Category Archives: Afghanistan

Brave Soldier: The Bruno de Solenni Story- Introduction

“War is the province of danger, and therefore courage above all things is the first quality of a warrior.”

– General Karl Von Clausewitz

This is the introduction of my new book about my friend Bruno de Solenni. He died in Afghanistan in 2008.

Brave Soldier: The Bruno de Solenni Story

By Dominic Oto



Captain Bruno G. de Solenni

Killed in Action near Maiwand District, Kandahar Afghanistan

September 20, 2008


Hanif and Ramin, our two intrepid interrupters, with us since the beginning.

Killed in Action near Maiwand District, Kandahar Afghanistan

September 20, 2008

If there is any glory in war, let it rest with brave men like these.


On September 20, 2008, Captain Bruno de Solenni, a brave American soldier who was loved and admired, and with everything to live for was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

How did this happen?


I was a close friend of Bruno’s. We spent almost a year together in training at Fort Riley, Kansas and in Afghanistan. I was talking to him right up until the moment he died. In that time I got to know about his life: his adventures, his dreams for the future, the triumphs and defeats of the generous, intense, fun-loving man who was Bruno de Solenni.

We were in the same gun truck when we hit a 500-pound roadside bomb. I was driving, and Bruno was the gunner. Bruno and two other brave men died that day. I lived, and he died. I can’t tell you why he died and I lived. No one can.

We were unlikely friends. We were two very different men. Bruno was physical and brave. I am bookish and afraid. We came from different parts of the country, with different backgrounds, different religious beliefs, and different political opinions-and yet we put all those differences aside and became buddies. But I can tell you about his life, but I must also tell you of his death and the events which preceded it. I have thought long, and hard about that- whether to go into it all or to keep parts of it suppressed, the feelings of anger, regret and sorrow over Bruno’s death have been bottled-up for almost a decade. In the end, I was guided by what Bruno told me when I wondered about whether I should be frank and open as he was about our mission to train an infantry battalion of Afghan soldiers. Bruno pointed to a quote in his notebook from Ernest Hemingway, “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” I love that quote. I have been reading and re-reading Hemingway ever since.

Bruno was always open and blunt, and for him, there was only one way to account for things- to tell the whole truth about them, holding nothing back. I know he would want me to tell his story the same way. I attempt to tell the reader Bruno’s story truly, the way it happened. There are ecstasy and sorrow, fear and bravery, and with some luck, the reader will get to know about the brave soldier, his friends called, “the heart and soul of our team.”

This is the story of how Bruno and I came to know each other and help each other. We were both soldiers fighting in a foreign land far from home who became friends and developed an enduring friendship until tragedy struck.

This is what I tried to do in telling Bruno’s story, holding nothing back. This is as close as I could get to the “Why” Bruno died in Afghanistan on September 30, 2008.

The cover of Bruno’s book

Bruno de Solenni died at the age of thirty-two. He left behind a loving family and a great many loving friends. And with this book, I hope that when they think of him, it’s not how he died that they remember, but, rather, how this brave man lived. Bruno is deeply missed and never forgotten.


The Life and Legend of Bruno de Solenni– A Brave Soldier

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

Matthew 5:9 KJB


I am almost finished writing a book about my friend Bruno. Trying to remember and capture Bruno is why I started writing.

Bruno was a fearless warrior, a loving brother, and uncle. Bruno led the life of an American hero. His renowned compassion and courage made him a legend to anyone that knew him.

I wanted to write a candid, essential portrait of this celebrated warrior – a man whose death only added to the legend of Bruno. But first I had to set the scene. I hope you like it.


I park my truck at the bottom of the small hill of the cemetery.  I slowly walk up the hill to the gnarled old tree that is beside the grave. I am stopped as soon as I see his tombstone.

I feel like I have hit an invisible brick wall. My breathing quickens, I feel like someone punched the air out of my lungs, my legs grow weak, and I fall to my knees in front of his grave. I began to shake, and my throat constricts. My eyes are riveted to his grave marker with his name:


Bruno’s Grave in Crescent City, CA, his hometown.

I see his grave, but my mind is reeling, and I dissolve into the day he died.


