Saturday, January 28, 2006

Latest painting

Here's a view of Al Taqadam Airbase, Iraq, as seen from the front passenger seat of a HMMWV. Part of my book is about my being stranded at Taqadam, and the young marines who I met there.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Another review for my book

I'm very fortunate to have had my book reviewed by award-winning journalist, and one of the bravest people I know (She won an award for on-the-spot reporting of the Tiananmen Square Uprising, and once sneaked into a Siberian labor camp to write about conditions there.) Claudia Rosett.

Claudia writes:

Steven Givler is a warrior-poet and painter, navigating not only the skies over Iraq, but the loyalties and beliefs that shape our lives. This is a compelling book about faith, beauty, love, resolve -- and war. With a clarity of vision that comes from a deep appreciation of the difference between good and evil, Steven shows us what it is like to fight on the front lines for freedom, and why.

Claudia Rosett is a journalist-in-residence at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. She writes about issues of tyranny and democratic development, and contributes to National Review Online, The Wall Street Journal's Opinionjournal, The New York Sun and a variety of other news outlets. She has been a books editor for the Wall Street Journal, bureau chief in the Journal's Moscow bureau from 1993-96; and a member of the Journal’s editorial board in New York.
She is a winner of the Eric Breindel Award for Excellence in Opinion Journalism, and an Overseas Press Club citation for excellence for her on-the-scene coverage of the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Thanks for visiting

Thanks for visiting. I should have a picture of the cover of my book posted soon. Meanwhile, please scroll down to see some of the paintings that will be featured.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

New Painting

This is Al Faw Palace, Camp Victory, Baghdad. Saddam used water as a weapon. Turning it off did wonders for bringing stubborn villages into line. The fact that many of his palaces are surrounded by water takes on special significance in light of this fact.

From the book - My Crew's First Combat Sortie

...Everyone knew we were getting close. (To the beginning of combat operations) We're carrying our kevlar helmets and gas masks now, and two days ago they changed the screen that greets us when we log on to these computers. The familiar admonition to inspect our gas masks became a reminder of the provisions the Code of Conduct - the code that guides the actions of American prisoners of war. I'm not sure which is more sobering.

So we knew it was coming, but before our mission briefing last night they told us to sanitize our uniforms - remove all identifying patches, wedding bands, photographs and personal information. When they told us that, we knew the time had come. On the bus that carries us to the jet a crewmate asked if anyone would mind if he said a prayer. The idea was welcomed, and he led us in asking God for a quick victory, for safety, and for His protection of our brothers who would be committed to battle on the ground. And then we stepped to the jet.

And while it was the longest sortie we've had together, it went by faster than any I have flown. From launch until mission complete we were at it without pause. I remember looking up from my console to see our pilot walking down the aisle, passing out bottled water and cokes to anyone who needed them. That's the way we work. The Aircraft Commander is content to play flight attendant (while the copilot has the jet) if it helps us do the job, and everyone else is the same way. When we get busy the delineation of tasks becomes fluid. We back each other up without a second thought. The concept of "his job, my job" does not exist.

As we bent together under the same task we experienced what few people ever will - and for this I will always be grateful to the Air Force - we reached a point where we achieved as a team far more than anyone could expect this assortment of individuals to achieve.

Different management seminars and self-help books will call it different things - synergy, camaraderie, esprit de corps. I don't know how to name it, but I can pinpoint its source. The thing that enables us to accomplish so much together is love. Love of our crew, of the men who would soon be fighting on the ground, love of our families and love of America. I can't say that's what motivates a professional ball team or a sales group. I can only speak for what happened to us last night, and I can tell you for that long - and short - moment we were happy to be working so hard, happy to be there, with all the sacrifices that entails, happy for the chance to give of ourselves for something larger and more important than we are. If that's not love I don't know what is...

