On September 11, 2001, the lives of two boys on opposite sides of the world are changed in an instant.
Baheer, a studious Afghan teen, sees his family’s life turned upside down when they lose their livelihood as war rocks the country.
A world away, Joe, a young American army private, has to put aside his dreams of becoming a journalist when he’s shipped out to Afghanistan.
When Joe’s unit arrives in Baheer’s town, Baheer is wary of the Americans, but sees an opportunity: Not only can he practice his English with the soldiers, his family can make money delivering their supplies. At first, Joe doesn’t trust Baheer, or any of the locals, but Baheer keeps showing up. As Joe and Baheer get to know each other, to see each other as individuals, they realize they have a lot more in common than they ever could have realized. But can they get past the deep differences in their lives and beliefs to become true friends and allies?
“Enduring Freedom” is a moving and enlightening novel about how ignorance can tear us apart and how education and understanding can bring us back together.
ARAH, AFGHANISTAN October 4, 2003
That night, Joe and a bunch of other soldiers were gathered in the new recreation building, all with their cardboard trays from the chow hall. They sat on the floor or on upside- down buckets if they could find them, waiting for the last of the guys interested in watching the movie to get their food and join the group.
An explosion rocked in from the distance like a sharp crack of thunder.
The crude jokes, laughter, and stupid conversations froze silent.
Joe closed his eyes and didn’t move, a bite of chicken on his fork inches from his mouth. Come on. Not tonight. Can’t we just watch the movie? First Squad was on Quick Reaction there were any emergencies that required a rapid response, they’d call for QRF.
But nothing happened. The guys went back to talking, Joe ate that bite of chicken, and they started the movie. But just as on the screen the Rebel Alliance shut down the main reactor on the blockade runner, they heard the leaders shouting from across the PRT and radio traffic on the half dozen handhelds in the room lit up.
“Let’s go, Del-tah!” First Sergeant Dalton shouted over the radio. “Full battle rattle! QRF to your vehicles!”
“Didn’t even get to eat,” Baccam said. Soldiers left their food trays on the floor and the movie still running as they sprinted out of the rec building to their stations.
When a squad was on standby for QRF, they left all their gear, save for their individually assigned weapons, in the QRF Humvees. As Joe and the rest of First Squad were finishing scrambling into their armor vests, Lieutenant Riley ran up in armor and a helmet, 9-mil. strapped to his thigh. Their chief medic, Master Sergeant Dinsler, another medic named Specialist Gooding, and one of their Afghan interpreters were with him. The lieutenant pointed at the vehicles. “First Squad! Let’s go! Mount up!”
Staff Sergeant Cavanaugh shouted, “Alpha Team, Humvee one! Bravo Team, number two! Have your night- vision goggles ready!”
Joe fought to keep his hands from shaking as he clicked the four-inch single-eye night-vision scope onto the flip- down mount on the front of his Kevlar. He was suited up, but he wasn’t sure he was ready.
“Move it!” Sergeant Paulsen shouted. “Baccam, drive. Killer on turret. Mac—”
“Ride behind the driver and try to stay awake,” Mac said.
“What do we got?” PFC Zimmerman asked as the squad scrambled into their armored Humvees.
Not knowing mission details was not unusual. Their job was to provide security for the CA soldiers who would be rolling out in a small civilian SUV. The squad rarely knew why they were going somewhere or what the CA guys would be doing, only that they had to protect them and the vehicles. The system had annoyed Joe at first. The journalist in him was always hungry for information, but he was getting used to not knowing much by now.
What I’m not used to is scrambling to roll out on QRF after an explosion has gone off somewhere. No time to think about it now. Do your job, Killian. Move!
Joe put his foot on the front bumper and heaved himself onto the hood of Humvee two. Two steps and a jump put him on the roof of the vehicle, and then he dropped into the circle hole of a turret, leaving only the top half of his body still visible outside. He unzipped and removed the light blue nylon cover from the Mk 19 in front of him on Humvee two’s roof, dropping the cover onto the empty rear passenger seat. He unslung his M16 and lowered it into the vehicle, too, before gripping the handles of the Mk 19. Ahead, Alpha Team’s Humvee spit gravel, racing toward the gate, with Shockley on the .50-cal. machine gun that pointed forward. The Toyota Land Cruiser with the two medics, the Afghan interpreter, and Lieutenant Riley followed.
