By: James Booth

“A second RPG pierces the windshield glass, detonating inside and spraying hot metal throughout the cockpit. The helicopter falls with a queasy rush.  In an instant, nearly fifty thousand pounds of rubber, steel, and American flesh crash to earth…. It was still 6:14 a.m., and the sun remained just below the horizon.  My life had changed in twenty seconds.”  — Nate Self, Two Wars

 

During my sophomore year at West Point, I had the opportunity to meet a man named Nate Self.  Nate was recently retired from the military and working on a project to help mentor and train young leaders at the United States Military Academy.  Over the course of the next few years, Nate returned to West Point on several occasions to mentor young cadets and inspire leadership in future officers.  One visit stands out amongst the rest.  I was taking a class entitled Battle Command, taught by retired General Frederick Franks. Nate Self was the guest speaker that day, there to tell a story about Operation Anaconda and a platoon of elite Rangers who were sent on a rescue mission to the top of Takur Ghar, a mountain in Afghanistan just miles from the Pakistan border.  This was Nate’s story, the same story he shares in his fittingly titled autobiography Two Wars.

As a Puller Clinic student, I thought it would be beneficial to share a real Soldier’s story with those advocating on behalf of veterans’ issues.  So I read Nate’s book for a second time and gave a presentation, ultimately hoping to inspire others to read it for themselves.  The first “war” described what most think of when they first hear the word; it tracks Nate’s early years, his decision to attend West Point, become an Infantry officer, and lead a platoon of soldiers in the elite Ranger Regiment.  These decisions led to one fateful fight in March 2002 during Operation Anaconda – a battle to destroy al-Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in the Shahi-Kot Valley of Afghanistan.  After one member of a SEAL team fell out of a helicopter directly onto a heavily fortified enemy fighting position and another SEAL was killed in a failed rescue attempt, Nate’s platoon of Rangers was sent as part of a Quick Reaction Force to make a second rescue attempt.  The events that transpired during the next fifteen hours forever changed the lives of everyone involved, including Nate Self.

The second “war” is far different from the first but equally as compelling and exceedingly personal.  Nate shares his struggles with PTSD and the difficulty of returning home after a subsequent deployment to Iraq.  Nate tells a difficult, honest, and intimate story that is raw at times but real and meaningful. People from all backgrounds and experiences can benefit from the context Nate offers – through personal struggles or from simply knowing someone who has experienced the realities of war.  Nate has the ability to inspire others with PTSD and offer encouragement and understanding to their friends and family seeking answers.

Reading Nate’s story reminded me of the man I met seven years ago, the leadership he demonstrated both in combat and the classroom, the heroic resilience of the men he fought alongside, and finally, his willingness to openly share the personal struggles that ensued upon returning home.  Nate Self’s story has something to offer everyone, whether a veteran living with the realities of the second war, an interested reader hoping to discover intriguing context to Operation Anaconda, an advocate for veterans’ issues, or simply a concerned citizen.

 

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