When was the last time you read words that moved you?
I had the pleasure of not only reading a deeply touching and thought-provoking book, but also had the opportunity to speak with its author. He shared an hour of his time with me, and as I shared appreciation and thanked him for his comprehensive and significant work, he was busy thanking me for being a military spouse! Talk about an unexpected and humbling moment.
I am an Army wife and this is why I recommend that you — my fellow milspouse — also get to know Doug Stanton’s 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers.
As a milspouse, seeing American soldiers pulled from their lives and family relationships to go to war, hit close to home. Admittedly, stepping out of my comfort zone and reading a dramatic war-themed book was a first…and a powerful one at that.
Stanton’s epic 12 Strong left me with an array of emotions. He employs language that is poetic, articulate, crass and honest, and shares the stories and experiences of those who couldn’t tell their folks back home. I felt enriched, understanding, appreciative and humbled after reading his highly-researched, captivating, informative and touching composition based on real-life military events. And to personally learn the level to which Stanton appreciates, respects and admires military families, only adds value to his work and mission.
What Is The Plot
12 Strong portrays the account of a small band of American Special Forces soldiers who secretly entered Afghanistan immediately following 9/11, and rode to war on horses against the Taliban. Outnumbered forty to one, they pursued the enemy army across the mountainous Afghanistan terrain, defeating the most harrowing of odds.
Originally released in 2005 under the title Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan, Stanton’s riveting book became a New York Times bestseller. It inspired the recent film 12 Strong by Warner Bros. Pictures starring Chris Hemsworth (Thor), and is yet again, topping the bestseller list.
5 Reasons Milspouses Should Read 12 Strong
Before you say “this isn’t my genre,” I want you to know that 12 Strong is more than just war, horses and our Green Berets. Stanton deliberately paints the entire picture, including themes of love, relationships, determination, courage and heart. I was particularly touched and deeply impressed with his character development and thoughtful handling of military families.
While on the phone with Stanton for our exclusive interview, his words of appreciation for military families moved me. This is when I knew that other military spouses needed to know about his work as well.
Here is why I recommend Doug Stanton’s 12 Strong:
- The author spoke with military families. Stanton’s book took five years to write and was the result of interviews, inquiries, travel and conversations. When I applauded his realistic portrayal of military spouses, he replied, “I just asked. It seemed easy as pie at the time to ask those questions because of where I grew up. I came from a family who worked to make ends meet, and today I have three kids. That’s the real drama: How do we get our work done and maintain a sense of our family? I met the wives and children, and talked to them on the phone — it’s tough. I spent a great deal of time traveling as a journalist and I missed some milestones. Maybe I was just trying to recreate or investigate that sense of loss. It’s an odd sense of loss when you are military and deployed from your family, yet there is also a sense of accomplishment. Losing something private and also contributing.”
- The book highlights life on the homefront. In reading 12 Strong, there were experiences and scenes that personally resonated with me as a milspouse. For example, our lead, Captain Mitch Nelson, wonders if he will miss the birth of his child because of the call of duty. And in getting to know the wives, we see very realistic reactions to deployment: one made her husband break the news to their children; another angrily cleaned their oven and withheld sex to control what she could and motivate his return; and another was always at the ready for the phone to ring, no matter the hour. Interactions between the spouses and their loved ones were brief — phone calls in the middle of the night, or even an argument before intimacy to illustrate the complex emotions that accompany the military lifestyle. Stanton gave an immense amount of detail to life on the homefront, and it was impressive just how much he “knew.”
- The author believes spouses are the reason our servicemembers succeed. When asked how our servicemembers do it, Stanton replied, “Well I’ll tell you how they do it — it’s the women. The women offer strength and support, hold down the homefront, and motivate. When the soldier returns home and asks, ‘What’s broken?’ There is nothing broken because she’s already fixed it. I wanted to portray just how important the military families are.”
- This book serves as a conversation starter. A line in the book reads, “This is the kind of stuff you can’t describe to folks back home.” Whether our spouses can’t share information because of clearance, OPSEC, PTSD or because they don’t want to “burden” us, we often live unaware of the true nature of their working conditions while deployed. Stanton realistically describes Afghanistan, its volatile climate, the dangers our servicemembers experience, and the unbreakable bonds between those serving shoulder to shoulder. Stanton shares, “Women have been enthusiastic readers of all of my books. They buy it to slide across the kitchen table and say ‘I just read it, what do you think? Where you there? What was your experience?’ One of my goals as a writer is to provide that doorway to those conversations. I want soldiers to have their own stories.”
- The author appreciates military members, veterans and their families. Stanton shares, “I think that for those families, the men, women and kids left behind, that sometimes the civilian public doesn’t know what to say to them. I want to say that there are people thinking of you, and there are support networks. If I can do anything with the platform this movie is providing, I’d like to work with veterans and their health benefits, and connect rural veterans with healthcare. From my point of view, having been on a lot of posts, it’s so hard a challenge to connect with the world beyond the post gate. If the book can help make a connection and honor the sacrifice of the families, the movie will too, which is why I am so pleased they stayed to the story.”
How to Experience the Story
12 Strong is available on Amazon in a variety of formats (I find that audiobooks best fit my busy milspouse lifestyle). Once you’ve read the book, take your favorite servicemember or veteran to see the film 12 Strong, in theaters now.
Get to Know Doug Stanton
Doug Stanton is the author of the New York Times bestsellers In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors and 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers, which is the basis for the Jerry Bruckheimer–produced movie by the same name, starring Chris Hemsworth and Michael Shannon, released by Warner Bros. in 2018. He attended Hampshire College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, Time, The Washington Post, Men’s Journal, The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Esquire, and Outside, where he has been a contributing editor. Stanton is a founder of the National Writers Series, a year-round book festival, and lives in his hometown of Traverse City, Michigan, with his wife, Anne Stanton, and their three children, John, Katherine, and Will. To learn more, please visit DougStanton.com.
Special Appreciation: I thank Mr. Stanton for his time, research, authenticity and care with which he executed this book. Not only did he bring to light a story of unsung American heroes, but also he continues to promote awareness of military members, their families, and our veterans.
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