Soldiers Write…About War, and a Woman

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ISAF / Army sergeant sean k. harp

U.S. and Afghan troops in Helmand province.

Every once in awhile a war book – actually written by a soldier – grabs you and won’t let go. The latest is The Yellow Birds, by Iraq war vet Kevin Powers. Nate Rawlings interviewed him here on Battleland more than a month ago, and over the weekend Parade magazine featured Powers, and his book, on its cover.

There’s a special treat that comes from stumbling upon a soldier who can write well. It’s almost as surprising as finding a reporter who can do the same. Over the weekend there were two worth noting.

One surfaced in Saturday’s Washington Post, in a letter to the editor, of all places. Army 1st Lieutenant Adam Swartzbaugh wrote from Jaghatu, Afghanistan, to take issue with Greg Jaffe’s article (highlighted on Battleland here) about the boredom and missionlessness U.S. Army troops feel as the war winds down:

I feel it necessary to speak on behalf of the soldiers I serve with…Whether we are winning a war is irrelevant in my platoon. What do my men and I consider a successful mission? It is when we have done something, anything, to further protect the lives of our soldiers, period. Insofar as we are able to do this, my men will continue pushing themselves further and deeper in every dimension of the physical, psychological and spiritual — to the very limits of war, and to the end of life.

Sunday’s New York Times featured a soldier in Afghanistan in – of all places – the paper’s Modern Love column. Women generally write for this weekly take on the trials and tribulations of the heart, but this week Army Specialist Kevin Farrell put words to paper. He wrote, as many soldiers have, about a woman back home, and their on-again, off-again relationship:

The time came for me to leave, and I left. When I got to mobilization training, I figured something out. I realized that everyone belongs somewhere. Beautiful young girls who love fashion belong in New York City, at parties and bars, having fun and meeting boys. Headstrong young men who become soldiers belong on the other side of the planet, at war, shooting and being shot at. We were both where we belonged.

Great grunt writing from Afghanistan.