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Book Review: Outlaw Platoon  by Sean Parnell & John Bruning

Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan  by Sean Parnell and John Bruning is a non-fiction book about Mr. Parnell’s experience as a platoon leader (nicknamed Outlaw Platoon) for the U.S. Army Airborne Ranger in Afghanistan. In service for six years, Mr. Parnell retired with two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

Outlaw Platoon does not hold any punches. The descriptions of the horrors as well as the elation of battle are vivid and evocative. However, this is not only the story of Parnell, but the story of a platoon working and living together in a dangerous, inhospitable place.

This is a gritty book, not only with the vibrant descriptions of what the author has been through, but also of the enemy we are fighting. An enemy whose goal was to decapitate the soldiers with dull knives and stick their heads on polls as warnings, or who seem to get their kicks kidnapping a six-year-old boy, gouging his eyes out, pulling his teeth and using him as their sexual plaything.

Mr. Parnell writes with honesty and clarity; eager to prove himself in battle, he soon gets plenty of opportunities to do so during his tour. The book revolves around several battles in which Parnell’s platoon came out victorious but not unhurt.

One of the aspects which I really appreciated in the book is that the author does not underestimate the enemy. While the propaganda we often hear is about “cave dwelling towel heads,” this misinformation is far from the truth. The enemy the Rangers encountered is a disciplined, well equipped, well trained, organized and experienced military force.

Unfortunately I have encountered the same attitude (usually from officers) during my military service. I remember telling my father about this issue when I was a 20 year old sergeant, how the misinformation is doing moral damage to the families at home, hurting the soldiers training (by being unprepared for what lays ahead) and, of course, causing many superior forces to lost battles and wars. Twenty years later he remembered my words when that same group was stirring troubles again and everyone was surprised at its organization and ferocity… except those who had faced them before.

The book also raises some disturbing issues which young officers on the front-lines have to deal with — issues such as local, national and international politics, the complexities of the societies which they have to operate in, the complexities of combat, frustrations of front-lines soldiers with back-lines support personnel and more.

Outlaw Platoon raises some important questions which need to be asked (preparedness, effectiveness, professionalism) but that are difficult to face. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in the current war, combat or military life.

Related Reads:
Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden
The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier by Imtiaz Gul

  • 416 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062066404

Buy this book in paper or electronic (Kindle) format.

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