Monday, January 16, 2006

Latest Excerpt From Notes of Joy and Sadness

Christmas, Even Here

Last night I walked the nearly two miles from the compound where I work to our squadron. I could have signed out a truck and driven there, but it was a beautiful night and the walk provided an opportunity for some solitude. The waxing moon outshined all but the brightest stars, and cast its light across a far-flung layer of thin, high cloud. My walk carried me past a large spherical antenna shelter. The moonlight gleamed on the top and faded down the curving sides. In the darkness, the shelter seemed to be a planet, reflecting the light of its small silver sun.

I had a cigar in my pocket, and paused a moment to light it. Then, marked by its glowing orange tip and a wreath of silver smoke, I left the road, cutting across a broad, dark patch of desert. Had I not walked this route before in daylight, I wouldn't have done it last night in the dark. Concertina wire, which is the tinsel of deployed bases, is invisible in the dark, and once wandered into, is difficult to get out of without leaving something precious behind.

Absent razor wire though, the desert is a beautiful place at night. Having no particular schedule to keep, I sat for a bit on a rock, accompanied only by the darkness, the silence, and a tiny desert fox that flirted with the limits of my peripheral vision. On a night like this, not far from here and not particularly long ago, shepherds keeping watch over their flocks were amazed by the sight of a heavenly host. Angels shouted, trumpets sounded, and the word went out. The world is changed forever.

On the distant end of a momentarily forgotten runway, a pair of fighters lit their afterburners. They shattered the silence and leaped into the sky, trailing 20-foot cones of pink flame. No angels for me this night (none that I can see) but I am no less aware of Christmas for the lack of them. This night, this place, my circumstances - as foreign and as far removed as they are from the Christmases I have known, they are somehow appropriate. Christmas exists outside the presents, the trees, and even the company of my family.

Maybe that explains what happened on this day during the First World War. The German troops, facing the British across a blasted landscape, caroled them with Stille Nacht. The British answered with a carol of their own. The Germans sang another, and as Christmas Eve wore on, the night was filled with songs, back and forth across no-man's land, celebrating something that transcended even war. On Christmas day, a small number of Germans climbed from their trenches. With one exception, they held their hands in the air. In the center of no-man's land, the man with his hands in front of him dropped his burden. It was a soccer ball.

The day was filled with games. Schnapps and whiskey were exchanged. Men who had faced each other across the most brutal battlefield known to man laughed and ran and drank together like brothers. Even for those men, whose world was bounded by machine guns, barbed wire and slaughter, Christmas was transcendent.

We won't be playing soccer with terrorists over here. We won't share any sense of brotherhood with them. Our religions and their conduct of war preclude that. Still, Christmas is here. This evening the open space outside the chow hall was covered with tables and chairs, and burgers and hotdogs smoked over charcoal grills. We ate under the same sky I noted last night, while the general and the chief handed out stockings filled with gifts.

After supper two of my colleagues and I retired to the smoking area - a dusty corner protected by 12 foot high concrete barriers - for a Christmas Eve cigar. (I know, that's two cigars in as many days, but it's Christmas.) We were surprised to find that the camo netting overhead, through which the silver moonlight filtered, was strung with Christmas lights. Someone had spread Astroturf over the gravel and set out chairs, and from a radio came Christmas carols. I might have failed to notice these improvements were we at home, or noticing them, failed to be affected. Here though, they mean a lot to me.

When we finished smoking and talking to the airmen gathered there, we wished them all a Merry Christmas and returned to the facility where we work. On entering, we were arrested by the sound of a flute. On the operations floor, below the many screens showing maps and aircraft, and video footage from our unmanned surveillance aircraft, a group of carolers was finishing Oh Come Oh Come Emanuel.

Normally I can't decide what I want for Christmas, but this year I know exactly. To read again to my children. To say their prayers and put them to bed. To spend a quiet evening with my wife and, when the evening is over, to peer into our little ones' darkened rooms and listen to the softness of their breathing. I will have those things. It will take a little while, but don't feel bad about that. As with many things, the waiting will make the realization that much better.

