The Last Punisher: A SEAL Team THREE Sniper's True Account of the Battle of Ramadi
“Stories like this highlight the bravery, camaraderie, and sacrifice of war, even war that may not always be popular or even understood by many Americans.”
Just as with all America’s wars, soon after the fighting ends, the personal narratives and “I was there” stories start to emerge. Some of them become military history classics, while others fade quickly. Iraq and Afghanistan, two of America’s longest and most controversial wars are now beginning to make their own contributions to this genre.
This memoir, written by a Navy SEAL who served in some of the most intense combat in the 2006 campaign to wrest Ramadi, Iraq, from the control of Al Qaeda tells the story of a typical young American from boot camp and SEAL training to the streets and alleys of one of the most dangerous places in the world.
The book follows the usual scenario of a military memoir, highlighting the dangers and absurdities of combat and the bonds that fighting men build as they daily face dangers together.
Although each chapter begins with a little life lesson the author learned growing up or going to BUDS training, the incredibly challenging basic training course for all Navy SEALs, it concentrates on the combat missions carried out by the SEAL teams in the awful summer of 2006 in Ramadi, when the Al Qaeda sponsored insurgency nearly brought Iraq to the brink of civil war and large swaths of Al Anbar Province, Iraq’s largest, were bitterly contested between Iraqi and US military forces and Islamic insurgents.
The narrative follows their fairly small team of less than 20 SEALs as they conduct a variety of dangerous missions. The author shows a fascinating mixture of humility and bravado in his regaling of tales, talking about his love of combat with his teammates while simultaneously discussing his fears of not measuring up to the standards of the combat veterans on the team, who, in typical military small unit fashion, haze the “new guys” in the unit by forcing them to do all the grunt work and maintenance of the team’s equipment and logistics in between missions.
The bond that forms between men in combat is both unmistakable and unlike any other social construct. The most poignant part of the book is toward the end when the team begins to take casualties due to the constant combat and increasing intensity of the fighting as massive American and Iraqi forces sweep into Ramadi and begin a relentless struggle to secure the city and return control to the government.
When the team suffers its first real casualties, with one SEAL being severely injured and blinded by a ricochet bullet, another comrade killed by multiple bullets to his head and body, and another comrade sacrificing himself by throwing his body on an enemy grenade to save his fellows nearby, the author does not hold back the grief all the team members felt.
Their anguish was made even worse as all these casualties occurred toward the end of their tour. As the author notes, their seeming invincibility as some of the best small unit fighters in the world did not spare them the costs of war, and the author highlights the emotional job of bring one of their dead teammates home to his wife and mother and attending his funeral.
This was a fast and enjoyable read, made more interesting when the author tells the story of how he got involved in the movie American Sniper, becoming a technical advisor and even playing himself in several of the combat scenes.
Stories like this highlight the bravery, camaraderie, and sacrifice of war, even war that may not always be popular or even understood by many Americans. Men like this answered the call, and their service should always be remembered.