.

This book is available from Christian Book Distributors and Amazon.


The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell

Thomas Nelson, 1999.
Topic: Apologetics

Famous for his conversion to Christianity as a result of his attempt to disprove it, Josh McDowell presents a logical and organized layout of the Christian faith.

Recommended with CaveatsRecommended for those who desire advanced insight into apologetics.

This book is available from Christian Book Distributors and Amazon.


The Eye of the Viper: The Making of an F-16 Pilot, Peter Aleshire

The Lyons Press, 2004.
Topic: F-16 Pilot Training

Peter Aleshire is an author who shadowed a B-Course class through their 6 months at Luke Air Force Base.  His book is an interesting summary of the time at Luke with some additional information on other training that specific pilots required.  The decision on whether to recommend this book was not easy; it is somewhat informative for someone who might want insight into the fighter pilot culture, though it is specific to the F-16.

On a moral level, it is written as a fighter pilot might write it: profanity (including the use of God's name in vain), is casually common.  More importantly, there are some factual errors or misleading implications.  Unimportant examples include the statement that Kunsan butts up against the Korean Demilitarized Zone (p155; it doesn't), or the implication that an F-16 pilot can guide a TV guided missile from the cockpit (p179; such missiles are not an F-16 weapon).  An important example is the continuing implication that poor family life and divorce are fighter pilot givens (for example, p144; they're not).

Also, the writing is nearly romantic (in the glorified way, not the emotional way).  Pilots are described as "cut from a block of marble by a samurai carver with sweeps of the blade too fast for the eye" (p51) and "straight out of a recruiting poster" (p151).  While linguistically artistic, the descriptions don't add much in the way of content and beg the question as to what other facts are similarly semantically glorified.

Not RecommendedNot recommended due to the language, errors, and misleading implications.  That said, it was almost recommended.  There is informative content in it.  If you choose to read it, do so with a grain of salt. Prepare yourself for the profanity and contact ChristianFighterPilot if you have any questions or to help clear up some of the details.

This book is available from Amazon.


American Fighter Pilot, Tony Scott

Hannover House, 2002.
Topic: F-15 Pilot Training

AFP is an 8-episode TV show that followed three USAF F-15 pilots through their training at Tyndall Air Force Base.  The show was almost universally panned for its melodramatic and staccato MTV-like editing.  From the perspective of a Christian fighter pilot, this TV series was purchased and reviewed purely because of the constant references to the Christianity and fatherhood of one of the three highlighted student pilots.

The editing critiques were accurate; the show was almost difficult to watch because of the editing style.  (The basic content of the video was excellent.  One can hope that the original was kept and may one day be made into the 90-minute documentary that was purportedly originally planned.)

Ignoring the poor production, the positives include the introduction of the viewer to the varying personalities, lifestyles, and commitments of fighter pilots.  The primary negatives are that there is little depth and that certain aspects of the culture are over-dramatized to the detriment of others.  For example, Capt. Marcus Gregory does express reservations about how his faith will be received, but the only aspect mentioned in the show is the implied conflict between religion and killing in combat (which is not a reservation that Gregory himself stated).  At one point Gregory notes that he isn't drinking because his pregnant wife may need him to drive her to the hospital at any point; the show never mentions what the reaction of the other pilots was to his choice.

Gregory also states that he left one of the fighter pilot social events because the Hooters girls were invited and catered it.  There are slight references by others to Gregory's "need to join the culture," but they are minimal.  More interesting is the fact that one of the Hooters girls wrote graffiti on the bar chalkboard that says she "loves" Lt Todd Giggy, one of the other highlighted pilots.  Giggy's wife eventually sees it and tells the camera that was something she never thought she'd have to question in their marriage.  At the conclusion of the final episode, the concluding credits note that the Giggys had separated.  The Gregorys, on the other hand, were expecting their second child.

In the closing moments of the last episode, the squadron weapons officer (who had been the virtual narrator for the entire series and was portrayed with drill instructor severity) noted that he, too, was a Christian and that the priorities of a Christian pilot needed to be God, family, and country.

Given the poor production quality, this series is Recommended with Caveatsrecommended only if it can be borrowed or rented; it would be worth seeing for a slight insight into the fighter pilot culture.  It would not be worth purchasing except for those who were desperate to have some clue as to how fighter training operates and couldn't obtain the videos through another means.

This show is available from Amazon.


Yeager, Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos

Bantam Books, 1985.
Topic: Autobiography

Yeager's book is interesting for several reasons.  Yes, he is famous for piloting the Bell X-1 through the "sound barrier."  Perhaps less famously, he was also a World War II P-51 pilot and F-86 and F-100 squadron commander.  (He was fired from that last one.)  In many ways his book describes the "standard" antics of a fighter pilot and can help an aspiring fighter pilot understand the "history" of the fighter pilot culture.

The book is by no means completely factually accurate and is obviously biased by the author.  Nonetheless, it is an interesting read, particularly for those with an interest in military aviation, flight test, and military history.  It should not be read as gospel, but it is worth the read.

RecommendedRecommended.  While not specific to the Christian fighter pilot, it can provide a greater understanding of the the stereotypical fighter pilot life.  This recommendation should not be interpreted as an endorsement of Yeager's actions or attitudes, some of which are contrary to what a Christian should exhibit.

This book is available from Amazon, as well as from Yeager's own site.


God & Government, Charles Colson

Zondervan, 2007.
Topic: Church and State

God & Government is an updated version of Chuck Colson’s 1987 Kingdoms in Conflict. Subtitled “an insider’s view on the boundaries between faith and politics,” it is an interesting and generally centrist evaluation of the complex relationship between religion and the state.

The book is a worthwhile read for a military Christian for several reasons. First, Colson adequately addresses both sides of the "church/state controversy," an issue that is constantly cited in arguments against Christian activity in the military.  He acknowledges that there are some Christians who would like nothing more than to elect a President-Pastor, and some secularists who would like nothing more than to eliminate the public existence of religion. He maintains that

Both extremes—those who want to eliminate religion from political life as well as those who want religion to dominate politics—have overreacted and overreached. (p51)

Colson argues against Christian citizens who have implied, perhaps innocently, that they would elect a person purely based on religious affiliation.  Colson also rebuts the critics who think religion should be left out of politics.  He does a reasonable job of explaining the proper roles of the state and the church, a discussion from which both sides could benefit. Importantly, he notes that the phrase “separation of church and state”

…applied to institutions of church and state, not religious and political values…Separation of church and state does not mean that America was to be free of religious influence. (p136)

The book is not a quick read. It is nearly 500 pages long, and there are entire chapters written in a dramatized non-fiction biographical format on Neville Chamberlain, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Benigno Aquino, and others. While educational, the narratives often seem like a diversion.

For the average Christian fighter pilot looking for guidance on how to live a Christ-centered life in the military, this book offers little practical advice. For those who are interested in the larger issues of religion in the military, secularist attacks on public Christianity, and “separation of church and state,” the book is a worthwhile (if long) read.

Recommended with Caveats Recommended for those interested in governmental and Constitutional issues regarding the role of religion in government (and thus the military).

This book is available from Christian Book Distributors and Amazon.


Quiet Strength, Tony Dungy

Tyndale, 2007.
Topic: Christian Living

Quiet Strength is an excellent book on Christian living and Christian priorities. Though Dungy is a football coach, an understanding (or even appreciation) of football is not required to see how the husband and father handled the conflicting priorities in his life.

