You may have read Black Hawk Down and/or Lone Survivor. If you have (hell, even if you haven’t), next on your reading list should be Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor by Medal of Honor recipient Clinton Romesha. The publisher calls it “[t]he only comprehensive, firsthand account of the fourteen hour firefight at the Battle of Keating,” and while that description is accurate, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of just how comprehensive this book really is.
Romesha, a member of Black Knight Troop’s Red Platoon, is preparing to close down COP Keating in Kamdesh, Afghanistan, in October 2009. With the majority of their supplies either already removed from the COP or packed away, the men find themselves embroiled in a bitter fight for control during a surprise attack by the Taliban.
Clinton provides a detailed look into the lives of the men at Keating and how they came to be in their current situation on the morning of October 3, 2009. You get to know the men in Black Knight Troop, as well as some of the guys in the Afghan National Army and the Afghan Security Guards. He also paints a vivid portrait of Keating itself, which had proven to be a near-defenseless outpost situated in the bottom of a valley. That fact goes a long way toward explaining the urgency of their predicament and why it wass being closed down. Being positioned as it was gave the Taliban the upper hand and the high ground from every vantage point, making everyone in Keating a fish in a proverbial barrel.
As someone who has never been in the military, I was able to understand the terminology, the tactics, and the situation that everyone in Keating found themselves in that day. Romesha’s writing style is informative and straightforward, yet also vivid and highly entertaining. He writes in a way that’s relatable to both servicemen and civilians alike.
I found myself literally on the edge of my seat during parts of the book. Since you get to know the guys embroiled in the battle, I felt their sense of urgency when they were preparing to make their runs to and from the Shura Building, to the ammo supply point, or one of the armored Humvees. I also found felt contempt toward the ANA and ASG personnel who didn’t uphold their end of the security responsibilities when it came down to the wire.
When air support finally arrives, you can envision the layers of airspace occupied by the different types of aircraft (thanks to Romesha’s detailed descriptions) and I could feel my pulse quickening each time one of the Apaches came in for another run.
The map of COP Keating in the front of the book was invaluable. I referred back to it repeatedly for a visual of how the attacks played out. Romesha gives great play-by-play descriptions of the actions he and his men took during the battle; with the aid of the map, I was able to follow in their footsteps and visualize the exact moves they were trying to make.
Because his writing style is so frank and relatable, my heart broke each time one of the men went down. Romesha spared no detail in retelling of the wounds that our soldiers bore at the hands of the Taliban. He also described the frantic search for bodies of the fallen to prevent them from being taken into the hills by the Taliban and used in their propaganda.
Clinton has provided one of the best accounts of battle that I’ve ever read. I’ve spent a lot of time reading about war and battle from many different wars across the centuries. This was by far the most moving one I’ve read.
Romesha also deals with his life after the battle. He and his men still had another eight months left before their deployment was over. He talks about receiving the Medal of Honor and how he feels about it. Basically, he’s just a custodian for the medal, which truly belongs to the eight men who gave their lives that day.
When I came to the end of the book, closed the cover and laid it down, I just sat there for a few minutes. Silent. Partly because I felt like I needed to pay homage to the men who died. Partly because I had a whole new respect for Clinton Romesha.
When I met him in May 2016, I had seen an interview with him on TV about the book, but I hadn’t read it yet. I didn’t comprehend all that he and the others had been through when we stood there, chatting for a few minutes in a crowded convention hall. After reading the book, I think I get it – to a certain degree. That is, as much as one who has never been in combat can get it.
At any rate, Red Platoon is a must read for anyone interested in first-hand accounts of U.S. military engagements. Do yourself a favor and give it a read. You won’t be disappointed.