The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Followsby Published 10 Jul 2012
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In the tradition of Michael Herr’s Dispatches and works by such masters of the memoir as Mary Karr and Tobias Wolff, a powerful account of war and homecoming.
Brian Castner served three tours of duty in the Middle East, two of them as the commander of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit in Iraq. Days and nights he and his team—his brothers—would venture forth in heavily armed convoys from their Forward Operating Base to engage in the nerve-racking yet strangely exhilarating work of either disarming the deadly improvised explosive devices that had been discovered, or picking up the pieces when the alert came too late. They relied on an army of remote-controlled cameras and robots, but if that technology failed, a technician would have to don the eighty-pound Kevlar suit, take the Long Walk up to the bomb, and disarm it by hand. This lethal game of cat and mouse was, and continues to be, the real war within America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But The Long Walk is not just about battle itself. It is also an unflinching portrayal of the toll war exacts on the men and women who are fighting it. When Castner returned home to his wife and family, he began a struggle with a no less insidious foe, an unshakable feeling of fear and confusion and survivor’s guilt that he terms The Crazy. His thrilling, heartbreaking, stunningly honest book immerses the reader in two harrowing and simultaneous realities: the terror and excitement and camaraderie of combat, and the lonely battle against the enemy within—the haunting memories that will not fade, the survival instincts that will not switch off. After enduring what he has endured, can there ever again be such a thing as “normal”? The Long Walk will hook you from the very first sentence, and it will stay with you long after its final gripping page has been turned.
"The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows" Reviews
Very personal account of a soldier's love affair with and devastation by warfare. Had the feel of poetry from the gut. He talks a lot about a sense of brotherhood among soldiers, and reflects some about the damage done to Iraqi people's lives in the pursuit of... whatever it was America was pursuing in Iraq. A happy ending? An honorable departure? I don't know and he doesn't seem to consider it his business to worry about it much either. In his work removing roadside bombs, he does notice and try to avoid gross injustice-- such as when his unit was expected to destroy workshops of Iraqi craftsmen on reports that crude weapons may have been made in one of them (his unit found no evidence of this and left without wreaking the expected havoc). It was also the story of how, in the moment it takes to step off a curb, his brain and life were overtaken by "the crazy," and it is the story of the long and confusing process of diagnosing and treating it. Running and yoga provided some reprieve, but still he found himself overcome by craziness, such as when he stood in a check-out line at a grocery store in his hometown and planned out how to kill everyone in order to get out of the store faster. How, I wondered, did such a preoccupied brain manage to write such a poignant memoir? I choose to take it as a hopeful sign that Brian Castner is re-taking his mind and his life from the occupying force of "the crazy."
What a beautiful, tragic book.
An absolute must-read if you liked The Hurt Locker or Brian Turner's excellent Here, Bullet.
When I deployed for the first time [my wife] asked her grandmother for advice. Her grandfather served in Africa and Europe in World War II. Her grandmother would know what to do.
"How do I live with him being gone? How do I help him when he comes home?" my wife asked.
"He won't come home," her grandmother answered. "The war will kill him one way or the other. I hope for you that he dies while he is there. Otherwise the war will kill him at home. With you."
Let me just warn you, this book is not, like so many other books about veterans, a story of redemption. Yes, there is a brief moment when Castner seems to overcome his crazy, just for a second. But it comes back, and the odds against him are insurmountable. After he describes panicking in an airport and mentally planning who to shoot first and where to go in order to escape, it's hard to imagine that he'll ever be all the way better. After he explains just a touch of the physics behind explosions and why they can destroy a brain without destroying the body around it, it's hard to think that he's ever going to be the way he was before. After he says that his wife wants him to cheat on her just so that she could leave him, you kind of give up on the idea of him having a normal life.
Castner has written a book that is deeply personal and brave. He reveals that something inside of him has been fundamentally and irrevocably broken, which can't be an easy thing to talk about for a man whose career and whose survival depended so long on being tough and mentally calm. More than that, he does a great job of connecting the past with the present and making the reader understand that the problem, for him, is that there's no longer a difference.
