For nearly seven years, veterans have been gathering in a small office on the second floor of a building in Carrollwood to share war stories.
But it's not to brag.
The veterans are part of the DD-214 Writers' Workshop, run by Navy veteran Jeffrey Hess. Named for the discharge form service members fill out on their way to civilian life, the group is a labor of love for Hess, who turned to writing after leaving the Navy in 1989.
Like most who labor for love, Hess isn't rolling in the clover. But a new anthology of military fiction, including stories from a number of Tampa writers, will help fund the labor. More on that in a bit though.
After spending six years on a variety of ships during the Cold War as an interior communications electrician and surface warfare specialist, Hess says he caught the literary bug after signing his own DD-214. He eventually graduated with an English degree from the University of South Florida and interned with former Tribune senior foreign affairs columnist Mark August, back when we had such a gig. (To his credit, Hess didn't mention the Trib connection until after I called him back.)
"I ended up with a front page article, about South African franchise elections," he says with great enthusiasm. "It was a big deal."
Hess, 47, earned a master's in fine arts and creative writing from Queens University in Charlotte, N.C., and started the writer's group in 2007, he says. One of his classmates from the QU program cofounded a small publishing house called Press 53. The friend suggested Hess put together an anthology of stories from veterans for a book, which he did, called "Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform." Published in 2009, the book did well enough that Press 53 wanted another one. "Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand" was released on Memorial Day.
"Home of the Brave implies the American military," according to the introduction. "Somewhere in the Sand implies the desert conditions of both Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the mental state that the returning service members occupy periodically or perpetually once they return home."
The anthology has 22 contributors, six from the Tampa area, including Hess, Jon Chopan, Tracy Crow, James R. Duncan, Kevin C. Jones and Brooke King.
As for the workshop, Hess says he's down to two writers, plus himself offering instruction.
"People come and go," he says of the program, which meets once a week for six weeks, then takes a one-week hiatus.
For information about the book, go to www.press53.com/HomeoftheBrave.html#anchor_ 324. For information about the workshop, go to www.dd214 writers.org.
v vMichael DeLancey, a Marine lance corporal from Pinellas Park, has been in a wheelchair since a sniper's bullet pierced his spinal cord in Iraq in 2006. Thanks to a collaboration between a TV car customizing reality show and a custom wheelchair van maker, he will receive a new van that designers say will "change how people view wheelchair accessible vehicles."
The van DeLancey will receive, called a "mobility concept vehicle," is a Ford Explorer designed by West Coast Customs and BraunAbility.
It will have a newly engineered side door that allows a disabled person to enter directly into the driver's area. The concept SUV will automatically lower the car so a wheelchair user can enter the car on a ramp.
BraunAbility is going to use the prototype to help develop a production SUV in the future, according to a media release.
DeLancey will pick up his new van at Custom Mobility, 7199 Bryan Dairy Road in Largo, about 1 p.m. Tuesday, said Will Wellons, a spokesman for BraunAbility. The event is being televised for a national broadcast, he said.
Wellons says veterans and their families are welcome to attend the event.
v vTwo Floridians were among five troops who died in Afghanistan last week.
Sgt. Justin R. Johnson, 25, of Hobe Sound; Spc. Ember M. Alt, 21, of Beech Island, S.C., Spc. Robert W. Ellis, 21, of Kennewick, Wash., and Spc. William R. Moody, 30, of Burleson, Texas, died June 18, in Bagram, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with indirect fire. Johnson was assigned to the 10th Transportation Battalion, 7th Sustainment Brigade, Fort Eustis, Va., Alt, Ellis and Moody were assigned to 68th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 43rd Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.
Lance Cpl. Jared W. Brown, 20, of Youngstown, died June 16 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C. This incident is under investigation.
There have now been 2,228 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation's longest war.