Baccam peeled out after them. Joe pulled the turret release lever and twisted his body to rotate his Mk 19 to cover the rear, steadying himself with one hand on the gun’s handle and the other on the support strut that held the turret hatch open. Down in the Humvee, Mac yanked the charging handle on top of his rifle to chamber a round. Joe flipped up the Mk 19 feed tray cover, set the chain of 40-millimeter grenades in place past the feed pawl, and slapped the cover back down, the standard posture for their missions so far.
“Killer,” Paulsen called out. “Lock and load. Keep the safety on till you need to fire.”
“OK. Here we go,” Joe whispered. The situation must be really serious if he’d been ordered to chamber a round. That procedure on the Mk 19 was a bit tricky, requiring solid manpower. If a soldier didn’t give it full strength, the link holding the lead grenade to the chain of grenades wouldn’t break right, and the weapon would jam up. He pulled the charging handles back until the bolt locked to the rear. Then he hit the butterfly trigger, sending the bolt slamming for- ward to grab and position the lead grenade. The second pull was much harder. He yanked the charging handles with everything he had, breaking the grenade away from the others. With the bolt locked in the open position, the weapon was ready. He checked the safety switch below the trigger to make sure bumping the trigger wouldn’t accidentally fire a bunch of grenades.
The sun had nearly set. “Quiet, everyone!” Sergeant Paulsen shouted. “Delta Actual, this is One, Bravo. Go ahead, over.” Silence while Paulsen listened to whatever came over the net. “Roger. One, Bravo out.” He shouted to everyone, “The UN compound was bombed. Multiple casualties.”
A fresh wave of dread hit Joe. Baheer was supposed to be helping with a delivery to the UN compound tonight. If these Taliban monsters . . . Joe shook his head. Focus. Do the job.
Paulsen continued. “We’re gonna close the street in front of the place. Lead vehicle will stop beyond the compound, Land Cruiser will park in front, and we’ll stop short of the compound. Killian, the commander doesn’t want you shooting a bunch of grenades in the tight space downtown. Leave the gun ready in case the Taliban show up way down the street and we need heavy firepower. We’ll all dismount and establish security perimeter. The medics may call some of us to go inside and cover them.”
Joe let out a long breath. That was one bit of good news in this mess. He’d been wondering what he was supposed to do with a grenade-launching machine gun downtown right next to the bazaar. The Mk 19 wasn’t a surgical-precision fire weapon.
The convoy passed the mountain of fifty-gallon drums at Farah’s main fuel distribution point, the cemetery with its crude headstones and human-shaped mounds, and the police checkpoint, and then they were onto the paved bazaar road, passing more and more people and vehicles as they went along. A few more turns and they were on the right street, with the UN compound four blocks away.
Bright flash. A boom! The Humvee braked hard, throwing Joe toward the front of the vehicle, his ears ringing from the explosion. His back hit the turret lid, his head snapped up, and then he bounced forward, his front armor plate crashing into the rear of his gun.
“Secondary explosion!” Paulsen shouted. “Scan your sector, Killer, these guys aren’t done!”
As their Humvee rolled ahead again, Joe regained his footing and watched behind his convoy. More than anything, Joe wanted to turn around to see what was happening. He wanted to see if Baheer’s family’s jingle truck was at the UN compound. Screams. Shouting. He couldn’t look. He had his sector to cover.
“Get ready to dismount fast!” Paulsen shouted as the vehicle slowed. “Now! Go!Go!Go!”
Joe grabbed his M16 and was out of the turret, scrambling down. He jumped, having just missed stepping on a bloody human hand, shredded at the forearm. This can’t be real, can’t be happening. Focus, Joe!
“I’ll cover down the street,” Joe said, glancing to his guys so he could get his interval right.
A Land Rover burned in front of the UN compound, its top shredded. The explosion had collapsed part of the compound wall.
Joe chambered a round in his M16, keeping the safety on. “You wanted real war, Joe?” he whispered to himself. “This is too real.” It was getting dark, but the burning vehicle lit the place up too bright for night vision to work, and it cast a bunch of areas in shadow, giving the enemy concealment.