Though seemingly an unusual choice for a military Christian resource, Dungy's descriptions of the demands of his profession are sometimes eerily similar to those of a military service member. Arguably, not all of his decisions were the best, but the example he sets is admirable. He has what millions of men probably consider the most coveted of positions, that of a Super Bowl winning NFL head coach—but the reluctant celebrity repeatedly emphasizes that there's more to this life:

Football is great…but football is just a game. It's not family. It's not a way of life. It doesn't provide any sort of intrinsic meaning. It's just football… Although football has been a part of my life that I've really enjoyed, I've always viewed it as a means to do something more. A means to share my faith, to encourage and lift up other people.

Dungy's other thoughts on the decisions in his life often mirror those that a Christian in the military (and in particular, Christian fighter pilots) must make, including, for example, the choices he knew would affect whether or not he "fit in" (and his consequent decision not to drink, smoke, or participate in other vices).

Recommended with Caveats Recommended. Quiet Strength is an excellent read for those that might want a slightly different perspective on Christian living in what some may consider an unkind environment.

This book is available from Christian Book Distributors and Amazon.


Under Orders, William McCoy

edein, 2007.
Topic: Spirituality

Under Orders is subtitled "A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel," has a rare endorsement from active duty General Petraeus, and is written by an experienced chaplain.  It has exemplary reviews on various websites.  It seems like an excellent reference for a military Christian.

It's not.

The book's intended audience are those who are non-religious, non-church-going, depressed, or traumatized.  Nothing is said to those who already have a spiritual faith.

Chaplain McCoy, who is sponsored by the Lutheran denomination, doesn't speak confidently about his own faith.  In fact, he has little positive to say about the Christian faith at all.  He belittles fellow Christians with side comments about evangelical "hurdles," "rules," and "righteousness."  The Chaplain advocates spirituality above Christianity, as if something is better than nothing, and explicitly states that there are "alternative" ways to God:

  • "It is important for you to believe in a god." (p78)

  • "It will be your decision as to whether you want to be religious as a Catholic, a Buddhist, or a Methodist." (p57)

  • "Your convictions are just as good as the next person's convictions." (p86)

In so doing, the Chaplain undermines the legitimacy of his own faith by actively supporting views that are inconsistent with Christianity.  To the Chaplain, Christianity is just one more world religion.  The "Gospel"--always capitalized but never explained--is an abstract secret ingredient that "is meant to give you a word of hope." (p207)  More importantly, he holds a decidedly unChristian view of one of the central tenets of Christianity:

Christ came into the world so that people could be saved from "being redundant and meaningless, that people might have lives of significance and meaning rather than emptiness and sorrow." (p211)

With regard to "spiritual" living, ostensibly one primary purpose of a "spiritual handbook," his advice is infrequent, vague, and self-centric.

"Living a life of worshipping God is not about you becoming like someone who carries a Bible in your [unit].  Its about you feeling at ease..." (p208)  

He gives no advice on how to live a life of faith in the military; rather, he "encourages" people to persevere until they can leave the military.  When challenged, rather than encouraging people to make the hard choices in accordance with the tenets of their faith, the Chaplain suggests they search for a religion that fits their lifestyle.

"If my theology doesn't integrate how I interact with people then I should drop it and begin searching for one that does." (p106)

Less importantly, the book is also rife with less than stellar grammar and formatting.  (It appears to be self-published and poorly edited.)  There are unsupported theses, redundant sentences, and dozens of unexplained (and irrelevant) pop culture references.  There is even a simple Bible story retold with basic errors.  Such faults may be overlooked if there are other redeeming qualities; they compound the negatives of a book that does not.

It is possible to argue that it is appropriate for a military Chaplain to write a "non-sectarian" book, or one that promotes no particular religion.  This can be done, though, without compromising one's own faith or proposing the validity of the truth claims in all.

Not Recommended Not recommended.  This book is not addressed to Christians, and it is written by a Christian Chaplain who undermines not only his own faith, but also that of his readers.  This "spiritual handbook" provides no spiritual guidance for military Christians.

This book is available from Amazon.


For God and Country, Fisher DeBerry

Cross Training Publishing, 2000.
Topic: Autobiography / Christian Living

Fisher DeBerry was the US Air Force Academy's head football coach for 23 years.  He turned the USAFA football team into a national powerhouse, and he riled some people for his outspoken Christianity while working with young military cadets.

DeBerry's book is part autobiography, part witness.  It describes his upbringing and career as head coach, and also his philosophy as a Christian in public life.  He describes his life as "the Three F's: Faith, Family, and Football"--in that order.  He describes many of the conscious choices he made to encourage faith and family priorities in those he worked with and coached.  He speaks of the value of children, parenting, and the importance of school teachers--something few people may know DeBerry did before coaching college football.

His chapter on "Faith" is a wonderful read in which he says "we have our missions fields right here," and encourages Christians to "spread the word daily by how we live and conduct ourselves:"

You don't have to beat your chest and proclaim "I'm a Christian" to everyone you meet. But you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Being a Christian has everything to do with how you approach life and the way you treat people.

Your Christianity isn't just about what you say, it is shown by the consistency of how you live your life.

Unfortunately, the book isn't produced with the highest quality editing, and those who have no interest in the US Air Force Academy or its football program may find some of the book uninteresting.

This book was written before the lawsuit and controversies over religion at the Air Force Academy, which cited and frequently criticized DeBerry's outspoken Christianity as football coach.

Recommended with Caveats Recommended.  It has wonderful pearls of wisdom and guidance, though some of its subjects are slightly niche.  It does have some Christian living advice that would be pertinent to the military Christian.  It's a quick read and worth it, though those bored by football or USAFA may have to skim some parts.

This book is available from AmazonComment on this review.


Never Surrender, William G. "Jerry" Boykin

Faith Words, 2008.
Topic: Military/Christian Experience

Never Surrender is the memoir of Lt Gen (Ret) William G. “Jerry” Boykin, a name familiar to many even outside of military circles. It documents his military career and much of his personal life, in his “journey to the crossroads of faith and freedom.”

In a career that spanned more than three decades, General Boykin was predominantly a member of Special Operations units, including being one of the initial cadre (and ultimately a commander) of the Army’s elite Delta Force. He was involved in virtually every combat action since the early 1980s, from the aborted rescue attempt of the Americans held hostage in Iran to the hunting of war criminals in the Balkans.

According to the book, Boykin was virtually always expressive of his faith. As a young Army officer, he worked with a church bus ministry and invited the children of other military members living on base to his church. He was even initially told he would not be recommended for the Delta Force because he depended too much on faith and not enough on himself. More recently, Boykin made international headlines when he made statements regarding religion, God, and war that were often taken far out of context.

Boykin is an animated character who rarely minces his words, and the book reflects his style. The direct nature of his comments on controversial subjects have made him a frequent target for those trolling for sound bites to lift from their context.

Never Surrender contains detailed accounts of many of the military operations in which General Boykin was involved. He also notes the times he called on God to see him through trials, and those times he felt abandoned by God because of them. He discusses the apparent contradictions in a Special Operations soldier being a Christian—not only dealing with the Christian in the military as a participant in war, but also with the unique challenges of Delta—like learning how to deceive, and do it well. He tells of his total dependence on God to help him recover from wounds received in battle.

There are many examples where Boykin acts as a Christian officer, and many where he sees others do the same. There are encouragements about being successful as a Christian and as a military officer.

Never Surrender’s shortcoming is its casual treatment of Boykin’s family life. While intimate details are shared about nearly every military campaign since Vietnam, and he speaks openly of his faith, there are barely a handful of pages that even mention Boykin’s family relationships. This seems inconsistent with fairly accepted standard priorities in a Christian life, which include God, then family, and then profession.  Regrettably, the bulk of the story on Boykin’s family involves his admission of his “failure” as a husband, his divorce after 30 years of marriage, and his subsequent marriage to a single mother.

