Pros Coach Returning Soldiers on Writing

They're not writing "The Hunt for Red October" or "Patriot Games," but they're getting advice on penning their own wartime stories from the man who did.

In a project called "Operation Homecoming," soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are working with famous, award-winning authors like Tom Clancy (search) to capture their own experiences on paper.

"Anybody [who] can tell their story over a beer in a bar can write a book," Clancy, who also wrote "The Sum of All Fears" and "Clear and Present Danger," told FOX News. "The hardest thing they have to do is realize, yes, I can do it."

The National Endowment for the Arts is trying to produce a new collection of war literature, not by journalists embedded with the troops or authors writing off their imaginations but by the soldiers themselves.

"Who knows it better than the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines?" Clancy said. "Who understands it better than they do what it is like to be out there?"

The NEA this summer launched a series of writing workshops at military posts involving 16 well-known authors — including Clancy, Tobias Wolff ("This Boy's Life") and Mark Bowden ("Black Hawk Down").

Sgt. Peter Neubauer, who spent months in western Iraq, is one of the servicemen participating in the program who plans to pen his stories so they'll be permanent. He kept notes of what happened when he was there.

"I think the best kind of military history is that from the viewpoint of the man on the ground," he told FOX News. "When you're talking about battalions shifting from one position to the other, that gets kind of sleepy. It doesn't really tell me what it was like."

He's skeptical that his writing will ever turn into a bestselling book, but Neubauer hopes that his firsthand accounts give future generations a historical record documented by someone who actually lived through the war in Iraq.

The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced thousands of stories like the ones Neubauer has lived, stories that are locked in the minds of those serving during combat.

"Stories like that need to be told," said U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer 2nd Class Suzan Czoschke. "I hope someday to be able to record some of my memories from my experiences."

As the son of a military man, Neubauer knows the void left when experiences aren't documented in ink.

"I wish my father had done this when he served in World War II," Neubauer said. "I wish he had put something down on paper [about)] what he went through. … We don't have any of that. … I'm going through something similar. Why not make some sort of record?"

The e-mails Maj. Jeff Jennings of the 10th Mountain Division wrote to his wife from Afghanistan grew more and more colored with descriptions of hardships in the desert and his feelings about living through a war.

"The experience here has changed me as it has all of us in one way or another," wrote Jennings, 44, in April. "To see the beauty of a land so scarred by war, to see young men who look so old, to be part of an important endeavor will remain with us all from now on."

His wife, Suzanne Jennings, began sending her husband's ruminations — which he calls "News From the Edge of the Empire" — to family members and friends, who passed them around to others.

"I started writing to capture events for myself and as sort of a therapy to deal with all I was feeling," said Jennings of Yuma, Ariz. "I was dumbstruck that anyone else would find it interesting or care."

He was among the 45 soldiers who attended the first NEA workshop in June at Fort Drum, N.Y., where the 10th Mountain Division is based. Novelists Richard Bausch ("The Last Good Time") and McKay Jenkins ("The Last Ridge: The Epic Story of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division and the Assault on Hitler's Europe") were the writers running the two-hour classes.

"Writing is not an indulgence," Bausch said. "Indulgences are what you give up to write."

Jenkins said that though the press has thoroughly covered the wars, only the soldiers fighting them can fill the many "empty spaces" in the journalistic accounts.

Spouses are also allowed to attend and record their own thoughts.

"You always hear about the soldiers," said Rhonda Elsaesser of Belvidere, N.J., who sent her husband George four to five letters a week while he served in Afghanistan. "I don't think most Americans know what it's like for the spouse left behind."

Other workshops were at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Camp Pendleton, Calif., and naval bases in San Diego and Norfolk, Va. The NEA will publish an anthology of the best writing at the end of 2005.

FOX News' Catherine Donaldson-Evans, David Lewkowict, Jonathan Serrie and The Associated Press contributed to this report.