NewsBlaze recently had the chance to catch up with C. Blake Powers, better known to many as Laughing Wolf (laughingwolf.net). Since our last interview, Blake has not only done more military charity work, but he’s completed two embeds in Iraq, has started a series of photographic and other books, is working on a series of embeds for the next two years, and currently has a Kickstarter project in motion to do an e-book on this year’s Normandy ceremonies.
NB: Welcome back to NewsBlaze.
LW: Thanks, it’s great to be back. It’s been far too long since the interview we did at the Soldiers’ Angels conference.
NB: You’ve been busy since then, why don’t you fill us in a bit?
LW: That’s a tall order, but I’ll try my best. The short version is that I took vacation from my day job to do two different embeds in Iraq with Army and Marine units. This was an amazing experience, which included the most memorable Christmas dinner of my life, in the home of an Iraqi family that had adopted a platoon of our troops. I continued to work with Soldiers’ Angels, which led to my helping co-found a military charity that came from some of that work, and worked with them until last fall when the opportunity arose to devote the next two or more years to doing embeds and stories about U.S. and Allied troops.
NB: Two or more years? That’s a long embed!
LW: Yes. To be honest, if I had not made some commitments prior to that first embed, I might not have come back. Doing the embed reporting was one of those things in life where you know you are doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons. Over the last year or so, things changed in my life so that I was free of those obligations and when I was contacted to see if I might be interested in a year-plus embed, I said yes.
NB: How is that going?
LW: Well, it has been interesting. The year-plus possible embed was not guaranteed and is still some time off, so I looked around for other embeds. I was supposed to embed with a unit in Afghanistan last fall, but there were some issues with paperwork and process along the way that prevented that. So, I’m exploring other embeds with U.S. and Allied forces, and at joining units here in the States to do some specialized reporting here as well.
NB: Has some of that work to find more embeds lead you to other interesting opportunities?
LW: Indeed it has. In working with different PAO offices, I’ve been invited to cover the ceremonies at Normandy this year. This is an amazing opportunity, and I’m looking to not only cover it for Blackfive, but to do an e-book about the ceremonies.
NB: And that e-book is the basis of the Kickstarter project I saw.
LW: Yes it is. I decided to use Kickstarter to help ensure that I can get to the ceremonies from wherever I am in the world at the time, and do the best possible job on the book. Outside of insurance, travel is the largest expense of doing embeds. If you are in places like Afghanistan and have to fly commercial out, it can be several thousand dollars to fly out.
NB: What is it you want to do with this book?
LW: The survivors of D-Day are leaving us at a rapid rate. While next year is the “big number” anniversary, I want to go over and cover this year in hopes of documenting those who can still make it over, and showcase them and a bit of what they did, and are doing. I want to capture pictures of them, and maybe some of those memories they care to share, and share that while it is still possible.
NB: Why an e-book?
LW: An e-book offers me greater flexibility in what and how I present things, as well as the chance to have it out and “in print” quickly. Also, e-book sales are greater than print sales in many cases. If the book sells well, I can then convert it to a print-format book. That might take a different Kickstarter project, but the option is there.
NB: This is not the first photographic book you’ve done, is it?
LW: No, I’ve started a series of books that showcase the things I saw in Iraq on my two embeds there. The series is entitled “A Different View” and the first book, “A Different View: is out as both a print book and an e-book on Amazon. I’m hoping to work on the next book in the series soon, but that depends on what happens here in the next few weeks.
NB: Is that if both time and expense line up?
LW: It is. There is time on an embed to do some work, but it takes longer because that time is limited. If I’m not on embed, I have time but funding is an issue. Since I’m not doing this for a major news outlet, no one is picking up my tab, which means that I have to provide my own combat and regular health insurance, armor, and other gear. That is not inexpensive, which is why for the coverage I’m doing at Blackfive we have opportunities for sponsors as well as donors.
NB: Donors I can understand, but what about sponsors?
LW: The sponsors are just like advertisers on news shows, but in this case they get advertisements at all embed posts I do over the course of a year. For example, MilitaryLuggage.com and B.N. Shape clothing get a link at the end of all posts, and a short plug on all videos. If a company wanted to sponsor all or a major part of my activities for the year, then they would get a good deal more than just a link. Almost like the Kickstarter project, the more you donate, the more you get in return. For that sole sponsor, there are a few things in work that will make it an even better return on their investment.
NB: And sponsorship, along with donations, pays you a salary?
LW: Well, not precisely a salary. What it does do is cover the expenses of an embed. To do insurance right, for example, costs up to $20,000 a year, maybe even a bit more with some of the insurance changes underway. Travel can eat up a lot of money, not just on tickets but on heavy baggage fees with the armor. To give you an idea, if I have to fly to Kuwait to get to Iraq or Afghanistan, a short-notice coach ticket can be $2,000 or more, plus up to $800 in baggage fees depending on the airline.
Getting a civilian flight out of Afghanistan is even more expensive, with other embeds I’ve talked to reporting ticket costs of around $4,000 for coach on a short-notice flight. Armor is another expense, but like insurance not one I want to skimp on. I’ve put about $5,000 into armor and related gear so far, and need to invest a bit more. Also, given the laws in various countries, I have to be prepared to ship my armor and some gear to my next destination since it is illegal to take such to or even through those countries.
To be honest, I need to invest in new camera gear, to upgrade what I have and to replace the broadcast-quality video camera that the dust of Iraq chewed up. That’s going to be almost $10,000 right there, and to upgrade the mobile editing and production gear is going to be about $5,000. Add in the other things that come up, and it’s not much of a salary. That said, it’s not about the salary, it’s about being able to get out and do — and that’s worth so much more.
NB: Those are some significant expenses, and they don’t leave a lot for other things, do they?
LW: No, they don’t. That’s why I’m doing this, and potentially other Kickstarter or Kickstarter-style, projects. They will ensure I can go and do these other things, no matter where I am at the time and can invest the time in them.
NB: To be fair and honest, the embed reporting is not all you are doing, is it?
LW: No, I make the most of the opportunities presented. For example, working on the new embed required some travel that took me near Bardstown, Kentucky, so I made the most of it. I stopped, visited some distilleries, took a lot of photos, had some good food, and wrote that up for Blackfive as well.
NB: Food is still a major part of your life, isn’t it Chef Powers?
LW: Yes it is, and though I have worked in a restaurant to learn more about cooking, and have done food events for the wounded through Soldiers’ Angels and others, I don’t consider myself a chef. Rather, I see myself as a cook-in-training who needs a lot more training. As I travel, I make the most of the chance to try new things, learn about not just the customs of the area, but the customs of cooking as well. It’s one more piece that I can share with the readers and viewers until I can take them to these locations in person.
NB: Would you like to do that?
LW: Actually, yes, I would. It may not be possible to take them to some of the locations where I’ve done embeds, but it is possible to take them to some of the other places I’ve been on embed or other. To be able to take a group with me, and let them experience the food, the drink, the history, and the power of being at that location would be amazing.
Normandy is one example, as words alone really can’t convey what it’s like to stand on Omaha Beach, and stare up at the bluffs and cliffs, and think about what it must have been like to scale them under fire. The posts, and even the book, will share a bit of it, but only part.
NB: Thank you, Blake, it’s been good to catch up … and all the best on the Kickstarter project. www.kickstarter.com/projects/1001302942/normandy-2013
Visit Laughing Wolf on Facebook.