Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan by Sean Parnell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Goodreads: Former Army officer Parnell and collaborator Bruning (Shadow of the Sword) reprise Parnell’s 16 months as an infantry platoon leader in Afghanistan in this heartfelt memoir. In 2006, Parnell and his 10th Mountain Division platoon, the self-styled Outlaws, arrived in Afghanistan’s Bermel Valley, which borders Pakistan. Their mission was “to stanch the flow of enemy troops and supplies into Afghanistan.” Besides their 32 Purple Hearts, the platoon—which “usually patrolled with about 30 men... loaded into six Humvees”—earned seven Bronze Stars and 12 Army Commendations for Valor, making it one of the most decorated units in the Afghan war. Parnell vividly captures the sounds, sights, and smells of combat, and proves most eloquent when describing the bond—“selflessness was our secret weapon”—that developed among his men. Studiously nonpartisan, Parnell still raises important questions about Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s integrity, the competence of the Afghan police, and the sincerity of our Pakistani “allies.” Parnell balances sentimentality with sincerity and crisp prose to produce one of the Afghan war’s most moving combat narratives.
My thoughts: A really well written book forces a paradigm shift within me. This is such a book.
In a literary sense, it is not the most soundly written. There are repetitive snippits which leads me to believe the book was written one chapter at a time and not wholistically. It seemed to somewhat resemble a very well written journal. This is the way another book I loved was constructed, Little Princes, so this clearly did not bother me. I'm just giving fair warning if a reader is looking for something other than what this is. What it is is a very well written look at the life of a soldier in war in Afghanistan.
When history is recorded in a book, hindsight is used to summarize the events. This is much more difficult to do when history is being written as it is current events. This is why I have struggled to understand what is really happening in Afghanistan. Additionally, people who have had first hand experience are either unable to articulate it or are forbidden under threat of court marshal to discuss it. Parnell uses words that evoke all of the senses to express not only what he saw but also how he internalized it. Being a soldier in a war changes that person in ways that are completely foreign to the pre-soldiering days. This is what Parnell depicts.
Parnell writes without glorifying himself. He wishes he could change things. He feels rage at others in the company for not pulling their share. He also humbly admits at the end of the book that his perspective was erroneous when he judges those not in combat. What he details are events and descriptions of engagements that are completely out of my experience, thank goodness. The civilian becomes a warrior and ceases to be a single man but an integral part of a functioning body of war. He forgot his own birthday. He turned off the portion of his brain that registers horror at war atrocities and felt a strong bond for the men that had his back and he had theirs. He adds how he struggled transitioning from soldier to civilian. Also, and very touchingly, Parnell depicts how he stayed a soldier but resisted the temptation to become a murderer. There is a difference.
Although it is difficult to ascertain truth in current events, this is the first book I've read that has given a succinct depiction of who we are fighting. It is terrifying, frankly. It is a book about war so be prepared for a lot of language, a lot of blood and gore and violence, and the unimaginable. On the other hand, right at the root of all of it is the warmest of humanity.