Irving gives a good account of being an Army Ranger Sniper to someone who has little idea what that is and there is just the right mix of personal and professional accounts to make this a good read.
“Lots of people think of war as being between armies and governments or between this platoon and that unit, but it really does sometimes come down to one guy with a gun and another guy with a gun.”
I liked the fact he gave us his thoughts about what he was doing and how he coped with them and was pleased that he explained everything well enough for me to understand military jargon. I got a real sense of how important the relationships between your men were when you are trusting your life to them, and theirs to you.
When first deployed in Afghanistan in 2009, in his first role as leader there is a nice description of being gathered together in their ready room to brief his men which shows how random the mind works in fear situations:
I was gathering my thoughts while eyeing the screens, watching the predator drone while wondering how it was that the smell of pine could still be so strong. A whole lot of sweaty, smelly men had been in that room, and I thought that maybe the whole paneling thing served as a kind of room freshner. The Special Forces version of those tree-shaped car deodorisers.
Reading actual accounts of the Taliban fighters using women and children as shields, and suicide bombings designed to kill everyone regardless of age, sex and nationality brings home the reality of how worlds apart nations are and how difficult their jobs were. One nation cannot be compared by its behaviour to another, because cultures are too different.
Having read this book I am in awe of Irving who at only 24 working with so much responsibility on his shoulders. I totally get the pride he has in his work and his men, but it does not always make for easy reading. Most people want war on terror ended but don’t really want the details. As an objective to carry out whether morally or politically right or wrong, he did it extremely well. That was what I liked about the book there was no glory about the killing but of a job well done. Earning the title ‘The Reaper’, with even with an exaggerated amount of kills he is understandable proud to be given that name, because in reality he was doing a job just same as if he were continuously voted top ‘salesman’ of the year. (My analogy but I recognise we all have different opinions on the subject).
'We all, I think, tried to make death an abstract reality.'
There was enough detail about the special operations carried out to make it understandable, informative, tense and exciting and it gave a good account of the stresses of being a sniper for those far removed from anything military like myself. This is not about how lucky he was, but how hard he worked to acquire the skill needed to be the best.
'Knowing that there are other armed personnel out there who are bent on getting at you is a weird feeling, especially at night. It’s like your thoughts expand to fill up all the darkness, the blank black chalkboard ahead of you.'
Reading actual accounts of the Taiban fighters using women and children as shields and suicide bombings designed to kill everyone regardless of age, sex and nationality brings home the reality of how worlds apart nations are. One nation cannot be compared by its behaviour to another, because cultures are too different.
I also got the sense of the cultural difference that made fighting seem ‘chaotic’ when there was an expectation that somehow the Taliban was thought to be more organised as soldiers than they sometimes were(are).
There were some observations of night time sexual exploits between Taliban men seemingly on a regular occurrence from footage taken by drones at night, which confused Irving and his men which I mention because there was no judgement in this account which I thought showed maturity in the book.
For a taste of Special Ops and Snipers engagements Brozek did an excellent job putting Irving's story into words.
Yes, I would recommend this book.
Many thanks to the publisher for ARC via NetGalley for an honest review.