Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Outpost

Cover of Jake Tapper's book, The Outpost, Little Brown and Company, Fair Use Claimed

Greetings All:

Most of my blog posts are intentionally meant to be funny, poking fun at me mainly.  I try not to take myself too seriously and attempt to be optimistic and grateful.  Fair warning, this is not one of those posts.

This post is about the book, The Outpost, by Jake Tapper of CNN.  I recently finished listening to the audio version of the book,   I like history, particularly American history, so when it was time to use my monthly Audible.com credit, this book was an easy choice.

An easy choice, maybe, but far from an easy listen.  This is the tale of American Soldiers who were sent to a remote part of Afghanistan to establish small, austere bases.  The story begins in 2006 and concludes in October 2009.  This was a rough place to be.  Unfortunately, the enemy was profoundly aware of that.  The photo below shows where the base was located and the surrounding high ground that offered the enemy an effective platform to kill Americans.

The main location of this book is Combat Outpost Keating.  It was named for 1LT Ben Keating who died in a tragic vehicle accident. 1LT Keating's commitment to service reminds me of another young man who died tragically and way too young, Nile Kinnick.

The book begins around 2006 when this base was established.  As I mentioned, this was not an ideal strategic location.  However, there were other concerns.  The justification for this base was to engage with the local population and also take the fight to the enemy.  For a while, things were going pretty well.  Then, things got bad.  Really bad.  It culminated with a massive attack on October 3, 2009.  


Pictured is a view of Combat Outpost Keating on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in a remote pocket of Afghanistan, known as Nuristan. According to soldiers who called the outpost home, being at Keating was like being in a fishbowl or fighting from the bottom of a paper cup. It was there, surrounded by mountains and insurgents, that former Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha and his fellow soldiers fought back the enemy in a fierce 12-hour battle, Oct. 3, 2009.

As I listened to this book, I discovered a disturbing pattern.  Every time a new Soldier was introduced in the story, I had a dread feeling that he would die.  More often than not, I was right.  

This is an inspiring, thought-provoking and yes, heartbreaking book.  I also found myself getting angry at the Afghan soldiers who (in my opinion) failed miserably to prove themselves at the moment of truth.  I try not to judge others, especially when I was not present for a situation.  However, after listening to this book, I'll make an exception for these guys.

On the other end of the courage spectrum were the American Soldiers who served there, fought there and for some of them, died there.  There were awards for valor, including two Congressional Medals of Honor, presented to Staff Sergeants Ty Carter and Sergeant Clint Romesha.  I've included a link to their stories below.

And there were losses.  All of these loses are tragic.  One in particular stuck with me.  Specialist Stephan L. Mace.  Although severely wounded, he was kept alive first by his comrades who got him to an aide station and then by a physician's assistant.  Stephan Mace even made it to an Army hospital, only to die on an operating table.  Damn it.



Specialist Stephan Mace, original photo presumed to be U.S. Department of Defense, current source, "Freedom Remembered," full internet source listed below, fair use claimed

This book needed to be written.  It told a tale that otherwise would have been but a footnote of history.  It is a tale of valor.  Valor is one of those terms that we hear and (kinda) know what it means...in the abstract.  This book replaces the abstract with the here and now, with the real world.  A real world where brave, young men with wives and children bleed and die.  

Thanks to our friends at dictionary.com, here's a definition of valor: 

val·or

  [val-er]
noun
boldness or determination in facing great danger, especially in 
battle; heroic courage; bravery: a medal for valor.

-and-

from Late Latin valor,  from val─ôre  to be strong.

Those who served at this outpost were, like at the core of valor, strong.  Strong in spirit, strong in effort, and strong in commitment. That commitment was to a cause greater than themselves.

That, in a word, is strength.

Be well my friends,
Jeno


Sources:

http://freedomremembered.com/index.php/spec-stephan-lee-mace/
 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kamdesh

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/medal-honor-soldiers-afghan-battle-article-1.1437744

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/valor?s=t

4 comments:

  1. This reminds me of a fact that I have discovered through my study of history that war once engaged in takes on a mind of its own that the officials, civilian or military are powerless to reign in until it plays out its ugly course. This happens in Every war no matter how just the cause. And in the process good young people do the best they can in untenable situations. To do one's duty is the only mark of the hero no matter the crazy or not circumstances. I will be picking up this book next.

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    1. gk koos, thank you for your reply. War does take on a mind of its own. One of the chapters in this book is entitled, "The Enemy Gets a Vote." Unfortunately, the conflict does as well. You'll like this book. Please let me know what you think about it when you finish reading it.

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  2. Thank you. -Stephan's mom.

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    1. Ma'am, thank you for commenting. It is all of us who owe you our thanks. The next time I am at Mass I will light a candle in honor of your son. His service inspires me to be a better person. God bless.

      v/r,
      Jeno

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