In Combat Medic by S.M. Boney IV we get an inside look at what life is like on the front lines of battle. Being shot at day in and day out is not only a gut-wrenching experience as the fight rages on, but for some this pain never stops.
A significant number of veterans suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder—an issue that arises after exposed to distressing incidents or environments, in this case war. The term comes across as a bit nebulous for most of us when seeing it on the news, however, Samuel’s account of PTSD helps to put things in perspective.
Both in Iraq and back in the states he suffers from tremendous mental stress. Nightmares haunt him regularly, as he dreams he’s in the midst of battle, when in fact he’s in bed. He sees things that aren’t there, regularly freaking out over nothing. The stress climaxes as he reaches the brink of suicide, wrestled from near death by a timely phone call.
On the Front Lines
Though the book opens and closes with his struggle with PTSD, the majority of the book are based on Private Boney’s time in boot camp and in combat. The battle scenes which take up a large portion of the book’s latter half are gripping. He so vividly describes how he is feeling as he is called into the midst of battle, you’re able to put yourself right in his shoes. I hate to get such enjoyment out of another person’s danger and suffering, but it’s really quite entertaining.
Boney’s operations take place in the Battle of Najaf. It was a counter-insurgency operation taking place about 100 miles outside of Baghdad. The fighting is done at incredibly close-range, and it is noted that this battle was to be the first that featured hand-to-hand combat since Vietnam.
To make the battle even more morbid and inhospitable, much of the fighting took place in the Wadi Al-Salaam cemetery—the largest in the Islamic world. Looking at a picture of the cemetery gives you a good idea of what this operation was like.
Despite the close range of combat and regular enemy fire, Boney soon adapts to this hostile environment and performs admirably in the field. He kicks down doors, exchanges fire with insurgents, and even fires rocket launchers on several occasions inflicting heavy damage to the enemies.
Additionally, he gives us insight as to daily life in war beyond the battle field. His base(s) regularly come under mortar fire from out of nowhere.
Moreover, the vivid, gory descriptions of severe injuries are eye-opening and heart-wrenching. In one instance he and his companions are told to place a dead soldier inside a body bag.
Another example is when he’s dealing with journalists looking to get a ‘good picture’ of an injure soldier:
The first site of blood and they jumped at it like it was their last meal. I couldn’t believe they wanted to take pictures of someone’s kid like this; just to get on the front page. Amy stomach turned, thinking about them collecting a check off of a soldier’s death.
It’s a good look at what the media is really looking for.
The Return Home
His return back to civilian life really encapsulates what many returning veterans go through. In war, men are given a purpose. Fighting on the front lines, while dangerous, fills a much needed void to feel needed and to contribute. When soldiers return to civilian life, that dissipates.
How did I get here in this empty apartment, feeling said and numb inside?…It was because of the war. Why did I even sign up to go in? I don’t want to feel like this anymore; alone, struggling to hold onto reality day in and day out. I want a life worth living.
This is a popular thesis, one noted most recently in Sebastian Junger’s Tribe. And looking at Boney’s return to the States, his scenario fits this description. I don’t know enough about this issue to comment thoughtfully, but I sincerely hope things are being done to solve PTSD.
Private Boney’s story really writes itself. The success, the struggle, the pain and the glory all come together to tell a powerful tale. It’s really an exiciting and moving experience from start to finish.
Click here to read Combat Medic: A soldier’s story of the Iraq war and PTSD by S.M. Boney IV.