I've long been a little cynical about decorations and carols and wishing people Merry Christmas. Not long ago I told a friend that I wasn't sure why we made such a big production out of the day. Easter I understand, because Jesus' resurrection seems to me so much more miraculous than His birth. But I've come to revise that philosophy. The angels who appeared to the shepherds clearly thought Jesus' birth warranted celebration on a grand scale. I find, now, that I am inclined to agree. That alone might be worth the trip.

Merry Christmas

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Another excerpt from the book

Death from Above

We're at work. We're standing, eyes glued to one of the screens on the wall above us. Different images flicker elsewhere on the wall, but the one we're interested is grainy black and white video, transmitted live. We're watching because an indicator on the screen says the operator has designated a target. A moment later we get the word - a weapon has been released. Someone is about to die.

This scene has repeated itself many times over the last few days. It's one of few experiences that I've found is not diminished by repetition.

Am I remorseful? Do I feel for the men who, in a matter of seconds, will cease to exist? The place in my heart that would be occupied by remorse is scarred by images of a hostage slaughter house. The part of my mind that might harbor compassion is imagining a makeshift video studio, where Al Jazeera cameramen drank tea to the sounds of innocents' life blood gurgling in their windpipes.

The people we watch die are blissfully unaware. What are they discussing on that street corner? What is he thinking as he drives that car? Do they, for the split second before impact, wonder at the sound of wind, rushing over the stubby wings of the warhead? Even if they do - even if they hear the missile, homing inexorably from a vehicle so far away they never saw it, their brief shock is nothing to me. The searing flash, the concussion that separates their body from their soul bothers me not a bit. It is merciful.

It is not the weeks or months-long separation from friends and family, being held like livestock for a bargain that will never be struck. It is not the desperate sickness that invades the heart, knowing you will never see your family again. It is not the terror of knowing your captors consider you most valuable when your head is severed, dangling from their bloody fist in a television commercial for evil. It is not the grinding by of countless hours of loneliness and fear.

It is quick. It is better than they deserve. Far from regret, I am grimly satisfied at my role in this process.

Maybe it shocks you that I can appreciate beauty, love my family, and calmly contemplate killing men. It shouldn't. The understanding of good and evil and the willingness to act in the differentiation between them is fundamental to those more appealing characteristics.
I'm still me.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Excerpt from the book

Fear of Fueling

Since the start of the war our crew has logged over 100 hours in Iraqi airspace. We've flown enough miles to circle the globe several times. While nothing is routine, we are a little more adjusted now to being in hostile airspace. The things that previously caused us a burst of adrenaline (friendly missile launches that looked like surface to air fire, random tracers reaching skyward, the moon) are now more or less commonplace. We keep an eye on them, but a less anxious eye than before. Some of the comforting signs of normalcy (an occasional Hawaiian shirt worn over a flight suit, pushup contests on the floor of the jet) are seen again.

That could be why the pilot called me forward during the second in-air refueling yesterday. I've always been uncomfortable with what our pilot calls the "ballet of elephants." I am a firm believer in vertical and horizontal separation of aircraft, and he's taken it upon himself to show me there's nothing to fear.

We'd been in the air since evening, and unbeknownst to me, at work in the back with my window covered tightly, the sun had risen and was already filling the cockpit and burning the endless desert below us. Blinking, I felt my way to the observer's seat and buckled myself in.

After I'd plugged my headset into the comm system the pilot explained the plan for meeting the tanker. We would continue describing a small circle in the sky as the tanker finished a larger orbit, fueling its current customers. The navigator would adapt our speed and the size of our circle so that when the tanker finished it would be just ahead of us. We would simply roll out of our turn and find ourselves positioned to take fuel. As he explained I heard the nav and the copilot in the background, mentioning the tanker, "chicks in tow," and discussing its current position.

