Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Katie Specht is talking with Clint Goodwin, author of A Winter's Coat: U.S. Marine Corps Warhorse.
FQ: You have had quite an impressive career traveling the world. Can you share a bit about the various careers you have held while serving your country?
GOODWIN: While serving in the United States Navy, I remember my first Pacific deployment in 1979. The Iranian Hostage crisis began with the unlawful capture of our Embassy in Tehran. We were on liberty in Chin Hai, South Korea at the time. Our ultimate mission was to head down to Australia and spread goodwill. However, that changed on a dime. Instead, we transited to PI (Philippines) for refueling; Kwajalein Atoll and Gaum to load up weapons, then to an unknown location… at the time. Eventually, we ended up spending over 120 days in the Gulf of Oman waiting for orders. Fast forward. The hostage rescue attempt failed. Helicopters were not designed to ingest sand… well, the rest is history. Returning home in 1980, we ported in Singapore where I enjoyed my first Singapore Sling at a British naval base. With this said, the bottom line, wherever there was a crisis, our country’s finest were sent to defend or establish democracy.
After retiring from the navy, I served our country as a federal employee. I continued to work with domestic and foreign law enforcement/intelligence professionals charged with keeping our country safe. I did so until I walked away from the business to take care of myself.
FQ: A Winter’s Coat is the fifth book of what will be a seven-book series. What can you share about the two books you have planned to conclude this series?
GOODWIN: I appreciate the question. I am currently researching and writing about a horse in Vietnam. I am dedicating this book to my brother-in-law, USA Captain Walt Bammann. He flew hundreds of sorties over Vietnam. His perspectives will be used to develop authentic character emotions and scene development for my sixth book.
The last book in the series will address my war. I will include fictional characters who were real to me during my combat tour in Iraq. And I will attempt to wrap my mind around tough memories to produce a story without much heartache. For instance, it took me two weeks to write one paragraph in my fourth book, War to War: A Bloodline Continues. The paragraph I wrote detailed how a senior officer presented the United States flag to a widow in Arlington Cemetery. Enough said on that score.
FQ: With such an expansive career, is there any particular event within your career that stands out to you as being exceptionally memorable?
GOODWIN: There were many memories. Some good, many unwanted. However, the VA psychologist told me to get a sense of humor that I lost in Iraq. Therefore, I will try to characterize a funny situation. We were operating off the coast of Iran when a Soviet cruiser appeared on the horizon. Our surveillance guys studied the Russian crew standing topside, foredeck. My friend said, “Check it out. They are wearing cutoffs, t-shirts, beards, and drinking bottles of vodka...just like us.” I replied, “Can you blame them? They are not carving circles in the frigid waters of the North Sea.” That was the first time the enemy became human to me. Many Americans view our enemies with narrow perspectives. Later in my career, I trained fellow patriots how to think critically. Simply put, we need to remove our American eyes’ to accurately analyze a foreign threat.
FQ: You have coined the mantra “Writing is Truly Healing.” Can you explain a bit about what this means for you?
GOODWIN: This question addresses the core of the man I have become. To understand my response, we need to examine the insanity of war. Within my first two weeks with boots on ground, a mortar round hit fifty yards from my position. At the time, I was not in full combat gear. I was simply taking my laundry to the camp cleaners. When one hears one zipping in, the crackling sound sends a shiver up your spine...if you’re not used to it. From that moment on, the adrenaline kicked in 24/7. One week later, I signed a Purple Heart nomination for the junior officer I witnessed getting hit.
Fast forward. Repeated events like this change human beings. No matter how well one is trained, how well the mission succeeded, the violence chews away at one’s belief in humanity. How could I deal with the demons? Upon my return home, I was ordered to a ninety-day medical hold for various physical and mental reasons. The military medical doctor said I could have all the drugs I wanted to help ease things. I refused the offer. I was an older man who thought he could manage through other means. Drinking was an option but not preferred. So, why not consider writing to help keep me focused on the now.
The genesis for my mantra started with how I witnessed Iraq’s civil unrest explode between Sunni and Shite tribes. Those events gave cause to question our own country’s U.S. Civil War. My curiosity led me down a road of research to better understand why men are willing to kill their fellow citizens.
For five years, I read dozens of reputable history books about the war between the north and the south. Along the way, I discovered most Civil War historians had not served on the battlefield. I asked myself, how can these notable authors begin to understand why people are willing to die for their cause and write about it. Where is the authentication?
