What Leadership Means To An American Warrior: A Writer’s And Voter’s Guide

Recently, I published a non-fiction book titled, Armed Professions: A Writer’s Guide. In that little gem, I knocked my socks off to cover everything I could think a fiction writer could possibly want to know about military, police and intelligence professions. I included historical references, culture, customs, and tactics. I wrote pages on rank structures and interservice rivalry. I gave anecdotes about my life experiences in the military, law enforcement, and intelligence community. All of this information came with a list of references for further reading so that every nook and cranny a writer would need to be filled could be saturated.

But I forgot one thing…leadership.

So here it is, for free, from me to you. Hear’s what leadership means to an American military person. Are you ready? Good, cause here it comes…

The first sergeant eats last!

So, who’s the first sergeant, and who cares when he or she eats? The first sergeant, or “Top” as they’re often called by troops, is the most senior non-commissioned officer in a company. That means that some one-hundred soldiers ask, “How high?” whenever Top says, “Jump!” Oh, to be sure the first sergeant is not the commander of the unit–that would usually be a captain, who’s job is to focus on the company’s mission. The first sergeant is more important in some ways because he or she is responsible for looking out for the soldier’s needs. And the first sergeants always eat last.

Unlike more the brutish armies of the world, where the leader gets the first pick  the vittles, American leaders are expected to ensure that the troops are taken care of before they take care of themselves. So, if you’re the company’s cook, you’d better make damn sure there’s enough food for everyone because Top don’t like skipping meals!

In the American military, leaders get less sleep and work longer hours than anybody under their command. They are expected to put the good of the unit ahead of their own interests at all times, and woe be to the leader who can’t at least fake it.

As we are now in the presidential election season, I find that after twenty years in uniform this type of person has become my model candidate. You see, the leader who eats last is the one I’ll happily follow into battle. No matter what danger is ahead, I know such a leader will not put me in harm’s way unless it’s for the good of the unit and there is no other choice. And, once engaged with the enemy, I know such a leader will do everything possible to ensure my survival.

The US Army’s textbook definition of military leadership reads:

“Military leadership is the art of leading and directing soldiers in such a way as to obtain their willing obedience, loyal cooperation, and respect while accomplishing a mission.”

Fiction writers, if you want to create a character that leads others effectively, I recommend you include a scene where that character eats last. And voters, when you seek a candidate to support, I recommend you use the same criteria.

Good luck!


And a heartfelt thank you to, First Sergeant Donny Loftis, HHC, 505th Eng, Bn, who led my unit in Iraq back in 2005. Diesel and Dirt, Top!

Rose City Comicon, 2016…Fun!


It’s a wonderful age to be a nerd.

And, it’s been a pretty good weekend for me and a couple thousand other nerds in the Northwest too. I often say I’m lucky to live in Oregon, and one reason is certainly the high concentration of geekdom in this locality.

comicon-crowdRose City Comicon has been going strong for about five years now. At first, it competed for space at the Portland Convention Center with a grocer’s convention but, now, the whole joint is ours! I suppose the celebrities draw much of the crowd. Summer Glau of Firefly fame bumped elbows with Marvel’s Stan Lee and Grimm’s Russell Hornsby. As to me, I’ve never been much of a celebrity watcher. Sure, if I found myself on a plane next to Peter Mayhew, I’d relish the chance to talk to him. But I wouldn’t stand in line for hours just to briefly shake his hand and get an autograph. That’s why it was such a cool thing to run into Phill Foglio!


The author/artist of Buck Godot (see earlier post) was sitting in front of a pile of his merchandise, running his own cash register and talking to fans. He was quite personable and treated his fans like gold. These days he’s heavily invested in his hit Girl Genus series of graphic novels that he co-writes with his wife Kaja. I asked him why Buck Godot wasn’t exactly on his front burner these days, and he confessed Buck didn’t sell well and he needs to make a living.

I hear ya’, Mr. Foglio, I hear ya’.

I also mecomicon-doctorst some wonderful fans from around the Northwest, including two who did fantastic cosplays of my  favorite Doctor Who incarnations (I love it when they get the details right).