While on one hand the book seems to tell the tale of a successful, outspoken and assertive Christian military officer, on the other it reveals the failure of his marriage with little comment or reaction.

Of course, Boykin would be neither the first nor the most prominent Christian to struggle with family issues. However, his decision to omit a discussion on the cause or how he may have prevented its demise results in a missed opportunity.  As an apparently successful Christian military officer, Christians will be looking at his example.  One of the most frequently asked questions by young military Christians--or those considering a military profession--is if it is possible to have both a successful career and a successful family.  

Just as being a Christian is not incompatible with being a successful military officer, neither is a successful military career incompatible with a successful marriage, a point Boykin’s book fails to adequately address.

Despite that shortcoming and taken as a whole, Never Surrender is an interesting read into the intersection of faith and the military profession. It will entertain those interested in the military genre, and enlighten those who are interested in the interactions of the Christian faith and the military.

Boykin is currently the Wheat Professor of Leadership Studies at Hamden-Sydney College, a private men’s liberal arts college in Virginia. He has also teamed with Stu Weber to form KingdomWarriors.net.

Recommended with CaveatsRecommendedNever Surrender is a lengthy but engaging read.  Though the balance of content slightly favors general military operations, the integration of Boykin's faith and spirituality is woven throughout the book.  The book is both an interesting read and a real-life example of one man's Christian life as applied to the military profession.

This book is available from AmazonComment on this review.


Return with Honor, Scott O'Grady

HarperTorch, 1996.
Topic: Fighter Pilot/Christian Experience

Captain Scott O'Grady is best known as the F-16 pilot shot down during Operation Deny Flight over the former Yugoslavia in 1995.  He survived for five and a half days--during which no one even knew he was alive--before being rescued.  Upon his return home he was declared a hero, a title he eschewed and passed on to the Marines who lifted him to safety.

The book details the mission from his arrival at work until the missile took his jet out from under him; it then describes the days he spent on the ground hoping for a rescue.  Interspersed are back stories of his life and his family back in the US as they learned of his shootdown.  The retelling of the organization of the rescue effort and its subsequent execution--which was completed about 5 hours after the initial radio contact--is well done. 

Regrettably, O'Grady became a victim of a media and public that wanted a hero.  The attention heaped upon him was embarrassing for him (the book's tone and content is evidence of his humility) and also opened him up to grief from his fellow fighter pilots--particularly since he made many mistakes after his shootdown.  (Had he not returned, his peers may have reserved their criticisms, but with his safe arrival--and the subsequent detailed book, which included many of the mistakes he made--his peers provided blunt criticisms for which fighter pilots are famous.)

Return with Honor is a quick and easy read, and is written at a level that people not familiar with the fighter pilot mission will understand.  He does freely document his mistakes, though at times he glosses over them and those unfamiliar with the mission may not notice.  Those interested in the conduct of a fighter pilot mission may be interested by the particular detail he goes into regarding the preparation and execution of the mission in which he would ultimately be shot down.  The book is a narrative, however, and does not contain technical or tactical descriptions of the events.

O'Grady's faith is also central to the book.  He recounts the many prayers he said during his endeavor, as well as the influence it had on his future spiritual growth.  The book indicates a devout Catholic theology, including his prayers to deceased relatives and the Mother of Medjugorje.  More recent interviews have indicated that O'Grady has become a member of a Texas Baptist Church, and he graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary (a conservative evangelical school) in 2007.

Recommended with CaveatsRecommended.  Though the story is now nearly 14 years old, the book provides an interesting and insightful look into both the life of a fighter pilot and the role that his faith played in his ordeal.  It is an easy read and the book is cheaply available.  The theology and some of his choices after his ejection should be understood for what they are.  The story is also told in his other book, Basher Five-Two, which is described as a "children's book."

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R.G. LeTourneau: Mover of Men and Mountains R.G. LeTourneau

Moody Publishers, 1967.
Topic: Christian Living

Though they may not recognize his name, virtually the entire world has been affected by the innovation of R.G. LeTourneau. Mover of Men and Mountains documents both the faith and profession of one of the world's most influential people.  Essentially an inventor of machines, LeTourneau (1888-1969) would create many of the massive earth movers that miraculously accomplished what is now taken for granted.

LeTourneau recounts that he created thousands of heavy machines used by the US Army in World War II, including those that filled the bomb craters in Hawaii after the attack on Pearl Harbor, created runways out of nothing in North Africa, cleared beaches in Normandy, and island-hopped with the Marines in the Pacific. General Carl Spaatz--who would eventually become the first Chief of Staff of the newly formed US Air Force--even came to speak to his factory floor to inspire the workers with the tales of their machines in the combat theatres.

LeTourneau notes that he wasn't always spiritually content in the work he did.  As a laborer in construction and earth-moving, LeTourneau said “my job was to deal with material things, and not spiritual things.” Feeling convicted to do more for God’s kingdom, he attended a week of revival meetings, dreading that he would have to “give up my material way of life.” He didn’t mean material things like money or fame (neither of which he had)--he meant the hard day’s work of earthmoving, the heart of the lifestyle he loved and lived.

LeTourneau prayed for guidance, but still felt that

“service to the Lord...meant the ministry or missionary work.”

He asked the Reverend leading the revival, “how can I know what He wants me to do? I know a layman can’t serve Him like a preacher can...does He want me to serve as a missionary?” As reverends are wont to do, his response was “Let’s pray.”

Afterward, the Reverend said

“You know…God needs businessmen as well as preachers and missionaries.”

LeTourneau's eyes were opened to a whole new perspective:

“Those were the words that have guided my life ever since…Many men have the same mistaken idea I had of what it means to serve the Lord. My idea was that if a man was going all out for God, he would have to be a preacher, or an evangelist, or a missionary, or what we call a full-time Christian worker. I didn’t realize that a layman could serve the Lord as well as preacher.”

Though he would be penniless several times over throughout his life, LeTourneau would eventually be a very rich man. He ultimately owned five plants, including one in Australia, and had his own twin-engine Douglas A-26 bomber and a personal pilot to fly around the world. And travel he did--primarily for ministry speaking engagements and missionary endeavors.

It is evident throughout the book that LeTourneau was an ardent Christian, and his faith guided his ethics and his business conduct throughout his life. He never forgot his calling as a “layman,” a “businessman for God.” As his company grew, he and his wife became famous for giving 90% of their personal and corporate income to charitable Christian causes, primarily through his own foundation that supported religious, missionary, and educational endeavors.

The book notes that the man with a seventh-grade education founded LeTourneau Technical Institute in Longview, Texas. Forty years after the book was written, the institute is now known as LeTourneau University.  It is one of the premier engineering schools in the country while retaining its focus on teaching its graduates to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ to the world.  The university emphasizes LeTourneau’s vision of Christians being Christians in the workplace, in “every workplace, every nation.”

Written in the late 1960s, the book does have one or two “non-politically correct” references. For example, LeTourneau proudly explains the effectiveness of his machines in mowing down the Amazon forest, a point that would certainly have caused him to be picketed and protested today.

Recommended with CaveatsRecommended. At a few points in the book LeTourneau's enjoyment in engineering causes him to be very detailed, but the book is a very easy read and very interesting, even for those not terribly interested in machinery. God’s influence on LeTourneau is a constant reference throughout the book. The decisions he made throughout his life and business career, including the one that would keep him in the business world rather than "the ministry," are an important example for Christians today. Any Christian, including those in the military, can find inspiration in LeTourneau’s words to serve God well in whatever role in which He has placed him.  This book is highly recommended.

