Sunday, October 18, 2009

Book Review: Welcome to Afghanistan by Benjamin Tupper

Welcome To Afghanistan: Send More Ammo Welcome To Afghanistan: Send More Ammo by Benjamin Tupper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Benjamin Tupper was a New York National Guardman sent to Afghanistan as part of an Embedded
Training Team, a two-man team that is embedded into an Afghan Army unit to train Afghan soldiers how to be real soldiers, by living with them and going into combat with them. When you see in the news discussions on giving the Afghans the ability to defend themselves, this is how it is done.

In his civilian life, Tupper is a social worker, and he describes his writing these blog entries that turned into this book as a part of his therapy. As such, the stories in the book range widely across the range of emotions. Pride in a job well done, joy in something working or a lesson properly taught, cursing at mistakes made, wonder of a disaster very nearly avoided through no fault of his own, depression of the loss of a comrade, exaltation over mere survival. And he even takes you home, as he deals with both his own demons and tries to help some of the other ETTs who have come back and have to reintegrate themselves into American society.

There is no claim of looking at a bigger picture here. It is one man discussing his experience as part of the U.S. military at war. But the ETT experience is distinctive in the world of war. Missing are the supportive comrades of arms that the soldier can lean on for support during and in between combats. The ETT works in pairs, away from the close support of other American units. The ETT is exposed to all the same hazards as the Afghan army units he is with, and because he is different, he is exposed to even more hazards and stresses as an outsider to the group he is embedded in. And even when ETTs joined the rest of the Army (like his trips to Bagram) it is like a different world. Other then special forces type units, there are none like this.

I overlapped with Tupper in Afghanistan for a month. I'm not saying I knew him, but I recognize his characterizations of people (Army and local), events and situations.

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