The Pepperdogs

Title: The Pepperdogs: A Novel
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: September 21, 2007
Authors: Bing West
ISBN13: 978-1416577928
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The Serbs behind them were preparing to attack, and in front of them lay open ground, flat and white as a shroud. We've run a hundred miles, Lang thought, to come up a football field short.

When a fellow Marine is kidnapped, Captain Mark Lang and his recon team, the Pepperdogs, disobey orders and cross into snowbound Serbia to rescue him. A leader who can't quit, Lang is urged on by his team members. Five New York City reservists -- a trader, a fireman, an auto mechanic, a fitness trainer and a computer geek -- set out on an impossible odyssey. Superbly fit and equipped, they employ speed, ambush and the Internet to close in on their target.

After a team member sends back e-mails describing their firefights, the Pepperdogs become front-page news. Once Weekend Warriors, by the end of their mission they are the most feared unit in Europe, fighting anyone who stands in their way. The press calls them "The Wild Bunch on technological steroids." Lang, haunted by memories of his missing buddy's dying mother, knows the horrific costs they are inflicting but won't turn back. Their rescue mission, condemned by the military, slowly escalates into a standoff between the Oval Office and NATO Europe with the world watching.

A razor-sharp storyteller and Pentagon insider, Bing West unleashes a blistering techno thriller that probes the limits of physical and mental endurance. Drawing on firsthand knowledge of combat, West fuses the grit of Blackhawk Down with the behind-the-scenes intrigue of The West Wing, showing how in the near future a squad can become wired to the White House, to the dismay of the traditional chain of command. The Pepperdogs is a gripping story about American reserves, conflicting loyalties and devotion to comrade. What price will a nation pay to save one life?


“When five Marines cross from Kosovo into Serbia to rescue a kidnapped comrade, they launch an international incident — and what might be the best suspense novel of the year.

Five reservists from New York City: a firefighter, a toy-store executive, an auto mechanic, a computer nerd, and a commodities trader. As the recon team – The Pepperdogs – walk a hundred miles and fight eight pitched battles, having enraged the Serbs, tickled the Muslims, annoyed their own brass, and made headlines all over the world, laudatory and condemnatory in about equal measure…

First-novelist West, himself a former Marine captain (The Village, 1972) takes on complex themes here — duty, loyalty, and what to do when they conflict — and deals with them capably. This is a story about warriors, told authoritatively and brilliantly.”
– Kirkus Review

“The Pepperdogs is a riveting thriller filled with the details only a military and government insider could provide. Bing West knows his stuff, and his debut is top-notch.”
– Vince Flynn, author of Executive Power and Separation of Power

“Anyone with an interest in the military will find this book impossible to put down, all the way to the surprise ending, which hits with the force of a cruise missile.”
— Wall St. Journal, January 10, 2003

“The Pepperdogs has all the elements that should spell success for a war thriller.”
— Wisconsin State Journal, January 5, 2003

“West’s well-written technothriller is recommended for most popular fiction collections.”
— Library Journal Reviews, January 15, 2003

“This novel brings out clearly how the chain of command from a lost patrol to a President can become very, very direct.”
— Marine Corps Gazette, January, 2003

“Author West has loaded his page-turning first novel with pulse-stopping action.”
— Abilene Reporter News, January 12, 2003

“West has written a can’t-put-down page turner.”
— Newport This Week, Jan 23, 2003

“This book puts West among the great war novel writers with W.E.B. Griffin and Tom Clancy.”
— The Providence Journal, January 19, 2003

“Wow. I picked up ‘Pepperdogs’ the other evening and read it in one sitting, something I almost never do. I enjoyed this tale of a lost patrol in the dot-com era enormously. Bing West knows Marines, and what they talk and worry about …. Great story telling about the U.S. military in 2002 from someone who knows his business.”
— Thomas E. Ricks, Author of Making the Corps and A Soldier’s Duty, and Military Correspondent, The Washington Post

“I scanned the manuscript and was caught up in it, so I neglected my duties to give it a full read. Great stuff and suitable for TV or the silver screen. The story stays on track and flows marvelously. Great characterization and descriptions. While it reads as an adventure story, West raises serious issues of national policy in this brave new world.”
— LtGen Bernard Trainor, former Military Correspondent for The New York Times, author of The Generals’ War

“As in his previous writings, West’s prose has a haunting quality. His tale of brave men left to fight alone should be read by all involved in allied peacekeeping operations. Could a President confront this situation? Yes indeed. Would he act wisely? We may one day find out.”
— Dr. James R. Schlesinger, former Secretary of Defense and former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency