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Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag, John Stratton

Image Entertainment, 2005.
Topic: Military Fighter Pilot

Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag is a documentary originally produced for IMAX. It has a nominal plot, following a single F-15 fighter pilot as he participates in Red Flag at Nellis AFB, Nevada. The primary officer is Captain John Stratton, who also narrates as he plans, flies, and acts as a simulated evader during combat exercises in the Nevada desert.

The film has some almost comical flaws (or theatrical necessities, depending on how you view them). For example, during the film Stratton flies virtually the entire time with his visor up. Fighter pilots generally fly with dark tinted visors; on some days, the bright sun on white clouds can be nearly blinding. While you can see Stratton squint at his surroundings, it was theatrically necessary for his visor to be up so they could film his face. During the filming of the airborne command and control, an officer in a flight suit leans over the enlisted radar operator’s shoulder and gives orders; in fact, the enlisted controllers are some of the most competent and professional Airmen in the operational Air Force, and likely require little input from a watch officer.

Some of the flight formations and tactics are misrepresented, but this is understandable given that the objective of the film is to present a compelling visual; few people realize that aircraft don’t fly wingtip-to-wingtip into combat, but it wouldn’t look as cool if it was shown as it really occurs.

Those negatives aside, the film has some excellent aircraft imagery and flight video. In some DVD formats, there are whole montages of aircraft in flight set to the soundtrack. Virtually every Air Force aircraft is shown, some are shown aerial refueling, and many are delivering weapons and executing tactics. In addition, all the people in the film are real—not actors. In a nod to the rest of the Air Force (not just the fighter pilots), the film also shows the maintainers and munitions troops (the bomb-builders) hard at work, often in the middle of the night. There is even a short clip of the mundane FOD walk, when maintainers walk a line across the ramp and collect any debris that might get sucked into jet engines.

Given that the plot is mostly a device for presenting cool video, there’s little to say about it. Air Force officership, conduct, and religion don’t really enter the picture. Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag is, in some respects, a gratuitous opportunity to show some very cool airplane videos.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Recommended with Caveats Recommended. Those that are only marginally interested in military aviation would probably be bored by the film. For those that have an avid interest in aircraft and military operations, however, it is highly recommended.

This movie is available from Amazon.

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When Faith Takes Flight, Jim Walters

Intermedia, 2009.
Topic: Christian Doctrine

When Faith Takes Flight was written by Jim Walters, a Pastor, civilian flight instructor, and former US Air Force fighter pilot. Walters became a Christian in a military chapel in Vietnam, and was quickly taken under the wing of a Christian in a local military Bible study.

When Faith Takes Flight isn’t an autobiography or memoir, however; it is an instructional book on Christian doctrine. The author is both a faith instructor and a flight instructor, and both perspectives are evident throughout the book.

Each of the 10 chapters covers a basic Christian doctrinal element (the existence of God, sin, grace, the Bible, etc.). The chapters (or "lessons") begin with a flight related story, draw an analogy to a Biblical concept, and then relate a Biblical lesson --complete with a "quiz" and questions for group discussion. Each lesson is, in many ways, a miniature sermon.

The book's primary objective is to teach theological concepts using plain and understandable language, and it succeeds. It is written in a casual style, making it easy for those who are not pilots (or even Christians) to understand. The simple explanations make difficult concepts easy to understand, though they are also sometimes elementary in tone.

The flight stories are interesting, if too few (and too few military), and direct applications to the pilot lifestyle or military profession are regrettably few. However, this a book on Christian doctrine, not a book on aviation or the military; in addition, the analogies really do work. For example, Walters uses the example of a pilot who 'does all she can' to glide her crippled airplane to a runway, only to "fall short," and effectively uses that example to explain the theology underlying Romans 3:23.

Recommended with Caveats Recommended for those looking for excellent, straightforward explanations of core Biblical concepts. It is a book of theological doctrine, not aviation, so it is not specifically geared toward military pilots (or pilots at all).

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Refiner's Fire: A Fighter Pilot's Journey, Douglas Haig Jenkins, Jr.

CreateSpace Online Publishers, 2009.
Topic: Autobiography

The title of Refiner's Fire makes it sound as if it is the perfect book for examining the integration of faith and the fighter pilot profession. While it has potential, it regrettably falls short.

Refiner's Fire is Jenkins' autobiography. It is literally written chronologically, with the first chapter talking about childhood dreams of flying and the last the author's final retirement. Unfortunately, that format lends itself well to family memoirs, but not books for the general public, especially absent a celebrity author.

The book does have some fascinating stories of military aviation in it, but that is all they are -- stories from his life; with a few exceptions, they generally lack self-reflection or insight into spiritual application. As a fairly inclusive autobiography, the fascinating stories are sometimes interspersed with somewhat more prosaic details of the author's life.

For those that have unique interests, like Century series aircraft, F-4s in Vietnam, or air defense intercepts in Iceland, the book has fascinating first-hand accounts unlikely to be found in other sources. The primary source alone may make it a valuable reference. For most, however, those gems, excellent though they are, will be insufficient to support the rest of the book. The book has enormous potential; perhaps a second revision could cull the content to its most interesting parts and expand them both in detail and application.

Not recommended, though regretfully so. If you desire a primary source on Air Force military fighter aviation from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, it has some great stories.

Note: CreateSpace is an self-publishing company.

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Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, Sullenberger

HarperCollins, 2009.

Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters is the autobiography of the now-celebrity pilot who landed American Airlines Flight 1549 in the Hudson River on 15 January 2009. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is both an Air Force Academy graduate and a former Air Force fighter pilot.

From the perspective of a pilot, Highest Duty is a fascinating read. The book is well written, managing to string the 3 minute ordeal through 330 pages of Sullenberger’s life without becoming slow or overly tedious. While his celebrity status was cemented by the ordeal, the book covers not only the emergency landing but also his life story.

The recounting of the incident contains enough technical detail (including the entire transcript of the short flight) to interest experienced aviators without confusing or boring those who are not. For example, Sullenberger and his co-author describe the digital flight controls of the side-stick controlled Airbus, which are very similar to modern fighter aircraft. The computer-driven system is designed so that pilots can’t stall the aircraft. When the plane slows to the minimum speed allowed for its current configuration, it simply refuses the pilot’s commands to continue to raise (or hold up) the nose. Sullenberger understood this system and used it to slow to the point where his stick was “full aft,” as slow as the jet would allow him to get. Thus, while he had to put effort into keeping the wings level, he didn’t have to worry about speed or pitch — the computer decided it for him.

In what is likely an act of kindness, Sullenberger mentions but does not dwell on the fact that one of the aircraft’s rear doors was opened after the crash landing, allowing water to enter the cabin at what was likely a greater rate than otherwise would have occurred from the reportedly damaged tail section.

Sullenberger does describe some of his military days, including his F-4 flying. He is almost dismissive of it, however; he describes his Air Force Academy experiences in one 20 page chapter, and essentially the entirety of his 6-year military career in one other. He notes that he served in a peacetime service, and his “war stories” continue his general life theme by focusing on safety — as described in the mishaps, or near mishaps, he experienced. There are no tactical or operational stories related.

The more interesting details are found in the stories of his civilian life that so much reflect the “stereotypical fighter pilot.” He acknowledges his ability to compartmentalize, his need for routine and checklists, and he discusses the challenges of being away from family so often.

One of the more intriguing aspects of Sullenberger’s response to the crash has been the element of faith, but not for the reason most might expect.

