If you’ve ever wanted to understand what it means to be an infantry platoon leader in Afghanistan, understand what it is that our men and women endure or are captivated by the inner workings and strategies of war, then Sean Parnell’s “Outlaw Platoon” should be on your ‘must read’ list.
Not only is this a book that will open your eyes and heart to what those in the infantry faced in that war, it is also about a Pushmataha County native, Colten Wallace, US Army Specialist E-4 of the 10th Mountain Division, Company B, Outlaw Platoon. Colten is the beloved son of Jana Wallace and he received a Purple Heart for injuries sustained in battle.
The book was written by former Army officer, Sean Parnell, and collaborator, John Bruning (writer of Shadow of the Sword). Together they reprise Parnell’s 16 months as an infantry platoon leader in Afghanistan in this heartfelt memoir.
In 2006, Parnell and his 10th Mountain Division platoon (which included Wallace), the self-styled Outlaws, arrived in Afghanistan’s Bermel Valley, which borders Pakistan. Their mission was “to stanch the flow of enemy troops and supplies into Afghanistan.” Besides their 32 Purple Hearts, the platoon (which usually patrolled with about 30 men, loaded into six Humvees) earned seven Bronze Stars and 12 Army Commendations for Valor, making it one of the most decorated units in the Afghan war.
Parnell vividly captures the sounds, sights, and smells of combat, and proves most eloquent when describing the bond—“selflessness was our secret weapon”—that developed among his men.
Studiously nonpartisan, Parnell still raises important questions about Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s integrity, the competence of the Afghan police, and the sincerity of our Pakistani “allies.” Parnell balances sentimentality with sincerity and crisp prose to produce one of the Afghan war’s most moving combat narratives.
Parnell manages to write a book that deals with the issues of command and the internal dynamics of the platoon of men while at war and still offers an extraordinarily good read which is easy to follow. His story is timeless and grabs you from page one, not letting go until you finish the book.
I found Parnell’s descriptions of the platoon’s development from a collection of soldiers to a “band of brothers” forged in the crucible of combat to be incredibly compelling. Just as compelling was the growth of Parnell as a leader enabled by the careful mentoring of his senior NCOs. That sort of development creates a synergy that makes a unit more capable and devastating to the enemy than their numbers would have you think they’d be.
One thing that will not surprise you in this book, is just how brave our warriors are, how well they are trained and the spirit they hold against the odds they routinely face.
It is a tremendous read, a page turner that wouldn’t let me put it down until I finished it. Do yourself a favor and read it. This is a story that every American should know.