Grim account of wearying combat in Afghanistan by a Marine Special Operations unit.
Co-writing with prolific military writer Bruning (Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan, 2012, etc.), Golembesky presents himself as an unlikely Marine, a spiritual bohemian type who joined following 9/11. After multiple tours in Iraq, he still wanted to serve in Afghanistan. His specialty was also unusual: as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller, he was “authorized to control aviation ordnance,” utilizing GPS and other technologies to direct devastating airstrikes. Despite the Marines’ superior firepower and training, they appeared alienated from their mission due to restrictive rules of engagement, callous military bureaucracy and their sense that the brutal culture of Afghanistan could not be changed. The narrative focuses first on a rescue mission in which the Marines witnessed a horrific friendly fire incident involving American air power. Later, they deployed for an extended combat tour on a remote mountain spine, meant to divide a Taliban-heavy region in half yet compromised by a clique of powerful local Afghans who played both sides. As the battle unfolded, Golembesky noted that his comrades had “grown bitter and had given up on our role in Afghanistan….the way we were fighting bordered on the ridiculous.” The author writes perceptively about the complex social environment of Afghanistan, as when the Marines realized they were fighting in old Russian trenches against enemies whom the U.S. once armed. Similarly, they understood that most civilians would collaborate with vicious Taliban cells simply to survive: “[T]he margin between working with the locals and inadvertently providing intel to the enemy seemed razor-thin.” The depictions of combat are precise regarding weapons and tactics but also jargon-heavy, giving the action a video game feel.
Golembesky clearly admires the valor of his fellow Marines, but a conviction that the Afghan war has long been a costly, corrupted quagmire pervades this military memoir.