We were on a convoy from our base in Helmand to Kandahar. I am driving the truck, and Bruno is the gunner. The steering wheel jerks in my hands as if it suddenly alive. The truck cab turns night into day as if the Sun suddenly appeared with a colossal roar and a mighty rush of wind from an explosion. Outside the world streaked by. I can see the hood of the truck folding into and crashing into the window.

“This can’t be happening!” my mind protests, despite the fact that I see impossible things. The blinding brightness slowly fades into crushing metal and then fire and smoke. I am spinning like I am in a washing machine, black and red, black and red, and suddenly the steering wheel is ripped free from my hands, and I am screaming…


Bruno’s memorial service was not a funeral. His body was not here. It was a memorial service to say goodbye to a friend. The team gathered to honor their fallen comrade. We knelt in front of the helmet, boots, weapon, and picture of Bruno. We all openly wept.

The team was more than just a team of combat advisors, and we were a fighting unit. Over the last eight months, we had become a tightly knit family, best friends, and brothers. We would and did lay down our lives for one another.

Bruno was the “heart and soul” of the team, and now he was gone. We gathered to give a solemn salute and final goodbye to our brother-in-arms as he was returned home. The memorial service was held just before the body was to be flown back to the U.S.

Bruno’s coffin was draped in the American flag. It was carried the final few feet onto an Air Force plane bound home to America. The Chaplain said, “Today we remember our friend, comrade and a fellow American. We the sacrifice he made for us, our country, and our freedom.” In the end, heartbroken service members hugged, cried and comforted each other.

Spotting the rest of my teammates among the mourners was easy. We were struck with grief. The physical, mental and emotional loss of Bruno had taken a heavy toll. We were hunched over, fidgeting and crying.  Our physical bodies were in the chapel, but our minds were still on the desert floor 60 kilometers away, where Bruno had died. It was a place none of us would ever truly ever leave.

The remains our fallen hero were flown from Kandahar in Afghanistan to New Castle Air National Guard Base in Delaware. In Delaware, Bruno’s family was waiting to escort him home.

CRESCENT CITY, CA- October 4, 2008

Bruno’s funeral was like an extraordinary class reunion of all the people that loved him. Here were all the figures that he talked about in Afghanistan gathered in this chapel to say goodbye to him.

As a timber faller, Bruno labored through the spring and summer in groves of giant redwoods, cedar, and fir. As a soldier, he died in Afghanistan. The tree trunks he sawed and milled became his coffin built by his friends and brothers who were his pallbearers. They dug his grave at the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Cemetery in Crescent City and laid him to rest.

The Man, The Legend

Bruno was a man whose life could come out of a novel. He had an exceptional mind and an incredible talent to relate to other human beings, whoever they were and no matter they come from. He was a compassionate man who could engage anyone on so many levels. Bruno could sense human issues and feelings about a subject. On another level and at the same time he could deal with hard facts like statistics. Usually, those two qualities seem to cancel each other out in an individual, but they came together in Bruno.

In 2008, when we went to Afghanistan, the war changed. We went as soldiers but also as peacemakers acting as combat advisors to an Afghan Infantry Battalion (600 men). Combat advisors on the ground advising the Afghan National Army could tell we were losing the war. The generals in Kabul maintained that we were winning the war. The Advisors were caught between the two. It was an adversarial relationship. Bruno always helped me to understand the war and what we, the Americans, were doing there.

I think a lot of this comes from Bruno being fearless. He could work at the tactical level, take what he saw down there, and apply at the strategic level. Bruno gave the entire team the perspective of how we were helping the Afghans. His daily talks shaped my view of the war. Bruno helped me to come to grips with the war in a way that I would not have been able to without him.

Something to remember is that America was at the High Noon of its power in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We thought that whatever we were doing in Afghanistan was right and good simply because we were Americans. We succeed in this noble undertaking because we were Americans. Bruno embodied that idealism.

We wanted to win the war for the Afghans and for ourselves. Bruno felt the best way to do this was, to tell the truth. Bruno had a keen sense of honor as a soldier. Bruno was enraged by the way people back home saw the war.

Bruno was my friend and this how I remembered him.


Tears are streaming down my face. I am back at the grave marker trying to compose myself.

I say to his tombstone, “I did my best Bruno, to remember you, to honor you.”

The tears are coming stronger. An intense swirl of emotions is stirring inside of me. Feelings of regret, sorrow, anger, and gratitude overwhelm me.

