Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistanby Sean Parnell
A riveting story of American fighting men, Outlaw Platoon is Lieutenant Sean Parnell’s stunning personal account of the legendary U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division’s heroic stand in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Acclaimed for its vivid, poignant, and honest recreation of sixteen brutal months of nearly continuous battle in the/p>/em>
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A riveting story of American fighting men, Outlaw Platoon is Lieutenant Sean Parnell’s stunning personal account of the legendary U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division’s heroic stand in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Acclaimed for its vivid, poignant, and honest recreation of sixteen brutal months of nearly continuous battle in the deadly Hindu Kesh, Outlaw Platoon is a Band of Brothers or We Were Soldiers Once and Young for the early 21st century—an action-packed, highly emotional true story of enormous sacrifice and bravery.
A magnificent account of heroes, renegades, infidels, and brothers, it stands with Sebastian Junger’s War as one of the most important books to yet emerge from the heat, smoke, and fire of America’s War in Afghanistan.
A mountain platoon made up of a diverse group of Americans engages in over a year of consistent combat in Afghanistan. Considered one of the most detailed and realistically told modern war memoirs, this story has great bravado and heart.
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By Sean Parnell
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2013 Sean Parnell
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Speedometer needles touching fifty, Outlaw Platoon's six armored Humvees blasted down the Afghan road, trailing plumes of dust that could be seen for miles. In an area that lacked even a single asphalt highway, this was the best dirt road we'd yet encountered. Smoothed and tempered by generations of passing travelers, it had no cart tracks to give our shock absorbers a workout, no drifts of desert dust to bog us down. After weeks of cross-country patrols so jarring they knocked fillings loose, our run south through the district of Gamal seemed as effortless as taking a lap at Daytona Speedway.
In Afghanistan, we Americans have to adjust our transportation expectations. We are used to traveling fast. The men of my platoon favored muscle cars such as GTOs and Mustangs, or suspension lifted pickup trucks. Out here, the terrain rarely allowed us to go more than fifteen or twenty miles per hour. It was like being stuck in a perpetual school crossing zone.
Today, when we turned onto this unusual stretch of road, our drivers capitalized on the opportunity. They grew lead feet and poured on the coals. The speed felt glorious.
The road bisected a broad valley six hours' drive south of our base at Bermel. In this flat, treeless area, the only sign of life we'd seen for miles was patches of rugged plants that had somehow thrived in an environment of extremes: heat and cold, drought and floods. To our left, a wadi veined through the ancient landscape. Earlier, we had tried to use it to traverse the valley in the hope of avoiding roadside bombs. As our rigs splashed through the trickle of water at the bottom, Staff Sergeant Phil Baldwin's Humvee sank to its doors in quicksand. So much for that idea.
Steep ridges defined the valley's boundaries. Even without a tree or a bush to give color to their slopes, these spines of the Hindu Kush still gave refuge to our enemy. They ceded us the low ground while they hid out in well-stocked caves that had been in use since the Soviet war of the 1980s.
The signs of that war lingered. During this drive south, we'd seen the skeletal remains of villages cratered by Russian bombs. In the surviving towns, the locals told us horror stories of the Soviet occupation. One farmer spoke of watching his son be thrown to the ground and stomped to death by laughing Red Army troops. After that, his entire village had braved the harsh mountains to escape on foot to a refugee camp in Pakistan.
This was our area of operations, a harsh and barren land whose people had known nothing but violence for decades.
I glanced over at my driver and radioman, Specialist Robert Pinholt. We'd been on the road since dawn, and his face was striped with dirt and sweat. His helmet rode low over his brow, his uniform and body armor powdered with Afghan dust. The only time we were ever truly clean was in the shower. When he sensed my gaze, he tore his eyes from the road to steal a quick look at me.
"What, sir?" he asked. His piercing blue eyes stood in contrast to the dull grime on his face. He was a broad-chested twenty-year-old with earnest good looks and an engaging smile. If he'd been in overalls instead of ACUs, he'd have looked like an extra on the set of Green Acres.
He'd been railing about the U.S. Postal Service again, and I couldn't help but laugh at his passionate hatred for this small section of our federal government.
"Pinholt," I said, "I don't understand where all this hostility comes from." "What do you mean, sir? Isn't it obvious? The government's violating the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. It has a captive monopoly and can cross subsidize to expand into other business areas, undercutting the private corporations that compete in those areas." Government waste was one of Pinholt's biggest pet peeves. So far, he'd managed almost an hour's rant on the post office. I was impressed.
