Saturday, March 9, 2013

Book Review - Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell - A Riveting, Heart-wrenching, Page Turner

This is an engrossing, fascinating, and heart breaking personal account of the horrendous situation Luttrell and his SEAL teammates endured in the rugged Hindu Kush Mountains in northeast Afghanistan in the summer of 2005. Luttrell wrote the story because he wants the public to know his teammates as he knew them, and to understand the courage and dedication they exemplified, and who made the ultimate sacrifice. 
The book starts with Luttrell’s childhood dream to become a Navy SEAL, his early training, his enlistment into the Navy, and his SEAL training, including sniper and medic training. This background is important to the story because it shows how dedicated, patriotic, and strong these men are. They are heroes. The best of the best, the strongest of the strong; physically, mentally and morally. 
The rest of the book recounts how the team of four set out on Operation Redwing, were outnumbered by Taliban warriors 40 to 1, and fought gallantly to the end. Luttrell’s story paints a vivid picture, sometimes graphic, of the battle that left him wounded and the only survivor; of his struggle to escape, how he was sheltered by local Afghans villagers, and his ultimate rescue by Army Rangers. 
I didn’t want to put it down, I cried for the brave men lost, and I cheered Luttrell’s strength and determination to survive. 
I learned in this story that policy now for US troops is: Don’t shoot first. Especially if the target appears to be unarmed. If a soldier shoots first, he can be charged with murder in a civil court when he returns home. This is a heavy weight to bear for a moral man who has sworn to protect.
(And in 2009, the Department of Homeland Security started Operation Vigilant Eagle, calling for tight surveillance of returning veterans labeling them as ‘potential extremists and domestic terrorism threats’ because they may be ‘disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.’ This is how we treat our heroes? Stop the world, I want to get off. 
Written with the assistance of Patrick Robinson, best-selling author of US Navy-based novels. Together, they make this a riveting story. Highly recommended. *****


I’ve been researching Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for my WIP. Luttrell mentions several PTSD symptoms he suffers after returning home and his return to active duty. This is just my opinion looking in from the outside. I have no experience with PTSD or anyone living with it.
The most interesting item I came across is an article on The Daily Beast from The Hero Project, titled: A New Theory of PTSD and Veterans: Moral Injury 12.03.2012 (Quotes are from this article).
The new theory is that anxiety and fear are not the main cause of PTSD, as has been thought through the years (even before it was called PTSD, many returning soldiers and civilians have suffered one or more PTSD symptoms).
"The common thread is a violation of what is right, a tear in what some people freely call the soul."
This new theory is that some returning military, men and women, suffer from grief and guilt; that they are more injured by what they did (killing), or were unable to do for others (not being able to save a buddy, or help civilians), than by what was done to them (heavy combat, injury). There are many facets and symptoms to PTSD depending on the person’s personal experience. PTSD can be found in non-military, peace-time civilians who have been though trauma such as a violent attack, civil or domestic; or involved in a traffic accident, or experiencing a life-threatening act of nature: Hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis.
My thoughts today center on retuning combat vets.
"It is the tale of disintegrating vets, but also of seemingly squared-away former soldiers and spit-shined generals shuttling between two worlds: ours, where thou shalt not kill is chiseled into everyday life, and another, where thou better kill, be killed, or suffer the shame of not trying. There is no more hellish commute. "
This makes a lot of sense to me. These men are heroes. As stated above, they are dedicated, patriotic, and strong. They want to do good, help and protect others, and defend our freedom. So it’s only logical that killing others, whether the victims are the enemy (kill or be killed) or innocent by-standers, they will feel guilt. And when they can’t save or protect their buddies, they will feel the guilt and grief of loss. 
"Soldiers are supposed to be tough, cool, and ethically confident. But what happens when they have seen and done things that haunt their consciences? New studies suggest that the pain of guilt may be a key factor in the rise of PTSD." 
"…killing [is] the single greatest risk factor for PTSD, bigger even than heavy combat."
"…the word killing is the last thing you’ll hear the military discuss. The word doesn’t appear in training manuals, or surveys of soldiers returning from combat, and the effects of killing aren’t something the military screens for when service people come home. It’s strictly a private word, something hissed about in bars and between bunk beds."
Professionals are working on changing the treatment plans for returning combat vets, to focus on helping them understand their guilt and grief. I hope these studies are taken seriously by the powers that be. 
"…moral injury is still a long way from the mainstream. It isn’t considered an official diagnosis by the VA or the American Psychiatric Association." 

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