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MikeP

"Check Six"

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The Guns of August
Barbara W. Tuchman, Robert K. Massie
The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor - Jake Tapper This is a vivid depiction of our professional military in combat and in confused, difficult counterinsurgency situations. [b:The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor|13528359|The Outpost An Untold Story of American Valor|Jake Tapper|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1346293446s/13528359.jpg|19082186] is a 4 Star story of a small corner of the Afghanistan War that claimed so many fine young men. These soldiers are exceptional. The final battle of the book is awe-inspiring. A Medal of Honor was just awarded to SSGT Romesha for his actions in the battle. He was just one brave man among many brave men who came to Combat Outpost Keating over the 3 years of its existence.

The highlights of the book are the soldiers and their stories. Their backgrounds are revealed; their performances in combat told and when they are killed or wounded, get ready for graphic details. That graphic detail has to be tough to read for those who knew these men. Tapper spares nothing in describing gory maiming and death. The combat is intense and he brings you into the close-in fight.

He also writes the book for those ignorant of basic military terms. He takes the time in footnotes and appendices to explain army terminology in minute detail. One thing he did that I really like is identify by name and hometown any KIA that comes into the story, a nice touch. It goes with his overall theme of making you come to see these soldiers as your neighbors, friends, members of the community; not nameless statistics. Well done.

Tapper is no Dexter Filkins, he does not bring any larger context to this story. The Outpost is placed, a bunch of units come through, some successes are achieved against great odds, the ground gained is subsequently lost. The Outpost remains while getting shot up regularly, soldiers are killed and wounded in and around the camp. A decision to close it is delayed until the final attack reveals the vulnerability of the site. Virtually nothing is explained in any detail on the interplay of factors in the theater, except to say people were hesitant to take action on the Outpost due to “changes”.

I marvel at the soldiers’ amazing efforts to succeed despite daunting obstacles. For a time, cooperation between the units at Outpost Keating and the locals starts to coalesce. Some progress is made, however halting, toward improving basic living standards. Corruption, misunderstanding, waste, opposition, hesitation to cooperate, hidden agendas all take a toll, yet the soldiers keep trying. Like I found in [b:Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground|1961320|Imperial Grunts The American Military on the Ground|Robert D. Kaplan|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1190923963s/1961320.jpg|1964389], these men and women in the armed forces are so impressive.

My biggest gripe about the book resides in the title An Untold Story of American Valor. Well, no shit, Sherlock, there are probably hundreds of untold stories of valor ignored by the media. Tapper recounts the frustration of the soldiers at this fact; no one seemed to give a rat’s ass about what was happening in Afghanistan:

Dave Roller was distraught at the loss of Bostick; everyone in Bulldog Troop was. But for Roller, the hardest thing of all was his belief that even as he and his fellow soldiers were out there fighting for their lives, no one back home cared. Ninety percent of the American people would rather hear about what Paris Hilton did on a Saturday night than be bothered by reports on that silly war in Afghanistan, Roller thought. Of this he was convinced. That the people they’d been fighting for would never even know their names made the death of soldiers such as Tom Bostick and Ryan Fritsche all the more tragic.

The ignoring of soldier valor and suffering in Afghanistan continues. Probably less is known about Afghanistan now than when this story took place. The only stories covered now are green-on-blue attacks, errant bombing/killing of civilians by coalition forces and successful Taliban suicide bombings/attacks. How many untold stories of valor are yet to be covered?