I’m reading the book WAR by Sebastian Junger, who also wrote The Perfect Storm. It’s an intense look at the lives of the soldiers fighting in the most brutal and dangerous areas of Afghanistan, as told by a journalist who spent months in the bunks with these guys. I’ll do a full write up some day, but just wanted to quote sections because much of Junger’s writing can just stand on its own.
On the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan
Captain Dan Kearney, the commander of Battle Company, drove down to Aliabad in a Humvee to help evacuate the casualties and remembers turning a corner in the road and hitting a wall of Taliban firepower. “I was blown away by the insurgent’s ability to continue fighting despite everything America had to throw at them,” Kearney told me later. “from that point on I knew it was – number one – a different enemy than I fought in Iraq and that – number two – the terrain offered some kind of advantage that I’d never seen or read or heard about in my entire life.” pg 19
On which team is taking the most heat in Afghanistan
I ask him [Capt. Kearney] who is pushed the farthest out into the valley and he doesn’t hesitate. “Second Platoon”, he says. “They’re the tip of the spear. They’re the main effort for the company, and the company is the main effort for the battalion, and the battalion is the main effort for the brigade. I put them down there against the enemy because I know they;re going to get out there and they’re not going to be afraid.” I tell Kearney those are the guys I want to be with. p 26-7
On the strange group dynamics of Second Platoon.
In Second Platoon you got beat on your birthday, you got beat before you left the platoon – on leave, say – and you got beat when you came back. The only way to leave Second Platoon without a beating was to get shot. No other platoons did this; the men called it “blood in, blood out.” after a movie one of them had seen, and officers were not exempted. I watched Gillespie get held down and beaten, and Pops got pounded so hard his legs were bruised for days. pg23
On the psychological buffer smoking affords
The fact was that the men got an enormous amount of psychiatric oversight from the battalion shrink – as well as periodic “vacations” at Camp Blessing or Firebase Michigan – but combat still took a toll. It was unrealistic to think it wouldn’t. Anderson sat on an ammo crate and gave me one of those awkward grins that sometimes precede a confession. “I’ve only been here four months and I can’t believe how messed up I already am,” he said, “I went to the counselor and he asked if I smoked cigarettes and I told him no and he said, ‘Well, you may want to think about starting.’”
He lit a cigarette and inhaled.
“I hate these fuckin’ things, he said. pg 40
On medics and how they can inspire a team
The combat medic’s first job is to get to the wounded as fast as possible, which often means running through gunfire while everyone else is taking cover. Medics are renowned for their bravery, but the ones I knew described it more as a terror of failing to save the lives of their friends.
When Second Platoon arrived in the valley, their medic was Juan Restrepo. He was extremely well liked because he was brave under fire and absolutely committed to the men. If you got sick he would take your guard shift; if you were depressed he’d come to your hooch and play guitar.
On the afternoon of July 22 a foot patrol left Firebase Phoenix and moved south to the Village of Aliabad under a light rain
Restrepo was the only man hit. He took two rounds to the face and fell to the ground, bleeding heavily. THere was so much fire coming from so many different directions that at first on one even dared to run out and get him. When they finally pulled him to safety they didnt know what to do with such a bad wound, and he struggled to tell them how to save his life. Within minutes thre HUmvees roared out of KOP and a MEDEVAC flight lifted off from the airbase in Asabad, twenty miles away.
The radio call came in three hours later. [O’Bryne] and Mac were in the Second Platoon tent cleaning the blood off Restrepo’s gear. They had to use baby wipes because the blood had combined with diret to sement into the cracks of his M4. They were almost done when a sergeant neamed Rentas stepped into the tent and grabbed O’Byrne by the shoulders. ‘He didn’t make it, man,’ Rentas said. O’Byrne almost punched him for lying.
“For a long time I haded God.” O’Byrne told me. “Second Platoon fought like animals after that.”
On how war makes young men feel more useful than almost anywhere
For some reason there is a profound and mysterious gratification to the reciprocal agreement to protect another person with your life, and combat is virtually the only situation in which that happens regularly. These hillsides of loose shale and holly trees are where the men feel not most alive – that you can get skydiving – but most utilized. The most necessary. The most clear and certain and purposeful. If young men could get that feeling at home, no one would ever want to go to war again, but they can’t.