One of the most thoughtful and honest accounts ever written by a young Army officer confronting all the tests of life. -Bob Woodward In this surprise bestseller, West Point grad, Rhodes scholar, Airborne Ranger, and U. S. Army Captain Craig Mullaney recounts his unparalleled education and the hard lessons that only war can teach. While stationed in Afghanistan, a deadly firefight with al-Qaeda leads to the loss of one of his soldiers. Years later, after that excruciating experience, he returns to the United States to teach future officers at the Naval Academy. Written with unflinching honesty, this is an unforgettable portrait of a young soldier grappling with the weight of war while coming to terms with what it means to be a man.
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1 . Fascinating look at what is going on in the world today
Posted January 07, 2010 by Dick , Mount Vernon, WAAs the father of a Navy man who spent parts of 2008 & 09 in Afghanistan, this book was a fascinating look into the conflict that my son was involved in. It gives a good rendering of life in Westpoint, followed by specialized Army training and two years in England as a Rhodes Scholar, then a tour with an Army unit involved in the war against terrorists in Afghanistan. It is well written, holds the reader's interest and attention. I feel that I have a better idea of what our troups are facing while serving in Afghanistan after reading this book. I borrowed a friend's paper copy last fall and liked it so much that when I found it was available in ebook format for my Sony Reader I bought it here to have my own copy and to benefit the author.
February 18, 2009
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Excerpt from The Unforgiving Minute by Craig M. Mullaney
In case of Sudden and Temporary Immersion,
the Important Thing is to keep the Head Above Water.
A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
"Get off my bus!" screamed the cadet in charge. "You're not moving fast enough. Move it. Move it. Move it!" We stampeded from the bus like a startled herd of wildebeest, clutching our small gym bags with white-knuckled grips. As we poured into the hot July sunlight, chiseled senior cadet cadre aligned our crooked ranks. "Left, face."
Forty eighteen-year-olds turned at different speeds toward another white-starched cadet cadre. We must have looked ridiculous-a ragtag collection of shorts, untucked T-shirts, and long hair.
"Drop your bags."
They landed on the pavement with a thud.
"You will now begin the administrative portion of your processing. Follow all instructions both quickly and quietly. During this process you will pass water fountains. You are authorized and encouraged to use them. Do you understand?"
I nodded my head with the others.
"Pick up your bags."
July 1, 1996 was stamped on my military record like a wine's vintage-my "date of initial entry into military service." As my high school classmates alternated between summer jobs, afternoons at the beach, and summer reading lists, I headed off to West Point, New York. R-Day, short for "Reception Day," was the first day of a six-week period of basic training. There was absolutely nothing hospitable about this first day of military indoctrination, beginning with an exercise in severing family bonds. After standing in a straggling line of twelve hundred would-be freshmen and their parents, I was herded into the basketball arena with another thirty "cadet candidates." I had ninety seconds to say good-bye to my parents.
After obeying my first military order, I marched up the stairs and through a set of double doors. Even before the door shut behind me, it became clear what my first year at West Point was going to be like.
"What are you looking at, candidate?" shouted a five-foot-five cadet. The volume of his voice was inconsistent with his height.
"Aren't you going to call me sir?"
"Sir, yes, sir."
"Are you at the Naval Academy?"
"Sir, no, sir."
"Then stop making sir sandwiches, candidate. It's 'yes, sir' or 'no, sir.'" He lowered his voice to a vicious whisper. "What's your name, candidate?"
"Is that your first name?" His eyes widened.
"Do you think I care what your first name is? Do you think I want to be your friend?"
"Just get out of my hallway. Move over to that table and fill out your tag."
I hurried over and wrote my last name in big bold letters. The tag had a dozen boxes to check off as we were "processed" from civilians into military recruits. I hung it around my neck as instructed and boarded the school bus. I sat down on the crowded bus but was too cowed by my scolding to strike up any conversation. What am I doing here?
"Step up to my line. Do not step on my line. Do not step over my line. Step up to my line." A cadet glared at me under the black brim of a white service cap and swung his hand in front of his face, signaling that I should advance precisely to the line of demarcation pasted on the pavement in green tape. This was the first lesson in literal obedience.
He was the "Cadet in the Red Sash"-the first cadre member I needed to report to in order to join my company. I stood before him in a ludicrous uniform of newly issued cadet gym shorts, knee-high black socks, and Oxford low-quarter dress shoes. My head had been shorn of its five-inch locks, revealing a topography of old scars and virgin white scalp.
"Re-port," he bellowed at me from a distance of eighteen inches.
"New Cadet Mullaney reports to the...the..."
"Are you stuttering while you report?" His hot breath dried the sweat on my face.
"Did I give you permission to stutter?"
I began again: "New Cadet Mullaney..."
"Stop. What did you do wrong?" My newly bald scalp burned under the midday sun.