Sullenberger has never mentioned God or any aspect of faith since the crash.

The book was written to describe “all the forces that molded [him] as a boy, as a man, and as a pilot,” yet it never mentions religion. His four-page long acknowledgements never mention anything remotely spiritual. In fact, with respect to himself, Sullenberger uses religious terminology only twice in the entire 330 page book: once to say he worked as a church janitor, and once to say he knew a girl through the church choir. All other references to religion or spirituality are incidental, and encompassed in others or their stories:

  • He sent one of his daughters to an Episcopal pre-school.

  • He quotes his wife saying she had “spiritual experiences” in nature.

  • He “was told” some of his passengers were praying before the crash landing; he recounts one of those short prayers.

  • He recounts the story of a Holocaust survivor and his Jewish family, and their Jewish understanding of Sullenberger’s deeds.

  • He mentions that a minister from the United Methodist Church attended his father’s private funeral.

  • He quotes his wife wishing his mother enjoyable travels as they spread her ashes on a mountaintop.

  • He describes trying to live his life as a “Good Samaritan.”

Those few lines encompass the totality of explicit religion and faith in Sullenberger’s book, which purportedly recounts the forces that molded his life. In whole, he appears to be neither explicitly for nor against faith.

The “lack” of faith — or even a clear statement on a possible atheistic or agnostic belief — is unusual for this story because of how often Sullenberger dealt with life, mortality, and death. He saw the results of a plane crash up close as a young teenage pilot; he was an investigator on fatal aircraft mishaps; one of his passengers suffered a medical emergency and died on a domestic flight; most obviously, he and 154 others survived a mishap that could very well have taken their lives. Yet he does not speak of the eternal or mortal significance of that event.

While some may consider such detail “personal,” the book is rife with equally personal anecdotes. He quotes his favorite songs and poems, describes his decision to move in with his second wife, and recounts the struggles of infertility and adoption.

His book is not totally without implicit philosophical statements on his beliefs; it is just difficult to draw a conclusion from them. He believes he has “been given a role to play.” He speaks of a moral obligation to protect life; he lauds charitable causes; he describes the beauty of the earth, both from mountaintops and the cockpit of an airplane.

Quoting another pilot who survived a mishap, he makes a point to say “the word he uses, “luck,”" which clearly implies his disdain for the word. In televised interviews and statements Sullenberger has been quick to credit skill and training rather than luck or miracles, which may be the explanation behind his word choice. Sullenberger has earned praise not only for his skillful piloting, but also for his refusal to accept the “hero” moniker and his constant reference to his copilot and crew.

Sullenberger does occasionally speak of the end of life, and dealing with death; his stories seem to belie a pragmatic or even indifferent attitude toward questions of eternity. In teaching his daughters to grow, he said:

“At the end of their lives, like all of us, I expect they might ask themselves a simple question: Did I make a difference? My wish for them is that the answer to that question will be yes.”

A few years after a squadron mate was killed in an accident, he describes meeting his widow:

"I told her that I thought her husband was a terrific guy and a gifted pilot, and that I had always enjoyed his company. I told her how sorry I was. And then I was quiet. There wasn’t much more I could say."

It is interesting to consider Sullenberger’s life, as told in the book, with regard to his title. He explicitly relays his belief in a pilot’s “highest duty:”

“A captain’s highest duty and obligation is always to safety.”

This is consistent with the theme of his book and the independent company he was attempting to create over the past few years.

Sullenberger does not appear to explicitly provide an answer to the subtitle; that is, he does not give the “results” of his “search for what really matters.” There are times when that is almost sad. For example, as already noted, he describes the difficulties of being gone so often for his flying job, and he also notes those absences were compounded by the celebrity status thrust upon him after the crash. He acknowledges the challenges to his marriage and his relationships with his now teenage daughters…yet he never seems to address that challenge, at least not in a way communicated in the book. Instead, it seems to be a difficulty he accepts as something hard one has to deal with in life. In addition, he does say that being an airline pilot is “part of what gives [him] purpose.”

Sullenberger recently retired from flying, saying he wants to focus on flight safety. It seems sad that, in a way, the 59 year old pilot seems to still be trying to figure out “what really matters.”

The “spiritual” side of Sullenberger’s story has been highlighted by atheists more than anyone else. It is likely they see a “potential atheist” in his demurring responses to those who ask if he thinks the results were a “miracle.” To them, a “famous” and popular atheist would seem a boon.

While Sullenberger’s religious beliefs, or lack thereof, have been the topic of much speculation, there’s no way to really know what they are. It is unlikely that he is either an aggressive evangelical or a militant atheist, though it is possible his publisher scrubbed possible implications of those leanings from his book. It is possible to speculate, but that is all it would be.

Recommended for those interested in aviation, both military and civil. It may serve a useful purpose in inspiring introspective on several fronts, like family separations and mortality. Just realize it makes no effort to ”answer” those life challenges.

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Fighter Pilot: Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds, Robin Olds

Robin Olds
St Martin's Press, 2010

Robin Olds is a legend in the fighter pilot community, though he may not be recognized outside of it.  Many people may remember, for example, the famous Operation BOLO during Vietnam, which used F-4s to impersonate F-105s and succeeded in destroying a third of the North Vietnamese MiG-21s in a single mission – but few know then-Col Robin Olds was responsible for it.  Fighter Pilot is his story, and it is explicitly delivered as a memoir, rather than an autobiography.  Thus, it is not a detailed birth-to-death retelling of his life, but a first-hand recounting of the things he wishes to convey.  (The book was completed after his 2007 death by his daughter, Christina Olds, and Ed Rasimus, himself a retired fighter pilot.)

The book starts off somewhat slowly, almost as if (despite its status as a "memoir"), Olds (or his co-authors) felt obligated to include some stories from the early parts of his life.  He mentions his early pilot training days and a few significant events briefly, but provides little detail or introspective.  For example, he casually mentions, without further insight, that he attended the Air Corps Tactical School, which would ultimately form the basis for all air doctrine in the Army Air Forces and eventually the independent Air Force.  He also covers his entire training, from his early wartime graduation from West Point through becoming a pilot, in a scant 20 pages.  Some of the lack of detail may be for a very understandable cause: he simply didn't remember much from those early days.  Another may be more pragmatic: Olds is known for his time in Vietnam, not pilot training.

Unlike some other fighter pilot books, Olds often seems less concerned with intricate details of his dogfighting exploits and more cognizant of strategic matters.  He flew over the beaches of Normandy during the invasion on D-Day, for example, but rather than bemoaning his lack of "action," he writes a fascinating perspective of the beaches from above.  Much of his discussions on Vietnam deal with how the war was being strategically run, not always his own individual contributions to the tactical effort.  In that respect, Olds' book sometimes reads more like a well-informed history than a personal story.  In another respect, it may reflect what Olds found important.  For example, he is well-known for shooting down four MiGs in Vietnam (one short of "ace" status); his office chair at the Air Force Academy even had four stars painted on it by cadets.  It seems he is less well-known for shooting down 16 total aircraft (making him a triple-ace) when including his time in World War II.

The book gives the impression that Olds was the definitive fighter pilot, and that many fighter pilot traditions spawn directly from his own conduct and life story.  Some of those claims are likely true, while others may simply be the function of fighter pilot bravado.  Either way, they are an excellent metanarrative on the fighter pilot culture.

