The Real-Life adventures
of jamie dodson
Living in Hawaii rekindled Jamie's childhood passion for learning more about the era of the great flying boats.
Boats were in his family DNA, after all.
Born in London, Jamie’s parents immigrated to Canada when he was 4. After a year, the family moved to Chicago.
“My father was a master carpenter and cabinet maker who fell in love with sailing,” Jamie says. “He started building sailboats for a living and I’ve been sailing since I was 7."
“I can sail anything, and I do mean anything.”
Growing up, Jamie was a Boy Scout and a Sea Explorer. When he graduated Lane Technical High School, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served 13 months in Vietnam.
Back from the war, Jamie attended Northwestern University, where he met the love of his life, Joan Skawski. They met at a Geology Club party thrown by Jamie’s sister.
Family circumstances led Jamie to postpone college and take over the family business.
“We made 15-foot sailboats. They were one design, Albacores – international racing class boats.”
In 1980, Jamie and Joan got married. His father died soon after, and Jamie sold the family business. Joan graduated with a geology degree, and Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) offered her a job in Denver. It was the first of many moves for the couple.
While there, Jamie went back to college at the University of Colorado, where he studied Geospatial Science. He also joined the U.S. Army Reserves and the ROTC program through college.
In 1982 he graduated and received an ROTC Commission. Shortly after their first son, Ian, was born, Jamie was assigned to the Theater Intelligence Center, Honolulu, to take charge of three Special Agents. It was long hair, Aloha shirts and shorts instead of a buzz cut and Army Greens.
“That’s where I first got the idea for a book about flying boats,” he says. “I met a couple of people who remembered the flying boats and the excitement around them on the island.”
One day, Jamie and Ian were riding bikes when a rainstorm persuaded them to duck into a bookstore for cover. While there, he found, Timmy Rides the China Clipper, a picture book written by Carol Nay in 1939.
“A Japanese woman who owned the store told me she remembered the clippers and that they were a big deal. As a child she remembered getting out of school to watch them land and offer leis to the passengers as they deplaned.”
Jamie remembered the Wonder Book of Knowledge his parents got him for Christmas when he was 9 or 10.
“It had a huge section on flying boats,” Jamie recalls. “I remember seeing the black and white pictures and asking my Dad about them. I also remember my Mom picking up the book and looking at the publishing date, which was like 1940. But I loved that book. It was retro in a way, and I didn’t even know what retro was back then.”
At the beginning of World War II, Jamie says the flying boats were the only planes capable of traveling across oceans with a usable load. The flying boats were built for Pan American Airways, and its new route was considered the Oriental Express of the Pacific.
"I was just fascinated by it all,” Jamie says. “Living in the place where the first one landed in 1935 just increased my fascination.”
He was playing hide and seek with Ian when Ian stumbled on a marker hidden in the bushes. It was a small marker to commemorate the spot where the first flying boat landed in Pearl City.
“It’s since been replaced, made much nicer and no longer hidden in the bushes, but I’ll never forget Ian saying ‘DaDa, there’s a plane in the bushes,’ ” Jamie says.
That’s where the idea for his first book was born.
“I didn’t have time then as an active duty intelligence officer working 50-60 hours a week,” he says.
He and Joan did find time for windsurfing and diving every chance they got.
After three years in Hawaii their son Neil was born, and Jamie was assigned to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to attend the Intelligence Officer Advance Course. From there, the growing family moved to Fort Bliss, Texas, to join one of the first U.S. Army Patriot Missile battalions. After a few months of training, the unit deployed to Germany
While in Germany, Jamie also served as the 3rd Infantry Division Chief of All Source Intelligence.
“The most memorable things that happened to us there was the night the Berlin Wall came down, and our daughter, Glenna's, birth. She was born just three weeks after the wall came down.”
From there, it was on to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Jamie was selected for the Special Operations Staff Officer Course and assigned to Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg. He also served in the 18th Aviation Brigade Airborne, the 18th Airborne Corps and in the 82nd Airborne Division.
After his time there was up, Jamie and his family moved back to Fort Huachuca, where he was an electronic warfare test officer and taught at the Intelligence School.
“I did a lot of interesting things there,” he says. “Including live mission testing which led to improved Special; Operations communication interception equipment.”
Jamie also served as the executive officer of the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade before being assigned to Bosnia War Crimes Unit.
The horrors of what each of the factions did to the other factions is something he'll never forget. Jamie spent his free time volunteering at a Sarajevo Catholic orphanage and school.
After Bosnia, it was time for his family to move again this time to Portland, Oregon. There, he ran the Portland Recruiting Battalion before leaving in 1998 for Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. That’s where he served as the Senior Intelligence Officer for a Reserve and National Guard Training Brigade. The job involved 150 active duty and 2,500 reservists.
Before he left Wisconsin, Raytheon hired him as a Principal Systems Engineer in Huntsville, Alabama.
“They gave me an offer I couldn’t believe,” he says. “So here we are.”
When the Dodsons moved to Alabama in 2001, it was the first time since 1982 the family had lived outside of Army quarters.
While Jamie was at Raytheon, a former commander showed up in Huntsville, called Jamie, and then arrived at his office.
“He shut the door and took out a small flag and waved it saying, ‘Your country needs you again.' ” Jamie says. “He asked me to come back and do technology protection for Military Intelligence, a melding of Systems Engineering and Intelligence. Oddly enough, I found myself uniquely qualified to do so.”
About the same time in 2002, Jamie says he got the idea for the character, Nick Grant.
“I was only working 40 hours a week and rather than completely drive my wife crazy, I decided to do something with my idea,” Jamie says. “I thought, what if I weave the story around building the Pacific Island flying boat bases? I'd tell the story through a fictional character named after a former boss, Major General Nicholas P. Grant. He was a mentor, an intelligence officer, and flew collection missions as a pilot.”
And so the story bega
“When I first started writing, I put everything I was going to do in a Microsoft Project file. I had goals, milestones and deadlines, and I estimated that it would take me six months,” Jamie says while laughing. “It took me five years and numerous rewrites before I sold my first novel. Just because I read a lot didn’t mean I knew how to write.”
While Nick is a fictional character named after a real person, Jamie says Nick is a combination of the physical and personality traits of his sons, Ian and Neil.
"My novels are historical fiction. Virtually all the people are real, and the events are real but told through a fictional character."
Flying Boats and Spies was published in June 2008.
During that time, his day job changed again. Another old friend from the 82nd Airborne Division showed up and asked Jamie to take over a Current Intelligence Branch of his Division. He took the offer and became a foreign intelligence officer.
With the first book published, Jamie cranked out two more Nick Grant adventures, and got an option for a movie on Flying Boats & Spies.
China Clipper was published in June 2010.
Mission Shanghai was published in June 2012.
As Nick’s adventures continue, so do Jamie’s. He is still pursuing the movie option. In late 2013, Jamie retired again. This time he took on another role as a contractor for technology protection. The change in day jobs hasn’t detracted from his work on his fourth installment with Nick Grant, Mission Hughes: H-1.
Is it a safe bet to expect it out by June 2014?
“Maybe,” Jamie says. “But no promises.”