Life story of a warrior with an unusual dual specialty—Navy SEAL and combat medic—told with plainspoken stoicism.
In this book co-authored by Mactavish, Donald examines his rarefied position in the pantheon of Special Forces veterans: “the highest decorated Medical Service Corps officer in the history of the Navy and the first medical officer of any corps…to receive a Navy Cross since Vietnam.” Yet, by the end of this sprawling memoir, his feelings about his expansive battlefield experience are decidedly ambivalent: “War is not an esoteric chess game...I no longer believed the answer required an army on foreign soil.” Unlike other recent SEAL memoirs, Donald does not go into detail about his upbringing, early service as an elite Reconnaissance Marine, or the crucible of SEAL training and its notorious “Hell Week.” Instead, after his first combat experience on a SEAL team in the 1991 Iraq War, he explains his gradual transition into practicing as a medic. He attended the Navy’s elite physician assistant program—even as his first marriage dissolved and he dealt with the emotional aftershocks from combat, both of which he terms common among Special Forces operators. The book’s centerpiece is a harrowingly told account of an extended battle with Afghan insurgents, for which he received the Navy Cross, a distinction about which he feels deep misgivings, having lost two comrades there. In the concluding chapters, Donald describes his decision to retire, coming to terms with the grueling experience of combat and his wish to keep working with SF veterans through advocacy groups. The narrative is rambling at points, and some of the noncombat interactions feel stagey, but this memoir raises hard questions about the toll American policy takes on its professional warrior class.
Straightforward reflections on what it takes to be the most elite sort of soldier and the hidden costs of that life.