Locally, I ran into the Concordia Clan of the Mandalorian Mercenaries Costume Club. A great bunch of guys who raise money for a Portland area youth charity called Outside In. Feel free to contact them at  https://www.facebook.com/concordiaclan/ if you want to attend one of their armor making parties or just hang out.

Now, I’ve got to say, I’ve been attending science fiction conventions since the mid-1980s. Back then, you were lucky to be part of two-hundred geeks showing up in a downscale hotel on the bad side of town.Today,  I am constantly amazed at how the community of fans has grown. Back in the long ago, you whispered that you were a fan and hoped people would be kind. Today, there’s such a thing as “geek pride” and we gather in huge crowds to celebrate our passions.

What a fascinating, modern age we live in indeed.

For Once…Something Not Cool


I usually plaster my blog posts all over social media, but I won’t be doing that for this one. This post is not to promote any of my books or spotlight something cool that I think geeks like me will appreciate. This is just something that needs to be said.

9/11 Changed my life, and it was not cool.

To be fair, it changed all our lives and not for the better. This bodes especially true for the thousands of people who lost friends and family that day. To any and all such persons who may be reading this, my sincerest regrets.

In 2001, I was nearing the end of my enlistment in the North Carolina Army National Guard. I had no intention of re-enlisting. I’d only joined the Army NG to get through a rough patch financially, and after three years of steady employment, I planned on getting out. After 9/11, I re-uped and soon found myself spending a lot more time away from my family than I ever intended. I became a sergeant and embraced the life of a soldier to the best of my ability, for that is what I had to do to get through it all. To be frank, I am not really the “type A” kind of guy the military most appreciates, and trying to force myself into that role was stressful and not entirely successful. I am now a retired soldier and a much happier person for having come out the other side of it all.

Perhaps that’s where we all are? After fifteen years, we’ve come out the other side. The shock is over and the troops are, mostly, home (and we should give our best for the ones who aren’t). Fifteen years later, we are able to put it all into a perspective that was once impossible for us. We should appreciate that our perspective was hard won and took years to develop…and it must be shared with others! We live in a world where terrible things sometimes happen. We need to pass on what we’ve learned to help those who do not have our experiences to cope when things go terribly wrong. Thus, our perspective is a gift we can give to the future, and we would be miserly not to share it when the time comes.

I am at a much more peaceful place now. And however, 9/11 affected you, I hope you are too. May we all continue to grow and heal as we remember that day.



The Birth of The Role Playing Hobby and The Pursuit of Dreams


I’m an old gamer…but I’m no grognard.

“Grognard” is a French word meaning “old soldier,” and the term was once used to describe gamers who remembered the pre-Dungeons & Dragons days. Me? No, not me. I got roped into gaming through D&D, so I can claim no prior first-hand knowledge. However, I do have a connection to the old grognards that sounds almost gangster…my godfather.

I started gaming in 1980, and Dungeons and Dragons was my “gateway drug.” My family had just moved to a new town (Kettering, Ohio,) and D&D was at the height of its faddish popularity. Basically, I learned the game as a way to make new friends.Thus, at age thirteen, I rolled up my first character and have been gaming ever since. Much later, at age twenty-three, I was attending an Episcopal church just outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. Having not been baptized as a child, I decided to do so as an adult and one of the members of the vestry stepped forward to be my godfather. That vestry member was Tim Kask, grognard extraordinaire and the first full-time employee of Gary Gygax’s TSR Games.

Tim Kask was a great guy in a lot of ways, and we discussed his history with TSR a few times. He’d just returned from Vietnam when he was offered a job at a little gaming start-up in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. He was there when the company started to soar and even saw it through its first brush with negative publicity (Media claims of connections between D&D and devil worship). However, once the company got big and the infighting began, Tim said, “adios” and went on to other things.

I haven’t seen Tim for years, but, in a way, I ran into him recently…between the pages of Michael Witwer’s book Empire of Imagination. Witwer’s book is a biography of Gary Gygax with emphasis on the creation of Dungeons & Dragons and TSR Games, and, to be frank, it’s a fascinating read.

The creative process takes many forms: music, painting, writing, and yes…game design. Credit where it’s due, Gary Gygax had a genius idea and worked hard to make it a reality. Today, concepts like “leveling up” and “experience points” are part of every computer game, but these are mere imitations of the unique system originally designed by Gygax.

