Friday, March 06, 2009

From Working Class Kid To Rhodes Scholar

NY Times

With Stops @ West Point & Losano Ridge, Afghanistan

Craig Mullaney's New Book
Gets Raves From Connecticut Poet Marilyn Nelson,
Mullaney's Teacher In Poetry & Meditation Class:

Craig was one of "my cadets" in the semester (spring, 2000) I taught a course on Poetry and Meditation at West Point. He was later a Rhodes Scholar. I read this book in manuscript: it's very powerful I recommend it highly. BUY IT. READ IT. You'll be glad you did.

The Battlefield Can Be an Unforgiving Teacher


“The Unforgiving Minute” is former United States Army Capt. Craig M. Mullaney’s brisk, candid memoir about his education as a soldier. He learned different lessons in different places. As a cadet at West Point he learned to be dutiful, punctilious and unerringly accurate, even about the military method of folding underwear. At Ranger School he learned how to navigate difficult physical terrain and endure grueling tests of mettle. At Oxford, as a Rhodes scholar, he had a teacher who advised: “Read and think. Simultaneously if possible.” At home he thought he had learned how to make his father proud — until that father walked out and never came back.

As a reader he learned from writers as diverse as T. E. Lawrence, Rudyard Kipling (from whose poem “If” this book takes its title), Jane Austen and Thucydides. As a traveler he vacationed with buddies, partied heartily and learned that the world is very large. And as an American he was in New Zealand on Sept. 11, 2001, when someone asked if he had seen the news and said, “I’m so sorry.” At that point every lesson absorbed by this soldier in training suddenly took on different meaning.

“The Unforgiving Minute” is Captain Mullaney’s attempt to reconcile the precombat lessons that seemed so clear to him with the exigencies of battlefield experience. He makes it clear that this is no easy process. At one point Captain Mullaney, who led a platoon in Afghanistan and later became a teacher at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., explains how he told his students about the most difficult battlefield experience of his career. To do that, he writes, he had to give two different accounts of the fighting at Losano Ridge, which occurred in Afghanistan in 2003, very close to the Pakistan border.

First he gave his students the straightforward version. He described the basics, like “movement to contact, suppressive fire and medical evacuation.” But that version did not do justice to the “chaos, noise, fear, exhilaration.” So he retold the story from a different perspective. “This time I tried to put them under my helmet,” he writes about trying to convey the full experience of battle. He is honest enough to acknowledge that he cannot be sure that the decisions he made under fire — in that minute to which the book’s title refers — were right.

  • Complete Article

  • Marilyn Nelson's Soul Mountain Retreat
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