Here is the start of the book. Of course, it is a rough draft.
Everything I post is for you to read and critique. I don’t mind honest feedback. I welcome it and will use it to make the story better. So here is the beginning of our book. I have another 10,000 words or so, right now. I write, edit, re-write and then send it as I finish it.
Writing this book has been emotionally draining and physically tough. I haven’t been sleeping well. A lot of this brings up so many long forgotten memories. I always wonder if I am doing the story justice or if I am just another “hack” writing trying to tell a story about one the big adventure I had in my life. Only time will tell.
In the end it will be worth it.
To my friend, Captain Bruno G. DeSolenni, who died while I lived. “I have lived your death a thousand times in my dreams as the years have passed. Yet, you sleep forever brave and laughing in my memory, you are missed.” I did my best to remember your valiant sacrifice, my old friend- until I see you again.
Jerry Glesmann, whose tireless efforts and friendship brought me home again, twice. You are the best big brother a man can have.
Mark Browning, Paul Dyer, Mike Walker, Mike Campbell and the brave men of Oregon ETT# 11289 for the many hours you spent helping me find my way.
To my loving wife Muna- for all your patience, support, and unconditional love. God knows that none of this would have been possible without you. Thank you for letting me to follow my dreams. I love you more than life itself and more each day.
This is a work of nonfiction. Events, actions, experiences and their consequences have been faithfully retold as I remember them.
Based on interviews with many of the participants. Events I did eyewitness are retold based on documented accounts and interviews. Every event in the book took place, but a few have been reordered or combined for narrative clarity.
Conversations presented in dialogue are recreated from my memory or from interviews, but are not intended to represent a word-for-word documentation; rather, they are intended to invoke the essence of what was said.
Preface to “Always Ready: The Guardians of Helmand”
This a story of a team of Americans, British, and Danes advising the Afghan Army in the stronghold of the Taliban. The history of these men is told through oral history. My goal is to tell their story.
In 2008, I went to Afghanistan with a Team of American Combat Advisors. After training our Afghan soldiers we found ourselves in the south in the volatile Helmand Province. There along with British and Danish advisors, we engaged in fierce combat with the Taliban.
Some of the men- American, British and Danish- had multiple combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Their experience would prove critical in the battles to come. Their contribution was invaluable both in advising the Afghans and in the learning of the Team.
Not many people know the story of American Combat Advisors in Afghanistan much less their fighting alongside other advisors from Allied countries. The American effort in Afghanistan had only 38,000 servicemen in comparison to the more than 140,000 soldiers in Iraq during the surge in early 2008.
My own experiences in Afghanistan were not courageous nor even that important, but the story of the men who fought in Helmand alongside the Afghans they were mentoring is an important story.
I have tried to get all facts that tell their story and their contribution to the war in Afghanistan. I have tried to tell the story of the men who served: what they saw, what they believed and felt. What brought them so far from home to risk their lives for the future of Afghans they have never met.
I interviewed veterans from the British and American Armies. I built the chapters around those interviews. I sent the rough drafts to them to make sure I recorded the events they saw and did.
The majority of this work is primarily positive. There is enough of the negative aspects of the war in Afghanistan. This not a work questioning the legality or morality of the war. It focuses on the bravery of the Afghans, British, Danes and Americans who are fighting a smart and relentless enemy.
I don’t overlook the negative parts of the war. Where these facts are relevant I add them to the account of the story. This is a story of war and there is little glory found in war.
I believe if we are being honest, we all make mistakes, especially in combat. I know I did. The names here are the real names of the men who fought. I have changed the names in the parts of story that are controversial.
My goal is never to embarrass anyone but to tell the story of soldiers who ventured far, fought bravely, and risked their lives to preserve the freedom and defend the liberty of the Afghan people. It is for them that this book is written.
I did not have a unique experience in Afghanistan. I feel now, as I did then, that my own time there was common with one exception of a tragic event. Many other veterans I have spoken to saw more combat than I did or the men I was with.
This book is not meant to be a definitive work about the American Experience in Afghanistan. But the story does take place in a critical time in the war. The war changed from year to year, from unit to unit and from place to place. There is no such thing as a “representative experience.”
The only thing typical about the Afghanistan experience, is that it is different for everyone. The war in 2008 was different than the two years I spent there in 2010 to 2012.
It has changed since then. The purpose of this book is to tell a story about an American Embedded Training Team of Oregon National Guardsmen fighting alongside British, Danish and Afghan allies in combat.
It is a hell of a story. I was proud to be part of it. I am even more proud to tell it. These men are my friends who through our experiences became my brothers.