"Sir, look: not privatizing the post office is just bad fiscal policy. They've got seventy billion in unfunded liabilities, they're running billions in the red every year in a business where everyone else is in the black, and they compete unfairly against UPS and FedEx." "They deliver the fucking mail, Pinholt. My shit gets from point A to point B quickly, and that's all I care about. What more do you want?"
He ignored me. "The post office is tax exempt. That's one advantage. It is free of SEC reporting requirements. Its accounting procedures would trigger an IRS investigation in any other American corporation. The postmaster can go to the U.S. Treasury and borrow money whenever he wants, at rates no private company could ever get."
"So?" I asked, goading him. Pinholt had the heart of a warrior, but the mind of an economist. I loved to provoke him, as he usually had very well thought out opinions. Plus, the more I got to know him, the more I realized he was a case study in contrasts, and that intrigued me. He was a Texas native who spoke without an accent. Dallas born and raised, he hated the Cowboys and loved the Don Shula–era Dolphins. He was a buttoned-down conservative who didn't touch liquor, didn't smoke or even drink caffeine, but in his spare time I'd catch him listening to hippie rock like Phish. He had a thing for opera, too.
"So?" he said in surprise. "Even with all those advantages the post office is a huge drain on the taxpayers! Even the European Union's privatizing their mail delivery. Think about that. All those socialist countries are going that route, while we let the federal government mismanage a business that would otherwise make billions. And those billions would be taxable. Instead of a drain on the budget, mail delivery could be a revenue enhancer."
With nothing else to do but talk or debate, those long vehicular patrols were like college road trips with heavy weapons.
We came to a slight bend in the road. "Hey, watch out, Pinholt." I warned. He was drifting a bit again, distracted by our conversation. This happened a lot. "Don't try to kill us twice in one day." That annoyed him, "Come on, sir. That's getting old already." "Hey, you almost drove us off a cliff. You're never going to live that down."
Earlier that day, we'd had to negotiate a treacherous mountain trail to get into this valley. It wound down a cliff in a series of switchbacks so sharp that our Humvees couldn't take them without our drivers executing three-point turns. On one, Pinholt had edged the nose of our rig over the cliff, shifted into reverse, and gunned the gas. Unfortunately, our rigs had been beaten up by months of hard use. The transmissions, which had not been designed for all the weight our armored Humvees now carried, sometimes stuck or jammed. In this case, ours didn't move out of drive. We lurched forward and almost went over the edge. The rig teetered on the brink as we all started to scream at Pinholt. I grabbed my gunner, Chris Brown, and yanked him inside the rig out of fear he'd be thrown clear if we did go over. Not that it would have mattered. The valley floor was at least five hundred feet below us.
Truth was, I was impressed by how Pinholt came through in the clutch. He stayed calm, shifted gears again, and waited to hit the gas until he was absolutely certain the transmission was functioning properly. When he heard a soft thunk as it finally shifted into reverse, he eased off the brake and backed us away from the brink. We'd been harassing him unmercifully ever since.
"Gettin' old, sir," he said again.
"Tell you what, I'll lay off when you give me my MREs back." Pinholt knew I was a picky eater. Before leaving on patrols, he made a point to purloin my favorite MREs - meals ready to eat - and hide them, just to get a rise out of me. We'd had a running battle for weeks over this.
"I'll think about it, sir."
"You're a hell of a radioman, Pinholt. But I swear to God, you drive like a blind old lady."
"Awww, sir, cheap!"
The late afternoon sun perched atop the ridge lines, spilling red-gold light across the valley. We sped along, each Humvee topped by an armored turret with a heavy weapon mounted inside. Our five machine guns and one automatic grenade launcher gave our gunners ready access to more firepower than any other platoon from any other war. Our dads in Vietnam could have used this much heat. When combined with the thirty men and six vehicles we had, Outlaw Platoon possessed muscle, mobility, and numbers to handle almost any challenge. Even if we got in over our heads, we had my radios. With them, I could call in artillery, unleash helicopter gunships, or target satellite guided bombs on our enemy. In the month since we'd arrived in country, the enemy had remained elusive and we had yet to encounter them in a stand-up fight. Yet the hills had eyes. I had a nagging sense that we were always being watched. Studied, really. We were the new kids in town, and they knew enough about the U.S. Army to know that units, like people, have their own quirks. Some are disciplined; some are lax. Some are aggressive; some are timid. Until they figured us out, they were content to observe. But sooner or later, I knew they would pick a time and place to give us our first test. The road curved slightly as it followed the lip of the wadi. As we came around the bend, I could see our destination rising out of the valley floor along the horizon. A hundred and fifty years ago, the British had constructed a redoubt atop a sheer walled mesa that dominated the entire southern half of the valley. From the base of the mesa, the slate colored cliffs rose almost straight up for a full kilometer before flattening to a narrow plateau. The mud walls of the old British fort ran along the edge of the plateau. Medieval style towers abutted the walls at regular intervals.
