"The first thing you should know about me is that I'm crazy." In The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows, Brian Castner heartbreakingly shares anything but your typical war story. Castner takes us on a personal journey through not one, but two wars -- one in Iraq, and the other within himself -- brilliantly intertwining the two in a way so explosively raw.
Castner served three tours of duty in the Middle East as an officer of the U.S. Air Force, two of them as the commander of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit in Iraq. Castner delves into the day-to-day experiences of an EDO at war: the dangerous investigations of the aftermath of car bombs, the unbearable heat, and the house-to-house search for bomb makers. But his greatest challenge would come on the once familiar soil of his own home. These passages of Castner's terror and fear both in Iraq and at home left me holding my breath.
Flashing back and forth between the two locales, Castner describes the horrific events that took place during his tours of duty, and the uninvited panic he refers to as "the Crazy" during his transition to returning home. We receive a rare glimpse into the mind of a soldier suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the mind of a person dealing with unwanted memories and severe anxiety.
Castner's story snuck up on me in a way that was surprising. He talks about how he enjoyed his job in the military, found meaning in the work he was doing, and embraced the camaraderie of those in his unit. He admits that "despite being surrounded by the gory horrors of war and facing near-death experiences, I somehow never considered what life would be like once I went on the final call to dismantle a roadside bomb." When Castner goes from disrupting roadside improvised explosive devices, to giving his children cereal before they leave for school in the morning, he finds both tasks equally challenging. Riddled with wounds and loss not visible to the naked eye, he reveals a different kind of post-war aftershock. Castner found himself questioning his significance in his family, as his relationship with his wife and children deteriorates, and shares these thoughts freely. Castner's ability to speak openly about a subject that isn't talked about enough is not only inspiring; it's also so very honorable.
The Long Walk is immensely personal, deeply moving, and at times will leave you stunned. This is a story that won't leave you. The eye-opening, touching revelations make this book a must-read, especially during this fragile time.