Thanks to the many hours of personal time spent blogging, I have been lucky enough to have publishers and authors send me books to read and review. I have a stack of them next to my bed and I usually spend at least a few minutes every day reading. Some are good and some are just awesome. When I say “awesome” I mean can’t put it down awesome.
One of the books I just finished qualifies as “can’t put it down AWESOME”. It is called the Lions of Kandahar and is written by Special Forces Major Rusty Bradley and Kevin Maurer.
I have received a few books that talk about some awesome battle that nobody has heard about or what a tide-turner in the war on terror. Usually when they say that, my eyebrow raises with skepticism. The subtitle on this book does not say that, it just states “The Story of a Fight Against all Odds”. However once you get into the book reading about this one significant battle then it comes clear that the battle of Sperwan Ghar in Kandahar Province Afghanistan was truly a battle that shaped the war there not only that year but for years to come.
I am a big fan of James F. Christ’s books about huge but unknown battles in Afghanistan in his series that he has written about Embedded Training Teams (ETT). I am a fan, not only because I was an ETT, but several of them are written about battles that happened when I was there and many include people I know. Rusty’s book stuck with me for some of the same reasons. Even though he has multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq this book is written about one specific battle that happened in 2006, the same time I was there. In fact this battle was part of a larger operation called Operation Medusa. At the same time that Medusa was happening I was involved with Operation Mountain Fury which was a shaping operation for Meduda. So this book did strike a chord with me for that reason also.
As with James’s books, the Lions of Kandahar is not written about an entire tour or life in general as a Special Forces ODA team leader. It is written about one specific and instrumental battle and the overly-brave men that against all odds, with some luck and probably blessing by God himself were able to defeat an enemy that could have and should have wiped them out.
The book starts out with Rusty and his team returning to the same place in Afghanistan they had been the previous year. This allowed them to gain an instant perspective of how much worse the situation had turned since they left. It also allowed them to hit the ground running as they knew the Afghan forces they would be working with, the influential people in the villages they would deal with and the enemy they would fight.
Right from the start the reader gets a sense that the world Rusty and his team stepped back into has drastically gotten worse and that they are going to be in a hell of a fight for territory they had once owned. Besides a reinvigorated enemy they are now dealing with new dynamics on the friendly side of the fence. ISAF had recently taken over in Southern Afghanistan from the Americans so a whole new mindset, doctrine and capability (or lack thereof) was in place too.
There are many actions in the book that are just awe-inspiring and any one of them would be a major undertaking on their own, but for three ODA teams of Special Forces to have gone through all they did and accomplish their mission with so few wounded is beyond amazing. These three teams, their support personnel, the terps and the Afghan forces they fought with ran the gauntlet. They somehow danced between the raindrops of bullets and RPG rounds to engage and destroy hundreds of enemy soldiers and probably wounded thousands. Throughout the pages you can truly get a sense of the odds they faced, the professionalism then maintained and the fear they had through it all. There is more than one occasion where brave and battle-tested Special Forces warriors truly felt they could not win, that they would be overrun or where they felt they would fight to the death down to the last bullet.
However the reader also gets insight into the humor, some of it dark and twisted, that the guys had and how they used that to deal with pants-wetting situations. They truly took the worst of moments and used humor and good-natured ribbing to keep their sanity. I think some of my favorite parts were reading how Rusty dealt with a hard-headed and not really great interrupter (terp) that he was assigned. Since I dealt with many terps during my time there I could easily relate to the challenges he had with ‘Victor’.
The book is well written with all military acronyms spelled out and not lost on the reader who may not be familiar with them. There are no assumptions that the reader will know what the terminology or tactics mean as it explains them well. It also does not go into every minute detail of the mission, but takes the reader from significant moment to moment that Rusty felt were major contributors to explaining the gravity of the fight and the story.
When I asked Rusty the other night on You Served Radio why he wrote this, he answered the way I thought he would. “To tell the story of bravery his men showed in a battle that almost nobody knows about”. There is no doubt there were actions in this book that are worthy of the Medal of Honor, and in fact he highlights at least one of the men was submitted for that recognition.
If you want to have even an idea of what life was truly like in Afghanistan in 2006 at the pointy-est end of the tip of the spear, then head over to Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble or anywhere else you can find it and get a copy of Lions of Kandahar. You will not be disappointed.
Lastly let me say I was very encouraged to find out that Rusty is good friends with one of my best friends, Scott Kesterson. Scott and Rusty have been side by side a few times in Afghanistan. Since my interview with Rusty I have talked to both men about the connection and of course they have nothing but utmost respect and kind words about each other. Makes me feel good to run in the circles that I do.