“I’ve tried never to forget you. I don’t know why you died and I lived. I have done my best to be worthy of the gift you gave me and what you gave me. I will never forget you. Until I see you again, old friend.”

I knew I had to get on with my life, and it was Bruno would have wanted.

Now I can write Bruno’s book.

Remembering 9/11- When the Towers Fell

“Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.”

–    President Obama in a 2011 radio address

I went to Iraq with the 42nd Infantry Division. The brave soldiers of this unit were among the first responders to 9/11. Many of them were in Twin Towers when the planes hit. This is their story and what happened that awful day.


On September 10, 2001, four teams of 19 terrorists gathered near Boston, in Virginia and New Jersey. Their plan is to hijack four airplanes headed to the West Coast. The goal is to take the fuel-filled planes to use as missiles to crash them into important targets of American imperialism.

The morning of September 11, 2001, is a beautiful, late summer day with clear blue skies. Over the American east coast, four airplanes get hijacked.

At 8:46:30 AM Flight 11 hits floors 93-99 of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. At 9:03:02 AM Flight 175 crashes into the 77-85 floors of the South Tower a few minutes later.

At this point most Americans realize the acts are deliberate acts. At 9:37:46 AM Flight 77 strikes the west facade of the Pentagon. It’s clear the attacks aren’t confined to New York City.

The World Trade Centers

Smoke and flame billowing out of the building.  In the back of the towers rescue trucks, firefighters are pulling on air packets. They’re removing tools from compartments. Those brave firefighters are getting ready to do battle with the smoke and flames, getting ready to rescue people.

Stairwells were filled with smoke. People started making their way to the emergency exit stairs. Walking down was like trying to walk out of Yankee Stadium on a game day. People were everywhere. People were entering the stairwell from below. You had to stop and wait while people made their way down. There was nowhere to go.

After the first tower had been hit there was a snowstorm of debris. There was fire, machine parts, office equipment, and paper raining down. Small chunks of the building were falling into the street. Soon firefighters were coming up the stairs. They were carrying an unbelievable amount of equipment up the stairs. The next sound was a subsonic drone of an airplane.

In the stairwell, a man had a pager with a news retrieval service on it. Folks knew the south tower, and the Pentagon had been hit. Everyone knew it was a terrorist attack. The street was filled with many people. All of them were looking up at the smoke and fire coming from the two towers.

The Towers Fall

People from 20 blocks away felt and heard the South Tower collapse. The rumbling was like the noise of a freight train hurtling down the tracks, but more intense, and much more concentrated. The building coming down was almost an out-of-body experience. It was like watching someone look at the tower collapse in slow motion. It was not believable.

Within seconds the air had become a solid mass of gray dust. You couldn’t see a few inches in front of you. It seemed like a nuclear winter, like the aftershock of an atomic bomb. Breathing through the debris was hard. My mouth, my nose, my eyes, my ears were clogged with the gray dust. People were walking out of the fog. They look like zombies. They were shocked and covered in gray dust.

They were dazed by what they saw. There was a faraway look in their eyes. They were not there. No one was running,  just limping trying to get away. Rescuers were digging people out of the wreckage and fragments of the tower. Injured victims were pulled out of tombs of rubble.

A few minutes later the second building fell.  Smoke and gray dust fell like snow everywhere.


All available boats in New York Harbor took survivors over to Exchange Place, New Jersey literally right across the river. There was a triage center set up there. The injured and survivors were taken there by boat for safety.  Tugboats, commuter boats, and ferry boats all volunteered to help. It was like the evacuation of the British Army of Dunkirk during World War II. It was an incredibly dramatic scene.

People were coming off the boats in the hundreds. In the backdrop was New York City in smoke and flames. Even after the towers fell, hundreds of firefighters went back into the wreckage and rubble. There was potential danger everywhere. Stuff was falling from the sky, windows breaking and debris from adjacent buildings all around. Glass and metal was falling, and fires were raging.

People weren’t going away. Medical, rescue and first responders were running towards the rubble of buildings to rescue survivors.  “It was a humbling, heart-stopping moment of my life. All I could think was, ‘I don’t think I could do that,’” remembers one survivor.

No Water

There was no water downtown. There was no way for firefighters to fight the raging fires. All the buildings surrounding the towers were on fire. Pieces of those neighboring buildings the size of trucks were falling as the flames raged.

Fireboats started arriving. Then the “Harvey” came. The fireboat “Harvey,” was an old ship sold by New York City for scrap for $50,000. The “Harvey” can pump more water than any New York City fire boat. Firefighters laid lines back along North Cove to where the remains of where the World Trade Center was. The “Harvey” became a hero.


Firefighters made their way to Ground Zero. They climbed over three stories of rubble. They went to work. Firemen and first responders tried to find survivors. The first week there was hope they would find people alive.

Three firefighters were photographed attaching an American flag to a bent flagpole by photographer Thomas Franklin. It was quick and unceremonial. The picture was compared to Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the Iwo Jima flag raising. Both photographs are incredible pictures of faith, hope, and courage of Americans at their finest in the darkest hours.

A source of unity and proud at an important time.  9/11 and moments like it make you realize what it is important.  It’s people. Especially the ones you love.  9/11 was not about terrorism, or two towers coming down, but the loss of great, innocent people.

The Result

In less than three hours, nearly 3,000 Americans are killed.

Within hours, the inspiration and cause of the hijackings are known to the world. Al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts awakened a sleeping giant. It set the stage for the American experience in Afghanistan.

By labeling the new war, “The Global War on Terror” the White House wanted to create an ideal to rally the nation in a time of tragedy and crisis.

The Global War on Terror is a unique case study.

It’s a war without borders, a war that has continued for the past sixteen years without an end. A seemingly endless conflict.

America is at war with an ideology of hatred against the ideals of Western Democracies, not a country or easily identifiable enemy. Think of men with beards in caves on mountaintops sitting around fires plotting to kill Americans. These are non-state actors, not countries.

Three weeks after 9/11 the US entered Afghanistan to finish Al Qaeda.

The Impact

The terrorists reached across oceans thought to insulate the United States. 9/11 made terrorism awareness a part of our daily life. We live a “new normal” of security threat levels and taking our shoes off at the airport for security checks.

9/11 is a quiet testimony to the courage of the brave American people and a reminder to a nation at war.

Works Cited:

Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower; Al Qaeda and the road to 9/11.New York : Random House, 2006.

Rick Rescorla-Hero of 9/11- Part 1

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

John 15:13 (KJV)

Rick Rescorla’s story just goes to show what one man can do to affect the lives of others. Colonel Rescorla’s on 9/11 actions show us America’s darkest days have always been followed by its finest hours.


The story is as old as time itself, two cultures clashing in what now seems like an inevitable conflict. The time was 2001; a watershed year when one era was ending in America and another was beginning.

I felt it happening as the weeks following 9/11 unfolded, in the many ways all of our lives changed so suddenly, so dramatically, and looking back on it from sixteen years gone we are left in no doubt.

2001 was the year America was pushed to directly intervene in the Byzantine affairs of the obscure and distant country of Afghanistan.

America is in it’s in the sixteenth year of a conflict fought on distant shores, waged by the few for the sake of the many. A complex, and at times, a confusing struggle against enemies that lurk among the innocent. A conflict that lacks the traditional battle lines, the clash of armies, and clear cut definitions associated in the public mind with major wars – and many of the most celebrated heroes – of the past.

But, as we see time and again, the fundamental nature of war – and the role of individual selflessness, initiative, and courage. That does not change, and that brings us to the story of the heroic deeds of Rick Rescorla, his sacrifice saved the lives of over 2,700 people on one my America’s darkest days.

Rescorla in Vietnam

The classic Vietnam War book, “We Were Soldiers Once… And Young” is an account of the battle at Ia Drang Valley, fought in the still early phases of the war in Vietnam. The book was written by Major General Hal Moore, who was then a Lieutenant Colonel and commander of the American troops in the valley, and Joe Galloway, a reporter who was at the battle.

One of the “young Soldiers” who fought with the author LTC Harold Moore at the well-known battle of Ia Drang in late 1965 was a lieutenant named Cyril Richard “Rick” Rescorla.

He had grown up in a village on England’s southwest coast and left at age sixteen to join the British military. The epitome of the young warrior, he was the sort that England seems to have bred in abundance for centuries: the type of young man who in times past went forth from Britain and created an empire upon which the sun never set. He’d fought against Communists in Cyprus and Rhodesia. England happened to be fresh out of wars in the 1960s, so Rescorla became an American and fought in ours.

He worked his way up to the rank of Sergeant before being commissioned as a Lieutenant of Infantry from Officer Candidate School as the “Distinguished Honor Graduate” from his class.

It is Rescorla’s picture on the cover of the book. 2nd Lieutenant Rescorla, Platoon Leader, B Co 2/7 Cav in Bayonet Attack on the morning of 16 Nov 1965.

Background on the photo: He has had no sleep for 48 hours. He is seen as grimy, unshaven and in a filthy uniform. His canteens loose, dog tags hanging out, pockets unbuttoned, helmet strap hanging. He is not wearing any insignia of rank, and his sleeves up are up.

This is not a posed shot; this is a man moving forward into combat was captured by Joe Galloway as Rescorla ran from battle position to battle position checking on his men under withering enemy fire. His bayonet is fixed; trigger finger, alert and ready for action. Eyes forward. Ready for action as Rick Rescorla always seemed to be.

LTC Moore called him the best platoon leader he ever saw (Moore and Galloway 1993). His troops loved him for his spirit and fearlessness. The night after an entire company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry was virtually wiped out at Landing Zone (LZ) X-Ray, Rescorla’s company was ordered to replace them on the perimeter at the foot of the Chu Pong mountain ridge, the center of the battlefield (J. L. Galloway 1990).

The People’s Army of North Vietnam (PAVN) Commander knew that he had severely weakened and damaged the defenders in the Charlie Co sector the previous morning. What he does not know is that a fresh company – B Company, 2nd Battalion 7th Cavalry Regiment, had taken over the position after that engagement.

That company, unmolested the previous afternoon, had cut fields of fire, dug new foxholes, fired in artillery concentrations, carefully emplaced its machine guns and piled up ammunition. Rescorla directed his men to dig foxholes and establish a defensive perimeter. Exploring the hilly terrain beyond the perimeter, he came under enemy fire. After nightfall, he and his men endured waves of assault. To keep morale up, Rescorla led the men in military cheers and Cornish hunting songs throughout the night (Moore and Galloway 1993).

Rescorla knew war. His men did not, yet. To steady them, to break their concentration away from the fear that may grip a man when he realizes there are hundreds of men very close by who want to kill him, Rescorla sang. Mostly he sang dirty songs that would make a sailor blush. Interspersed with the lyrics was the voice of command: “Fix bayonets – on Liiiiine?Reaaaa-Dy – FORWARD!” It was a voice straight from Waterloo, from the Somme, implacable, impeccable, and impossible to disobey (Stewart 2002). His men forgot their fear, concentrated on his orders and marched forward as he led them straight into the pages of history.

That night before, the young lieutenant did all the right things to prepare his Soldiers for battle, studying the terrain, relocating foxholes, laying booby traps, and repositioning weapons. The best thing he did was display confidence. For this brave act and leadership, he was awarded the Silver Star, our nation’s third highest award for bravery.

“My God, it was like Little Big Horn,” recalls Pat Payne, a reconnaissance platoon leader. “We were all cowering in the bottom of our foxholes, expecting to get overrun. Rescorla gave us courage to face the coming dawn. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘When the sun comes up, we’re gonna kick some ass.’”

Sure enough, the battalion fought its way out of Landing Zone Albany. Rescorla left the field with a morale-boosting souvenir: a battered French Army bugle that the North Vietnamese had once claimed as a trophy of war. It became a talisman for his entire division (Galloway and Moore 2009). That bugle now sits at Fort Benning’s Infantry Museum.

Lieutenant Rescorla survived that engagement and many others. As the tour progressed, his men began to call him “Hardcore,” because they had never seen anyone so absurdly unflappable in the face of death. This would not change 35 years later when Colonel Rescorla was again in the line of fire.

Colonel Rescorla best knew this would be how he had wanted to go. Bibliography:

Galloway, Joe, and Hal G Moore. We Are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam. New York: Harper-Collins, 2009.

Galloway, Joseph L. “The word was the Ia Drang would be a walk. The word was wrong.” U.S. News and World Report, October 29, 1990: 64-69.

Moore, Hal G, and Joe Galloway. We Were Soldiers Once…and Young: Ia Drang – The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam. New York: Harper-Collins, 1993.

Stewart, James B. Heart of a Soldier. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.


Intro to “Always Ready: The Guardians of Helmand”

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.

Preface Dedication:

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.

Author’s Note:

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.

My Experiences:

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.

The Tour

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.

The Idealogy of Osama Bin Liden

Osama Bin Laden inspired the attacks that brought to us to the Middle East.  To understand something you have to get into the mindset of the group that carries out such violent acts and their ideology and their theological arguments that justify mass murder of innocent men, women and children. Al Qaeda is notorious for its lack of Islamic scholarship in justifying mass murder.

Bin Laden the Man


For many Americans the face of Islamic terror is personified by Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden loved to show the world he was the image of the modern Spartan warrior. In one of his most famous videotapes, he chose gray rocks for a backdrop, a camo jacket for a costume and a rifle for a prop.

To the frustrated Islamic world he portrayed a hard, pure alternative to the decadent west that had corrupted the holy lands of Islam with puppet princes who lived lavish lifestyles while he desired nothing but a gun and a prayer rug to carry out his meaning. His message of hate was clear: the zealot travels light, his thoughts made pure by his love of Allah that even stones are as soft as cushions for his untroubled sleep.

After his death we would find out that Bin Laden was not the stoic soldier that he played onscreen. The exiled son of a Saudi billionaire was living in a million-dollar home in a wealthy home nestled among the green hills in Pakistan when he was killed.

Osama House
Osama’s House in Abbottabad.

He slept in a king-sized bed with a much younger wife and watched satellite TV. In a final sense of irony, some of his favorite TV shows were situational comedies from the United States that depicted the very way of life he always talked about hating.

No matter how many times he spoke nostalgically about the 12th century and the glory of the Islamic caliphate, Bin Laden was a master of the 21st century image machine (Wright 2006). He understood the power of the underdog against a superpower.  Bin Laden had learned this image judo as a “mujahid”- holy warrior, fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and he perfected it in his personal war in the U.S.

In 1996 he laid down the challenge against the U.S., declaring war on the world’s remaining superpower- an audacious act of a twisted imagination right out of the mind of a James Bond super villain.

No Hollywood filmmaker could have staged a more terrifying spectacle than 9/11, which Bin Laden and his followers made come true with a few box cutters and nineteen misguided martyrs.  But again, the questions arise- Why would anyone want to do this? What drives such hate? To answer those questions we must start at the beginning.
The Soviet- Afghan War

In 1979 the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan would change the life of many followers of Islam (Tanner 2002).  For Bin Laden it was a call to destiny. Over the 9 years of the conflict he would launch an ambitious plan to confront the Soviets with a small group of Arab fighters under his command.

That group of Arabs would later provide the nucleus of al-Qaeda, founded in 1988. The purpose of al-Qaeda was to take jihad globally. As the Soviet War was ending, Bin Laden had assembled a force of fighters, many of whom had been trained by experts, and hardened in combat against a modern army.

Bin Laden fighting in Afghanistan in 1984.

Two other events Americans rarely connect what happened that would give even more credence to al-Qaeda: Russia’s retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, followed in 1990 by Western troops pouring into the holy lands of Saudi Arabia after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (McDermott 2005).

The mujahedeen victory in Afghanistan electrified Islamic warriors who hated Christianity as much as communism; a new “infidel” army in the form of the immoral and godless West to fight proved an irresistible challenge (Wright 2006).
The key to understanding this vision and of all Bin Laden’s actions was his utter conviction that he was an instrument of God’s will. He was a religious fanatic who was convinced the mujahedeen victory of the godless Soviets was a reward for the faith of the true believer.

The zealotry of Bin Laden revealed itself as a teenager.  He prayed seven times a day (two more than the mandated by Islamic convention) and fasted twice a week in imitation of the Prophet Mohammad. For entertainment, a young Bin Laden would assemble a group of friends at his house to chant songs about the liberation of Palestine (Bergen 2006).

Bin Laden was driven not only by a desire to apply what he saw as God’s will but also by a fear of divine punishment if he failed to do so.  So not defending Islam against the decadent west, represented by America, would be disobeying God, something he would never do (Bergen 2006).

Not hard to conceive when you consider that a group of hard scrabble farmers (Afghans) armed with antique rifles defeated one of the world’s most powerful armies (Soviets) with their faith and a little help from their friends -read: the same Westerners they later claimed to hate.

