Sebastian Junger, the author of the best-selling book, "The Perfect Storm," lived for months with American troops as they meandered through some incredibly violent corners of Afghanistan. In his new book, "War," Junger tells the story of a horrendously intense journey these brave soldiers take through enemy gunfire, including Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta.
Read an excerpt of the book below.
Chapter 2: Killing
The soldiers walk single file along the crest of the spur spaced ten or fifteen yards apart. The terrain falls off steeply on both sides into holly forests and shale scree. The moon is so bright that they're not even using night vision gear.
Unknown to Winn and his men, three enemy fighters are arrayed across the crest of the ridge below them, waiting with AK-47s.
Parallel to the trail are ten more fighters with belt-fed machine guns and RPGs. In the U.S. military, this is known as an "L-shaped ambush." Correctly done, a handful of men can wipe out an entire platoon. Walking point is Sergeant Josh Brennan, an alpha team leader. He's followed by a SAW gunner named Eckrode and then Staff Sergeant Erick Gallardo and then Specialist Sal Giunta, bravo team leader. Giunta is from Iowa and joined the Army after hearing a radio commercial while working at a Subway sandwich shop in his hometown.
"Out of nothing -- out of taking your next step -- just rows of tracers, RPGs, everything happening out of nowhere with no real idea of how it just fucking happened -- but it happened," Giunta told me.
"Everything kind of slowed down and I did everything I thought I could do, nothing more and nothing less."
The Apache pilots watch this unfold below them but are powerless to help because the combatants are too close together. At the bottom of the hill, Second Platoon hears an enormous fi refi ght erupt, but they too just hold their fire and hope it turns out well. At fi rst, the sheer volume of firepower directed at Brennan's squad negates any conceivable tactical response.
A dozen Taliban fighters with rockets and belt-fed machine guns are shooting from behind cover at a distance of fi fteen or twenty feet; First Platoon is essentially inside a shooting gallery. Within seconds, every man in the lead squad takes a bullet. Brennan goes down immediately, wounded in eight places.
Eckrode takes rounds through his thigh and calf and falls back to lay down suppressive fi re with his SAW. Gallardo takes a round in his helmet and falls down but gets back up. Doc Mendoza, farther down the line, takes a round through the femur and immediately starts bleeding out.
After months of fighting an enemy that stayed hundreds of yards away, the shock of facing them at a distance of twenty feet cannot be overstated. Giunta gets hit in his front plate and in his assault pack and he barely notices except that the rounds came from a strange direction.
Sheets of tracers are coming from his left, but the rounds that hit him seemed to come from dead ahead. He's down in a small washout along the trail where the lip of packed earth should have protected him, but it didn't. "That's when I kind of noticed something was wrong," Giunta said.
"The rounds came right down the draw and there are three people -- all friends -- in the same vicinity. It happened so fast, you don't think too hard about it, but it's something to keep in mind."