I looked in the direction they indicated and picked a small speck out of the sunshine. I squinted at it until it resolved itself into the distinct shape of the tanker accompanied by two fighters, one on the boom, and one off its wingtip. The perigee of our orbits brought us within a few miles of each other - close enough to see the fighter pilots in their cockpits, and bring the air-superiority-gray of the aircraft into sharp relief against the flat light reflecting off the desert. It was a breathtaking sight, but not the last I'd see that morning.

We held our gentle turn long enough for me to begin recognizing features on the ground. Through binoculars I watched black rivers of basalt - ancient lava flows - roll in and out of view. An occasional lonely road stretched from horizon to horizon, and in one place (a route of our advance?) countless sets of vehicle tracks left shadows across the undulating dunes.

Then it was our turn for gas. Our navigator brought us out of our turn about 5 miles behind and a little below the tanker. I watched over the pilot's left shoulder as the big jet got closer and closer - until it filled the little window above our heads, and my fingers left grooves in the armrests of my chair. The boom projected toward us, creeping forward until I was looking straight up into it; a nozzle about 8 inches in diameter bobbing gently in the wind blasting between our aircraft. The copilot began calling out the position of the boom, (over the nose... over the throttles...) allowing the pilot to know its location while keeping his larger perspective and monitoring our position with respect to the tanker. I watched the face of the boom operator peering at us from his tiny portal in the back of his jet. I found I could gauge the closeness of his nozzle to the receptacle above and behind our heads by the expression of concentration on his face. There was a loud thump-clunk, and we were connected.

The connection of the boom completes a comm circuit allowing the boom operator to talk to our flight deck without broadcasting over a radio. The operator asked us our tail number and base of origin - accounting for the destination of the several-score thousand gallons of gas he was already flowing into our tanks. That brief exchange, and an occasional, "Up four..." or “Down two..." were the only words exchanged. The flight engineer in his swivel seat to my right distributed the arriving weight evenly across our jet, helping the pilot maintain level flight.

And he had plenty to do in that regard. A set of lights on the belly of the jet above us, activated by the boom operator, allowed our pilot to know whether to advance or retard our position with respect to the tanker. I watched, waiting for the pilot to use throttles to adjust our position, but he relied on far more subtle means. This is something those of us who live in the back of the jet always appreciate. A pilot who accomplishes refueling without constantly speeding up and slowing down goes a long way toward preventing what flight surgeons like to refer to as "stomach awareness" on the part of the mission crew. With hours of mission to perform before landing, the last thing anyone wants is airsickness. Even for those without the problematic connection between stomach and inner ear, being on the same fight as someone who is sick can be very unpleasant. Little things like this give us confidence in our pilot.

It's always the little things that add up to significant impressions. Rarely are our opinions formed as the result of grand gestures or big statements. Our pilot formed a favorable impression of the tanker crew on just such a small detail. "This is an experienced guy," he commented via intercom. He explained that the tanker had canted the refueling orbit slightly, causing his plane to block the sun from our eyes. The copilot, who'd folded a chart and was ready to use it as a sun block for the pilot, registered his approval with a grunt.

This tiny gesture was greatly appreciated by all of us in the cockpit, but perhaps by me most of all. Aside from not having to squint painfully into the sun, which was nice, I was comforted by the fact that in spite of everything that was required to support this monstrous imposition on all the physical laws (It still surprises me that these ponderous machines fly, let alone can be maneuvered so precisely, and under such difficult conditions) someone had the presence of mind to consider something so insignificant.

And when we had received the last of the fuel required to complete our mission and we broke right, I watched the giant that had fueled us slew away to the left. Within seconds it had dwindled to a speck. In a second more it was gone, swallowed by the immensity of sky and desert. With it went my fear of aerial refueling.

As always, and in constantly renewed ways, I am amazed to find myself a part of the finest Air Force the world has ever known.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Book News!

