Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War

On Sept. 15, 2011, Sergeant Dakota Meyer joined the ranks of those very few Americans who have been awarded the nation’s highest award, the Medal of Honor. Just two years earlier, Meyer acted with extraordinary bravery and heroism in one of the most ferocious battles of the war in Afghanistan, saving the lives of numer­ous Americans and Afghans.

Overwhelmed by enemy fighters and un­supported by available American fire­power, the events surrounding the Battle of Ganjgal have become a topic of great controversy and scrutiny. With assistance from Bing West, author and fellow Marine, Meyer tells his captivating story, from his  childhood in Kentucky to his life as a dis­tinguished combat veteran.

Exploiting Meyer’s personal writings and recollections, West weaves an inspir­ing story about the young Ma­rine’s up­bring­ing, training and deter­mi­na­tion that prepared him to fight repeated­ly through almost certain death to save the lives of his comrades and recover his fallen teammates. 

In 2009, then-Corporal Dakota Meyer volunteered for a four-man advising team that was responsible for training a com­pany of Afghan soldiers. Three Marines and a Navy corpsman ate, slept and pa­trolled with Afghan security forces in the mountainous region that bor­ders Pakistan. 

As the only infantryman and sniper on his team, Meyer’s job was to train the Af­ghans on tactics and weapons. Yet, his emphasis on infantry discipline raised dis­agreements over the very nature of the advisors’ roles. “Were we to act as gar­ri­son instructors or combat advisors?” Meyer questioned after receiving a lecture from his superior that they were “not going there to fight ... [but] to train the Afghans.” The lingering confusion over the exact type of training and assistance the Afghans required resulted in too few advisors possessing infantry skills and combat experience. 

Meyer notes the “makeshift workup” the advisors received and how training for Afghanistan resembled camping out “Boy Scout style.” Understanding that his real mission was to be a combat ad­visor, Meyer often struggled to contain his dis­sent when he knew planning or execution of a mission was not thorough. During the planning for Operation Buri Booza, in what would become the Battle of Ganjgal, Meyer recognized that too many assump­tions left the inexperienced team exposed, outgunned and without a clear chain of command.

On Sept. 8, 2009, 15 advisors and 90 Af­ghan soldiers walked into a disaster. Within minutes of entering the formidable terrain of Ganjgal, relentless small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and mor­tars overwhelmed the men. Disconnected and in danger of becoming enveloped, the trapped team’s only lifeline was prompt and accurate fire support; however, senior military leaders rejected repeated requests for urgent artillery fire that could have saved the embattled advisors. 

The rationale was new rules of engage­ment that required “positive identification of the enemy within a residential com­pound” in an attempt to minimize Afghan civilian casualties. Defying orders, 21-year-old Meyer and a fellow Marine drove into the “kill zone” a total of five times in order to rescue his beleaguered team who had not been heard from since hours into the firefight. Each time they braved a torrent of enemy gunfire, Meyer managed to res­cue soldiers along the way while rallying others to stay in the fight. 

After hours of relentless fighting, in­clud­ing hand-to-hand combat, close air support arrived and provided much needed relief to Meyer and the few advisors still engaged. Tragically, how­ever, Meyer’s team­mates had been fatally wounded while in the most ex­posed position.

As a veteran and author of multiple books on American wars, West conveys the gritty chaos of a tough fight with the empathy that only a fellow infantryman could. The authors retell a remarkable story of sacrifice, courage, bravery and de­termination. Instead of focusing on the strategy, doctrinal and organizational shortcomings that led to the severity of the battle, saved for the epilogue, authors Dakota Meyer and Bing West bring out the tactical details of a valorous fight against long odds. 

“Into the Fire” is more than an incredible story of Dakota Meyer’s heroic actions; it reveals the complexities of the war in Afghanistan from the infantryman’s per­spective and offers an eye-opening look at the ambitious efforts to advise and train Afghan security forces with tradi­tional U.S. military personnel. A task thought to be the U.S. Special Forces’ primary mission.

“Into the Fire” also is a disheartening account of the “insensibility of senior mil­itary leadership” overly committed on a population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine. “The battle resulted in thirteen friendly fatalities, two investigations, two reprimands for dereliction of duty, one Medal of Honor and the ‘loss’ of the rec­ommendation for a second Medal of Honor,” revealing how senior military leaders remain unwilling to admit re­spon­sibility for the disastrous events of Sept. 8, 2009. 

West presents a convincing narrative that everything leading up to the Battle of Ganjgal prepared Meyer to step up as a natural leader and determined warrior. Meyer’s recollection also is a story of the bonds forged with his fallen teammates and a plea to both readers and senior mil­itary officials to recognize another Ameri­can hero from that fateful day to whom he attributes his own life, U.S. Army Cap­tain Will Swenson. CPT Swenson was recommended for the Medal of Honor, yet he has received no form of recognition for his heroic actions. 

“Into the Fire” is an inspiring story of a young Marine’s remarkable actions that saved numerous lives in one of the most ferocious battles of the war in Afghanistan. This book provides a breathtaking look at life on a combat outpost in eastern Af­ghanistan, the difficult mission of military advisor teams, the complexities of the war in Afghanistan, and the great risk our young men and women take on a daily basis in the name of a population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine. 

Dakota Meyer’s upbringing, aggres­sive nature, military training and profes­sionalism allowed him to step up and repeatedly defy death to break the Taliban attack. As a young noncommissioned of­ficer and leader of Marines, Meyer’s story is a must-read for anyone aspiring to lead men into battle or wanting to understand what the ongoing war in Afghanistan looks like. 

INTO THE FIRE: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War
By Dakota Meyer and Bing West
Published by Random House
241 pages
Stock #0812993403
MCA Members - $24.30 
Regular Price - $27



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