The book is a veritable trove of understanding of what it means to be a fighter pilot, at least in the traditional and stereotypical way.  Many fighter pilot 'urban legends' originated with Olds (or at least associations with him).  He certainly lived the life:  The morning he was supposed to ship out to England he woke up with his furniture broken and his leg through a wall – and couldn't remember how he got there.  It was an experience he would seemingly repeat many times throughout his life, without any apparent remorse.  By his account, he intentionally flew an illegal airshow so he would lose his promotion to General and be sent to war.  (It worked.)  The Wall Street Journal, in reviewing this book in April, said this in confirming Olds' status as a 'true' fighter pilot:

Robin Olds's marriage to actress Ella Raines…was always rocky.  They both drank too much, and by his own account he wasn't the most faithful of husbands.  Such waywardness is fairly standard for the profession.  The fighter pilot's job is to shoot planes out of the sky -- with human beings inside them.  Doing such work, at the risk of his own life, leaves him drenched with sweat and pumped with adrenaline, which he may exorcise with alcohol and high jinks on a scale that would leave a fraternity boy in awe.

Nothing excuses poor judgment, even being a fighter pilot.  From its inception in the early 20th century, the machismo and stereotype of the fighter pilot lives on, however, as this journalist demonstrates in 2010.

Olds was probably best admired for his "common man" approach to leadership, which is conveyed in his book.  He visited every person in his wing, and reportedly knew every person by name.  He flew high risk missions that others of his rank would not (also known as "leading from the front").  His brash moustache in Vietnam was grossly out of military protocol but was an inspiration to his admirers (and is traditionally thought to be the inspiration, if not the source, of the fighter pilot traditions of Mustache March and the deployed mustache).  He was politically incorrect and ignored the rules when it made sense to do so.  In just one example, he admits violating Air Force regulations by modifying his wing's aircraft to carry AIM-9 Sidewinders, instead of the horrificly unreliable AIM-4 Falcons, which ensured his pilots had the ability to accomplish their missions (and come home alive).  (His "unethical" decisions to protect his men and accomplish the mission would make for an interesting discussion for morality in leadership.)

When others wanted aviators court-martialed for their actions, Olds recommended them for Silver Stars.  His no-holds-barred criticism of the conduct of the Vietnam war – even while he was still in the Air Force – made him a hero among the common man, particularly since he brought with him the credibility of a man who had demonstrated an ability to get the job done.  Olds' unique take on the rules was emulated during the flyover of his funeral.  In a nod to the departure of a great tactical leader, during the missing man formation, #1 (the lead aircraft) pulled to the sky, rather than the traditional pull of #3 (a wingman) .

Even the cover of the book seems to convey Olds' perspective on his life:  The cover eschews rank and position for only Olds' name and profession: Fighter Pilot.

In case it bears mentioning, Olds' life story should not necessarily be taken as a model to emulate.  He is rarely self-critical, and conveys stories in which he is best characterized as a womanizer, a drunk (even into retirement), intentionally profane, and wantonly self-centered.  On occasion he confesses his conduct may not have been ideal, but he rarely, if ever, approaches repentance.  Quite the opposite, he is unapologetically a fighter pilot at heart.  He "warned" his first wife of this, and he admits that his devotion to the military life exceeded that to his marriage, and it was ultimately the cause of its demise (despite lasting 30 years).  After initially finding rest in retirement, he soon became a popular speaker, a career that enabled him to reconnect with old friends and relive his glory days – which, by his own admission, caused the end of his second marriage. 

There is no indication Olds had any time or quarter for any form of religion.  Aside from a wide variety of profane language, scant references to faith include making sure a Catholic Chaplain went home from Vietnam the long way around the globe (retribution for a poor report), and mocking pre-mission prayers by a Chaplain at a B-52 unit.  For a man who killed and had many try to kill him, it appears he thought little of the afterlife, except perhaps a wistful glance to the fighter pilot bar in the sky.

No man is without flaws and, as noted above, Olds was in many ways an admired and respected leader in the Air Force.  Unfortunately, that noble leadership did not necessarily translate to his personal character.  In balancing these shortcomings of character with his leadership virtues, however, it is interesting to note that BrigGen (ret) Robin Olds was chosen as the "class exemplar" for the US Air Force Academy Class of 2011 -- this year's firsties.  (Olds died 14 June 2007, the same month the class of 2011 entered basic training at USAFA.)

It is certainly not a book one should use to figure out "how to be a fighter pilot," at least not in every sense, nor does it necessarily paint a positive picture of faith in the fighter pilot world.  Still, it is a well-written and telling story of one of the world's most famous fighter pilots.  Olds' legend has had an immeasurable impact on the US Air Force's fighter pilot culture, even beyond his death.  For a Christian, an understanding of that culture can provide a level of expectation and preparation for integrating faith and profession.

 RecommendedFighter Pilot by Robin Olds is highly recommended for any future fighter pilot or those with an interest in the fighter pilot culture.  While it is certainly not a book about faith in the fighter pilot profession, it provides an excellent overview of the fighter pilot worldview, and gives a picture of the culture future fighter pilots will experience.

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Miracles and Moments of Grace, Nancy B. Kennedy

Nancy Kennedy
Leafwood, 2011

Miracles and Moments of Grace, subtitled Inspiring Stories from Military Chaplains, is a noble attempt at telling the stories of military Chaplains. Each of its 50 chapters is a story from a military Chaplain, most told in a first person narrative. Almost all of the Chaplains are from a Christian faith tradition; a few Jewish Chaplains are included.

The stories cover the gamut of the modern Chaplaincy, with tales of Chaplains preventing troops' suicide, notifying families of their Soldier's death, or giving a first hand account of the bombings in Beirut or Khobar Towers. In that regard, it shows the wide array of experiences US military Chaplains encounter in their service.

The stories themselves vary from extremely well-written to somewhat disjointed, and from poignant to head-scratching. Some are clear narrative, others are formatted like an interview transcript. Some were transcribed specifically for the book, others are excerpted from other prior sources.

The downside of a compilation or anthology is the challenge of finding and communicating a unifying element or consistent theme, and this is Miracles and Moments greatest weakness. It does not appear the author attempted to connect the stories or to weave a unifying theme throughout the book. The book is literally a sequential collection of 50 individual, unrelated, and unconnected short stories.

The individual stories, too, sometimes seem to lack a central theme or point within themselves. With 50 stories covering a mere 240 pages, many are simply too short -- they cover what should be a complex story so quickly as to be superficial. Several are interesting reads, but it is sometimes unclear what message the reader is supposed to walk away from the story with, other than having read a short story from a Chaplain.

Many of the stories would have benefited from a concluding paragraph communicating the significance of the Chaplain's story, to know the lessons learned or "moral" of the story.

Topically, there is little mention of the practical aspects of Christian living in the military, nor is there any substantial guidance on applying the Christian faith to the military lifestyle.

The book would likely have benefited from halving the number of included stories and expanding on those that remained. Including more details, explaining the theme, and grouping the stories by central idea would have greatly enhanced the delivery and made the entire work a more worthwhile read.

Recommended, but only to a limited audience specifically looking for Chaplain anecdotes (future Chaplains curious about their potential career may be interested, or those who write about or research the Chaplaincy). A few of the stories may serve as a starting point to research the full "story behind the story" for those keenly interested in the topic.

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Unbroken, Lauren Hillenbrand

Random House, 2010

Unbroken, A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption is the story of Louis Zamperini -- an Olympic athlete, B-24 bombardier, POW, and Christian.

Zamperini is famous as the man who many believed "could have" beaten the 4-minute mile in the 1940s. At 19, he qualified for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, even getting to shake Hitler's hand after a 7th place finish -- in which he sprinted one of the fastest final laps ever and beat every American time by more than 12 seconds.