This was Bandar, the most important coalition base in the area. It towered over the valley road, affording the soldiers atop it a clear view of the traffic moving below. Because of that, it was a natural choke point, one that was virtually impregnable to attack thanks to its thousand meter cliffs. No insurgent force could ever scale them- hell, not even the Rangers who'd taken Pointe du Hoc on D-Day could have climbed them under fire.
We drew close, and our drivers eased off the gas. We reached an intersection and turned toward the mesa. The road narrowed and entered the northern cliff face. We could see how long dead British engineers had blasted through the sheer rock to build the track up to the fort. It would be an impressive feat today, let alone in the 1850s.
"Pinholt," I said as we stared at the steep road ahead.
Before I could continue he interrupted me. "Sir, I know. I know." We stopped, and one of my men jumped out to guide us forward. As we inched along, the clearance between the cliff on one side and the sheer drop on the other diminished until we barely had a meter on either side of us. I would not have even been able to open my door if I had wanted to. Pinholt stayed on the ball and did a good job.
The track snaked up the mesa, making regular forty-five degree turns, until we reached the fort's front gate. The original entrance had been destroyed long before and had been replaced by strands of concertina wire stretched across a metal framed gate.
A rusted conex box had been placed nearby to give the guards cover from the elements. I saw no fighting positions nearby, but in the distance a Soviet-era ZU-23 double-barreled antiaircraft cannon stood silhouetted against the twilight sky.
A teenage Afghan Border Policeman (ABP) wearing a green camouflage jacket, khaki pants, and a Chicago Bulls 1990 National Championship cap stepped out of the conex to greet us. His AK-47 dangled carelessly at his side. Flecks of rust marred its receiver; the magazine was dinged and scuffed.
Ancient gear, poorly kept. I made a note of that.
Our 'terp, Abdul, spoke a few words to the guard, and he waved us through the entrance, pulling the gate open as he eyed us with interest. We rolled into the fort. As we passed the ZU-23, I could see it was but a rusted hulk. There was no way it could be returned to firing condition. Hell, it had probably been there since the Reagan era.
Here and there, Afghan Border Policemen stood with their weapons slung haphazardly. Some smoked home-rolled cigarettes. All of them looked stupefied with boredom. They stared at us as we passed as if we'd come from a different planet.
Neglect and age had combined to leave the fort in a state of near ruin, something we could not detect as we made our approach along the valley's floor. Now we slid by crumbled guard towers, their wooden frames jutting out of the hardened mud like ancient bones. A few old buildings still had enough walls and roof left to be used to store equipment and supplies in. The rest of them were of little use to anyone except, perhaps, military archaeologists. The outer wall had many gaps, which had been haphazardly screened with strands of concertina wire. If it hadn't been for the thousand meter cliffs, the place would have been a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Excerpted from Outlaw Platoon by Sean Parnell. Copyright © 2013 by Sean Parnell. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
“Outlaw Platoon is expertly told by a man who braved the heat of battle time and time again. An epic story as exacting as it is suspenseful, it reveals the bravery and dedication of our armed service men and women around the world.”
“Outlaw Platoon put me back on the battlefield again. It’s a heartfelt story that shows how very different people can be thrown together in combat and find a way to make it work. Parnell and the soldiers who fought beside him are all courageous heroes—real bad asses.”
“Outlaw Platoon is an exceptional look into the mind of a platoon leader in Afghanistan; Captain Parnell shares his experiences of leadership, loss, and aggressive military tactics. You can really feel the bonds forged between these brothers in arms as the battle plays out”
“[A] soulful story of men at war . . . Outlaw Platoon shows us that the love and brotherhood forged in the fires of combat are the most formidable quaities a unit can possess.”