With internal anxieties mounting, I had to do something. I woke up every morning at three o’clock. I got out of bed and went downstairs to read. One morning the idea of writing a story came to me. I pursued the craft to not only distract my thoughts but tell my war story through the characters I created for each book. I wanted to tell my own story but did not feel judged. Everyone deals with post-war challenges differently. I thought a good use of my time would be to write.
The energy needed to research and write with authentic emotions presented a great challenge to me. Drawing upon personal emotions and imposing them onto fictional characters enabled me to process and transfer unwanted memories between the four corners of a historic fiction. But not without tears. The more I wrote, the more tears would be shed. Over the years, the more I wrote, the easier it became to talk about what should never be experienced by any human being.
FQ: Your series of books focuses on warhorses and the role they play in the fields of battle. Have the horses in your books been purely fictitious or have they been based on any horses that you worked with during your career?
GOODWIN: Most of the warhorses, I weave into my story lines are real historic figures given names and tagged with personalities noted by their owners in few American history books. For example, General Ulysses S. Grant rode Cincinnati into Civil War battles. He talked to his horse when no one else was around to listen. I also developed fictional horses using names drawn from my personal life, as well the horses working for the United States Army.
FQ: Portions of A Winter’s Coat are written from the perspective of the horses, which is rather unique. What inspired you to write the book this way?
GOODWIN: During my research, I concluded that most history books are written from the victor’s point of view. But there are other perspectives to consider. I am trying to bring an unbiased perspective view of our American history. I am mindful that horses have carried humans into battle for centuries. I use them in my stories as a proxy. To tell my story through their actions in my books.
FQ: What has been the biggest surprise to you thus far on your author journey since publishing your first book?
GOODWIN: My first public book reading did not go well. I broke down in tears while reading a paragraph I knew was real. It happened in Iraq to a friend of mine. The emotions associated with his loss came back with a vengeance. Memories of attending memorial services over a secure video session with the colonel’s wife and two sons. Heartbreaking. I had to end the book reading and sit down to collect myself.
FQ: Are any of the human military characters in A Winter’s Coat modeled after anyone you met and/or worked with during your career?
GOODWIN: Well, yes. In all my books, I develop characters from people whom I served or served with. However, my paralleling characters must be kept secret. The people whom I modeled in my book will know who they are. Good for a few laughs at my burial in Arlington...years from now, I pray.
FQ: You possess an unwavering commitment to freedom as evidenced by your dedication to your country over your extensive career. Can you share how you firstly, entered the military and secondly, how you ended up serving for such an extended period of time?
GOODWIN: I wanted to serve like the two men who came before me. My grandfather served as a navy man during WWI and WWII. My father served as a navy man during WWII. Draftees referred to themselves as duration sailors. He was one of them. I wanted to serve like my father and grandfather.
One day, I walked into the navy recruiter’s office in December 1977. Four months later, I graduated from San Diego bootcamp in April 1978. From that point on, I wanted to be known as a lifer. I loved the navy. A lifer is one who serves until they kick him or her out for being too old. I wore enlisted ranks during the first thirteen years of my career. I proudly wore stripes on my uniform sleeve. The navy said I could do better. I attended night school during my first shore-duty rotation. With one goal… get a four-year degree which would qualify me for a naval officer’s commission. I would not waver until those gold bars were adorned on my uniform. I was commissioned in 1990. I retired in 2008 wearing a silver oakleaf on both collars. Everything in between was pure blood, sweat, and determination to serve our great nation. After I retired from the navy, I was asked to continue serving our country as a federal employee. My job was to teach law enforcement and intelligence professionals what we did in Iraq; how to perform personality-based targeting. That unique skillset took me decades to develop.
FQ: After interacting with warhorses over the course of your career, I can assume you have a deep respect for the animal. Do you currently own any horses of your own?
GOODWIN: I respect horses but their respect for me must be earned. Today, my love for horses exists vicariously through our youngest daughter’s equestrian career. For decades she has competed in hunter-jumper events at the state and national level. I can only remind her how the three horses grazing in her pastures can be deadly. I was taught to respect those animals… the hard way. I have been bitten on the side and kicked in the head. Thankfully, my dad had not put steel shoes on the mare. Otherwise, I would not have lived this life. Lord willing, I survived to live another day.
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