By Toni Rossi for The Christophers
Sergeant Patrick Lybert, age 28, was so devoted to his special needs brother, Noah, that he swore he would only marry a woman who was equally willing to welcome his brother into their home when their mother died someday.
First Lieutenant Ben Keating, the 27-year-old son of Baptist ministers, believed in being a servant leader to his platoon because he wanted to follow Jesus’ leadership model. He was so invested in his faith that he brought a Latin copy of St. Augustine’s “Confessions” with him to Afghanistan.
Those are just two of the many American troops from the 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment (3-71 CAV) whose stories are told in the new book The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor by ABC News Senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper.
In the summer of 2006, the Army decided to build a small outpost in the largely-unexplored Nuristan Province of Afghanistan, which shared a border with Pakistan. The goal was to stop Taliban fighters and their weapons from crossing into Afghanistan. Also on the agenda was befriending the locals and investing in their communities. The good intentions, unfortunately, didn’t lead to simple resolutions.
Tapper points out that this was a province “mythically untamed.” Another problem was that the outpost would be situated in the deepest part of a valley surrounded by three mountains that could, at any time, “be filled with people who wanted to kill those stationed there.” With impassable roads and minimal space for helicopters to fly in supplies or re-enforcements, more than one person noted that this was “a really bad idea.”
Plans, however, proceeded anyway, and this is the story Tapper recreates. In profiling the various troops and their commanders, he always finds just the right personality traits and stories about their backgrounds, allowing readers to respect them and relate to them.
Of course, that heart and relatability is also what makes The Outpost a difficult read. When some of these soldiers get killed, you feel the loss. But, the book should be read nevertheless because all the troops deserve to have their heroism and sacrifice recognized and honored. While stories about troops who misbehave or break the law often get maximum exposure in the news, the majority perform their duties nobly and well.
At the same time, The Outpost doesn’t downplay the mental, emotional and spiritual anguish caused by serving in Afghanistan. From armed insurgents who use small children as shields—to soldiers under fire helplessly watching a brother-in-arms painfully bleed out after getting hit in the legs by a rocket-propelled grenade, the horrors of modern warfare are ever-present.
The Outpost is an alternately exhilarating, heartbreaking and maddening book—maddening because some of the poor decisions made by military superiors or those in Washington cost good soldiers their lives. But ultimately, The Outpost is about the troops themselves. It’s war through their eyes and in their words. And it’s a testament to the fact that the brave men and women who serve and sacrifice for the U.S. deserve our appreciation.
As First Lieutenant Keating writes in a letter to his father, “I am continually rewarded when I see eighteen-year-old boys bear up under pressure and carry themselves with the newfound pride of men. They fully understand that they are the face of America in the world.”
Tony Rossi is director of communications for The Christophers. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, MILITARY CHAPLAINS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Category: Spiritual Matters