Sean Parnell was the Platoon Leader of Third Platoon, Bravo Co., 2nd Bn., 87th Infantr Regiment while it was deployed in Afghanistan near the Pakistani border in (YEAR(S). Parnell retired from active duty as a captain, bringing a military career that included Ranger qualification, six years with the 10th Mountain Division, two Bronze Stars (one for Valor) and a Purple Heart. With the assistance of John R. Bruning (author of HOUSE TO HOUSE with David Bellavia and SHADOW OF THE SWORD with Jeremiah Workman), Parnell brings the reader into his platoon, Outlaw Platoon, platoon level glimpse into US operations in an Afghanistan that would be far more familiar to Rudyard Kipling than the more hopeful version described in Doug Stanton's HORSE SOLDIERS or Eric Blehm's THE ONLY THING WORTH DYING FOR.
Told from a first person perspective, OUTLAW PLATOON quickly draws the reader in with a description of a visit to an Afghan Border Police (ABP) outpost near the border of Pakistan. Parnell's narrative strikes one as honest and objective as he describes feeling out of his depth when confronted with an obviously corrupt ABP commander whose only real interest lies in securing a fresh supply of weapons and ammunition that he can sell on the black market. With the assistance of a level-headed Platoon Sergeant, Parnell applies good sense to the situation and manages to extract himself without making any promises or unduly offending the ABP commander.
This is the reader's introduction to Parnell's Afghanistan - a place where his men marvel at the sight of local troops pausing to squat and defecate in the middle of their own encampment, where Taliban loyalists infiltrated as interprators poison interractions with the locals and lead US troops into ambushes, and, heart-breakingly, a place where simple, human kindess to a horribly brutalized and mutilated young boy earns the gratitude of an old man who eventually saves Parnell and his platoon from certain destruction at the hands of the Taliban.
If the above sounds too much like a well-orchstrated adventure novel, one should consider the words of Patrick O'Brian concerning incredible deeds of the historical characters upon whom he based his Aubrey and Maturin books: " . . . very often the improbably reality outruns fiction."
It is Parnell's stated goal in OUTLAW PLATOON to shine the spotlight on his men's steadfastness, their valor, and their loyalty and love for one another, and he and Bruning accomplish this goal admirably. Along the way, they give readers a glimpse of the poisonous environment that exists along Afghanistan's border with the Tribal Regions and of a Pakistani army that turned an increasingly blind eye to insurgent activities unfolding under its nose. Parnell offers no hopeful glimmer for the future, no cogent advice on how the beast can be turned around before it consumes itself and everyone with in its reach. His story is the story of his platoon. He leaves it to the reader to fit that story into a wider picture if they will.
OUTLAW PLATOON lacks the lyrical quality of Sebastian Junger's WAR and it is certainly no BLACK HAWK DOWN, despite the dust-cover's claims, but it is a solid book written in a soldierly fashion - within its pages are glimpses of horror, humor, loyalty, treachery, self-involvement, and self-sacrifice. The US soldier and the Afghans and Pakistanis that the walk among are show both at their best and at their worst. Parnell can surely be forgiven for the slightly hagiographical approach to his men because he reveals his own weaknesses and warts unsparingly.
OUTLAW PLATOON is a good read that delivers both a touching testament to a platoon leader's love of his men and a sobering account of men soldiering on despite anything a hostile land and uncertain allies might throw at them.