Authored and Narrated by Sebastian Junger
Audiobook, 7 hours and 21 minutes
Published by Hachette Audio
Author Sebastion Junger was a journalist and documentarian who was embedded with a detachment from the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment. In 2010 the men were assigned to an outpost in Afghanistan’s Korangal Valley named Restrepo after a Medic from the unit who was killed. Junger’s job there was to observe and record. He lived alongside the soldiers from the unit, went where they went, slept where they slept, and ate what they ate. He did everything everybody else there did except engage the enemy.
Some military units perform better than others, and the reasons for this have been studied and debated for centuries. Often units which outperform others are said to have “esprit de corps” or better “unit cohesion” or even the nebulous “right stuff”. Trying to pin down what these terms mean (and how to duplicate their requisite virtues) is like trying to squeeze water.
Junger comes closer than any other author I have read in identifying what makes soldiers tick. Shared experiences (the more arduous the better) develop into a sense of brotherhood within the unit, until each soldier identifies more as a part of the unit than as an individual. At that point the soldier fears failing his comrades more than death or injury to himself. Throughout the book the soldiers are introspective about any events which have gone wrong, or even could have gone wrong, and what they might have done differently to prevent it. Everything in that environment is important, any mistake, however small, could potentially result in injury or death to someone. Each soldier’s greatest fear is letting their comrades down, their greatest security is knowing everyone has their back. The feeling of belonging to something bigger than themselves is what they miss when returning to the civilian world, and one reason so many have trouble adjusting.
This is a seminal work and one of the top-tier books on what makes a combat unit effective. Junger just nails it. I will read this book again to see what I’ve missed. My highest recommendation.