Recently it has come to my attention that various claims are being made around the internet that Karen Traviss military service lend weight to her SW books, spefically her Clone Commando books. As well various claims are floated around that her time in the Royal Navy Auxillary Service (RNXS) has some relevance. I will attempt to break down her service to show what actual relevance her time in has to the Clone Commando books using my experiance and knowledge of the military as well as the experiance of collegues that have been provided to me.
Unfortunatly a request to the MoD for her service details was denied for privacy concerns, there is however plenty here to make an assessment.
So lets look at her own statements and see what can be determined.
Like most writers, I've been around a bit. Most of my working life has been spent as a journo in TV and newspapers. At one time or another I've been an advertising copywriter, a media liaison officer for the police, a journalism lecturer, a public relations manager and a defence correspondent. I've served in both the Territorial Army and the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service (now disbanded, alas).
Little real info here, in fact to little to determine anything beyond the fact that she was in the TA and RNXS.
I now live in Wiltshire, home of some very fine beers, but I come from Portsmouth, home of the Royal Navy and birthplace of the world's greatest engineer, Isambard Brunel - oh, and some chaps called Charles Dickens and Peter Sellers. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used to have a medical practice just around the corner from my old house and created Sherlock Holmes there, and H G Wells worked in a drapery store in the same road. Rudyard Kipling spent some childhood years in Portsmouth and Nevil Shute lived in the city too, so you can see there's something about Pompey that drives you to fiction.
She lived in Portsmouth, possibly a base brat.
Most of my military detail comes from the time I spent as a defence correspondent. It was a happy time. I got to do some interesting things that I look back on and think, "God, were you mad?" I thought nothing of being winched on and off ships' decks by helicopter, or playing with submarines or being deafened by Harriers. It was an odd mix of the political and procurement stuff—covering Defence Select Committees, talking to the arms industry—and talking to the people in uniform. (And playing with their kit, of course. The submarine simulator was a blast.)
This doesn't directly relate to her military service, unless she rode her TA trade into the journolism world. In any case none of this has any relevance to her statement that her military experiance is useful to portraying comradiere in a Special Forces unit. Unless you believe that you can absorb it through proximity or that the troops are actually going to include an outsider into their world.
I managed to pick a period when there were no wars, and I regret never having been an embedded journalist or getting to cover a conflict, but as I might be serving as a reservist again—if I pass the medical, which isn't looking good right now—I'm likely to end up minding embeds. (Ironic.) I was a reservist before for a few years—not in the line of fire, although a navy meat pie is a dangerous object—and that was interesting in terms of seeing how easily I fitted into a tribe. I come from a navy city and most of my family was in the services at some time or worked in defence, so I have a great affection for the armed forces.
Once again, states that she was a Reservist. No operational experiance listed, so in other words none. Soldiers are usually very clear on what they've done and the absence of any details does not speak well of her service.
Note also the fact that she only served "a few years", assuming that she means this literally we're looking at a maximum of three years. Probable rank upon release, no higher than Lance Corporal (one hook private). So just competant enough to stop being a danger to herself and others, won't require constant supervision.
And I enjoyed serving at sea with the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service. I was the world's worst helmsman and the most inaccurate thrower of heaving lines. I loved it because it was basic seamanship duties, not media liaison.
The duties stated according to a collegue make this the equivilant of an "undesignated deck seamen" in the US Navy. In other words not trusted or capable of doing all but the most basic duties.
I also served briefly in the Territorial Army (that's like the National Guard), but that was in a specialist media role, and I have to admit I would rather have learned a different trade like driving trucks or maintaining tanks. But I did get some firearms training, which is handy for a writer. The reserves have changed an awful lot in recent years and the U.K. armed forces are heavily dependent on them to meet their commitments; in some specialist branches, it's all reservists.
First off I can't even find a trade meeting this description of the UK Army site (+url=http://www.armyjobs.mod.uk/Jobs/Home.htm}. The closest I found was a Clerk. Probable duties given her time in and rank level: photocopying, running errands for the actual Public Affairs Officer and making coffee. Oh and she got firearms training, that at least is relevant.
Military — in terms of the technical and political detail, I owe more to my time as a defence correspondent than the time I was in the reserves. I had high-level access to key people and I also got to scramble over some fun kit, from submarines to helicopters. Personally, I don't think you can ever really know what it means to be in uniform until someone is shooting at you in earnest, and you sure as hell can't sit in judgement on service personnel until you have.
So we see that she claims that she knows what it's really like to be in uniform but by her own standards, she can't possibly know.
In the reserves I never had anything remotely like a front line role, so I never presume to know what someone on the front line feels.
So by her own admission, she was a REMF. She can't claim to know what it would be like in a Special Forces unit but bases details of her stories on exactly that.
I do know what that bond with your mates feels like, though, especially when you rely on them for your safety as you do on board ship, and how automatic that bond is: and don't forget I also come from a naval port that was also a garrison town, and most of my family served at some time or were in the defence industry, so it's embedded in my culture, as it is for many of my generation from that city. I had a brilliant time in the RNXS, crewing small ships, and I preferred that to the Territorial Army, where I had a specialist media role. I like getting my hands dirty, I admit.
Here we get to the crux of the problem. The fact that she assumes one type of service and unit experiance translate to everyone else. What most people don't understand is that comradiere is differnt for each trade and unit in the military. A clerk in a support or non-operational unit will not experiance what an infantry or SF soldier will. Their bonds are much tighter by virtue of the fact that they actually rely on each other for their lives. It's also dependent on whether you have operational or combat experiance. Both forge bonds that are far above what you get by just serving out your time as a media specialist (a trade which apperently doesn't exist).
As well living in a "garrison town" confers almost no relevant knowledge on military comradiere. Does anyone think military wives have more than a passing clue into how a unit functions?
So as we can see, her service bears almost no relevance to what she is writing. If she were writing stories about the bonds and the goings on in a clone army support unit, go nuts. But she can't claim to have any more insight to a SF unit than the average civvie. It's also worth noting that a collegue who has a very respectable and difficult job in the US Navy but isn't and has never been aboard ship pointed out this to me: "Whenever I write about ships and shipboard operations, it really is based on things I read in a book, not my Navy experience. How does serving as a basic seaman make one a qualified expert on everything military?" This is easily transferable to whatever branch of the military you care to name.
I should also make it clear that the statements made by her aren't very offensive by themselves, lots of former military personnel do this. What is objectionable is that some Trekkies are latching on to her experiance and using it to claim that she has special knowledge and that her stories are better because of it. Or that because she has military experiance, they assume that she must know everything about the military.
Thanks to Lonestar, Wayne Poe, General Deathdealer, The Commander and The Rubberhead for their insight into military matters and helping find the relevant quotes. As well various RL military collegues who participated in this discussion.
Also posted on SFJ as these are where the claims seem to originate. See below for the threads with my response and the original thread that started it all.