Author Sebastian Junger recounts travails of U.S. soldiers in a forlorn Afghan outpost

February 26, 2012 12:00 am
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Sebastian Junger's name is familiar to many readers because he wrote "The Perfect Storm," which inspired the popular movie about commercial fishermen whose lives are lost while they are at sea.

Between 2007 and 2008, Mr. Junger traveled to eastern Afghanistan five times and was embedded with a U.S. Army platoon battling the Taliban; his longest stint lasted a month. The author speaks about his experiences and his book "War" at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Literary Evenings series at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland.

Sebastian Junger

The author of "War" speaks at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland

Literary Evenings, a series of 11 lectures, is presented by Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures and made possible by the Drue Heinz Trust.

Tickets, $15 and $25, are available at www.pittsburghlectures.org or 412-622-8866. ($35 tickets are sold out.)

A contributing editor to Vanity Fair magazine, Mr. Junger describes life for soldiers in the Korengal Valley this way: "It's a miraculous kind of antiparadise up here: heat and dust and tarantulas and flies and no women and no running water and no cooked food and nothing to do but kill and wait. It's so hot that the men wander around in flip-flops and underwear, unshaved and foul."

The platoon's needs came first.

"Whatever I was feeling -- fatigue, fear -- those things were completely subjugated to the concerns of the group. It didn't matter if I was tired. It didn't matter if I was scared. I put the group first. I trusted them so much. Being part of the group like that is a tremendously powerful experience," Mr. Junger said.

The experience of war, he added, "made everybody more emotional. I came home and I just cried a lot over stuff that really doesn't warrant crying, birthdays or weddings, stuff that women cry at. I was surprised at how emotional I was."

Many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, Mr. Junger said, but he experienced what mental health professionals call "post-traumatic growth."

"It brought my emotions closer to the surface and it made me react to the important moments in life with more thought and more feeling -- a lot of the things that frankly, men have trouble doing. We know how we are," the author said.

The book's central character, Brendan O'Bryne, endured an unhappy childhood in rural Pennsylvania before joining the platoon Mr. Junger chronicled. The two men became friends.

After he was discharged, Mr. O'Byrne endured a rough couple of years before embarking on a new career. Mr. Junger, who once earned his living as an arborist, taught those skills to Mr. O'Byrne, who lives in Boston.

"I loaned him my equipment. I trained him. I got him a job with a guy that I used to work for back in the early '90s. He's been doing that for almost a year. He's gotten way better than I ever was," the author said.

Mr. O'Byrne also started working for Outward Bound's veterans program.

"They have been taking vets into the wilderness since Vietnam. He's been the main spokesman for that effort," Mr. Junger said.


First Published 2012-02-25 23:25:50

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