By Tony Rossi
“In the modern media world, we know the names of Kardashians more than we know the names of U.S. troops who have been killed fighting a war, ostensibly for us.”
That’s one of the reasons that CNN anchor and Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper wrote “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,” a book that I reviewed in this column back in January. I also had the opportunity to interview Tapper on “Christopher Closeup,” so in light of Veteran’s Day, I want to share how this story shaped his own views of the military.
In 2009, Tapper was in the hospital visiting his wife and their day-old son when he saw a report on TV about a combat outpost in Afghanistan. It was located at the bottom of three steep mountains near the Pakistan border. Fifty U.S. troops had fought off nearly 400 enemy forces, leaving eight Americans dead. Tapper said, “I was holding my son hearing about eight other sons. And it just started me on this journey to find out more.”
One of the people that readers are introduced to in “The Outpost” is First Lieutenant Ben Keating, a devout Christian with career aspirations of being a Senator or possibly even President some day. The reason Keating joined the Army is that he wants to know first-hand what it’s like to lead soldiers in battle in case he ever has the political responsibility to send young men and women into harm’s way. Tapper said, “Keating is somebody who felt he learned more from his Christian Youth Fellowship Leadership training than from Army ROTC. He wanted to be a servant leader like Jesus.”
Despite being surrounded by extreme violence and death, Ben Keating’s Christian faith was never shaken. Covering that much loss of life took an emotional toll on Tapper, however. He said, “It’s made me less glib as a person and a journalist. Having brave men cry when they’re telling you their stories is humbling. In general, I got to know these people through their loved ones and friends… I mourn for them even though I never met them.”
That mourning isn’t just for the dead, but the survivors as well. Tapper notes that we have hundreds of thousands of veterans who aren’t getting the care they need to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Part of the reason is the stigma attached to mental illness which prevents some veterans from seeking the help they need.
“Last year,” said Tapper, “more American service members died at their own hand than died in Afghanistan for the first time ever… I’m not enough of an expert on the policy in this to say what we need to do, but I can tell you without any question we’re not doing enough.”
Tapper ultimately hopes that people who read “The Outpost” will be moved by it. He said, “If you are from a military family or you yourself have served, I hope that the book honors your service, honors your loved one’s service. If you are like me and you are not somebody who has an immediate connection to the military, I hope the book provides you with an understanding of who these people are, and of being inspired by their selflessness. But also, [I hope it conveys] the gravity of sending people like this to dangerous places and the need to make sure that when we do it, we do it right and give them everything they need to accomplish their task and support them and their loved ones at home.”
For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, GETTING THROUGH GRIEF WITH GOD, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Toni Rossi is director of communitcations for The Christophers.