12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, September 9, 2007
When the moment came for 24-year-old Brandon Friedman to lead his unit of the "Screaming Eagles" of the 101st Airborne Division into combat in Afghanistan in 2002, he was hungry for the experience.
"Massive bombing. Snipers. Mortars. And most of all, payback for September 11. It sounded great. It was everything I ever wanted as a kid," the Dallas resident writes in his new memoir, The War I Always Wanted.
Over the next two years in Iraq and Afghanistan, reality replaced myth for Mr. Friedman. War, it turned out, was a lot more like making movies than watching them, with long stretches of mind-numbing boredom punctuated by a few moments of action.
Then there were the two freak instances that should have killed him. First, a U.S. F-16 mistakenly dropped a 2,000-pound bomb on his platoon in Afghanistan; it didn't explode, a 1-in-50 occurrence. Later, out on patrol weeks before he was due to leave Iraq, an insurgent aimed a rocket-propelled grenade at Mr. Friedman's Humvee. It would have killed everyone inside had it launched, but, as his team discovered after gunning down the attacker, the rocket failed to ignite.
Later, while backpacking through Europe, he muses on how deeply the war affected him: "I always thought it would have been easier. The soul-crushing phenomenon of fear before combat had been unexpected. It had left me more afraid of dying than ever." It also left him with a seething, post-traumatic anger that prompts him to contemplate killing a Greek barmaid who tries to overcharge him for drinks.
Throughout this terse and emotionally honest memoir, Mr. Friedman, who now works as an editor-blogger for VoteVets.org, is equally introspective as he is descriptive. This allows readers to experience things alongside him, rather than merely gasp in awe at his heroics or sit clucking in judgment.
This intimacy differentiates his book from other fine, if partisan, war memoirs that have come before it this summer: the wry and cynical Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green by the pseudonymous Jonny Rico, and Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell's flag-waving Lone Survivor.
No, Mr. Friedman's wartime experience wasn't worthy of winning him a Medal of Honor (he did earn two Bronze Stars) or even an option for a Hollywood screenplay, but it did endow him with a wisdom beyond his years. Surviving a war, it seems, takes a bit of luck; coping with the memory and aftermath of one takes maturity.
Edward Nawotka is a Houston freelance writer.