The recommendation of a friend spurred the timing of my reading of The Outpost but I intended to read it for some time. It’s written by CNN anchor Jake Tapper and made me a fan of his for life. This is why it was originally a part of my to-read list:
In 2009, I was deployed to Iraq. I’d been in the Army almost three years and I spent the majority of my deployment on a staff in Baghdad. I worked the night shift that year from the bowels of Al-Faw Palace, one of Saddam’s more extravagant palaces, for the Joint Operations Cell. For someone so inexperienced, it was the kind of job that one else wanted so it got assigned to the junior guy. There were perks though. I got to take my picture in a throne given to Sadaam Hussien by Yassir Arafat. I also got to use real toilets, palatial toilets in fact, a real step-up from the port-a-potties that the majority of peers were resigned to using.
Every day in Iraq was like Groundhog’s Day. I updated the Chief of Staff every night during the brief and looked forward to midnight chow. My job entailed making connections between reports from various sources. To do this, I used a database that compiled all written reports. One October night, a quiet fervor began to rise in the room. Something was happening and it felt bad. I brought up one of our tracking systems and saw that there was a unit somewhere in Afghanistan heavily engaged with Taliban fighters and they were in danger of being overrun by a well-planned and coordinated attack. I remember refreshing the page every few seconds, trying to follow along when I read something that made my heart sink. “ENEMY IN THE WIRE.” For the lay, that means that the enemy breached the perimeter of the outpost and was inside the compound, it would be like someone was in your yard while you protected it from your house. It felt like an exercise of some kind. In all of my training, I’d never conducted a drill to respond to something like that. I tried to imagine what I would do. It’s common for us in the military to be hypercritical of the decisions made by others, especially in terms of tactics. We second guess everyone and everything but that wasn’t happening. It was very uncomfortable.
An eerily somber mood hung over the room but there was nothing we could do, we were thousands of miles away. I stayed at work beyond my shift to follow along. I don’t remember the resolution but I recall learning that two Medals of Honor and nine Silver Stars were awarded to the participants of the battle. That is a big deal. Not many have earned the MoH during the Global War on Terror and most were given posthumously. All of this said, I was never in danger nor would I claim to have any connection to the Battle of Kamdesh. I just remember where I was when it happened and it stuck with me.
The Outpost is a history of Combat Outpost Keating. It wasn’t always called COP Keating and the eight Soldiers who lost their lives on October 3rd, 2009 were not the only casualties at the outpost. COP Keating was in a bad location and those who served there all knew it. The book covered much more than just one battle. It encompasses the the entire duration of the outpost from its creation to its abandonment. I did not expect such a thorough narrative and it was outstanding.
The Outpost is a tragic story of bravery and valor. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating. It’s exhilarating and exhausting. While I think everyone should read it, I recommend it to anyone interested in military history. It’s also a great read for anyone who wants to read a truly human account of a war that is nearly as old as some of its participants.