"Sir, I don't know."
"I don't know. I don't know," he repeated. "Is 'I don't know' one of your four responses?"
"What are your four responses?" he asked, testing whether I remembered another cadet's instructions on answering questions.
"Yes, sir. No, Sir. No excuse, sir. Sir, I do not understand."
"That's right, New Cadet. Why did you stutter? Did you not have sufficient time to practice?"
"I forgot, sir." I could almost see smoke billow out of his ears.
" 'I forgot' is not one of your four responses. Try again."
"No excuse, sir," I responded correctly. I must have replied "No excuse, sir" a thousand times that first year, hammering into my head an acknowledgment of personal responsibility that eventually became second nature.
"Try again, New Cadet."
"Sir, New Cadet --"
"Aren't you going to ask to make a correction?"
"Yes, sir. Sir, may I make a correction?"
"Sir, New Cadet Mullaney reports to the Cadet in the Red Sash for the first time as ordered."
"Are you going to salute when you report?"
"Yes, sir. Sir, may I make a correction?"
I raised my fingertips to my eyebrow as I saluted and repeated my report.
"New Cadet, that is the sorriest salute I have seen today." I couldn't believe how many mistakes I was making. I am better than this, I told myself.
The red-sashed, barrel-chested cadet manipulated my arm into a better approximation of a West Point salute: fingers closed and extended in a straight line to my elbow, arm parallel to the ground, palm canted toward my eyes.
"Move out, New Cadet. I haven't got all day."
A line extended behind me, other sheep waiting for the slaughter. I picked up my laundry bag of new clothing items, ran up six flights of stairs, and walked briskly down the hall toward the room indicated on my tag. Inside the room were a coat closet, several dresser drawers, three bare desks and bookshelves, and three mattresses on metal frames. The linoleum floor, dull and drab, smelled of Lysol. For that matter, everything in the barracks smelled of Lysol. Outside the window a green parade field stretched to a copse of trees and a steep drop to the Hudson River, a half mile across. It wouldn't be such a long swim, I thought. Before I could introduce myself to my roommates, two knocks at the door preceded the entrance of a cadre member.
"Call the room to attention, dammit." I looked at his name tag. "You," he pointed at my chest, "the one eye-balling me."
"Room, atten-hut." We sprang to attention.
"You sound like a goddam Marine." He looked down at the tag still hanging around my neck. "Mullaney, do you think this is the goddam Marine Corps? There is no 'hut' in the Army."
"I'm Cadet Bellinger, as Mullaney here found out by investigation, and I am your squad leader. I am not your friend, your counselor, or your coach. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," we answered in unison.
"Say it like soldiers, goddam it."
"Yes, sir." "Much better," he said, satisfied for the moment. "I want you down there" -- he pointed from the window down to the concrete pavement between our barracks and the parade field -- "in five minutes. You will be wearing the uniform I am in right now. Do you see how I am wearing my uniform?"
He strode out the door and slammed the door behind him as we dove into our bags and assembled our uniforms in a flurry of brass buckles, black nylon socks, and gray trousers so abrasive that hair didn't grow on my thighs for the next four years.
We stood in a row under the shade of an elm tree in front of MacArthur Barracks. This was what the Army meant by a formation: any number of soldiers standing at attention and prepared for training, marching, or, more typically, waiting. We were being formed. The ten of us, sweating into new leather low-quarter shoes, would cohere over time into a more competent squad. I would soon learn the Rule of Four, a trick for remembering this strange new hierarchy. Sergeants with at least four years of experience lead squads in the Army. Four squads comprised a platoon, the smallest unit in the Army commanded by a commissioned officer. The focus of military training at West Point was to prepare the new lieutenants it graduated for just this role, to be platoon leaders. With seasoning, officers commanded at higher levels. Four platoons made a company, with around 150 soldiers and sergeants, which was led by a company commander, a captain. For most officers this was the highest level at which they would command before finishing their service. For officers who chose a career in the Army and earned promotions to colonel, they competed to command battalions (four companies) and brigades (four battalions). Only generals got the opportunity to lead entire divisions, such as the famed 82nd Airborne or 10th Mountain.
West Point was organized like a brigade. Cadets played the roles of sergeants and officers in order to give every cadet the opportunity to hone his or her leadership abilities. As new cadets, we were the privates. Our purpose was to follow, to obey, and to be formed in the image of our leaders. We had begun our transformation, reduced to a common denominator, at the barbershop. Now, dressed identically, it was time for us to learn how to walk again.
"I have two hours to teach you how to march like soldiers. Marching is what we do here. Every day. To breakfast. To lunch. After school. On Saturday mornings. Understood?"
"Good," he continued. "Right, face."
We turned to the right to form a column. Bellinger looked down at the ground in dismay, "We'll have to work on that. All right now, keeping your fists tight and your arms straight at your side, move your left arm forward and step forward with your right foot."