A Note to the Reader
This book chronicles the nine month tour of an Oregon National Guard Team in Afghanistan, one of the most dangerous parts of the planet.
It’s based on firsthand accounts, it describes the combat, tragic loss of a beloved teammate and the heroic deeds of a team of combat advisors. Of my 17-man team one would die, three would be severely injured in combat and several more wounded in action.
All of us were changed by the experience. We weren’t special forces soldiers or an elite team of commandos, we were average national guardsmen.
Most of the team were part-time soldiers. We drilled one weekend a month and two weeks a year- traditional national guardsmen with regular lives 28 days a month.
Our average age was 35. We were experienced soldiers with over a decade or more of service. In our regular lives, we were teachers, mechanics, policemen, fathers, sons and husbands.
What makes the story so exciting is a group of regular men who did extraordinary things. War is the ultimate adventure. Men take great risks to prove themselves, to live up to an imagined sense of manhood.
The conditions were harsh. The weather was hot, the enemy fanatical and experienced. When the unexpected happened the adventure became a life-or-death struggle. With the odds stacked against us sometimes things got worse- no one knew what would happened next.
The links we forged binds us inseparably together forever. The things we saw and did in that year would take all of us to the breaking point- and one beyond- in the years to follow. This is my gripping account of the time I served on a team of a remarkable group of men – from the day, I joined them to a year later, when we came home and tried to get on with our lives.
This story is about the struggles and hardships all soldiers face. The stark brutality and surrealism is revealed as American soldiers far from home describe their bitter combat and occasional camaraderie with soldiers from many nations, including Great Britain, Denmark, Canada and Afghanistan.
When I interviewed my teammates I was struck by the depth of their emotions, the intensity of their descriptions and their love of their fellow man, even after a hellish year in Afghanistan. It is not about the official policy of the United States government. It’s not about the strategy of the war, talking points or pointing fingers. It’s not about happened before the team arrived in Afghanistan or after.
It’s about what happened on the ground, on the battlefield, where bullets flew, bombs exploded and brave men were wounded and killed. The men whose experiences are the heart and soul of this book are aware of the controversy of the war.
In telling our story none of us cared about the right or wrong of the war. We cared about those issues, but it’s not my purpose in telling our story. The intent is to record for history, as accurately as possible, what the team did, what we saw, and what happened to us- to our buddies, comrades and fellow soldiers- in a certain time of the war.
Although written as a narrative and first person perspective, this is a work of nonfiction. No scenes were altered, no dramatic license was taken. I did not invent characters or create composites. Descriptions of events were taken from the men who were there, from verified accounts or both.
All dialogue was spoken or heard first hand from primary sources. Thoughts ascribed to individuals came directly from the men themselves. The main sources of this book were myself and seven other team members.
All of us served as “combat advisors,” mentoring and advising soldiers of the Afghan National Army (ANA). We each had a different job on the team. These men represent a mix of officers and senior enlisted members of the team.
Several names of minor characters have been changed, or withheld for privacy or security reasons, but all descriptions and information included about the team are true. Classified details were omitted, in keeping with standard nondisclosure agreements about standard operating procedures.
Those changes and omissions had no material effect on the story and do not misrepresent the known facts. The story of the team is fundamentally in sync, but sometimes diverge on details, depending on where a team member was when something occurred.
Whenever possible the narrative reflects different perspectives besides mine. This is due to the fast moving nature of events, the fog of war and team members’ recollections while staying alive and not keeping track of dates and times events occurred. Secondary sources include additional interviews, photos and videos, books on Afghanistan, public documents, and media reports.
Myself and no member of the team have a financial stake in this book, my only intent is to tell the story truthfully. When the book is finished I will place it on my website free as an e-book.
Consider this book to be directly from the battlefield, from the men who know from hard experience, scarred bodies and searing memories what really happened during that harrowing nine month tour. Dom Oto
Intro to the “Always Ready: The Guardians of Helmand”
The team from Oregon were not Special Forces soldiers, highly trained in unconventional warfare, but citizen-soldiers of the Army National Guard. They trained part-time, close to home, until they were needed.
Now there country was at war and the call came. Their story is about ordinary citizens who became extraordinary soldiers in an exotic war-torn land far from home. They volunteered to be combat advisors to the Afghan National Army in the heart of Taliban territory.
From their grueling training at Fort Riley, Kansas to fighting and dying in Afghanistan to their return home a year later, this is a story of an amazing group of men. In training, they become buddies. In combat, they became brothers. They faced extreme danger and risked their lives to do a tough mission against overwhelming odds.