"The first thing you should know about me is that I'm crazy." In The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows, Brian Castner heartbreakingly shares anything but your typical war story. Castner takes us on a personal journey through not one, but two wars -- one in Iraq, and the other within himself -- brilliantly intertwining the two in a way so explosively raw.
Castner served three tours of duty in the Middle East as an officer of the U.S. Air Force, two of them as the commander of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit in Iraq. Castner delves into the day-to-day experiences of an EDO at war: the dangerous investigations of the aftermath of car bombs, the unbearable heat, and the house-to-house search for bomb makers. But his greatest challenge would come on the once familiar soil of his own home. These passages of Castner's terror and fear both in Iraq and at home left me holding my breath.
Flashing back and forth between the two locales, Castner describes the horrific events that took place during his tours of duty, and the uninvited panic he refers to as "the Crazy" during his transition to returning home. We receive a rare glimpse into the mind of a soldier suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the mind of a person dealing with unwanted memories and severe anxiety.
Castner's story snuck up on me in a way that was surprising. He talks about how he enjoyed his job in the military, found meaning in the work he was doing, and embraced the camaraderie of those in his unit. He admits that "despite being surrounded by the gory horrors of war and facing near-death experiences, I somehow never considered what life would be like once I went on the final call to dismantle a roadside bomb." When Castner goes from disrupting roadside improvised explosive devices, to giving his children cereal before they leave for school in the morning, he finds both tasks equally challenging. Riddled with wounds and loss not visible to the naked eye, he reveals a different kind of post-war aftershock. Castner found himself questioning his significance in his family, as his relationship with his wife and children deteriorates, and shares these thoughts freely. Castner's ability to speak openly about a subject that isn't talked about enough is not only inspiring; it's also so very honorable.
The Long Walk is immensely personal, deeply moving, and at times will leave you stunned. This is a story that won't leave you. The eye-opening, touching revelations make this book a must-read, especially during this fragile time.
“"Don't be scared of the soft sand."
A soldier, decked out in full bomb gear, an 80 pound Kevlar suit, making the “long walk” toward an armed bomb. Is there anything more desolate or terrifying? Brian Castner served three tours in Iraq, as part of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit.
This is the story of two journeys: the adrenaline-fueled, blood-soaked world of the combat soldier and the equally difficult return to a “normal” life.
This is a raw, emotional memoir, filled with riveting prose. Castner describes the everyday intensity and horror of a EOD soldier, disarming bombs and cleaning up the aftermath. Collecting “right hands” to count the casualties. Placing a soldier’s personal info in their boots, because feet “pop” off in an explosion.
And then Castner’s long painful recovery back home. The fear, the paranoia. While grocery shopping, he scans the crowd for potential insurgents and targets, clutching a non-existent weapon. Crying, while putting his son’s hockey gear on, which reminds him of donning his bomb suit.
Castner vividly places the reader in each of these situations and has created one of the best books on war, that I have ever read. I cannot recommend it higher.
Castner's writing conveys, both through style and content, how all-consuming his job in Iraq was -- the hyper vigilance, the constant assessment of danger, the need to kill -- and how he found it impossible to disengage from that life and reenter his family life when the tour was over. There is no doubt that reentry is difficult, under any circumstances, and VA hospital staff struggle to decide how much of that difficulty is physical or psychological. The answer is a moving target since the methods of war complicate the issue by constantly introducing new physical and emotional trauma. Castner relates his experiences in Iraq and his struggles at home in the context of finding a diagnosis and treatment for his own personal Crazy.
His description of life both inside and beyond the wire is vivid and disturbing. The "Long Walk" is the walk that an Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialist takes to a live round or bomb to defuse it. The long walk is also Castner's life. For him, the loss of EOD Brothers did not end with the tour of duty; the terror of the war doesn't end when you step onto U.S. soil. Probably the most frightening images for me in this book are the thoughts that run through the author's mind as he drives his son to day care and watches over him at night.
Castner says that during the writing of the book his wife asked him how he could remember all the details. He responds that he cannot forget the details. The narrative keeps returning to Iraq or to his battle with the Crazy, sometimes suddenly in the middle of another story. While disconcerting at first, I realized that Castner is trying to help us understand what the Crazy is like.
Castner is a talented writer, and this was an emotional read that I won’t soon forget.