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“…the humvee forty meters in front of Nunez’s MRAP disappeared in a black cloud of dirt, smoke and flames. The explosion was so sudden that Nunez didn’t realize what it was until the solid concussion wall hit them, knocked Wilson off his feet and stopped their huge vehicle in its tracks. The first sound was like glass and steel being shattered, covered an instant later by the solid WHUMP of the concussion. Something large and square flew sideways out of the cloud and a tire flipped straight up through the smoke…”
I first read Proof of Our Resolve in December of 2012, at least as best I can remember. I was covering a Panteao Productions shoot and read the novel – Chris Hernandez’s first – on the plane. I was was impressed. Impressed enough, in fact, to track down the writer’s blog and post a message a few days after New Year’s Day. I soon found myself spending the better part of the drive between Joplin and Deerfield talking to him — it wasn’t too much longer before he was writing for Breach-Bang-Clear. Because he’s my friend (and because of his obvious and embarrassing hero worship for me) I chose not to review the book myself. Rather I asked another friend, a smart someone and voracious reader who has never met Chris (nor served in the military) to do so. This is that review. Mad Duo David
It doesn’t take long when starting Proof of Our Resolve to realize that it is a fictionalized account of actual events. The names and places were changed I’m sure, but the detail in the day-to-day activities, the frustration of the soldiers held back from doing the job they know needs to be done and the fear of making the wrong decision at the wrong time all flow through the pages of the book. It reads more like a deployed soldier’s journal or memoir than a war novel and that makes it far more impactful. The book follows a group of soldiers during their deployment to Afghanistan. They are running support in an MRAP, escorting others and cleaning up after ambushes. It focuses a lot on the mundane as well as the relationships between the soldiers and those they were fighting alongside (American and Coalition).
“…the mountain troops, every one of them, were in amazing physical condition, disciplined, aggressive as hell, proud and eager for combat. Nunez had been surprised at how much he liked and respected them all, since like most other Americans he had heard nothing but negatives about the French army. And the French seemed proud to serve alongside Americans, another thing that surprised Nunez…”
Interestingly, the combat that occurs in the book tended to be more abstract than in other war novels, and that really adds to the feeling. Countless rounds are fired back at enemies that can’t even be seen in the vain hope of hitting them or at least suppressing them. Occasionally the narrative focuses on the intense combat but even there the ultimate results are often just guesswork. This can cause some frustration in the reader–after all, we want to know that the bad guys get what is coming to them, but that only creates a greater empathic tie to the characters. They too are frustrated at the lack of knowledge or definite result.
If Proof of Our Resolve was an action adventure book, the climactic battle would have read a lot differently. There are heroic entries, airstrikes, supporting fire and maneuver by well-trained American soldiers, but…given the realism seen throughout the buildup, the reader is left constantly wondering what will happen next. Will the battle be a success? Will it accomplish anything? Will the soldiers or their allies survive? There is a very real lack of clarity, an overall ambiguity that must frustrate the reader as much as the protagonists. This is the greatest strength of the book. It truly reveals the inner mind of the main character (and by association the leaders there on the ground).
“…He took a look at his own gloves, pants and boots. They were smeared with Gore’s blood. The mission had gone wrong, but he and his soldiers had held together. Nobody had been a coward, nobody had fallen apart. He didn’t feel like he had just been beaten. Or at least, he didn’t feel like he had been beaten by the enemy. ‘We didn’t loose, Alex,’ Nunez said. ‘Eli didn’t lose. We did exactly what we were supposed to do. Somebody in charge chickened the fuck out and didn’t let us beat the Taliban like we could have. Maybe someone on our side lost, but it wasn’t us.'”
Thankfully the epilogue of the book, wherein the main character returns home from deployment, goes a long way in helping the reader (and I assume the author as well) come to terms with what the characters actually accomplished while deployed. It might also help them come to terms with whether it was ultimately worth it or not. The mission was never clear. The rules of engagement caused unnecessary difficulty in trying to execute that mission. Soldiers die, possibly due to that ambiguity and those ROEs, so questions naturally arise. The epilogue makes the book far stronger and it adds at least a little closure to both the reader (and, one hopes, the author).
At end of Proof of Our Resolve, you feel the conflicting emotions the soldiers there probably felt. They did a good job, they held themselves up and they believed in what they were doing. The question was, did they make a difference? Did their sacrifice help make the world a better place? The book can’t answer those questions, but it can allow you to peer inside someone’s head and better understand what they faced. It is a strong read about a difficult time.
About the Author: Erik Dewey is a prolific writer some of you may remember from a book often used for pre-deployment: the Big Book of Everything (which you can download here). Believe it or not, Erik was the boss’s roommate in college and a source of much completely heterosexual torment (you might note that he actually graduated, something our editor did not). He teaches at a local college, is a recreational shooter and perhaps most importantly a fierce 80s metal fan. When not running assorted progeny to Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or basketball he strives to make all his friends feel stupid by working on his Doctorate. His pulp fiction novels about the PMC Acute Operations are legendary in many homeless shelters, under at least one bridge, and at his mom’s house. Those books include Mercenary Blues, Mercenary Rules, and Mercenary Duels. He also co-edited Attack of the Zombie Hippies, a book Breach-Bang-Clear published a few years back to raise money for Independence Fund. Like so many of our minions, Erik is a former Boy Scout and unabashed, accomplished nerd who married above his station and will be really pissed when he sees which picture we used for his bio.
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