Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two Wars by Nate Self

Two Wars

Two Wars
by Nate Self

Trade Paperback: 375 pages
Publisher: Tyndale
First Released: 2008

Author Website
Buy from Amazon

Source: review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
The frontlines on the war on terror
A world away from his wife and family
A downed helicopter, surrounded by al-Qaeda
A trauma from which few recover completely

“I had died on that mountain. Who I used to be, the man I was before, had died there, with many others. Now I didn’t know who I was. Now I wanted to kill who I had become.”

For the first time ever, Nate Self tells the complete account, featured in part on Dateline NBC, of the battle he led in Afghanistan to rescue a Navy SEAL who had fallen into the hands of al-Qaeda fighters. It’s the story of a hero who fights two wars—the fight in Afghanistan and the fight against Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—to preserve his mind and soul, his family and home.

A rare look into a soldier’s soul.

Two Wars is a military autobiography which impressed me with the astounding story and by the vivid writing. Nate Self describes the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of what it's like to be in modern front-line combat. (In fact, fiction authors researching modern combat might want to read this book.)

The first part of the book describes his decision to join the army, his training, his peacekeeping deployment to Kosovo in 1999-2000, more training, and his deployment to Afghanistan in 2002. The second part of the book describes in detail the battle on Takur Ghar. The last part of the book describes how that battle changed his life. This is the PTSD section, though he tells it as he experienced it rather than addressing the topic of PTSD directly. This section covers his deployment to Iraq, eventual decision to leave the military, his troubles, and his eventual start toward healing.

The story is fast-paced and interesting throughout. Once the Afghanistan battle began, the story was heart-pounding in intensity, and I read late into the night to finish the book. I had no trouble following the story or visualizing what was happening. The author describes the equipment, terrain, positions, and acronyms in the text. If you ever get confused (which I never did), some maps, pictures, and a glossary are included.

The author is a Christian, but the focus of the book is not on his Christianity but on what he experienced. Most of the book has little mention of God, but the author does describe a few spiritual high-points and very low points. There was some cussing in the book, but it's written as "F--- that!" rather than spelled out. The potentially gory parts were not explicit and were usually glossed over.

I'd recommend this excellent book to anyone who likes to read war stories, to anyone who wants to know what modern warfare is like, or to anyone who wants to understand why their family member has changed since coming back from a deployment.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Prologue
04 0612 MAR 02 (DELTA)

I feel like I’m about to vomit.

Our helicopter careens around the snow-covered mountain, banking hard right, looking for our target. Though it’s just before dawn in Afghanistan, the sky is dark, clear, and cold.

“Where’s this landing zone?”

“On top of a ten-thousand-foot mountain,” says a voice on the radio.


We’re on a rescue mission, and I’m in command of a thirteenman Quick Reaction Force (QRF). We’re searching for a missing American who fell out of a helicopter in enemy territory two hours ago. He is somewhere below us in the Shah-i-Khot Valley, an area teeming with hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters. Right now, there’s no place on earth more hostile to U.S. soldiers—and no place my team would rather be. We’re here because we’re Rangers, and we have a creed to uphold: Never leave a fallen comrade.

It’s 6:12 a.m. The eight-man flight crew is not under my command, but they share my resolve. Every member of the flight crew is alert, scanning the terrain beneath the aircraft. They’ve been awake for more than thirty-six hours flying missions in their double-rotor Special Ops helicopter. These are the men of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), the “Night Stalkers.” They’re the best in the world. They fly an MH-47E Chinook, which looks like a black school bus crowned with two spinning telephone poles. I watch them balance against the pilot’s evasive nap-of-the-earth flight techniques—it’s possibly the only nonlethal example of their experience and skill. We’ve flown together many times before, both here and in the States. According to their motto, the Night Stalkers Don’t Quit. I’ve been around them enough to know that those aren’t mere words.

“I don’t see it. That can’t be it. On top of that? Ask him again.”

“Toolbox, this is Razor Zero-One; say again grid; over.” No answer.

With no seats in the aircraft, I am sitting on the slick metal floor. I pull a wrinkled map out of my thigh pocket to check the target coordinates. Though I remember writing the digits in tidy block letters at our headquarters in Bagram, the bouncing of the aircraft reduces them to a shimmy of ink. My eyes feel like they’re being tossed around inside my head. I can’t decipher a single number.

“Try Razor Zero-Two.” The other half of our QRF. “Maybe they got it.”

“I tried. We’ve lost radio contact with them.”

Read the rest of chapter one.

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