By Sebastian Junger.  2011

A true story of a journalist following Battle Company as they follow orders to secure the Korengan Valley from the Taliban in 2007.  Fighting was so brutal on both sides that the Korengan Valley was renamed the Valley of Death.  

Insights and Takeaways

  • The definition of courage is different between civilians and soldiers.
    • Civilians understand the baseline duties of a soldier and believe anything above that is bravery
    • Soldiers believe you are either doing your duty (retrieving a fallen comrade, taking on a machine gun nest, standing your ground against a superior force) or you are a coward.
  • Combat (1% of war, 99% waiting)
    • Is the purest form of adrenaline available allowing people to do incredible things
    • Makes every one equal regardless of where they came from - privilege, race, or wealth.
  • The similarities between the lack of a decisive victory in Korengal and Vietnam cannot be understated.  
    • A local population that couldn’t retreat or surrender.  They lived there and had nowhere else to go.  
    • Army and air units hamstrung by the cloudy definitions of a combatant which could change on a moments notice
    • Terrain that heavily favored the home-team limiting the advantage of armor and vehicles
    • Heavily armed and supported U.S. soldiers vs. a never-ending wave of lightly armed fighters.  
    • The importance of public opinion shaped by the U.S. media cannot be downplayed.  It was impressive to read about Taliban soldiers that would hurl themselves up a hill for the change to capture one American soldiers, losing ten’s of their own.  
  • Understanding the ever-shifting allegiances and desires of the Enemy was a failure of military planning (or an impossible task - it is not just the US vs. Taliban)
    • Valley outsiders - Taliban & Arab fighters
    • Local fighters who have suffered from the U.S. occupation and bombing campaigns.
    • Logging mafias who lost their source of income
    • Afghanistan soldiers and government officials with a variety of interests
    • Korengal locals who just wanted to be left alone by everyone and didn’t want new technology or services, even if the Western world considered them a basic right.
  • “Band of Brothers” mentality is real and not-understood by anyone who doesn’t risk death on a daily basis.  
    • The defense of the “Tribe” is a powerful force and genetically ingrained idea.
    • It wasn’t uncommon for missions to have 50%-100% casualty rates, yet soldiers were always anxious to return to stand shoulder to shoulder with their brothers.
    • Support for returning troops is critical to help them adjust to the “boring” day to day life of a civilian.  Where any decision that doesn’t involve life or death is meaningless
      • Specifically support for disabled veterans who face the additional challenge of having a life changing wound.  
      • Little things from home to help soldiers keep one foot in the civilian world is critical to a successful integration post-combat.
  • Civilians think that soldiers that want to return to war are “adrenaline junkies” or simply crazy.  In reality, the author (and myself) believe that soldiers miss the sense of a higher purpose and brotherhood...and also the adrenaline.

“Why believe in God when you can call in Apaches?”

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