As an avid fan of military history, I have read books about the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, but here comes a first, for me at any rate, a book about the more contemporary war being waged by United States troops against the Taliban in Afghanistan. “The Reaper” (published by St. Martin’s Press) is the story told in the first person of Special Operations Direct Action Sniper, Nicholas Irving, who landed in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan with the Third Ranger Battalion in 2009.
Over the next 100 or so days, as he notches up 33 kills his autobiography shares details of the challenges he and his team mates faced in a strange and hostile environment as a Sniper in the Rangers. The story ends with his being shipped back home to the US in 2010, as a veteran who has seen it all at the young age of 23. This African-American rose to become a Master Sniper before he decided to call it quits and leave the Army.
There have been many stories involving snipers from past Wars. Who can forget the epic battle between the German and Russian snipers amidst the ruins of Stalingrad? The difference that I saw in Irving’s story was the cutting edge achieved by him and his colleagues thanks to top-notch high technology support, including real-time data from unseen drones high up in the sky. This is in no way takes anything away from his sniping feats, using his SR-25, which remain most admirable.
The story starts with his early life in a military family when his greatest desire was to enlist in the Navy SEALs. His dream did not materialize though as he failed a test which showed, much to his astonishment, that he was colour blind. However, luck was on his side when an Army nurse, impressed by his desperation to serve his country as a sniper, looked the other way and helped him get selected for the Rangers.
Irving has made his story more realistic by describing the fears and apprehensions too which are base feelings that sweep over men in combat. He is as human as you, me or the Taliban he hunts down for his country. Some of the more thrilling parts of the book involve his mission with RECCE, the men from the Rangers Regimental Reconnaissance Division, who at times, ‘went native’ for days on end to find out the latest intelligence on the ground.
How this sniper evolves from being a wet behind the ears novice in Afghanistan to becoming a been there seen it all veteran forms the essence of Irving’s story. The book is gripping and is a true account of some of the most fierce fighting going on anywhere in the modern world.