Think about it, the world had never seen a game like D&D before; a non-competitive, game with storytelling, combat, and customizable character generation. Witwer’s book describes how Gygax tried to sell his idea to Avalon Hill and other gaming companies but found no market there. His idea was just too weird to the old grognards. It was as a last resort that Gygax formed his own gaming company, and TSR was born.

As Witwer’s book describes, Gygax was much more of an artistic creator than a businessman. By the time my godfather was hired, TSR’s office was a mess that required herculean labor to clean up. I am well pleased that Witwer gives much praise for the good work Tim Kask did to get the company off to a good start. However, this also illustrates a problem that is all too common for creative people.

The kind of creativity that can change the world must exist within the world. Artists, writers, and other dreamers are often ill-suited to bring their visions to public’s attention…let alone make enough money to live off their ideas. They can call themselves extremely lucky to encounter a Tim Kask, who can get things organized for them. But Tim Kasks are not that common in the world. Thus, we have the  cliche of the “starving artist,” whose creations languish and are eventually abandoned for lack of an audience. The artist then gives up and finds a “real job” and our world is all the poorer as a result.

Gary Gygax was lucky in that his dream found a businessman and then an audience. Within the pages of Empire of Imagination, his successes and failures can serve as a list of “dos” and “don’ts” for the rest of us and can light our way as we travel the cavernous dungeons of commerce waving our little banners of creativity.

Personally, I owe a lot to Gary Gygax and Tim Kask for the gifts they shared with a much younger Clayton Callahan (directly and indirectly). I also owe a” thank you” to Michael Witwer for doing all the research that went into his excellent book, Empire of Imagination.

New Short Story Available on Amazon!

Time Travel Impossible Cover


This was the first short story I ever wrote professionally. Its historical science fiction, which means that it uses advanced science in a backward period. In this case the science is time travel and the period is World War II.

I have worked extensively in the prison system, and in that capacity have met many modern Nazis. Professional decorum prevents me from discussing politics whit these guys, but to be frank, I just want to shake ’em. That’s right, grab ’em by the shoulders and say, “You stupid son-of-a-bitch, don’t you know that the Nazis lost for a reason and that not even the German people are sorry for that today? Don’t you know that the Nazi beliefs are so screwed up that no one with any critical thinking skills can entertain them without vomiting?”

But no, modern Nazis are as stupid as their name implies. So I wrote a story. A story about time travel that forces people to look at themselves through the eyes of history and see what the rest of the world sees. Will this story convert any modern Nazis? Probably not. Those dim-wits seldom read anyway. However, for the rest of us, the story can be eye-opening to view the world from the perspective of the greatest failures in world history.

The story sells for only $2.50 and is available on Amazon.


The Importance of Perspective

I am soon to re-release an early short story of mine on Amazon to include the following essay:

What’s really scary about the Nazis?Time Travel Impossible Cover

Different people will have different answers, but to me it comes down to this; the Nazis ware human. It wasn’t space aliens, or vampires who committed such heinous acts of hatred and death. Nor did Hitler possess any magical “philosopher’s stone” to compel the citizens of Germany to turn on their neighbors and then on the world. Nope, it was all done by people who were just as human as you or I.


What is it about people that can turn them into such beast? How can any sane and rational person watch children being murdered and then go home to dinner? Few survive who remember that time but even the black and white photographs profoundly disturb us today. So why did people do it?

My answer is one word; perspective.

Let me explain with a true life example: I once knew a decent man who once took part in an angry mob. It was back in the 1960 and it was in Poland. Anti-Soviet sentiment was high, and an anti-communist rally was taking place—when four, stupid Russian soldiers took a wrong turn and found themselves before a crowd of hundreds of angry Poles. Were these four draftees responsible for all of communism’s woes? No. Would their death change anything in world events? No. But the crowd turned hostile and charged these four schmucks anyway, and my acquaintance was in the middle of it, screaming for blood.

So what happened to the four Russians? An unknown Polish man jumped in front of the mob and shouted them down. In moments my acquaintance realized that what he was about to do was wrong. The unknown man had given the mob perspective to understand how their actions would create bad consequences for all (including the mothers of four, stupid Russian soldiers).

