After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, Richard Fox embarked on his decade-long service in the US Army as a Field Artillery and Military Intelligence officer. During that time, he served two fifteen-month tours in Iraq and was awarded the Combat Action Badge, the Bronze Star, and a Presidential Unit Citation.
Drawing upon his personal experiences, Fox released his first novel, Into Darkness, in January of 2014. Written in the brutally honest voice of one who has lived it, the book is an unflinching journey into the moral ambiguities of war, and Fox infuses authentic details regarding the people, customs, languages, and ever-present threat of death that soldiers faced while serving in Iraq.
Fox lives and works in southern Arizona with his wife and two boys, amazing children bent on anarchy.
My mother joined the Air Force when I was 12, and being around that kind of structure and lifestyle made joining the military seem perfectly natural for me. I finished high school on Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. Being surrounded by the military for so long, I really couldn’t imagine going to a college that wasn’t a service academy.
The Air Force Academy accepted my application, but because I’m slightly color blind, I could never fly a plane or even work as a navigator. My then 18-year-old logic deduced that if I can’t fly the planes, I’d go to West Point and jump out of them as an airborne Soldier.
How did your time in the Army change you or your outlook on life?
Army life, and my two tours in Iraq, made me grateful for what I have in civilian and peace time life. During the war, I lived in the bare desert without plumbing, electricity or shelter. Driving through Iraqi cities full of individuals who were actively plotting my death makes my morning commute to work pretty chill in comparison. As an unintended consequence of Army life, I hate camping.
Most Americans had not heard of ISIS until very recently. Where did this organization come from and what are their goals?
ISIS grew out of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the organization that Abu Musab al Zarqawi formed in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. AQI was mostly defeated after the 2007 surge and rebellion of Iraqi Sunni tribes against AQI, where the remnants fled into Syria. AQI metastasized into ISIS during the rebellion against Assad in Syria. The Maliki government’s mistreatment of Sunnis opened the door for ISIS in Iraq.
ISIS decided to truncate their acronym to IS, the Islamic State, when it declared itself as a caliphate. Their overall goal is the caliphate’s control over all previous and current Islamic territory. So Spain and Indonesia are on ISIS’s agenda.
In your opinion, is Iraq — and the Middle East as a whole — a better place now than it was in 2003?
If we could roll the political clock back to 2003, the Middle East would be much better off and the anxiety level for intelligence analysts everywhere would go down several notches. There’s a hope this period of upheaval will lead to something better, but I won’t hold my breath.
No. Unless the Turks want to bring back the Ottoman Empire and the West can reset things back to before the Sykes-Picot agreement, there will not be peace.
In your opinion, is the United States on the right track?
I hope the nation undergoes a course correction after the November elections and someone with a better vision, and better leadership qualities, is elected in 2016.
What made you decide to write Into Darkness?
Part of the 2007 surge in Iraq was dealing with Iraqi tribes that wanted to fight AQI. Prior to this, the tribes were fighting the Army and Marines. This put Soldiers and Marines in a tough spot; do they ally with their old enemies to fight AQI? While I was there, I had to deal with Sunni tribesmen I knew had attacked Americans. There were many leaders who wanted nothing to do with men like that, and would have gladly detained them given half a chance. I, as a military intelligence officer, was in the middle of all this.
I wanted Into Darkness to address this moral dilemma and give readers a glimpse into what the war was like during the pivotal time in the war.
While my time in Iraq was relatively tame, the main character, Captain Eric Ritter, has a much more profound journey to discover who he really is. Will he hew to the Army’s code of honor or side with the CIA’s “any means necessary” methods?
How are you similar to the character of Eric Ritter? And how do you differ?
I am to Eric Ritter as Ian Fleming is to James Bond. Fleming had some espionage in his background, but he never had the sort of excitement Bond did. Ritter has a more spy-guy background and gets to do all the interesting things I only ever heard about.
Creatively-speaking, who have been your biggest influences?
Dan Abnett, an English author who writes mostly science fiction. The way he writes characters, and their arcs, is brilliant. In his Eisenhorn books, he takes the main character on a journey with such subtle changes that by the end, neither the eponymous lead character, or the reader, realize how far they’ve fallen.
I had the good fortune to meet him several years ago and I asked him how he manages to write so many novels and comics (he wrote the revival of Guardians of the Galaxy) each year. He looked at me and said in a very British and matter of fact tone, “I work very hard.” Honestly, I don’t know what other answer he could have given.
What’s the best war movie ever made?
Glory is one of the few war movies I still appreciate. After two deployments and a decade in uniform, I end up shaking my head and muttering through most of the newer war movies.
What are you working on next?
A novel about Manfred von Richtofen, the WWI fighter ace better known as the Red Baron. There’s plenty of scholarship on what his did in the air, and little fiction dealing with him as a man and as a soldier. The Red Baron most likely suffered from “battle fatigue,” or PTSD, at the end of his life. My book will be a roman à clef about battling PTSD during wartime.
After that, I’ll go back to the characters from Into Darkness and continue that series.