Tuesday, October 15, 2013



             I can remember watching Clint Eastwood portray Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway in the classic Heartbreak Ridge as a teenager. And when I say watching, I mean habitually. Like two to three times weekly.
            The incessant ball-breaking dialogue that permeates the entire film is representative of some of the best raw, male-centric writing of insults I’ve ever seen. And in the end, it all had a purpose. Who can forget the less than warm introduction that Gunny gave his platoon upon taking over: “My name's Gunnery Sergeant Highway and I've drunk more beer and banged more quiff and pissed more blood and stomped more ass than all of you numbnuts put together. Now, Major Powers has put me in charge of this reconnaissance platoon.” Yet, as the film carried on, the surface grit, profanity and insensitivity of Gunnery Sergeant Thomas  Highway later becomes penetrated by hints of who he really was and what he really cared about—the health and welfare of his men and the health and welfare of his country.
            His platoon, at first, resented his strict bull-headed leadership. This was seen clearly in scenes like the one in which Profile (Tom Viliard) was awakened at five am after being told he wouldn’t have to be up until six am. At Profile’s complaining, Highway responded, “So I lied. So I can't tell time. So maybe some communist bastard's going to make an appointment to pop you a new asshole in your forehead. You're Marines now. You adapt. You overcome. You improvise. Let's move. Four minutes!” This dynamic was the crux of the film’s portrayal of Highway’s interactions with his men.
            But as the film progresses and Highway’s men begin to conform to the discipline that they’re forced to adopt, they begin to respect and idolize their Sergeant. So much so, that when Sergeant Webster attempted to persuade them to betray Highway with offers of weekend liberties, Stitch Jones (Mario Van Peebles) responded by advising him as follows:  “Why don't you go on back to that faggot first platoon and…don't go away angry...just...just go away. You've been told.”
            Highway’s style was to put substance and results over regulation and PC protocol. He was consistently butting heads with those above him. He called things as he saw it and did so for the benefit of his men and the mission. When Highway was frustrated with the lack of supply of night goggles for his men and was asked by Colonel Meyers what his assessment of things was, he responded bluntly: “It's a cluster fuck… Marines are fighting men, sir. They shouldn't be sitting around on their sorry asses filling out request forms for equipment they should already have.” This typified the blunt honesty and no BS approach of Highway.
            I’ve always had this part of me that could continually hear Highway’s grumpy, but urgent, commands and insults whispering to me amidst certain life situations. When the alarm clock wouldn’t cut it, I can recall imagining Highway shouting at me to “Drop your cocks and grab your socks! Off your ass and on your feet.” This would get me out of bed quickly and motivate me to charge hard towards my day. When life throws me curve balls and perpetual chaos and uncertainty abound, I always hear Highway urging me to “Improvise. Overcome. Adapt.” Recalling the words of Gunny Highway has often made a huge difference in helping me endure and conquer many of life’s tough circumstances.
            If you haven’t yet watched Heartbreak Ridge, memorized eighty percent of the lines and internalized the key principles of the film, I suggest you “…move swift...move silent…move deadly” and get that on your to-done list asap. Maybe you’ll start hearing whispers as well.

            In BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity, my debut geo-political spy thriller, to the perceptive reader, CIA Director Chuck Gallagher’s character reveals hints—but only hints—of familiarity with the personality constructs of Gunnery Sergeant  Thomas Highway.

Purchase BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity here.

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