In February, I traveled to Fort Lewis, Washington to write about the redeployment experience of the 2nd Battalion of the fabled 75th Ranger Regiment, just home from Afghanistan. Conventional Army units deploy for 12 months at a time before returning home for another year or so, but the Rangers’ rotations tend to last only 3–6 months, with far less stateside time between deployments.
That’s an excerpt just posted on Boston Review from a piece of mine entitled Straight Shooter, which is also slated to run in BR‘s September/October print issue. It chronicles 10 days in February I spent in and around Fort Lewis, Washington, with a group of redeployed 2-75 Army Rangers fresh from Afghanistan, and is part of a larger project I’m putting together. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into – some of my encounters with Rangers during my own deployment to Iraq were far from positive. But I came away greatly impressed with the 2-75ers, due to their passion for what they do, their professionalism (even in the local Tacoma watering holes), and esprit des corps. But it is their pervasive youth that still lingers with me the most. Theirs is a world where a 26-year old squad leader is considered a geriatric.
My goal was to write about the nuanced homefront life of special operators. Due to their constant rotations in and out of combat zones, their time back home differs significantly from regular military units. But telling their stories proved difficult when the Regiment’s public affairs office initially ignored my request for on-post access, and even more so when they denied it seven weeks later. (To be fair, the fact that my bio contains an Iraq War blog deemed “counter to good order and discipline” was probably a factor, too.)
I was able to obtain access to various Rangers off-post, but kept them mostly anonymous, as well as blurring ranks, to keep them from being disciplined for speaking to a reporter in such a capacity. The key thing here is not to name names or get anyone in trouble, but to write about what young men — your young men — are going through on the roller coaster of war.