This story has stayed with me for thirty years now. I remember every detail that was told to me, yet I wasn’t even born when these events took place.


Because the story gave me perspective. Stories have power and they have effects in the real world. Thanks to my acquaintance of long ago I now know something crucially important. That is, when you stand in the middle of the mob you cannot see the future, you can only see the now. Now you are scared. Now you feel threatened. Now you are acting as part of a group, not as an individual.

John F. Kennedy said, “There is something immoral about abandoning your own judgment,” and who would do such a thing?

The answer, of course, is people. People like you and I do it. We get caught up in the now and fail to see tomorrow’s perspective on things. I look at the anti-Muslim hysteria in America right now (2015), and I see scared Americans who feel threated by some fellow citizens whose beliefs they do not wish to understand. There have been some random acts of anti-Muslim violence, but thankfully no mob has formed yet. But it begs the question; are we abounding our own moral judgement out of fear? Perhaps, but there is still time to give ourselves some perspective, and that’s exactly what history is for.

History serves no other purpose than to teach us the successes and failures of the past so that we may have more of the former and fewer of the latter. It is said that those who study history are doomed to watch other’s repeat it. Therefore, it is up to us to be the teachers. You and I, and every other moral person we know, must understand humanities’ history and explain it to others. Will you someday find yourself in a mob, or will you be the brave one who stands before it and gives the mob perspective?

My Learning Disability = My Superpower


For those of you who didn’t know; I, author Clayton J. Callahan, am “learning disabled.”

At least, that’s what they called it when Jimmy Carter was president and I was in grade school. I spent most of my public education in “special education classes,” which usually meant I’d go to a small room behind the gym where Ms. Be-nice-to-the-slow-kids offered tailored programs in math or reading.

To be frank, I hated it.

I hated the label, I hated the separation from other kids, I hated being bullied for it, and I hated the fact that I needed any accommodation whatsoever. I never considered myself stupid, and I knew for a fact that in many ways I was smarter than the kids who picked on me. For instance, I have always been well spoken and good at reading social situations. I also had a knack for storytelling that made me a welcome “game master” at role playing games in my teens. But as to my math and spelling….well, I was always more than a bit behind in that stuff.

So, where am I now? Mr. Carter hasn’t been president for many of my reader’s lifetimes, and I haven’t walked into a public classroom since I got my bachelors at Miami of Ohio back in 1995. That’s right, I graduated from a university and it only took me five years (some classes needed to be taken more than once) to get my degree. I have since raised a family, served in Army Intelligence, worked as a deputy sheriff, taught public school and published three novels (with a fourth one on the way). Not bad for one of Ms. Be-nice-to-the-slow-kids students.

So why do I call my learning disability a superpower?

Because it forced me to keep learning! I’ve worked with “smart” people. By that I mean, folks who were told from an early age that they were smart and could expect good things to come. Not only are these people often arrogant jerks, but they have a very hard time improving themselves. When faced with failure, the “smart” people I am referring to just can’t handle it. They shift blame or make elaborate excuses instead of grappling with the real problem. They then try to pretend that the mistake never happened and continue to behave as they did before. People like me, however, never expected things to go perfectly and we react rather differently.

When things blow up in my face (and they do), I find it easy to take responsibility—because I expected to have problems all along. I then listen to criticism and change my behavior so that I am less likely to make the mistake again. Do I improve all at once? No, but I don’t expect to ether. I do however stay wary of my faults and improve by stages while I gain understanding about where I went wrong in the first place. I can then use my experience to help others. This makes me a pretty good teacher as I can clearly describe to a learner what problems they are likely to face and how to handle them.

I never let my learning disability stop me. I simply have too much to do before I die and don’t have the time to waste. I have talents and I am determined use them; even when that means facing my deficits head on.

People who read my books have sometimes pointed out a spelling error or two. “Thank you,” I say, “I’ll fix that in the second edition.” However, people have also told me they are impressed by how many good quality stories I’ve published in such a short time.

“How did you get as good as you are so fast,” they ask. I tell them, “I listened to the advice of every one who ever critiqued my work and fixed problems as I went.”

I never expected to be perfect. But I continue to learn and I continue to improve. That is my superpower!

New Video For Crazy Liddy


Check out my latest video feturing that crazy starpilot; Liddy!