“At times, I forgot I was reading about a war as I was drawn up in the drama the same way you [are] when reading Krakauer’s Into Thin Air . . . This is a book of probing honesty, wrenching drama and courage.”
“Two of the most intense tales of courage under fire I own are Black Hawk Down and Lone Survivor. I now have a third, Outlaw Platoon. It’s an absolutely gripping, edge-of-your-seat ride.”
“Sean Parnell reaches past the band-of-brothers theme to a place of brutal self-awareness . . . [he] never flinches from a fight, nor the hard questions of a messy war.”
“Outlaw Platoon is an utterly gripping account of what our soldiers endure on the front lines—the frustrations, the fear, the loneliness. . . Here, in these pages, are the on-the-ground realities of a war we so rarely witness on news broadcasts”
Meet the Author
Sean Parnell is a former U.S. Army airborne ranger who served in the legendary 10th Mountain Division for six years, retiring as a captain. He received two Bronze Stars (one for valor) and the Purple Heart. He is a passionate supporter of America's military and is currently serving as an ambassador for the Boot Campaign, a national veteran's charity. He lives with his wife and three children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
John R. Bruning is the coauthor of the critically acclaimed Outlaw Platoon (with Sean Parnell) and of House to House (with David Bellavia). He wrote dispatches from the field while embedded with an infantry unit in post-Katrina New Orleans, and received the prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award for Journalism from the Department of Defense for an article he wrote while embedded with the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade’s TF-Brawler in Afghanistan. He lives in Oregon.
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As a member of Outlaw Platoon, I can not stress enough the importance of this book to our nation's forgotten infantry soldiers. Outlaw Platoon is an honest and compelling account of life and death in the trenches and does true justice to our combat experience. As you read this post, there are thousands of men on battlefields around the world killing and suffering for the preservation of American ideals. As a civilized society and beneficiaries of our nation's might, we must meet their sacrifices with unwavering support. It is not enough for us to adhere a yellow ribbon to our cars, to shake a soldier's hand, or even to send care packages to the front. More than anything, these men need our understanding. They need to know that we are aware of their plight, that we are invested in their success, and that we are willing to help shoulder the burdens of combat, just by listening and caring. Outlaw Platoon is a window into the world of America's infantry warriors. In the book, Sean puts you on the ground in Afghanistan, straps 100 pounds of gear on your back, and injects you into the fight. However, he also introduces you to the human side of the war, highlighting the exceptional diversity of the platoon and the strength that it generates, as well as the horrifying realities of life for Afghani civilians. Not only is Outlaw Platoon a thrilling, emotionally-charged read, it is a tool for healing the wounded souls of our discarded patriots and reuniting the American people with the guardians of our way of life. It is our undeniable duty as Americans to share the load of our foreign wars, and by simply reading Outlaw Platoon with a compassionate heart, we are doing our part for the men we put in harm's way.
How do you write a review for such a book, I struggle to find the words. As the mother of an infantryman who will be back in Afghanistan within a matter of days, the book frightened me, it broke my heart, and I wept a time or two in the reading of it. Yet it gave me a glimpse into the life of the Infantry, helped me to understand why it is difficult for these men we love to share their experiences. It made me proud and grateful that such men live, and it made me yearn for peace. The story of Outlaw Platoon is well written, and the inner thoughts and feelings of Sean the young Lt leading the platoon give the reader insight into what combat is like, and what it does to the hearts, minds and souls of the men who endure it. My words do not do justice to the book, but I hope that you will read it for yourself, I truly wish every American would read it, for the story is worthy and needs to be told.
This book is fantastic. It is so well written you feel like you know the men in the story personally and you are right there experiencing what they go through. You don't need to be a huge military buff to read it either. The book exposes war and the bond it forges between the men who fight in it. It evokes so many emotions highs and lows---on top of that it is a real page turner. I finished the book in a few days, I couldn't put it down. It is a story of an amazing group of men and I'm so glad their story has been told! Read this book, I promise you won't regret it!