They started training at Fort Riley, Kansas, re-learning the basics of soldiering in the middle of a cold, harsh Midwest winter. Two months later they were in Kabul.
They got a brand new Afghan infantry battalion full of raw recruits and reserve officers. Two months later they moved to Helmand- a province that is a Taliban stronghold, and a center of opium production.
They fought with the Canadians in the Battle of the Arghandab Valley after the Taliban attacked the Sarposa Prison- freeing hundreds of insurgents. A month later they occupied remote combat outposts alongside British, Danish and Afghan soldiers.
They endured relentless Taliban attacks while patrolling fields, orchards, and villages in the “Green Zone”- a stretch of fertile, farm land along the Helmand River Valley that hid mines and enemy ambushes.
Finally, in December 2008, they fought in “Operation Red Dagger” to liberate Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand.
They were ordinary men who came from all over Oregon. Among them was a mechanic, a school teacher, a logger, a nurse and a policeman.
They weren’t saints, but you don’t send choirboys to win wars. They were common men who displayed uncommon valor. In training and later in combat, they learned about sacrifice, heroism and loss.
It made them brothers. This is a story of men who fought, loved and sometimes died for each other. They were a small team of men who faced death, heat and a relentless enemy far from home.
In March 2008, a small team of combat advisors from the Oregon Army National Guard arrived in Afghanistan with 17 men. Eight months later, nearly half were wounded and one was dead. This is how they lived.
Cast of Characters
Bruno G. DeSolenni- A thirty-two year old Captain in the Oregon Army National Guard (ORANG). He is a logger and fisherman from Crescent City, CA. He is a short, strong-looking man with blue eyes and jet-black hair. He is a legendary soldier with a solid reputation.
Bruno served in the Sinai Peacekeeping Mission and in Iraq as an Infantry Platoon Leader in 2003-2004.
Mark Browning- A thirty-three father of two year old Sergeant First Class from Portland, Oregon. Mark was a former active duty infantryman who spent the last decade in the ORARNG. With light brown hair. Mark has a colorful personality. Mark was built like a lumberjack at five feet ten and 210 pounds. Outgoing and smart, he sings in a garage band on the weekends.
Mark is a great trainer of soldiers, a natural fit for being a combat advisor.
Jerry Glesmann- A forty-one year Master Sergeant from Salem, Oregon. Jerry is a full-time member of the ORARNG. Jerry is tall, with brown hair and built like a bear. He reminds me of a Louis L’Amour cowboy hero. His values are what he lives. His personal and public face are the same. He is a kind man, but has no softness in him. His toughness, like his bravery, is ingrained and deep. Jerry is a brave man. He is the ultimate soldier.
Jerry served as an Infantry Platoon Sergeant and advisor to the Iraqi Army in Iraq in 2003-2004.
Steve Cooper- A forty year old Captain in the ORARNG from Salem, Oregon. Coop was a sheriff deputy back home. Tall with the slim build of an endurance athlete with short, brown hair, he loves to read and talk history. Coop is the fittest guy I’ve ever known.
A quiet, solid man I’m proud to call a friend. In Afghanistan, he always walked point.
Paul Dyer- A thirty-one captain in the ORARNG from Monroe, Oregon. Tall, with his corn yellow hair and blue eyes that sparkle when he laughs, he radiates a powerful and contagious inner calm. Paul should have been a Viking, he would have fit right in with a pointed helmet with horns on his head, furs hanging off his shoulders, and one of those big double-edged swords in his hands, but he would need a Hunter S. Thompson book in his pocket to finish the picture.
He would become the finest combat commander I ever saw.
Mike Walker– A thirty-six year Sergeant First Class from Medford, Oregon. Mike was bald, short and stocky. He was a warrior who hated violence, a thinker who was immensely physical, and a quiet and considerate soul. He could describe how he felt in few words that were powerful. Mike loves guns. He was our team sniper and chief firearms instructor.
Mike Campbell- A forty-one year old Command Sergeant Major in the ORARNG from Klamath Falls, Oregon. Broad-shouldered with short gray-brown hair. He has the spare, tan face of a man who does hard, physical labor outside. He has a weather beaten face. He shook my hand in a firm grip. His hand felt rough from work done outside. He looked me in the eye as he introduced himself. Mike had a powerful build and easy athleticism that came from working physical jobs.
Mike is a Command Sergeant Major who leads by physical and personal example in everything he does.
Dominic Oto– I was a thirty-two year old Captain from Lacey, Washington. I was a school teacher who was a last minute addition to the team from the Washington Army National Guard.
I served as a Headquarters Company Commander in Iraq in 2005.