We moved forward with a lurch, frozen in mid-stride.
"Excellent. Now move your right arm and left foot."
Bellinger led us through twenty iterations of this choreographed awkward motion. I had always assumed marching was not much different from walking. I had never worried, for instance, about a bouncy step or gave much thought to swinging my arms exactly nine inches forward and six to the rear. I wondered how many cadre were laughing at us as we robo-walked across the Apron, looking like Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks.
"Not bad for starters. Let's add a beat." Bellinger began chanting: "Dum-dum-DUM-DUM-DUM, dum-dum-DUM-DUM-DUM."
Within fifty feet we were completely out of rhythm.
"Focus on the man in front of you. Do what he does."
This worked better, but I still walked like a marionette doll with no control over my own limbs. In the distance a bass drum beat a steady thump, perhaps alerted that over a thousand novices were trying to will their natural strides into an unfamiliar gait. The tallest had to walk at funeral pace and the shortest legs overreached comically. Around and around we marched-column left, march, column left, march, mark time, march, forward, march, dum-dum-DUM-DUM-DUM.
The sun began to sink behind the barracks as our newly constituted platoon streamed onto the parade field. Our families, having completed their own daylong indoctrination into military parenting, awaited us with cameras and binoculars. Our black shoes, peppered with fresh grass clippings, rooted us as firmly to the ground as the guidon flags planted in front of each company. We snapped to attention as the cadet commander introduced our class to the Superintendent, Lieutenant General Daniel Christman, Class of 1965. In an address that was meant more for our families than us, he recounted the accomplishments of the nearly two hundred West Point classes that had preceded us. With hard work and perseverance, we too might join this Long Gray Line of distinguished alumni. The crowd applauded, and we raised our right hands at the command of our cadre. After swearing an oath to support the Constitution and obey the legal orders of superior officers, the band played the national anthem. A hum from our ranks grew louder as we sang along. In front of us, beyond the crowd, the American flag beat against the wind whipping between Storm King Mountain and Breakneck Ridge, down the Hudson River, and up the bluff where we stood -- anxious, exhausted, and terrified. At the moment, joining the Long Gray Line seemed less important than surviving the first day.
With identical uniforms and shaved heads, we were virtually indistinguishable from one another. The transformation was a testament to the efficiency of military indoctrination. As the parade concluded, we marched past proud and nervous parents. At the command of eyes right, I searched for my own parents in vain. We turned our backs to the stands as the wind whistled past Trophy Point's cannons and drove us forward. We headed toward arched passageways marked with the names of hallowed battlefields. LEYTE GULF. CORREGIDOR. NORMANDY. The letters faded into shadow. The ranks of white in front of me merged into gray stone, and a hail of terrifying commands grew louder with each perfectly measured step. The barracks, backlit by the setting sun, jutted out like boulders carved from the hill beyond. At the crest of the hill, two hundred feet above our uniforms of white and gray, stood the chapel -- a mass of granite blocks soaring to a crenellated bell tower. It was impossible to imagine West Point built of anything other than granite and steel.
Advance Praise for The Unforgiving Minute
"Keenly intelligent war memoir whose central question is, "What is a man?"'... A philosophically ambitious account of coming to adulthood." --Kirkus Reviews
"Craig Mullaney has lived every kind of American life--he has been a working- man's son, a prize scholar, a soldier--and what's come out of it is a classic memoir about what it means to be American. By marching so many terrains, he has covered the subjects central to every life: courage, pain, loyalty, honor, friendship, love and the tests any good life faces, year by year, minute by minute. He has also produced a page-turner, a brutally honest account of West Point life, the innocence-abandoned experiences of an American abroad at Oxford, and ultimately an indelible story of life and death on the battlefield. In words his squadmates might recognize, I recommend The Unforgiving Minute without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion."
--David Lipsky, contributing editor to Rolling Stone Magazine and author of the New York Times bestseller Absolutely American
"The Unforgiving Minute is the ultimate's soldier's book--universal in its raw emotion and its understanding of the larger issues of life and death. Mullaney, a master storyteller, plunges the depths of self-doubt, endurance, and courage. The result: a riveting, suspenseful human story, beautifully told. This is a book written under fire--a lyrical, spellbinding tale of war, love, and courage. The Unforgiving Minute is the Three Cups of Tea of soldiering."
--Ahmed Rashid, author of the New York Times bestseller Taliban and Descent into Chaos
"Mullaney writes a great story--a true privilege to read. Entertaining, balanced, and graceful, The Unforgiving Minute is a powerful narrative of purpose, responsibility, courage, and personal growth. Every young man and woman in America should read this book, and aspire to his standard of public service."
--General Wesley Clark, USA (Ret.)
