“The first thing you should know about me is that I’m Crazy.” So begins this affecting tale of a modern war and its home-front consequences.
The capitalization is deliberate, for by debut author and combat veteran Castner’s account, that Crazy is something like another person lying inside, more than a shadow within, something that can be neither stilled nor exorcised. The ordinary-Joe author found himself as a volunteer Army officer in Iraq—and not just a soldier, but one with the very special job of disarming bombs. It’s a business of acronyms, EFP (explosively formed projectile) being a particularly dreaded one. “EFP’s are real bad,” writes Castner. “They take off legs and heads, put holes in armor and engine blocks, and our bosses in Baghdad and Washington want every one we find.” Given that demand, a dangerous job becomes even more dangerous, and the “long walk”—the one an explosives disposal expert takes toward the bomb and the task of denaturing it—becomes ever longer. It’s an assembly-line sort of job, one of “stamping machines” and “broken widgets,” in which a single mistake means being vaporized. For Castner, there were no good days. Most days were a blend of boredom and terror, with some more terrifying than others, as with the “Day of Six VBIEDs”—i.e., six very nasty car bombs within 15 minutes. That’s the kind of thing that can wear on a person, to say nothing of the sound of small-arms fire, mortars, bombs and artillery. All of this fed the Crazy, whose “spidery fingers take the top of my head off to eat my brain and heart from the inside out every night.” And the Crazy turns out to be very real, on the way to the dread thing called TBI, traumatic brain injury, which all that exploding ordinance spawns just as surely as cigarette smoking gives way to emphysema.
Scarifying stuff, without any mawkishness or dumb machismo—not quite on the level of Jarhead, but absolutely worth reading.