Former Army officer Parnell and collaborator Bruning (Shadow of the Sword) 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, 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. Agent: Jim Hornfischer, Hornfischer Literary Management. (Mar.)
This is the story of a brotherhood of soldiers whose bond was forged in the fire of battle during an intense year of fighting against insurgents in Afghanistan. Parnell, a highly decorated former U.S. Army Airborne ranger now working on his Ph.D. in clinical psychology, writes candidly about the struggles of leadership, the emotional toll of losing friends to war, and the fight against enemies known and unknown. He relives specific battles, and his retelling of the stories reads at times like an adventure novel, full of adrenaline. Parnell witnesses firsthand betrayals by so-called American allies—Afghan military leaders, interpreters, and Pakistani military and government representatives who share information and lend support to the Taliban—while also developing a deep trust in his own platoon. His description of the torture and mutilation of civilians, particularly children, by the enemy is brutal and not for the faint of heart. VERDICT A stark reminder of war's toll on honorable women and men, this book will be of interest to military historians and those looking for a kick-in-the-gut picture of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.—Lt. Col. Martha Bauder, U.S. Army Reserve, Mesa, AZ
Grim, gritty account of infantry combat on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, from a youthful lieutenant determined to act nobly amid violence and chaos. In 2006, Parnell was a neophyte Army Airborne Ranger with the storied 10th Mountain Division, assigned as a new platoon leader in Afghanistan, desperate to prove himself: "In combat, men measure up. Or fail. There are no second chances." This honesty about emotional and sensory aspects of combat drives this narrative more than overt commentary on the Afghanistan mission. As it happened, Parnell received many opportunities to prove himself in battle. The narrative develops around several grueling set pieces, in which Parnell's platoon was ambushed by an insurgent faction that unexpectedly turned out to be a skilled, disciplined and cold-blooded fighting force, determined to win a propaganda victory by brutalizing an American platoon. These raw, controlled scenes of battle seemingly benefit from the authorial collaboration: Besides being a prolific author of military histories, Bruning (Chasing Shadows: A Special Agent's Lifelong Hunt to Bring a Cold War Assassin to Justice, 2011, etc.) embedded himself with a combat unit in Afghanistan in 2010. The result is a carefully rendered account of Parnell's tour, with verisimilitude provided by extensive specific details illustrating the sheer complexity of modern combat, as well as the frustrating officer politics on remote bases. Parnell focuses on the experiences of several platoon members, and he writes that it is brotherly love that bonds soldiers in combat, ensuring their survival. He also observes his comrades' deep ambivalence toward their Pakistani allies and the Afghani people's willingness to reform and defend their society. The book's main flaw is a repetitiveness that becomes mawkish: Points about the soldiers' personal burdens and the bond of brotherhood in combat are made so often that they become less rather than more effective. This flaw, however, may not bother the book's intended audience. Well-told combat narrative that raises disturbing questions about America's professionalized military and the post-9/11 objectives with which they've been tasked.
The range of emotions that Sean Parnell summons in Outlaw Platoon [is] stunning. A nuanced, compelling memoir . . . Parnell shows he’s a gifted, brave storyteller.
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.
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 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
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
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.
[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.
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.
This book is more than just a rip-roaring combat narrative: it is a profoundly moving exploration into the nature and evolution of the warrior bond forged in desperate, against-all-odds battles. A significant book, not to be missed.
Outlaw Platoon is the real deal. It’s a terrific tale of combat leadership that deserves to be studied by all small-unit leaders. The narrative goes beyond the battlefield to depict the maddening nature of the war and the grit of those who selflessly protect us.