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A realistic novel of war by a former Marine recon captain follows a detachment of soldiers into Somalia, where they encounter dangerous thugs and official charges of murder against one of the men.
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Owen West attended Harvard on an ROTC scholarship and rowed heavyweight varsity crew. After graduation, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Marine Corps and commanded an infantry platoon, an infantry company, and a reconnaissance platoon, the Marine Corps special-ops unit. He was the honor graduate of his reconnaissance school, combat diver school, and long-range navigation school classes. After his service, he attended Stanford Business School, where he was elected co-president of his class and served as the CEO for the largest business school nonprofit in the nation. He is now a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is a commodities trader for Goldman Sachs & Co. In September 2000 he completed his fifth Eco-Challenge, the world's most difficult adventure race, navigating three Playboy Playmates to the finish line. In May 2001 he reached 28,000 feet on Mount Everest's north face before turning back. West and his wife, Susanne, live in New York City.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
9 December 1992
Butch: Then you jump first.
Sundance: No, I said.
Butch: What's the matter with you?
Sundance: I can't swim.
Butch: Why you crazy...the fall will probably kill ya.
I am floating in a black rubber Zodiac on a black ocean at night, waiting to enter a country that is darker still. I strain to hear the clack of an AK-47 coming off Safe, or the abrupt, metallic snick of a machine-gun bolt, but the rapid breathing in my boat makes it impossible to pinpoint the faint noises coming from the beach. It is just past midnight and we can't wait to crash this party.
My left arm is dangling over the side of the boat but I'm leery of dipping it into the Indian after the intelligence brief on the dangers below. I take a quick, quiet swipe to test the ocean's temperature and it is so thick with phosphorescence that five bright green streaks follow my fingers through the length of their swim, glowing for a few seconds after my hand has retreated. My right hand remains gently draped over my M-16, my only girlfriend at this moment, a sleek beauty with whom I have snuggled for two years.
I have to fight the urge to stand and scream. I'm excited not so much because we may be able to shoot at some folks tonight -- that's just a bonus, really -- but because this landing might very well make us famous. For a generation raised by celebrities and those who report on them, fame -- however fleeting -- is the grunt's modern medal. In The Good War, the press were the cheerleaders, and medals -- real feats -- distinguished soldiers. In Vietnam, the press were the critics and medals were ignored. We learned from that. The press need us -- and we can freeze them out if we so desire, just like we did in Desert Storm.
We grunts will never make the "Star Tracks" section of People, or be featured on Entertainment Tonight walking our Christophe-coiffed dogs, but CNN has guaranteed an Oscar celebration for us tonight. And maybe this time the world will learn the names of grunts instead of generals and fancy weapons. We don't really care which of us, just as long as it's one of us -- a brother SEAL or a Ranger would be all right, but a Marine grunt would be better. Just not a general or an admiral or a pilot. If you go home to a full meal and a bed, you're not one of us.
Welcome to the world's greatest karaoke party. Just don't forget to bring your rifle!
"Sharkman, this is Photograph, over," says the tiny plastic speaker shoved into my ear. A thin, rubber-coated wire connects it to the black Motorola radio taped to my shoulder harness. It is the SEAL platoon. They entered the water twenty minutes ago and swam in to the beach, and now they must be feet-dry. Why they didn't wangle a better call sign for this operation I don't know. I mean, come on. Our platoon workout T-shirt has a drawing of a huge, bare-chested man -- with a grinning shark head for a face -- emerging from the sea, firing an M-16; underneath him the slogan reads, "Kill 'Em All, Let God Sort 'Em Out."
What do the SEALs wear? A picture of a camera? A Def Leppard Pyromania tour shirt?
"Photograph, this is Sharkman, over," I say, hand cupped over my mouth so the throat microphone catches most of the sound.
"Let me speak to your six, over." The number means he wants to speak with the unit commander. Don't ask me why the military doesn't use "one" instead. So our platoon's second-in-command, Gunnery Sergeant Jarius Ricketts -- who, like every Marine who holds the rank, is known simply as Gunny -- is "Sharkman Five," and the numerical references end there or everyone gets confused; by rank the platoon has several "fours," lots of "threes," and one troublesome Marine who was just reduced to a "two" for flattening the nose of a British MP in Hong Kong three months ago.
"This is Sharkman Six, over," I say.
By virtue of a college education and the completion of officer candidate school, I was deemed fit for USMC consumption, had my lieutenant's bars pinned on my dress blues by my chuckling, inebriated grandfather -- who slammed the pins deep into my shoulder muscles and shouted, "Them are your first blood stripes, butterbar! Now see if you can avoid screwing up the lives of your men like the rest of these zeros!" even as the other newly commissioned ROTC lieutenants were huddled in quiet conversations with their parents -- and was placed in charge of an infantry platoon, forty-five Marines recruited from across the socioeconomic spectrum, bound by a manic thirst for adventure and, ultimately, war.
Following a full two-year infantry tour complete with a 100-hour war, I applied to become a reconnaissance platoon leader. I endured a grueling day-long physical fitness test, passed the interview, and was selected. On the day I departed my infantry battalion for recon, my battalion commander said, "Most lieutenants would kill to get to recon, but don't be tempted to mistake a good physical fitness score for tactical superiority. It's not a reward. I didn't overrule your selection, because I think it can you do some good. If you don't learn sound decision making with those seasoned NCOs, well, then I'd say you never will."
Most officers never engaged the enemy in Desert Storm and most of them were decorated for their service. My platoon attacked a trench in a fierce firefight and conducted a forced coronation ceremony for thirty-two Iraqis, making them instant kings in the eyes of their god, like it or not, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Of course, I also lost a good guy. When I faced my battalion commander hours later under a billowing black sky, his words were rapid-fire, all kill shots. "I thought my orders were to bypass all occupied trenches, Lieutenant. What was it about that you didn't understand?"
"I didn't have a choice, sir."
"You always have a goddamned choice, Lieutenant. You're an officer and an officer always has choices. You just chose wrong and a Marine's dead because of it. Dead!"
He turned suddenly and stormed off toward the burning well spit, twenty feet of fire lighting the rally point like some terrible death pyre, nowhere to hide from the circle of flickering faces staring at me, a ghostly jury just returned with the verdict. The dead Marine's name was Tommy "T-Bone" Bonneger.
The dead Marine's name is Tommy "T-Bone" Bonneger, and he may be Desert Storm's only grunt casualty.
When I arrived in recon nine months ago, I was determined to prove to my new platoon that I was a good officer who would listen to his men (as my grandfather had so often lectured), look out for them, and lead them -- though with just two years of experience it is a fair question to ask how a youngster like me could possibly lead men like them.
Recon Marines are in a little better shape and are a touch more maniacal than regular grunts, if that is possible, and most of them are older and far more seasoned than I. Enlisted men swarm the rigorous tryouts for reconnaissance platoons because of the promise of independence; recon Marines patrol in small teams devoid of officers and their concomitant micromanagement. So here I sit, the leader of a platoon of men who do not want to be led at all.
I am twenty-five years old.
"We are Disneyland. Repeat, we are Disneyland," the radio tells me. SEALs have the annoying radio habit of repeating phrases they consider to be important or particularly dramatic. As if simple code words require extraordinary digestion. Actually, for SEALs they might. "There's press people on the beach north of us. No signs of enemy. Repeat, beach is green. Beach is green, over."
"Roger. Did anyone see you land? Over," I ask. The military radio jargon sounds dorky and superfluous but it keeps things clear once we begin sho
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Book Description Simon & Schuster, 2001. Hardcover. Condition: New. large type edition. Seller Inventory # DADAX0743205421
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