Wednesday, November 3, 2010

WAR by Sebastian Junger... A vision into the HELL that was duty in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan

I've been delving into the book " WAR" by Sebastian Junger. WOW...I mean WOW...and I thought my time in country sucked.

Since the release of the book, Junger’s been getting the usual political questions from interviewers. He obliges, though reluctantly, lamenting the reductionist view of the American soldier: “To the right wing, they’re heroes and patriots and that’s it. The left wing doesn’t even know what to think of them. Their actual experience drops out.”

Junger would rather focus on the men of the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s Battle Company, a brave, rowdy and — in his hands — utterly human bunch of young soldiers who accepted him and photographer Tim Hetherington into their world. They’re tough guys who crave armed conflict and chose this life of hardship and danger. “It’s like crack,” a rifleman in Second Platoon named Kyle Steiner, who survived a bullet to the helmet, tells Junger. “You can’t get a better high.”

Many of my friends have asked me, " What is it like to be in combat?? " My experience was limited to time in Fallujah, Convoys from Fallujah to Mumidiyah, back to Baghdad, a week or so in Baghdad then return to Fallujah, and most recently, spending time in Afghanistan. I do not have the " A-All & B-All " of combat experience, but I feel I have met the criteria for being considered a " Combat Veteran"

Mr. Junger spent some serious time in Korengal Valley, with the guys who REALLY got to see Combat as they were way out there in the undisputed "Most Dangerous Place On the Earth".

Korengal Valley wins hands down.

One of the key passages in the book explains what happens to you when "the shite hits the fan", a.k.a. Combat. I found the description enlightening as I experienced it first hand and I feel he got it spot-on.

" Humans evolved in a world where nothing moved two thousand miles an hour, so there is no reason for the body to be able to counter that threat, but the brain still had to stay ahead of the game. Neurological processes in one of the most primitive parts of the brain, the amygdala, happen so fast that one could say they compete with the bullets.The amygdala can process an auditory signal in fifteen milliseconds - about the time it takes a bullet to go 30 feet. The amygdala is fast but very limited; all it can do is trigger a reflex and wait for the conscious mind to catch up. That reaction is called a startle, and it is composed of protective moves that would be a good idea in almost any situation. When something scary and unexpected happens, every person does the exactly the same thing: they blink, crouch, bend their arms, and clench their fists. The face also sets itself into what is known as a "fear grimace": the pupils dilate, the eyes widen, the brow goes up, and the mouth pulls back and down. Make that expression in front of a mirror and see not only how instantly recognizable it is, but also hot it seems to actually produce a sense of fear. It's as if the neural pathways flow in both directions, so the expression triggers fear as well as being triggered by it.

The videotape I shot during the ambush in Alibad shows every man dropping into a crouch at the distant popping sound. They don't do this in response to a loud sound - which presumably is what evolution has taught us - but in response to the quieter snap of bullets going past. The amygdala requires only a single negative experience to decide that something is a threat, and after one firefight every man in the platoon would have learned to react to the snap of the bullets and to ignore the much louder sound of men near them returning fire. In Alibad the men crouched for a second or two and then straightened up and began shouting and taking cover. In the moments their higher brain functions decided that the threat required action rather than immobility and ramped everything up: pulse and blood pressure to heart attack levels, epinephrine and norepinephrine level through the roof, blood draining out of the organs and flooding the heart, brain, and the major muscle groups.

" There's nothing like it, nothing in the world, : Steiner told me about combat. " If it's negative twenty degrees outside, you're sweating. If it's a hundred and twenty, you're cold as shit. Ice cold. It's an adrenaline rush like you can't imagine."

Yeah, it's like that. I encourage you to pick up a copy of Sebastian Junger's book, WAR. You will be able to gain a greater perspective on what these brave men did for our country while in one of the worst places in the world.

As I have said to friends, I have no worries about going to Hell, as I have already served my time there. I would say that the men who did their duty in Korengal Valley, they will be also guaranteed time in heaven far more than me. I salute them for their sense of duty, honor and raw courage.

No comments: