Saturday March 9, 2013

CNN’s newest White House Chief Correspondent is Jake Tapper. He fits in well with the distinguished group of former CNN White House correspondents such as Situation Room Host Wolf Blitzer, and Middlebury College Grad and WCFR Springfield alumnus Frank Cesno.

Tapper has just written an account of a COP, or "Combat Out Post" named COP Keating, located in the remote Nuristan area of Afghanistan. The book is on the New York Times best seller list, and for good reason. If you’ve ever wondered why we’ve been in Afghanistan for more than 10 years, this book will make it very clear. It is an interesting read, but it is also unsettling, a bit graphic, and at times bogs down in detail. However, it’s the detail that makes it credible.

Tapper writes an in-depth account of how planners put an American military outpost in a very remote valley surrounded by mountains, making it amazingly vulnerable and virtually indefensible should the Taliban launch a concerted, sustained attack. Ultimately, there was no road to COP Keating and it took far too long for armed air support to get there.

Well, in the end, the Taliban did just that, attacked en masse. It was how our men on the ground comported themselves that makes "Outpost" fascinating, and it’s the bureaucratic cluelessness that happened at higher levels in the military that makes you shake your head in befuddlement at the end. Common sense was once again trumped by political considerations, concern over appearances, and over thinking. Interestingly, there is also a big local tie-in that makes this book a worthwhile read for folks in New England and New York, and that’s the involvement of the Tenth Mountain Division.

It has significance for my fiancee and I because her son is in the 1-32nd Infantry currently training at Fort Drum New York in the 10th Mountain Division. The 1-32nd was at Outpost Keating in the beginning, and they were brought in at the end. There’s the story of a brave young man from Whitingham as well as others from Maine, Massachussetts, and New York. This is a story that involves us right here at home.

It is a story of the powerful, right up to the Bush White House, that placed our troops in harm’s way and did not provide the manpower, weapons, and support that they needed to simply survive. It highlights the resourcefulness of the troops on the ground, the helplessness of the officers in the middle, and the shortsightedness of the men at the top. I found it tough to read in those parts. I can only imagine what it was like to read for the family and friends of the people who were actually there.

One analogy that I was able to make from reading "The Outpost" was how it parallels auto accidents on our Interstate highways. Accidents on roads such as I-91 are often caused by a disparity in speed. While one car can travel safely at 70 mph, another may only be able to attain 55 mph. When you have that kind of a disparity in traveling speed, accidents happen. The same goes for civilizations. When Americans come in contact with Afghanis, the cultural and technological speeds are amazingly disparate. You can pretty much count on some sort of collision, and as we all know, collisions injure, maim, and kill without distinction between right, wrong, good or evil.

I recently heard an interview that Jake Tapper did on National Public Radio. He said that the amazing thing about COP Keating was that when it was overrun by hundreds of Taliban insurgents, there were a few more than 50 Americans defending the fort. In the end, eight American troops were dead. Considering the odds against them, it was amazing that they all weren’t killed. One doesn’t survive such odds with so few casualties without many acts of bravery and sacrifice, and Tapper did a remarkable job of documenting as many of them that were known or witnessed.

"The Outpost, an untold story of American Valor" by Jake Tapper is not a book for the faint of heart. While he tried very hard to avoid any semblance of writing about gratuitous violence, you can’t accurately describe the type of combat being waged in Afghanistan without illustrating what happens to the human body when hit by a rocket propelled grenade. I felt that I had a better idea of what is really happening in Afghanistan after reading this book. It isn’t pretty, it is troubling, but it is the kind of book that leaves little doubt as to its accuracy.

Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.