The 1940 Olympics were to be held in Tokyo, and then Finland, but were ultimately cancelled when Germany began its invasions.

Zamperini would ultimately become a bombardier in World War II and participate in the bombing of occupied Wake Island. He later crashed in a search mission near Hawaii; only 3 of the 11 onboard survived the impact. He, his pilot, and the tail gunner drifted thousands of miles west in a rubber raft. The tail gunner didn't survive the starvation and dehydration. Zamperini and his pilot, Lt Russ Allen Phillips, washed up 2,000 miles away in the Marshall Islands after 47 days on the open ocean in a rubber raft, emaciated.

They were captured by the occupying Japanese. What follows is Zamperini's torturous survival over the next two years in Japanese POW camps, including a near-continuous relationship with a sadistic guard known as "the Bird." For those unfamiliar with the historical record on the treatment of prisoners by the Japanese in World War II -- they considered the POWs without dignity for having been captured alive -- the book contains horrifying detail. As a historical record -- and it does appear to be well-researched -- the book is a sobering but gripping view into the motivations and men on both sides of the Japanese prisons.

Zamperini was ultimately repatriated after the war's end. He married and had a child, but was haunted by the war and, along with an alcoholic addiction, fixated on a plan to return to Japan and kill "the Bird" in an attempt to regain his sanity.

In 1949, his wife virtually forced him to attend a Los Angeles event held by an almost unknown Billy Graham. He would give his life to Christ there, giving up both his alcohol and his hatred for his former captors.

In 1950, he visited the prison in Japan where his former captors were held. He shook their hands in near exuberance. The Bird was not among them, thought to be dead.

It turns out the Bird, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, actually survived. Zamperini found out in the late 1990s, when Watanabe was interviewed by CBS, revealing little remorse for his actions. Though Zamperini wanted to see him again, Watanabe refused. The Bird died in 2003.

Zamperini would leave Billy Graham's Crusade a changed man; he went on to be a Christian speaker and run a camp for trouble youth.

If that seems like an abrupt end -- it is. As noted, Zamperini is as famously remembered for his conversion and forgiveness as he was for his athletics. Yet the 380-page tome, not including the epilogue or notes, covers his life in great detail, from childhood on, reaching page 371 before it begins the Graham crusade. It notes his conversion in some detail, and his life thereafter in almost none. It's as if his life, as far as popular culture was concerned, was defined by his story of survival and resilience, but not redemption, to quote the subtitle.

In a May 2011 Billy Graham Evangelical Association interview with Zamperini on the book's release, Zamperini noted it was "Laura's book,"

so all I could do was pray that she would somehow have the Gospel in it.

In that regard, the book lacks introspection, spiritual discussion, or even a reference to lessons Louis had learned in his life. While the story is captivating, as it has been for the past 6 decades, when told so clinically, bereft of spiritual introspection even after the fact, it comes across as almost superficial.

Coincidentally, Zamperini had just finished the second version of his own memoir, Devil at my Heels, when Hillenbrand called up wanting to write his story. His self-published version was re-issued not long after Unbroken was published.

Unbroken is an engaging read and imparts an important understanding of both history, war, and the people in it. It is Recommended, though for the full story you should also read Zamperini's autobiography. If you only have time for one, read Devil at My Heels.

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Devil at My Heels, Louis Zamperini

with David Rensin
Harper Collins, 2003 (2011)

Devil at My Heels is the autobiography of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete, B-24 bombardier, POW, and Christian. It seems most people come upon the book by first finding Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, the biography of the same man published around the same time.

Unsurprisingly, much of the text is the same. It is, after all, the same man's true story. The stories are generally identical, though told in slightly different ways. As noted in the review of Unbroken, Zamperini's story there is a well told narrative but lacks introspection, and what is arguably the most significant step in Zamperini's life -- his conversion to Christ and his life thereafter -- earns a scant 9-pages (of 400) in Hillenbrand's tome.

In Devil at My Heels, the same stories are told in the first person, with side comments and introspection from the author that are at times distracting while simultaneously adding personal depth to the tale. If Unbroken was written as a story of action and survival to eventually grace the silver screen, Devil at My Heels was written to see the heart of the man.

While Unbroken barely noted Zamperini's conversion and his decision to forgive his former captors, Zamperini's autobiography devotes the final 50 pages (of 289) to both that portion of his life and a heart-felt summary of his faith, life, and perspective. It is in these pages that Zamperini communicates a message no biographer ever could.

Interestingly, both books follow a theme revealed only in the autobiography. Zamperini says he was put off by "pressure tactics" from Christians who seemed to force the the gospel "down people's throats," and "gave Christianity a bad name" in the process. His book, like Unbroken, carefully tells his story and ends with a straightforward account of his conversion and its impact on his life. While the final pages of Devil at My Heels clearly makes a more in depth and explicit presentation of his faith compared to Hillenbrand's book, overbearing it is not.

At the same time, though, he noted his refusal to water down his faith in the proposed transition of his story to a Hollywood movie (advice he was given by Dean Hess, another famous military Christian and author of Battle Hymn), which is one reason why the film was never made. As noted in an interview with the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, he "hoped" the gospel would be included in Hillenbrand's book, over which he had no control. Both the message and the delivery were important to Zamperini.

Zamperini was not neither a Christian Olympic athlete nor a Christian B-24 bombardier. The most well-known parts of his life -- his Olympic race, his open ocean survival, his trials in Japanese POW camps -- are at once sobering and fascinating glimpses into an era most characterized by the ugliness of war. His conversion to Christianity and his ability to overcome that ugliness through his new-found faith are inspiring for both men and women in today's military, as well as those simply walking the faith of Christ.

Devil at My Heels is highly  Recommended. Unbroken was reviewed here. If you only have time for one, Devil at My Heels is the easy choice.

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Courageous, Alex Kendrick (Sherwood Pictures)

Sherwood Pictures, 2011

Courageous, a movie about five men and the challenges of fatherhood, was the number one new movie in America when it hit theatres in 2011, and its DVD release hit the top of the charts as well. The church-made film reportedly had a budget of around $2 million, a number that belies its high production quality. Box office numbers were in the $34M range.

Four of the men are Albany police officers, and one is a local construction worker. The film doesn't directly address the challenges of living a Christian faith or being a father as it relates to their careers, though at one point the police chief pointedly says

"Look, I know your shift-work's hard, and I know you see the worst side of people out there. But when you clock out, go home and love your families."

Both the film and its producers (who previously made Facing the Giants and Fireproof) are unapologetically Christian, and faith is central to the movie's message. The challenging message to be good fathers is related clearly across career fields, race, and family history. Whether you are a fighter pilot, security forces, crew chief, or civilian, it is a message worth hearing -- and prayerfully acting on.

The film is a moving, challenging, and entertaining movie that is well worth watching -- especially for fathers or those who may one day be.

Courageous is highly  Recommended and is available at AmazonComment on this review.


A Quiet Reality, Emilio Marrero

FaithWalk Publishing

A Quiet Reality, subtitled A Chaplain's Journey into Babylon, Iraq, with the I Marine Expeditionary Force, is not just another war story. A Quiet Reality is unique both for the perspective it lends -- a chaplain to US Marines during the invasion of Iraq -- and the story it tells -- the interaction of the US military with the historic site of Babylon, Iraq.

Chaplain Marrero's story isn't told in pure narrative. Rather, each chapter follows an almost sermon-like style, with a well-told narrative followed by a more deliberate explanation and analysis, with a concluding faith-based story or analogy. In each case, no matter how dramatic the tale, Chaplain Marrero is able to articulate the "quiet reality" of his experiences. It is a formula that works very well.

