I’d like to welcome my friend and experienced Military Intelligence Expert, Joe Courtemanche. Today he is going to give us a sneak peak at the world of a Spook, something I’m always curious about myself.
Joseph Courtemanche is a former Police Officer and certified Middle East, North Africa analyst. He is a distinguished veteran of the Naval Security Group of the United States Navy and is an Arabic linguist with training at The University of Minnesota and The Defense Language Institute (Honors Graduate.) His linguistic and intelligence experience include multiple deployments to surface, submarine, and land based intelligence collection platforms. Joseph holds several military awards including two flag letters of commendation for his work in providing real-time intelligence support to commanders in the field. His experience provides the background that’s crucial to his writing in the Thriller genre. He is a graduate of The University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and holds degrees from two other colleges.
Joseph writes his novels from a Christian perspective with the gritty realism that modern readers demand. His as-yet-unpublished Assault on Saint Agnes won Second Place in the prestigious Athanatos Christian Ministries 2013 Christian Novel Contest, and was a 2013 Final Five Finalist in the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel.
There’s an old joke that describes military intelligence as an oxymoron. I always thought that was a bit unfair and my time working in that world (1984-1989) brought home to me the incredible dedication and brilliance of many of the members of the community. There were, to be sure, some members of the club who had a more likely role in a Three Stooges movie than a Tom Clancy book, but they were the minority.
By the very nature of the work, the participants are low profile. Very few people actively engaged in the business will have a bumper sticker that says, “Spooks Know How You’re Doing It” on the back of their minivan. Nor will they be the loud guy at the bar bragging about how they broke the tactical code that resulted in…
Who are these people? Some of them are accurately portrayed in popular fiction such as – well, David Meadows got it right in his
Sixth Fleet series. They’re the quiet professionals in the background. Most of us didn’t (during my day) hang out with the SEALS or Delta. Some I knew were with Force Recon in the Marine Corps. A couple of them were Airborne. A few were Green Berets. In addition, a very small group of the truly crazy were my friends. We did the stuff that nobody talks about to this day. Not so much because we’re not proud, but it was all very highly classified.
As an author, that presents some challenges. I’m inclined to tell the good stories but have to weed out the classified stuff. The oath we took was pretty specific about non-disclosure. It simply means that if you blab classified stuff you go to jail.
So what if you’re not writing a book, or a blog, or acting in a movie about the world of intelligence? What if you’re just one of the people either doing the job or out of the business and working in a nursing home, collecting on overdue invoices for your company, building homes, or administering a computer data base? How does that secret world you were immersed in impact you on a daily basis.
For many it is the trigger for depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and suicide. There were an astounding number of suicide attempts among my colleagues during my enlistment. It starts early in the training process when you’re called in for a briefing about operational security. You are cautioned to be circumspect in your correspondence and conversations with family members, including your spouse.
In the case of my training, we were given nicknames that we were to use during school. It had a purpose – we were legitimately intelligence targets for foreign nations. By the nature of our training, we would have access to classified information. They would be interested in us. If we couldn’t remember the names of our classmates under duress, it meant that we would be protecting them.
Normal methods of blowing off steam were not available to us. We couldn’t just go to the bar and shoot the breeze. Every word, every discussion, every place we went had to be evaluated. We couldn’t tell our families where we were going or how long we’d be gone. Our orders often read, “Proceed as directed.” That’s it. No destination, no unit, no nothing. That was another straw on the camel’s back.
Once you’re out of the military you’re restricted in what you can say on a resume. While it might dazzle your prospective employer to say that you often engaged in covert activities that risked your life, you must instead indicate that you were a translator assigned to a unit in Afghanistan. Your family just knows that you can’t talk about what you did, and that it makes you uncomfortable to discuss your days in uniform.
The relief isn’t there for your bad days. You don’t want to talk about it with anyone (common to most veterans) and you know that most won’t understand.
That’s who the intelligence professionals are in real life. Not the exciting characters in books who run around with exploding pens in their pocket. Not the guys on television (Sorry, Jack,) but the slightly nerdy character in the next cube that you don’t know all that well. And me. But I’ve always been a bit strange.
Did you ever dream of being a spy? Do you think you have the personality for the job?
Joe’s Facebook fans find him at https://www.facebook.com/josephcourtemancheauthor and he blogs several times a week at http://www.commotioninthepews.com. You can follow him on Twitter @joecourtemanche