Friday, February 28, 2014

In the Mail: Afghanistan On the Bounce

There have been many books and memoirs written about the Iraq and Afghanistan war but I've not seen anything like Afghanistan:  On the Bounce by Robert L. Cunningham.  Cunningham was assisted by Steven Hartov, a best-selling writer currently serving on active duty.

Afghanistan:  On the Bounce is a visually stunning book filled cover to cover with beautiful and moving photographs compiled from the author's 55,000 photographs acquired while embedded with U. S. troops in 2011 and 2012 in Afghanistan.  Cunningham was embedded for 132 missions and captured the moments both on and off duty to show not only what our soldiers do while in battle but also in their down time.

Cunningham's photographs take you from Tears on the Tarmac to Hell's Box Office; there's Mission Essential Gear and the Iron Horses.  He talks to the chaplains and pays tribute at The Hero Ramp.

Of The Hero Ramp, Cunningham writes:

We are told with cynicism that we are born alone and we will die alone  But from the moment of his very last breath, no American hero is alone out here.  The word is relayed in whispers.  There's a Hero Ramp ceremony today.  And they begin to gather, from all over the base.  Soldiers, airmen, marines, nondescript civilians from other government agencies, contractors and cooks and drivers.  No one needs to tell them where to stand, how to form up, what to do.  They know this, and they swirl into a silent cordon of respect, lining that final path from the hospital to the pair of Black Hawk helicopters, one of which will serve as his riderless horse. 
Encased in a rubber cocoon, draped in the American flag, escorted in silence on a wheeled gurney, he is never without guiding hands, prayers, salutes.  This is a moment of secrets kept, for only this solider's warrior brothers and sisters know that he is gone.  It will be some time until his wife gasps with the news.  His parents and children haven't yet been informed.  Only later will they know that two hundred souls wept here with him and served as his most devoted bearers to that final flight.  When it's over, and the helicopters have faded away into that perfect sky, the mourners will disperse in absolute silence.  He has given his last full measure, and their comfort is in knowing that should their time come, they will also be delivered by a brace of angels.

These somber moments are incredible.  Cunningham says photographing the "hero ramp" "is one of the hardest things I have ever done...It is a somber duty to document these private moments.  The responsibility is not one I take lightly."

There are also moments of downtime: soldiers reading, hanging out with stray dogs, skateboarding, or watching movies.

And then there is the beauty of the country from the lush green landscape to the dry, dusty mountains.

Cunningham honors our military and pays tribute to their work:"I am the luckiest man alive," he says.  "I am not a soldier, but I've had the privilege of living with our men and women at arms and witnessing their courage and dedication."

Afghanistan:  On the Bounce is a beautifully crafted book with heavy slick pages and gorgeous glossy photographs.  It's a very nice addition to the collection of books and memoirs we now have about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

(Photos courtesy of Robert Cunningham and Insight Editions Publishing)

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