“Ronald Reagan would root for this team.”
— Frank C. Carlucci, former Secretary of Defense and National Security Adviser to President Reagan

“An exciting and gripping portrayal of war transformed by the Information Revolution, the kind of situation our forces will encounter in the 21st Century…required reading for diplomats, strategists and warfighters.”
— Admiral James R. Hogg, USN (ret), former Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Forces

“It’s terrific! Crisp, credible and there is no doubt that Marines of all ages will love it, especially the “grunts.” You tell a story that may raise the reenlistment rate. It’s a gripping story well told. Right up there with Forsyth.”
— MajGen O.K. Steele, former Commanding General, 2d Marine Division

“A contemporary roller coaster of violence, loyalty and betrayal. This incredible combat odyssey of five Marines determined to rescue a comrade is criss-crossed with the human and political tensions which mirror our time.”
— Col. A. A. Wood, founding Director of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab

“This is a thrilling, interesting and compelling story, masterfully told. At the same time, it exposes the reader to the difficulties of peacekeeping. The reader struggles with the decisions facing the National Security Council and the pains and stresses of the patrol members. The comments about Operation Stingray, where I commanded a 3rd Recon company at Dong Ha in 1967, are well founded. Air and artillery did a real job for my patrols. As for the medical experiment West writes about, in 1963, in 2d Recon at LeJeune I was part of such an experiment by the National Naval Medical Center.”
— MajGen Donald K. Gardner, USMC (ret.), CEO, Marine Corps University Foundation

“Mr. West has written a real page-turner. He adroitly identified the tough political-military issues our warriors and political leaders face in “coalition war”; he described in believable terms the “digital” warfare of the near future; and he captured the age-old essence of close infantry combat. Best of all, he conveys, in a way a combat veteran appreciates, our commitment to bringing back our own. I couldn’t put it down.”
— MajGen Ray Smith, former Commanding General, 3rdMarine Division, Navy Cross winner



Q. In your novel you write about a reserve recon team called the Pepperdogs. For reservists, they seem extremely well trained – is this an accurate portrayal of the skills of today’s reservists?

A. The general perception of reservists is based on the reservists of World War II. The reserves are now all volunteers, intelligent and motivated to achieve. Many are good athletes. Only one Marine in fifteen goes into the infantry, and only one in thirty in the infantry go into recon. So you end up with a very skilled unit, quite different from the public image.

Q. The Pepperdogs recon team has its own website that they send e-mails back to describing the firefights they are engaged in. Is this really happening on today’s battlefield?

A. Such e-mails have been going on for years, but no one has explored how this is affecting the military chain of command. The Marines alone have over 220 separate web sites. Anyone can start one. Several were very popular during the Afghanistan operation because we could all log on and read what a sergeant in Tora Bora had to say.

Q. Parts of your book are very high tech. Yet at a critical moment, the Pepperdogs demand mortars, not cruise missiles, to aid them in escaping a Serb ambush. This seems an anachronism, is it out of place today?

A. Over the past few decades, our armed forces have changed dramatically. There are now more pilots than squad leaders, more combat aircraft than infantry squads in the Army and Marines combined. A single cruise missile or ‘smart bomb’ costs more than the equipment of an entire squad. But in Desert Storm, most Iraqi vehicles were destroyed by direct fire, not by attacks from the air. In The Pepperdogs, as in any future engagement in Iraq or elsewhere, for close-in support, a rifleman wants his mortar. In The Pepperdogs, the new 120 mm mortar was more accurate and more responsive than any smart bomb or cruise missile.

On the other hand, small infantry units like the Pepperdogs today are much more lethal due to better communications, location (the GPS), night sights, laser designators and thermals.

Q. Could the White House communicate directly with the team in the field as you describe in the novel? And could the President really micromanage war in this way?

A. Absolutely. That is what makes the Internet potentially a double-edged sword on the battlefield. The military chain of command insists the sergeant talk to the lieutenant and so on up a rigid, vertical chain. The Internet short-circuits the chain. In 1975, President Ford personally directed the air strikes to free a ship called The Mayaguez, then held by the Cambodians. So yes, the White House has been directly involved in small crises.

Q. You describe certain drugs that the Pepperdogs were taking to make them better long-distance runners. Does this actually occur within our troops today?

A. The Pepperdogs are extreme athletes and train as such. In the end, it is their brains, not their bodies, which wear down and malfunction. I personally have no ‘need to know’ about what chemicals the military is experimenting with to increase endurance and mental acuity, but as the recent scandals within the Tour de France revealed the widespread usage of EPO, a chemical that increases the red corpuscles in the blood stream which increases the flow of oxygen for increased endurance, it is possible that drugs like this could eventually be used by the military.

