Reviews for Long Walk : A Story of War and the Life That Follows

BookPage Reviews 2012 July
Those who have seen war

In the era of the War on Terror, it is common for soldiers to serve two, three, even four tours of duty. Yet even after 11 years of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, the consequences of repeated deployment remain largely hidden from view. Brian Castner’s new memoir, The Long Walk, shatters stereotypes about the private wars that veterans fight once they return home. Throughout his raw and compelling narrative, Castner meditates on whether soldiers lament or celebrate their redeployment, arguing that it can offer a very real, if ironic, sense of relief from the pressures at home.

At the very least, redeployment allows soldiers to put the skills they learned on the battlefield back into practice—skills that have little place in civilian life. An electrical engineer-turned-Air Force officer, Castner earned a Bronze Star as the commander of an Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit in Iraq. After two tours disarming improvised weapons in Balad and Kirkuk, Castner began to experience extreme bouts of anxiety at home. He calls his debilitating combination “the Crazy”— a combination of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. In an especially poignant passage, he compares his condition to feeling like you’re stuck in a classroom on the last day of school, taking an exam, while your friends shout at you from outside to finish. It’s an itch, an unbearable restlessness, with no promise of relief.

For the veterans living with PTSD or TBI, and for those active-duty soldiers exhausted by their redeployment schedules, the powerful story of Castner’s sacrifice and hard-fought personal victories may prove cathartic. For the rest of us, The Long Walk is an invaluable look into the private, lonely wars waged by those who fight on our behalf.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 June #2
"The first thing you should know about me is that I'm Crazy." So begins this affecting tale of a modern war and its home-front consequences. The capitalization is deliberate, for by debut author and combat veteran Castner's account, that Crazy is something like another person lying inside, more than a shadow within, something that can be neither stilled nor exorcised. The ordinary-Joe author found himself as a volunteer Army officer in Iraq--and not just a soldier, but one with the very special job of disarming bombs. It's a business of acronyms, EFP (explosively formed projectile) being a particularly dreaded one. "EFP's are real bad," writes Castner. "They take off legs and heads, put holes in armor and engine blocks, and our bosses in Baghdad and Washington want every one we find." Given that demand, a dangerous job becomes even more dangerous, and the "long walk"--the one an explosives disposal expert takes toward the bomb and the task of denaturing it--becomes ever longer. It's an assembly-line sort of job, one of "stamping machines" and "broken widgets," in which a single mistake means being vaporized. For Castner, there were no good days. Most days were a blend of boredom and terror, with some more terrifying than others, as with the "Day of Six VBIEDs"--i.e., six very nasty car bombs within 15 minutes. That's the kind of thing that can wear on a person, to say nothing of the sound of small-arms fire, mortars, bombs and artillery. All of this fed the Crazy, whose "spidery fingers take the top of my head off to eat my brain and heart from the inside out every night." And the Crazy turns out to be very real, on the way to the dread thing called TBI, traumatic brain injury, which all that exploding ordinance spawns just as surely as cigarette smoking gives way to emphysema. Scarifying stuff, without any mawkishness or dumb machismo--not quite on the level of Jarhead, but absolutely worth reading. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 March #3

With a degree in electrical engineering, Castner served as an air force officer in Saudi Arabia in 2001, and Iraq in 2005 and 2006, where he earned a Bronze Star. He then trained military Explosive Ordnance Disposal units in tactical bomb procedures. Castner's chilling account of those years is, he feels, "as correct as a story can be from someone with blast-induced memory lapses." He details daily rituals and routines, and the Humvee expeditions, seeking improvised explosive devices (IED) with robots. When robots fail, there is the Long Walk, wearing the bomb suit ("eighty pounds of mailed kevlar"). Castner edges through this world of hidden dangers, suicide bombers, and scattered body parts. Throughout, he splices in scenes of the aftermath--his return to his wife and family in the U.S., where he is told he has post-traumatic stress disorder. Haunted by what he calls "the Crazy" ("it's grey spidery fingers take the top of my head off to eat my brain and heart… every night"), he sees constant reminders that blur reality ("IEDs on Interstate 90"). The intercutting of these two different narratives effectively conveys how a disturbing mental condition can erupt in the aftermath of nightmarish war horrors. Agent: Bob Mecoy, Bob Mecoy Literary Agency. (July)

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