In 2007, at the age of 30, former soldier Jody Mitic lost both his feet after stepping on a Taliban land mine in Afghanistan. He gave his body – and very nearly his life – defending the abstract principle of freedom in a strange land far away and has now written a book about the experience.
Mitic’s long and courageous road to recovery, from a life-changing injury and subsequent addiction to pain killers to becoming an outspoken advocate of injured veterans and an Ottawa city councillor, is the stuff of inspiring movies, yet accounts for only a small part of the book. As the title suggests, the majority traces Mitic’s journey from disaffected suburban teen to sniper leader on the front lines. Mitic describes the training and discipline required to become a sniper in methodical detail. The description of skills a sniper requires – patience, the ability to estimate distance and wind velocity, observation, camouflage and concealment, small-team tactics — makes you realize that, as Mitic asserts, “shooting is actually one of the easier parts of the role.”
He’s also funny – a bit of a smart alec who occasionally questions things that don’t make sense – a trait that doesn’t go over well with the hierarchy-obsessed military command, but makes for a jocular narrative style.
One of the larger contradictions of war that remains unexplored here is the chasm between the meticulous planning that goes into a mission versus the chaos that so often plays out once the bullets start flying. While the ability to “improvise, adapt, and overcome” – a principle espoused by the U.S. Marine Corps and one of the chapter titles – is invaluable in war, it also calls into question the utility of all that planning, to say nothing of the carnage wrought by that grotesque euphamism “friendly fire.”
The other largely unexplored topic is the conflict between military insistence on following orders and those instances soldiers decide to – or must – abandon the plan. If this decision turns out well, it’s called leadership. If things end badly, it’s insubordination. The line is a fine one, and Mitic’s book could have benefited from a closer examination of it.