03 January 2010

Review: 'Greetings From Afghanistan'

Greetings From Afghanistan, Send More Ammo: Dispatches from Taliban Country

UPDATE 11 JAN 2010: The author advises that his originally self-published book will be reprinted by a large publishing house as an expanded hardcover in June 2010, with a slightly different title. In the meantime, you may be lucky enough to find the earlier paperback edition as "Welcome to Afghanistan: Send More Ammo." The cover features crossed RPGs.

New York Army National Guard Capt. Benjamin Tupper had worked in Afghanistan as a civilian in 2004 before deploying as an Embedded Training Team (ETT, and pronounced "ee-tee-tee") member in 2006. For the past number of years, the Army National Guard has been doing some heavy lifting in the ETT fight, deploying as 8- or 16-soldier teams that advise Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) organizations. Other U.S. branches have also been fulfilling the ETT mission, as have allies, although the latter are called Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams (OMLT, and pronounced--I am not making this up--"omelette." You know what they say: "Ya gotta break some eggs if you want to, I don't know ... support a friendly but corrupt foreign government to avoid a regional strategic power vacuum with nuclear implications"? But I digress ...)

Tupper blogged throughout his deployment, and his resulting 2009 book of essays, "Welcome to Afghanistan: Send More Ammo" is a punchy collection of well-observed, straight-talking insights on the topsy-turvy world of the ETT. (Full disclosure: While I have not myself served as an ETT member, I have interviewed a number of them for "after action" reports. 'Nuff said.)

In recounting a series of anecdotes (pay attention throughout and you'll begin to pick up the larger threads), Tupper manages to conversationally pick off a few targets--the times that the bad guys that got away; the times that the good guys didn't; the times that the bad guys turned out not to be the bad guys at all. He's occasionally self-mocking. He's occasionally brutally self-revealing. Surprisingly, particularly in that he is a soldier relating war stories, he is never smug or self-agrandizing. Any G.I. will tell you, the "no-B.S." medal is hardest merit-badge to get.

Most importantly, he avoids reaching conclusions beyond the range, if you will, of his weapons. He's a company-grade officer doing an Army job that was admittedly relatively unheard-of in the conventional Army until just a few years ago. (I've got a theory that U.S. National Guard and Reserve soldiers are perhaps better mentally equipped for the ETT mission, given that they likely have applicable civilian skills that they've developed in parallel to their military training, but that's a warhorse for another day.)

He reports on his experiences matter-of-factly, to include the tactical and the personal and even the seemingly trivial. But aren't the devils always in the trivial details, however? Those who have been there--and those who haven't yet--will really appreciate his observations on, say, the hot barber shop scenes to seek out on the major installations, or how ANA soldiers bring the sexy back on a weekly basis, or how the U.S. Army thinks that wearing high-visibility reflective safety belts makes troops safer in nearly all environments.)

That's not to say that he doesn't occasionally call fire-for-effect. Consider this steely cold assessment, written and published before the latest U.S. strategery (you heard me) is/was in place:
"Sending an additional 30,000 soldiers may seem like a rational approach to fighting and defeating the growing Taliban insurgency, but it misses a simple truth. As the Afghans like to say: "You Americans have all the watches, but we Afghans have all the time."
In coming weeks, I'll plan to review a couple of other books that have been about ETTs using the collect-my-blog method of authorship, including: Jeff Courter's "Afghan Journal" and Mark Bromwich's "Captain's Blog." (Full disclosure: The latter is a buddy of mine.) I'd also appreciate suggestions on other books that accurately depict or describe conditions on the ground in and around Afghanistan, whether or not they specifically regard the ETT mission.


  1. SHERPA SENDS: Writer and fellow citizen-soldier Jeff Courter was kind enough to make the first-ever comment (!) to Red Bull Rising yesterday.

    Unfortunately, he caught me with my proverbial blog-administrator's trousers down, as I've been working on a behind-the-scenes costume change.

    The change required re-posting (and post-dating) the handful of posts I've made previously, including this one. ("Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!")

    The change also, unfortunately, resulted in the deletion of his original comment. As a field-expedient solution, I'm reposting it below, for historical and mutual-admiration purposes.

    Be sure to check out Jeff's book and his blog--we haven't personally met yet, but I'll vouch for him. After all, he's a National Guard guy and from the Midwest ... what's not to like?

    Oh, given that his blog deals regularly with some of the same Big Questions I hope to take on, I've also added him to my "Daily Intel & Insights" blog-roll, at right.


    Jeff Courter said...
    Welcome to the blogosphere, Sherpa!
    I stumbled across your inaugural review today & happened to see my name/book on your radar.

    Great idea to look at the ETT experience by tracing steps of those of us who've been there, done that, and lived to tell about it.

    I, too have read Tupper's book. Agree with your assessment. Looking forward to your comments about my experience. (It's probably a more "in-your-head" view of war - but it's my perspective, nonetheless.)

    I'll circle back with other titles to consider - and will add your site to my blogroll at http://LifeLoveandTruth.com.

    Nice look, BTW!

    *** MESSAGE ENDS ***

  2. hey- i think you should write a book yourself, your review made me laugh- perfect mix of sarcasm and seriousness. you got a knack for the written word, perhaps better than my own! love the blog, keep it up

    CPT Tupper
    aka "Ringworm"

  3. Ring!

    Thanks for the good words! Your praise this evening not only caused a Red Bull to blush (no small feat), but helped take the hard edge off a particularly challenging drill weekend.

    Well, that and a few attempts at achieving the perfect Manhattan ...

    Seriously, however: I've coincidentally evangelized hard on behalf of your written work in the past 48 hours, particularly the essay titled "The Garden of Eden Massacre (Almost)." I have yet to come across anything that better distills the Potential Consequences of Getting it Wrong in the Fog of OEF.

    In other words, I've been face-to-face recommending the reading to every ETT member, TOC-rat, and warfighter who will listen. I can't promise that Joe Snuffy will put his money where my mouth is, but that won't be for lack of trying.

    Thanks again for your words and your work, past and present!

  4. again- thanks for the props...

    A word of caution, the book was purchased by Penguin, who is releasing a 2nd edition in June on a massive national scale. The first edition is out of print until then. There are a couple copies on amazon.com, but they are selling for over $200 dollars. Not sure why people are willing to pay that much, but if they are patient, they can get a hardcover expanded version come june for about a tenth the price....


    keep up the good work sherpa.

  5. I was wondering why the book was doing 3-to-5-second rushes on Amazon. ("It's up ... they see it ... it's down.") I'm reminded of the joke that newspapers could make money if they just printed one copy per day and charged thousands of dollars for it.

    I'm glad I got mine back in ... September 2009?

    Congratulations on the Big Second Printing news. That's fantastic news! I'll update the links as you suggest.

    Expanded reply coming to you via e-mail, too, by the way ...


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