The Call to Jihad

But what explanation is there that moves seemingly normal men to undertake monstrous acts of violence? Most of the terrorists responsible for unspeakable acts of mass murder remain shadowy figures. To understand their motives we must understand their lives and personalities and examine their beliefs (Wright 2006).

If we can illustrate just who these people are and why they do what they do, we can begin to understand the context of their beliefs. It provides a chilling implication of how all of our lives were changed in one of the most prolific acts of violence in modern history on 9/11.
The following is a sweeping list of why the Jihadists feel the call to battle is mandatory for all “True Muslims” (McDermott 2005):

To keep the “infidels” from dominating the world- To justify this broad motive most of the leaders of Islamic Jihad quote an infamous passage from the Koran that orders Muslims to fight until all “fitna” has ceased. Jihadists translate fitna as “disbelief,” although it can be defined as “internal conflict among Muslims.”
Because Allah wants you to- Armed with what is called “The Sword Verses” of the Koran these passages speak of more an internal and spiritual struggle than a specific provocation by the “infidels.” Jihadists use several different variations on this theme, including fear of hell, desire of heaven (via martyrdom) and their favorite fallback line- following the example of the Prophet and his companions in the battle for Mecca.

The gathering of holy warriors to fight- The global Muslim community, known as the “Ummah” is lacking in capable of fighters who are committed to the “true calling” of Islam (Fury 2008).  To show your allegiance to true Islam you need to fight and be prepared to die for the glory of being a martyr.

An interesting side note is that most young men who commit acts of terror are not even proficient in the recitation of the Koran in Arabic and cannot understand the language the holy book is written. Most of them are illiterate and know only what they were taught by their Islamic teachers. The teachers and leaders never seem to be willing to risk their own lives in this foolish effort to glory.

Protecting the Ummah- This extended to protecting the “dignity” of Muslims around the world and protecting the Muslim resources and houses of worship. This message was important to Bin Laden’s appeal; its importance was most significant when Coalition Soldiers arrived on the holy lands of Saudi Arabia in the 1990 Gulf War (Bergen 2006).

Bin Laden saw this as the ultimate affront to the “dignity” of Islam. Bin Laden’s family had made its fortune as the lead contractor renovating the holy sites of Mecca and Medina.  As a young man he had direct connection to these places in his early 20’s working in the family business and spending years in the most revered sites of Islam (Bergen 2006).

As seen with all these rationales, the call to jihad is to a large extent self-justifying. Once drawn in by an arguably legitimate defensive need, the most world’s most influential Jihadist called for fighting for a more obscure reason: Establishing a base for Islam.

Bin Laden expounded on this idea in 1988 and at first called his new organization for global jihad “The Solid Base.”  The use of the word “base” is highly significant and would later be shortened to the Arabic word for “the base”- al-Qaeda.

According to Bin Laden the Muslim community must wage jihad from an “area of land.” The base would be like a small spark which would ignite a large keg of explosives, for the Islamic revolution brings about an eruption of the hidden capabilities of the “Ummah.” His 1996 and 1998 “fatwas” or declarations of war against America were examples of this philosophy.

The Base or Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan

Bin Laden thought his blow that bloodied the nose of America on 9/11 would stun his enemy and that his rag-tag band of Jihadists could stand against the most powerful nation on earth. The opposite happened (Fury 2008).

Al-Qaeda lost the best base it had ever had: Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.  Shrewd members of Bin Laden’s inner circle warned him before 9/11 that antagonizing the U.S. would prove fatal. In a final act of hubris Bin Laden thought his beliefs and God would allow him to defeat America as it had the Soviets. The exact opposite happened.  The attacks on 9/11 set in motion events that would end Bin Laden, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

With the killing of Bin Laden flashed across the world a message: a smart, wise, and supremely competent U.S. will stick with an unpopular goal year after frustrating year as it did in defeating al-Qaeda. America gained the world’s respect and fear, if not affection.


Bergen, Peter. The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader . New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Fury, Dalton. Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Hunt for the World’s Most Wanted Man. New York City: Saint Martin’s Press, 2008.

Maurer, Keven, and Rusty Bradley. Lions of Kandahar: The Story of a Fight Against All Odds. New York: Bantam, 2011.

Tanner, Stephen. Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the War against the Taliban . Philidelphia, PA: Da Capo Press, 2002.

Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Twoer; Al Qaeda and the road to 9/11. New York : Random House, 2006.