Q. You discuss the usage of medical implants in the Pepperdogs which are used to read their vital signs at a hospital in the rear – is this credible?

A. Research on such implants is well advanced. Within this decade, American soldiers on the battlefield will have their vital signs read out at aid stations far away. In The Pepperdogs, the team has their signs closely monitored by a doctor at all times. This provides a vital insight into their health and well-being, and the subsequent ability to complete the mission. Though mentally they are fully prepared to go the distance, the extreme geographical conditions are physically punishing. The implants show in real time how certain actions and events impact their performance.

Q. When the Pepperdogs disobey orders and cross into Serbia, aren’t they technically deserters and on their own?

A. Not at all. The question becomes one of loyalty. In the Civil War, General U.S. Grant cut his telegraph lines before he attacked Fort Donaldson so his superior could not recall him. England’s Admiral Nelson was famous for disregarding orders he felt were foolish. I cannot tell you how many times in Vietnam radios were turned off. Of course, any soldier has to accept the consequences of those actions. Usually success is the best defense for calculated disobedience of orders in the heat of battle.

In the novel, the Pepperdogs weigh loyalty to their comrade versus loyalty to the admiral ordering them to desist and they are forced to make a choice. The Europeans want them to surrender, but the President has to weigh the opinions of his Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who feel a strong kinship with the Pepperdogs. I asked four generals with extensive combat experience how this disobedience would be handled. All said it would depend on the personalities of those gathered in the White House. It is not an open-&-shut case.

Q. You were a Marine in Vietnam and Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Reagan Administration. How did that influence writing this novel?

A. My family has three generations of Marine reservists who went to war. Every Marine is conscious of those who went before him. I was on a five-man recon patrol which attacked a North Vietnamese battalion, so I had a sense of how powerful a small team could be. Much later, in meetings at the White House I saw that any issue which reaches the National Security Council level has serious pros and cons. Today, with mobile laptops, a squad technically can reach the White House via email. The novel tries to tie together the grit of the battlefield and the conflicts a President faces.

Q. You are president of GAMA Corporation in Springfield, VA, which develops combat decision making training for the Marines. How did that affect The Pepperdogs?

A. At GAMA, we have two extraordinary military advisers, Major Generals OK Steele and Ray Smith, and a remarkable programmer, Hernan Ruiz. Together, we have had the pleasure of working with Marine squads in dozens of battalions. I received advice from many corporals and sergeants about how to sketch my characters! In the book, one sergeant is named Blade because he is faster than the computer-based Combat Decision Range CDs the Marines use for training. Blade is based on a real-life sergeant I saw on the Range.

Q. Your son Owen West is also a former Marine captain who wrote the well-received novel Sharkman Six. It is unusual to have a father and son who both write military novels. Do you share ideas or edit each other’s work?

A. We share ideas all the time. We don’t cross-edit because we have different styles and want to remain friends! Readers have commented that when Owen and I describe a similar type of scene, they can tell which of us is the author. We help each other most during the germination stage and the first draft. After that, each of us is fighting deadlines and deep inside his characters.

Q. The book is dedicated to Gabriele. Who is she?

A. Gabriele Bleeke-Byrne was a professor at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI. I loved her and as she was dying of cancer, she made me promise to write, because she knew in my heart that was what I wanted to do. She was as brave and loyal as any Marine I have ever met.

This is the story of fifteen Americans engaged in a fight for 485 days. No unit in Vietnam had a higher fatality rate.The odds of going home alive were fifty-fifty, a coin flip. More Marines died in the area called Chulai than in Desert Storm. The civil war in the village was as personally complicated, as staggering in its costs and as unyielding in its opposing beliefs as was our own Civil War. In Binh Nghia, the local guerrillas had relatives and protectors in the Viet Cong companies across the river and back in the mountains. The Marine squad walked into the village unaware of the personalities or politics, or how hamlet skirmishes caught the attention of forces ten times their size.

With an average age of twenty, the Marines were professional soldiers. Their authority stemmed from their rifles, just as the short sword distinguished the Roman legions. They brought their training, their rifles and themselves. Either they would defeat their enemy, or they would be driven out.

I patrolled with the Combined Action Platoon, as the Marine squad and local militia were called, in 1966 and ’67. I went back to the village in ’68, ’69 and 2002. I spoke with practically every Marine, village official and Popular Force militiaman. I also spoke with Viet Cong representatives after the war. In this book, I try to describe what it was like to live, fight and die in a village so far away from America yet so close in human values and spirit. The communists now rule Binh Nghia; yet the memorial to the Marines who fought there remains, and the villagers remember them by name, all these decades later.