"The Unforgiving Minute is one of the most compelling memoirs yet to emerge from America's 9/11 era. Craig Mullaney has given us an unusually honest, funny, accessible, and vivid account of a soldier's coming of age. This is more than a soldier's story; it is a work of literature."
--Steve Coll, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens
"The Unforgiving Minute is the poignant true story of a young man's unusual education from the classrooms of West Point and Oxford to his development as a leader, son, brother, husband and friend. In this powerful book, we share in the remarkable experiences of a Rhodes Scholar, and the heartache and pride of a soldier. I admire Craig Mullaney's courage, and thank him for his service."
--Senator Richard Lugar, former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
"Craig Mullaney is an exemplar of the next great generation of Americans, those who are serving and sacrificing on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a compelling, can't-put-down book, a well-written, memorable description of preparing for war and leading in combat."
--Joe Klein, Time Magazine political columnist and author of New York Times bestseller Primary Colors
"No matter how many books you have read about the rigors of basic training and the terrors of war, you should read this one. Mullaney's keen eye for detail, lively narrative style, and capacity for self-reflection--unusual in many soldiers--make an old story new and gripping."
--Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
"Craig Mullaney adds his name to the very few among of us who have the intelligence, sensitivity and skill to share the unforgiving sadness and the unparalleled joy of leading men and women in combat. The Unforgiving Minute should be required reading for all who serve in the White House and Congress and for those who aspire to leadership. Read it. Twice."
--Paul Bucha, West Point Class of 1965, Medal of Honor recipient and past president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society
"Craig Mullaney puts the reader in the muddy boots of a combat leader as he marches a path from West Point to Afghanistan and back again. Weaving action and reflection, The Unforgiving Minute is fast-paced, entertaining, and rich with insight and wisdom. A great debut from a leader to watch."
--General Barry McCaffrey, USA (Ret.)
"Intimate and evocative in the tradition of the best coming-of-age memoirs, The Unforgiving Minute accurately captures what it is to prepare for the ultimate responsibility of leading soldiers in war, a demand as much intellectual as physical, as much about compassion as discipline. By turns thoughtful, hilarious, gut-wrenching, and inspiring, The Unforgiving Minute is as gripping and addictive as it is perceptive and honest."
--Lieutenant General F.L. Hagenbeck, U.S. Army
"Craig Mullaney has served his country twice: first by leading his men at war, and now by remembering. He has done both with skill and honor. Mullaney's memoir is the thinking soldier's guide to modern combat, told with a novelist's eye for detail and a philosopher's penchant for perspective. It is a story well worth reading."
--Bill Murphy Jr., author of IN A TIME OF WAR: The Proud & Perilous Journey of West Point's Class of 2002
"No one describes more clearly how a boy becomes a man than Craig Mullaney in this masterpiece of self-awareness. No American can read this book and ever again forget what we owe to others for giving to us a society filled with so many choices that we have the freedom to make for ourselves."
--David L. Boren, former U.S. Senator and longest serving chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee
"An honest account of the closeness and the distance between a father and a son and the highs and lows of military life. A heart-breaking account of what it is like to be responsible for the life and death of America's most precious asset: the Combat Warrior. A must read for all combat leaders."
--Lieutenant General Ronald Coleman, U.S. Marine Corps
"The Unforgiving Minute tells the story of a fiercely passionate young man and provides important insight into a new greatest generation--his comrades in arms who serve in a time of war. Read this book to get a sense of their courage and sacrifice."
--Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, USA (Ret.), author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife
"The Unforgiving Minute is a literate and thoughtful memoir that is a valuable contribution to both the genre and to our understanding of contemporary conflict."
--Andrew Exum, author of This Man's Army
The Unforgiving Minute is a wonderful, beautifully written story of the education and development of a young soldier-scholar, the coming of age of an infantry officer, and the exercise of a small unit leader's responsibilities in a tough, complex, and frustrating situation in Afghanistan. It captures particularly eloquently and movingly the relationships among those who walk point for our nation as part of that most elite of fraternities, the brotherhood of the close fight.
"A poignant and evocative book about the great hurdles in coming of age: love, death, belief, and betrayal...I couldn't stop reading."
--Nathaniel Fick, author of The New York Times bestseller One Bullet Away
"Craig Mullaney's memoir is a story of our time, from West Point to combat in Afghanistan and back. A thousand years from now, historians wanting to know about life in America after 9/11 would do well to look at this book. Equally important, it is an enjoyable and honest book. Read it."
--Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, and senior military correspondent for The Washington Post,
"The young Army officer at the center of this tale provides a searing and honest account, full of small victories, significant losses, and eventually the greatest of all triumphs: self-awareness and understanding. This is a marvelous read, full of life lessons on every page, written in a modest and unflinching style--a classic memoir."
--Admiral James Stavridis, Commander, U.S. Southern Command