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Cambria County veteran finds outlet in writing fiction

Marine Corps veteran and Cambria County resident Gene “Tripp” Ainsworth is shown with his speculative fiction, “Smokepit Fairytales,” which features compiled characteristics of those he’s known mixed with science fiction.

Marine Corps veteran. Husband. Son. College student. Artist. Author. All describe Gene “Tripp” Ainsworth of Ashville, Cambria County.

He’s in the middle of writing his seventh book and has six to his credit. In addition to the writing, he creates the cover art — designed like old-style cigarette packs — and ink sketches for each chapter. The books can be read and purchased individually, but he’s also repurposed gun ammo boxes so they can be purchased as a box set.

He’s the third generation in his family to serve in the Armed Forces. But chose a divergent branch of service — the U.S. Marine Corps — instead of his grandfather and father’s Air Force — because he liked what he saw of the corps in a TV documentary. He’s also the third Gene Ainsworth so his family started calling him “Tripp” — short for ‘triple.”

A long-time short story writer, he decided to put his observances of military life and human nature into book form in the genre of speculative fiction aimed specifically at military veterans.

As speculative fiction, “Smokepit Fairytales” features compiled characteristics of those he’s known mixed with science fiction. Due to its violent themes, he recommends the book series for adults.

“It’s really directed at post-9-11 combat vets,” he explained. “It’s part story-telling, visual arts and scientific stuff.”

While his books can be enjoyed individually and by the non-military, he said there is a subtext of meaning only those who have served will understand. So far, he said, he’s sold about 2,000 copies and this indicates his works are fulfilling a need. The books are available on Amazon and his website.

Writing has helped him process and come to terms with all that he’s experienced in his 12 years and three deployments, he said.

“It’s telling my story and telling the stories of others,” he said.

Ainsworth met many people in his role as a cameraman, which he described as “the best job” because he could offer his services in a myriad of situations.

“I could go on all sorts of assignments just by asking, ‘you need someone to document it?'” he said. He recorded in both still photography and videography, a soldier’s life on the base, in engagements and for intelligence purposes, he said, noting his unfettered role afforded him a unique perspective compared to other duty assignments that had him doing a singular task.

The down side of visiting various units was he was “always the new guy,” he said, but he fit in as a smoker — a generous sharer of smokes.

“I had to earn everyone’s trust or at least get them to like me enough to not see me as a burden or just an attachment. I strategically used cigarettes to fit myself in to wherever I went,” he said. “There’s a lot that ties into smoking in military culture. One of the things that people who weren’t in the military don’t realize is that there is a massive amount of down time” and smoking helps fill the void.

Authorized smoking areas are called a spokepit (on land) or the smoke deck on a ship. The smokepits serve as a gathering place for soldiers where they talk about problems, vent or joke around.

“I drew a lot of my stories from things I’ve heard people talk about in the smokepit. The working title of my first book was ‘Tales from the Smokepit,’ but I changed it to ‘Fairytales’ later” to emphasize “how most of what you hear on the smokepit is embellished.”

Smoking with a new acquaintance proved a useful ice breaker.

“They’ll more likely than not stand there and smoke that cigarette with me. You won’t get to know someone in that time, but it’ll register to them that I was willing to give a stranger something that I didn’t have to and they’ll think that I couldn’t be that bad of a dude, and if anything I’m good for conversation. Then next time I saw that person, and they had their friends around, they’d introduce me to everyone as someone who’s generous and good to have around.”

It also explains why he chose to design book covers to resemble cigarette packs. “That and everyone needs a gimmick and it does seem to strike the ‘cool factor’ with readers,” he said.

One man he served with on the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard was Parker Cholovech. When Ainsworth shared his dream of being an author, Cholovech expressed skepticism.

“So for me, it became ‘I’ll show him. I’ll prove him wrong,'” Ainsworth said.

How Ainsworth came to Ashville sounds a lot like the fiction he writes.

When fellow Marine cameraman Lance Corporal Ralph Fabbri of Gallitzin died in combat in 2010, Ainsworth came to pay his respects and mourn with his fellow Marine’s family and friends.

“I met my future wife at Ralph’s viewing,” he said. When he separated from the Marines, one of the universities he applied to was Penn State Altoona.

“It made sense and I really like the area,” he said.

Post-military service, Ainsworth is seeking a college degree, refining his artistic skills and after graduation hopes to snare a federal job, either with the Postal Service or the National Park Service. Doing so would mean working until he’s about 42. Then, he could retire with full federal benefits and focus on his art.

“I want to hang out and paint,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.

The Ainsworth file

Name: Gene “Tripp” Ainsworth

Age: 32

Town: Ashville, Cambria County

Employment: Author, full-time student at Penn State Altoona

Family: Wife, Mallory (Steffke); Father, Gene Ainsworth Jr. and sister, Ashley, both in Florida

Education: 2006 graduate of Kellam High School, Virginia Beach; Sophomore in Visual Arts and Design

Military Service: Sergeant, Combat Cameraman in the U.S. Marine Corps, Nov. 2006 to May 2018; deployments Afghanistan in 2008, 2009 and 2010, with units in the Seventh Marine Regiment; deployed with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit on the USS Making Island to the western Pacific in 2011-12, then with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit on the USS Bonhomme Richard in 2014-15; stationed in Camp Pendleton, California, Quantico, Virginia, and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California.

Awards/Honors/Medals: Two Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medals, Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Navy Unit Commendation, Zoller Art Award from PSU Altoona, and an Outstanding Veteran Student Recognition Award from PSU Altoona.

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