The crux of the story is Chaplain Marrero's work with local Iraqis and US Marines to protect and explore the historic site of Babylon, which was located next to the I MEF camp. Through a significant initiative on Chaplain Marrero's part, the ruins of the ancient palace of Nebuchadnezzar would eventually be included within the protective lines of the Marine camp. With his coordination, members of the military -- and even US congressmen -- would eventually be taken on tours of the ruins. Local Iraqis would be employed in the ruins and take advantage of the opportunity to open a market to sell their wares to the visiting Americans. Ultimately, Chaplain Marrero was key to the orderly handover of the site to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture.

Notably, Chaplain Marrero provides outstanding explanations and perspectives on the roles and purposes of military chaplains. For example, in counseling a junior chaplain who refused to leave his tent (he wanted to "preach, not go to war"), Chaplain Marrero says

I attempted to pastorally respond and yet remind him of our unusual role so I retorted with, "If you don't walk with them, live with them, and suffer with them, then with what credible authority can you come to share with them?"

Our relevancy as clergy, in uniform and out of uniform, is rooted in that we have walked with the people and having endured with them. In that journey with our people we can then point to places and times where God intersects with us in the journey...Even to those who profess no religious belief chaplains hope to serve as a reminder of that which is moral and ethical in our society.

The chaplain also provides an interesting explanation of the integration of the chaplaincy within the Navy, where chaplains are essentially assigned to commands, which differs slightly from the other services, where chaplains are generally assigned to individual units.

A Quiet Reality
is well-written, and the occasional typo or verbose narrative is easily overlooked. The story does largely focus on Marrero's role as a staff chaplain, meaning there are few references to leading individual religious services or other chaplain roles like counseling, though Chaplain Marrero continued to fulfill those duties. Still, the unique perspective and excellent content make A Quiet Reality well worth the read.

A Quiet Reality is  Recommended and is available at Amazon. Comment on this review.


Leading with Honor, Lee Ellis

FreedomStar Media, 2012.

Leading with Honor, Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton, is a unique and outstanding book by former prisoner of war Lee Ellis, an F-4 pilot who spent nearly six years in POW camps in Vietnam. Its stated intent is to pass on "leadership" lessons from the "crucible of captivity." In truth, it is much more than that: It teaches lessons that are applicable to all of life.

Ellis, who was a 1st Lt at the time, was on his 53rd mission over North Vietnam when he was shot down. He was captured almost immediately and spent the next years of his life fighting to survive and "return with honor." Ellis relates his experiences in a gripping, realistic way that is engaging without overwhelming the reader with the terror that was the life of daily torture.

In each chapter, Ellis relates a tale of his captivity, astutely draws both leadership and life lessons from it, and then provides relevant "coaching" guidance to aid in the application of the lessons. In a nod to the military culture, the key point of each chapter is highlighted as a "foot stomper" -- a term every military trainee knows means to pay special attention (because what you're about to hear will be on the test...).

Some of the examples of the applied lessons are specific to the business community, as in examples of Ellis' consulting with Fortune 500 companies. All of them, however, are applicable to life.

For example, in the first section on "Know Yourself," Ellis highlights the need for a life purpose that goes beyond oneself:

It's fine to set your sights on any number of worthwhile goals...But all of these achievements will be hollow if they don't align with an overall purpose that holds up under life-and-death scrutiny.

Ellis distills this in the coaching section as

1. Consider your purpose...What on earth were you created to do?

Ellis recognizes the innate need to understand your higher purpose -- something the US Army is even now trying to assist in its Soldiers as it fights the tragedy of suicide.

There are two significant highlights of the book. The first is Ellis' articulation of courage -- a definition that only the credibility of a POW can bring:

My own working definition of courage is that it's doing what is right or called for in the situation, even when it does not feel safe or natural. If your commitment (will) is strong enough, I believe you can muster the courage to make honorable choices in the face of virtually any challenge. The strength of your will is connected to your commitment to live from your deepest desires. Leading with honor is difficult; it can only be achieved when tied to such a commitment.

The second is Ellis' excellent explanation of his "Continuous Development Model," which he applies to the iterative improvement process of the USAF Thunderbirds.

Lee Ellis is also a man of faith, and he writes that faith was integral to the lives of the captives:

We had faith in each other, in our leaders, in our country, in our families, and especially in God. The old saying that "there are no atheists in foxholes" was certainly true in the POW camps...I knew God loved me unconditionally, and that He had a plan for my life...I could recall many of my favorite scripture verses. Romans 8:28--"In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose" -- and other passages, like Psalms 1, 23, and 100 gave me an inner strength and a sense of peace that kept me going.

Those are just a few examples of the wisdom conveyed in Leading with Honor. Written in a style that is conducive to individual chapter study and practical application, it is an easy read and well worth the time of even busy pilots. It is at once a moving memoir from captivity in Vietnam, a primer on leadership, and a reference on life.

Leading with Honor is highly  Recommended.  This book is available at Amazon.

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Memoirs from Babylon, Chaplain (Capt) Jeff Bryan

Ingram 2011

Memoirs from Babylon, A Combat Chaplain’s life in Iraq's Triangle of Death, is the story of Chaplain (Capt) Jeff Bryan's deployment to Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division from 2006 to 2007.

The book stands as one of the better examples of the "day to day" operations of a chaplain deployed to a US military war zone, both for his perspective on the combat itself but also for the duties to which he tended. He tells repeated stories of counseling soldiers who learn of family deaths back home, scrounging a Catholic chaplain to provide pre-combat Mass for a host of his troops, and routinely going out on missions with the men of his unit -- and their admiration for his doing so. He tells gripping firsthand accounts of helping with the wounded -- including Iraqi children -- and the feelings of watching insurgents receive medical care just feet from wounded Americans. In one instance, he prepares for a memorial ceremony while being called off to counsel other soldiers who had just lost a comrade in battle -- only to be called yet again to another without finishing the first two.

The book starts slowly, describing Bryan's life growing up, including his 5-year stint as a US Army infantryman searching out a war. The narrative communicates Bryan's development through the Assemblies of God ordination to becoming a chaplain.

The stories are told thick with emotion and drama -- including a few somewhat overplayed cliff-hangers. Several of the tales are told with extremes of fear and danger, love and hate. Chaplain Bryan also displays an unusual frankness in telling his hard feelings for the Iraqis, which he repeated in an interview with NPR while deployed. The interview was part of a longer NPR show, which is still available online and seems to be a bit more benign than Bryan's dramatic retelling of it.

The narrative sometimes takes on a staccato, disjointed feel, as much of the book is apparently taken from Chaplain Bryan's wartime journal. Some of the book maintains the feel of a collection of short, quick-note diary entries.

Besides the many positive stories of a chaplain's service to troops in combat, Chaplain Bryan's story contains many other significant events and observations, some not so positive -- from a chaplain's assistant who refuses combat duty to the controversial admonition from a brigade chaplain that chaplains not pray in Jesus' name. Unfortunately, some of the more substantial events get only a cursory mention.

Despite a few shortcomings in style, Memoirs from Babylon remains an effective overview of the work of a chaplain in the war zone, information often lacking in the story of modern warfare. Chaplain Bryan does a good job of telling the story of "authentic faith in the foxhole," and the book is one of the few that conveys the experiences of a chaplain integrated in combat operations. Those who are interested in the view of combat from a chaplain, or seeing the experiences of a chaplain in war and on combat missions, will find Memoirs a good read.

Recommended for those interested in the role and experiences of chaplains in modern combat.

This book is available from Amazon.

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Last Updated: 05/29/2014

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