In doing what we ought we deserve no praise,
because it is our duty.
— Saint Augustine
Bing West was born to be a Marine. When he was just two years old, his two uncles were in the Marine Corps and fought on Guadalcanal. Later, his family allowed a baseball team of Marines to use the attic of their Dorchester, Massachusetts home as a kind of clubhouse.
There they’d be able to talk among themselves about things they’d never have been able to say to their families. Bing’s mother thought they’d make great babysitters.
By the time Bing was seven years old, he knew he’d be a Marine.
During the Vietnam War, he was a platoon leader in Force Recon leading over 100 combat patrols. When his tour (66-68) was completed, the Corps asked him to write a guide for Marines coming into the country. The guide was titled Small Unit Action in Vietnam and the military published over 100,000 copies of it.
Afterward, Bing served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs in the Reagan administration. His son, Owen West, was also a Marine officer in Force Recon. Owen later became the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict under General Jim Mattis with whom Bing has co-authored a book.
Bing has authored 10 books centering on the Marine Corps. Many of them are about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where he made about 40 trips and spend time on the battlefields and with Marines in the field.
His latest book, The Last Platoon is a novel that was released on December 15. We were furnished with an advanced copy here at SOFREP. We’ve also just recorded a podcast with Mr. West which you can find on SOFREP Radio.
The book, through its characters, presents multiple perspectives on the Afghanistan War. The protagonist, Captain Cruz, is assigned to take over a Marine Security Platoon in Helmand province. Because Cruz is assigned to an outside platoon, the grunts don’t know him and trust is an issue. His commanding officer, Colonel Coffman, is an admin type with no combat experience.
The Marines are also stuck having to report to Central Command (CENTCOM) headquarters in Tampa, Florida, and to the National Command Authority (the president and secretary of defense) in Washington D.C. The commands try to manage a battle they have no concept of that takes place 7,000 miles away.
Zar, the Taliban commander in the area, is a true believer. His concept of a nation is a ninth-century caliphate, yet he also loves the perks of running a multi-million dollar drug empire. The poppy farms of Afghanistan, produce nearly 90 percent of the heroin that is imported into Europe and Russia. The farmers who grow the opium are getting rich off their crop and hate the “americani” troops who they feel are a threat to their livelihood.
Zar is saddled with Iranian middlemen for the drug businesses. His major poppy fields and drug lab are in the area, yet, his own chain of command is located in Pakistan. By trying to micromanage his command they put his operations on the ground in danger. In their fight against the Americans, Zar and his mujahadeen aren’t afraid to die — in fact, many of them welcome death.
During our podcast with Mr. West, we discussed the folly of forcing the U.S. military to “nation-build.” Yet, this never had a chance of success given the illiterate tribal factions in Afghanistan. In The Last Platoon, that comes through loud and clear.
The X-Factor in The Last Platoon is the CIA paramilitary troops that are co-located with the young Marines on the base. The CIA team members are older, more experienced, and are there conducting a mission that is a mystery to the Marines. They have a plethora of technology to accomplish their mission, which gives them an edge over the Taliban.
All of the main characters make mistakes, some big, some small, and in the end have to rely on their training and experience.
Cruz’s character has to wrestle with a familiar dilemma for many American officers in Afghanistan. Does he do what he has to further his career, or does he do his duty, which he knows will derail his career but is the right thing to do?
Colonel Coffman is constantly basing his decisions on how he feels his superiors will view the situation, not on the combat situation on the ground. He has an inherent distrust and dislike for Cruz’s combat experience, who was hand-picked for this mission.
The Afghan troops, who are not happy with being assigned to the Marine base, further complicate the equation. Then there is an American Special Forces unit, whose commander, Captain Golstern, ends up playing an important role in the story.
West spins a fascinating tale that spells out the impossibilities that our troops face on the ground. He describes how the troops are not helped by conflicting policy goals from Washington while they are sitting on top of millions of dollars in drugs and money.
West knows his stuff. From the lowliest Marine grunt to the halls of Washington dealing with the secretary of defense and the president. He’s been there and done that. In The Last Platoon, he has written a book that is guaranteed to draw the reader in.
The Last Platoon a page-turner in which the reader doesn’t know what will happen next. It is also a fitting tribute to the Americans who served and still serve with honor in Afghanistan. If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for yourself or someone else, treat them to The Last Platoon.
If you’re interested in hearing more about West’s journey and his book, be sure to check out the SOFREP Podcast tomorrow!