War is hell to the soldier in a combat zone and completely unfathomable to any person fortunate enough to never experience it. Outlaw Platoon will bring the reader to the mountains of Afghanistan where they will get a clear look into the psychology, emotions, pains, and triumphs of America’s service personnel. Outlaw Platoon is an honest, gritty, and no-holds-barred depiction of combat through the eyes of a young officer. While not writing this for dramatic effect, I view Captain Parnell as a modern day Major Winters, i.e., a humble, dedicated, competent, hero that puts the needs of his men far beyond his own. Captain Parnell modestly credits his NCOs for holding the platoon together, but good leadership starts at the top. As a former NCO, it is clear to me that Captain Parnell is the heart of the platoon. Many former military personnel try not to relive horrific experiences endured while deployed. I see it as pure bravery and the need to enlighten others that Captain Parnell wrote this story. Outlaw Platoon is so gripping that it took me less than 6 hours to read the entire book, for it was impossible to put down. This is a story that needs to be told. I highly recommend this book to anyone considering a military career, anyone that served, and to anyone that wishes to have a greater understanding of America’s warriors. God bless Captain Parnell and the brave men that served under his command in Afghanistan.
I typically do not read this type of book but I went out on a limb & am glad I did. It is one of those books that grabs your attention & just sweeps you up in the story. The author balances the gritty, horrific aspects of modern warfare with the respect & devotion to life and to each other that the platoon members develop over the course of their deployment. It is a gripping tale that will leave you reflecting upon how dedicated our servicemen are to us & wondering just how dedicated America is to them...
This book is great. I was a member of this platoon and as I have been reading this book I have relived alot of these moments where I was when all this was going on. It is a great book and I would recommend it to everyone if they want to know what its like to be in combat. Great book Sean.
This book was an excellent read! This is a book you will want to finish in one sitting, as you are pulled right into the story from the first page!
A must read for anyone looking to better understand what the men who serve our country endure while in combat today. This is one of the finest memoirs I have ever read concerning military combat.
One big lie. As a member of Bravo Company 2/87 who was there, I can tell you this book is a bunch of lies. From the details of the firefights to the claims of injuries. Even those who served in 3rd Platoon admit most of their purple hearts are ridiculous. True a lot were earned but many were not. Parnell forced his men to go to the aid station so they could get purple hearts. That is why they all got kicked out until he made a fuss. He himself got laughed out for his "injuries". He also got his bronze star with valor after he made a subordinate write up the award for him. By the way it was a silver star he put in for but the BC scoffed and said he doesn't get a silver star for doing his job.
This book is an amazing depiction of war through the eyes of an American Hero. Our men do not get enough credit for the sacrifices they make and things they endure on the front lines. Once you start reading you will not stop until you have finished the book. Emotionally gripping account of the everyday lives of American warriors on the boarder of Pakistan; one of the most dangerous areas in the entire country of Afghanistan. Support our men and get a copy for yourself!
One of the best books I've read period. If anyone wants to know what it's like to be in a war, this is the book. Well written. Could not put it down.
An exciting read about a tight unit in a confusing and dangerous place.
Absolutely one of the best books I've ever read ..hard to put down..at times an emotional roller-coaster. .great job on the book and thank you for your service
I read this book to get an idea of what my Army son might face deployed to this country. The real heroes are out in combat fatigues, their spirits never quit they live on after deployment!! Thank you all for your service!!!
This is a killer book. This guy is awesome. Takes a lickin keeps on tickin!
Outlaw Platoon will find a lasting home among histories "must reads". A modern "With the Old Breed". An excellent read by an unusually humble warrior/author. His descriptions of the internal and external battles faced gives a deeper understanding of the current long war and the struggles faced by our warriors abroad and on the home front. His honest insight into the heart that carries these men through is greatly appreciated.
This book was exceptional! Well worth the read, it's truly an amazing story of brotherhood and courage under fire. I felt like I was right there with Lieutenant Parnell and the brave men of Outlaw Platoon just by reading this book. If you have any interest whatsoever in military books then definitely pick this one up and read it! Even if you aren't that into military books definitely pick it up still because it is a fantastic read. Thank you Lieutenant Sean Parnell, the brave men of Outlaw Platoon and all the brave men and women who fight and defend our country.
A very emotional read. You cannot help but get caught up in the sixteen months these marvelous young men endured in Afghanistan. My strongest recommendation to read this book. J M Lydon
Outlaw platoon describes the physical and emotional challenges of high altitude warfare. Really, when in places such as Afghanistan, soldiers only have each other to rely on. Heroism in these venues is almost a daily occurrence. The problem when working with the locals is, who can you trust?
Lots of action and actual situations.
This is a very deep reaccounting of these mens history. The arthors are able to capture the true feelings. Thank you for telling this story.