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.