Looks like my book, "Notes of Joy and Sadness" will be out this spring. It's a collection of paintings from my two deployments in support of the War on Terror, and letters that I wrote home during that time.

I'm honored to have some great people sending in their reviews; I'll post them here as they come in.


"Steven Givler's first-person account of the war in Iraq is just what Americans need: the real story from a man who was there. Givler's narrative beautifully demonstrates the honor and courage of our men and women in the field, and encourages us all to remember that it is they who protect and defend our freedom -- and bring freedom to those who have never before experienced it. Support for our armed services has never been more vital, and Givler reminds us why."

-- Ben Shapiro, nationally syndicated columnist
Author, "Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth" and "Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism Is Corrupting Our Future"

Endorsement for Steven Givler’s “Every Note of Joy and Sadness”

During OIF, I was fortunate to receive many of Major Steven Givler’s original wartime emails now transformed into “Every Note of Joy and Sadness.” They provided the “I was there” feeling and many of his observations were later confirmed by my own experiences in Iraq. “Every Note of Joy and Sadness” insightfully and artistically reveals a side of war that entertains, intrigues and informs. Because few of us are given the privilege to see, feel and hear battle from the cockpit, Steven has vicariously taken the reader with him through the roller coaster ride of emotions and physical discomforts of war at 30,000 feet. He’s a talented writer and artist. His faith comes through loudly providing context, encouragement and teaching. His professionalism and love of country are inspiring.

Robert L. Maginnis
Lieutenant Colonel Robert (Bob) Maginnis, US Army (retired) is an experienced and internationally known expert on national security and foreign affairs. He currently serves as a national security and foreign affairs analyst for Moody Broadcasting Radio Network, Salem Radio Network, and is a regular guest on several other radio networks. He recently completed a year as a Fox News military analyst. He is a senior systems analyst with BCP International Limited, an Alexandria, VA-based company where his primary duties involve working on multinational programs for the Department of the Army. Since October of 2002, Colonel Maginnis has been a member of Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Military Analyst Group.

Friday, January 06, 2006

USMC Ch-46s Toward Mosul (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Taqadam MiG 29 (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Transient Tents, Al Udeid (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Over Baghdad (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Refueling (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Southern Iraq (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Storm Over Desert (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Morning in Paradise I (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Silhouette (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Over Palm Grove (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Morning in Paradise II (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

MC-130 (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

JSTARS on Station (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Fueling Iraqi Freedom (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Iraqi Flag Self Portrait (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Cockpit Self Portrait (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Altocumulus Over Desert (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

C-17s Al Udeid (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Wingman 2 (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Abrams Crew (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

Blackhawk (watercolor)
property of Steven Givler

The blackhawk that carried me from Abu Ghraib to Mosul and back
property of Steven Givler

Synopsis of New Book

"Every Note of Joy and Sadness - Words and Images from the War on Terror" is a collection of the letters and paintings of Major Steven Givler, detailing his two deployments to the Persian Gulf.

Given a paint set by his wife to “keep him out of trouble” on his first deployment, Givler began painting the surrounding desert and scenes of life on base. He has painted almost daily ever since, earning space for his work in two prominent art galleries.

Major Givler’s letters draw on more than 300 hours in the air over Iraq, and travels on the ground throughout the theater of operations. With humor, love, and pride in the youth of America, Every Note of Joy and Sadness carries its readers from the cockpit of an Air Force surveillance aircraft, refueling above the Iraqi desert, to dusty outposts in Ramadi and Taqadam. They document the liberation by American sons and daughters of Iraq’s 15 million oppressed souls.

Every Note of Joy and Sadness brings an American eye to the flat desert light of Arabia, and an American voice to the birth of freedom in Iraq.

Book Preview

Over the next few days I'll be posting previews of my book, which is a compilation of war letters and paintings from my two deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The book should be available in the fall of 2006.