Tuesday, 15 October 2013


“The Patrol, Seven Days in the Life of a Canadian Soldier in Afghanistan”, by Ryan Flavelle, was published by HarperCollins in 2011, 251 pages.

“The Patrol” was written by Ryan Flavelle, who joined the Canadian Forces reserves as a signaller in 2001 and in 2007 volunteered to go to Afghanistan. Since his service in Afghanistan, Flavelle has done graduate studies at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary. His research into battle exhaustion during the Second World War took first prize in the Journal of Military and Strategic Studies Awards for Excellence.

The publisher’s description of the book is, “For seven months, twenty-four-year-old Flavelle, a signaller attached to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, endured the extreme heat, the long hours and the occasional absurdity of life as a Canadian soldier in this new war so far from home. Flavelle spent much of his time at a Canadian Forward Operating Base (FOB), living among his fellow soldiers and occasionally going outside the wire. For one seven-day period, Flavelle went into Taliban country, always walking in the footsteps of the man ahead of him, meeting Afghans and watching behind every mud wall for a sign of an enemy combatant.

The Patrol is a gritty, boots-on-the-ground memoir of a soldier’s experience in the Canadian Forces in the twenty-first century. This book isn’t merely about the guns and the glory—it is about why we fight, why men and women choose such a dangerous and demanding job and what their lives are like when they find themselves back in our ordinary world.”

These pat descriptions of Flavelle and his book do not begin to do justice to “The Patrol.” This is an exceptional book. More then just an account of what it was like in Afghanistan for an infantryman, it is a serious work of literature.

There are classic books which come out of war. When trying to compare this book to other wartime classics this reviewer was reminded of Stephen Crane’s ” Red Badge of Courage” and Charles B. MacDonald’s ”Company Commander”. Like those books, “The Patrol” is unsparing in its straightforward yet moving description of the reality of combat for those in the infantry. In it's own way, like those important books, it also speaks for that, very small, part of a generation who went to war for us in Afghanistan.

To quote from the book: "Nothing can prepare a person for the reality of bloody, concussive warfare. . . . Those who like war are aptly named warriors. Some, like me, are fated never to be warriors, as we are more afraid of war than fascinated by it. But I have the consolation that I have walked with warriors and know what kind of men and women they are. I will never be a warrior, but I have known war."

This is a book that deserves to be read and recognized, not just for it’s contribution for our understanding of what motivates Canadian soldiers and what their experience of war is, but because it is a thoughtful, surprisingly sensitive, book that somehow makes it possible for us to identify with those who stand on guard for all of us.