Blackmon narrates the blow-by-blow experience of flying helicopters through embattled mountains during the Afghan War.
The 101st Airborne Division is legendary for its actions in the D-Day invasion and Battle of the Bulge. As a squadron commander in the 2000s, the author helped lead the division’s modern incarnation. Small teams of infantrymen patrol the Afghan countryside in weaponized choppers, and the narrative is an endless series of ambushes and firefights. His subject matter is in turns suspenseful and violent, but Blackmon’s writing remains calmly technical: “Smoke began to fill the cockpit as the fire continued to burn in the back of the helicopter. Sergeant McLowhorn disconnected his safety strap and retrieved an extinguisher.” While the book is intended for military buffs, and Blackmon uses authentic jargon, he never loses average readers. More importantly, he adds personal touches that humanize the story. Blackmon grew up in Georgia and labels himself as a born fighter, and he idolizes his fellow servicemen, who come off as selfless, courageous, and professional. The author honestly reflects on PTSD and the damage it has wreaked on his colleagues. In one scene, a flight surgeon recounts his nightmares, which involve blown-off limbs and abandoning soldiers in the battlefield to die. Blackmon doesn’t delve much into civilian politics, and his outlook is rigidly martial, but he seems to empathize with the people and problems of the Middle East. “For me, there was no questioning the necessity of our mission in Afghanistan,” he writes. “What troubled me was how we could convince isolated tribesmen like those in the Helgal to embrace our vision of their future. It must have seemed like such a foreign concept to them, like my grandmother trying to convince me that castor oil was good for me as a child.”
A vivid, action-packed combat memoir, Blackmon’s book explores what life is like for those boots on the ground, as well as in the air.