Joe’s heart thundered through his body, his breathing came heavy, and his thoughts flew: Are they coming? When are they coming? We got no cover out here. Shoot fast if anyone makes a move.
A crowd of Afghans gathered on his side of the perimeter. Joe tried to hold them back. “Boro! You people gotta leave! Taliban could hit us again!” Where’s an interpreter when I need one? The terp they’d brought with them must have gone into the compound with the medics to offer assistance.
The problem was, this road was the center of Farah’s shopping district. Joe could tell from the pointing and sacks of goods that people had been shopping and were now trapped by the soldiers’ barricade.
One man tried to walk through. “Road’s closed! Back up!” Joe hurried in front of him to push the man back. “Boro!” “Mac!” Sergeant Paulsen yelled. “Get inside with the medics. Got a radio?” “Roger that, Sergeant!” Mac answered. “I need help keeping these people back,” Joe called to the others. A jingle truck slowed to a halt behind the crowd, engine still running. “No way that truck comes through here!” Sergeant
Paulsen shouted. “Shoot the tires. Shoot out the radiator. Whatever you have to do. They are not driving that thing through here. In fact we need to back that truck up. Could be loaded with explosives.”
The passenger door on the jingle truck swung open, and Baheer swung out, surveying the area.
Joe perked up. Thank God! He’s alive. “The truck’s no bomb, Sergeant Paulsen,” Joe shouted back to his team leader without taking his eyes off his sector. He beckoned to Baheer. “Come here! I need your help. I need a terp.”
“I need to get home,” Baheer said.
Joe wanted Baheer as far from the area as possible, but without Baheer’s help, even more people would be in danger. Move fast. Get all these civvies, including Baheer, out of here.
“Come on,” said Joe, looking Baheer in the eye.
Baheer appeared nervous, taking in the horrible scene. Then he ducked back into the cab, and when he emerged, his head and most of his face was wrapped in a shawl.
What’s he doing? “Baheer! Help me help your people! Please. Tell them they cannot pass through here. The Taliban might attack again. If they do, people here are going to get hurt. Tell them to leave. Now. Tell them I have orders to shoot anyone who tries to come through here.”
Baheer made his way through the crowd to Joe’s side. “You would shoot—”
“No, Baheer, but just tell them that to make them leave. Now translate! Hurry!”
Baheer talked to the crowd. Some men argued. “Hey!” Joe showed his rifle.
Baheer kept talking. Gradually the crowd retreated.
“Thanks, man,” said Joe. “Can you help out my guys on the other side of our perimeter?”
“Let me get my uncle out of here.” Baheer ran to his truck and shouted up to the cab. The driver argued with him for a moment but then finally seemed to calm down, and the truck began a six-point turn so it could head back the way it had come.
“Bah—” Joe stopped himself. Maybe Baheer doesn’t want to be recognized here. Joe shouted to his squad, “Our friend is coming through! He speaks English.” To Baheer he added, “Go quickly. Tell anyone on the other side the same thing you said here, then get home!”
“Bale,” Baheer said. “Hey.” Joe grabbed Baheer by the shoulder. “Tashakor.”
From “Enduring Freedom” by Jawad Arash and Trent Reedy is on sale May 18, 2021. ©2021 Jawad Arash and Trent Reedy. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. All rights reserved.
Jawad Arash’s home country of Afghanistan has been at war throughout his entire life. Nevertheless, Jawad remained optimistic for his future. Despite challenges imposed by war or harsh Taliban regulations, he developed a love for learning and wanted to help build a new and better Afghanistan through educating people. He began teaching English while he was still in high school. Later, he earned a B.A. in English and his master’s in Linguistics/TESL. “Enduring Freedom” is his debut novel.
Trent Reedy served as a combat engineer in the Iowa Army National Guard from 1999 to 2005, including a year’s tour of duty in Afghanistan, where he befriended Jawad Arash. Based upon his experiences there, he wrote his debut middle-grade novel, “Words in the Dust,” which won the Christopher Medal and was chosen for Al Roker’s Book Club for Kids on the Today show. His novels “Stealing Air, If You’re Reading This,” and the “Divided We Fall” trilogy were Junior Library Guild selections. His seventh novel, “Gamer Army, “was published in late 2018. Trent also writes a weekly military life column for the Washington Examiner. He lives with his family outside Spokane, Washington.