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The Best Novel Yet of the Afghan War

True, there haven’t been all that many; the New York publishing monoculture would probably be more interested in one written from the Taliban point of view, especially if it had a few good woman beatings and maybe a stoning or two, as well as some kind of atrocity that could be laid at the feet of George W. Bush.

Chris Hernandez is a Texan who’s both a cop and a National Guardsman. With the Guard, he saw deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. His hands-on experience in Afghanistan is clearly the “research” that underlies his novel, Proof of Our Resolve, which is available (as far as we know) only as an e-book, for Nook, IBooks, or Kindle at this time. (You don’t need a Kindle to read it. We used a Mac and an iPhone and the respective Kindle apps, which worked fine).

Chris’s hero is Jerry Nunez, platoon sergeant of a Texas NG platoon that’s working Kapisa province (in the wooded hills east and north of Kabul) with French troops, Marines, and at times, National Guard soldiers from other states. It isn’t an SOF door-kicking extravaganza, it’s infantry combat as it is today, with the hazards of IEDs, vacillating, FOB-bound leadership, cunning enemy, abominable terrain, and, not least, strangulatory ROEs. (Yes, we think we just made that word up, but it fits, don’t it?).

Everybody seems to love hearing about SF, SEALs and JSOC. And don’t get us wrong — service in a unit like that is about as much fun as a young, fit man can have, even when its challenges shake you to the core. But infantry combat is different. Always was, always will be. Even though they roll in MRAPs, not half-tracks, and tote M4s, 249s and M240s, not M1s, BARs and 1919A4s, what Jerry and his guys experience is an awful lot like what a guy in the 29th or 1st Infantry division experienced in France in 1944.

Jerry is an utterly believable character, a guy who loves his men and his duty, who takes every loss as a personal failing. He has his doubts, and makes his mistakes, and crucifies himself for them — especially when losses result. Anyone who has been to combat, especially as a leader, will relate.

He, and his friends — because, like most Guard units, the men are rather closer across the barriers of rank than their active peers — have the Infantry ethos embedded in them. They want, strive and fight to live, but they accept that they may die.

Here’s an excerpt:

Across the valley two .50 caliber weapons fired almost simultaneously. Nunez couldn’t see through the vegetation to the mountains across the valley, but he heard ANA increase their fire for a few seconds. He hoped they weren’t shooting at French snipers.

“Guidry, how about you stay here in this low ground with two ANA squads,” Spicer said. “You can make sure they’re maintaining security and treating the casualties, and make contact with the other guys walking in from the west. We’ll take the other compounds and then have you move up. I’ll get Sergeant Sardinea to stay with you. Cool?”

Guidry nodded, his face red and sweaty. “Yeah. Yes sir, that might be best. Don’t be scared to call me though, Ah can come runnin’ if you guys need the help.”

“We know,” Spicer said. “You’ve done a good job in a bad situation, we know you’ll come when we need you to. Right now just get your two squads set up here, and most important, get the other ETT’s and Marines in without getting them shot by the ANA. Hooah?”

“Hooah sir. Ah’m gonna head back toward the west edge of the woods, see if Ah can spot them boys comin’ in.”

“Roger. I’ll have Sardinea meet you there.” Guidry got up and walked back through the woods.

Nunez was impressed; Lieutenant Spicer had recognized that one of his soldiers was becoming overwhelmed, not breaking but at least bending. Spicer had given him something vital to do but at the same time took the weight of responsibility for the rest of the advance off his shoulders. In truth Guidry had been relieved of his command on the spot. But in his mind and in the eyes of his fellow soldiers Guidry had simply been given something different but equally important to do. After this fight, he wouldn’t have to feel guilty about letting anyone down or being unable to do his job. As Guidry disappeared into the trees, Spicer pointed at his back and said, “That’s a good man, right there.”

We selected that passage because it’s a revealing glimpse of Hernandez’s craft as a novelist. He first shows you, rather than tells you, what’s going on; then Jerry Nunez’s reflections on what he’s just seen show you something deeper than what you saw was actually happening. And he does it in such a way as to give you insight to the character of Sergeant Guidry, Lieutenant Spicer, and most of all, Nunez.

The book is about the people in it; the weapons are incidental, but as you might expect from a combat-experienced infantry NCO, the weapons are used appropriately and in decidedly non-fictional, unmagical ways. The enemy appear the way the enemy does, in this war — seldom, and fleetingly. Firefights are inconclusive. Cornered enemy wriggle out of the trap. Weapons’ effects are variable, as if the Fates themselves were full of a dark whimsy. It’s beyond mere realism, it’s rich and deep realism.

The book would make a great movie — the best movie about the wars, if only they filmed it. But it’s not a very Hollywood-friendly story. There are ambiguities and the dramatic arc doesn’t come to a Hollywood closure… instead, the surviving men come home, riven by questions about what they did, and its cost-benefit ratio to themselves and the country.

Chris Hernandez is reportedly working on a sequel, about Jerry’s life after the war, and his return to duty with the Houston police department.

Aside: we were strongly reminded of two great novels that came out of the Vietnam war and its aftermath, Sympathy for the Devil and Night Dogs, by SOG veteran Kent Anderson. Anderson’s hero, Hanson, like Anderson himself, returned from SOG in Vietnam to serve as a cop in a tough city, too (Portland, OR). Anderson is still, very slowly, writing a third novel, Green Sun, another cop tale.

But if you want a quick fix of Hernandez’s writing, you’d be well-advised to check out his blog. Dude can write. And if you want the best novel yet of the Afghan war, it’s here.

From (

The Truth about War, Told With Fiction

This book is listed as fiction, but for anyone who has served this is more of conglomeration of stories that actually happened to the author or his fellow service members told within a fictional platform. I was in the Army for 12 years and to this day I still find it hard to convey what real world operations feel like but Chris Hernandez has no such limitations. I have read hundreds of military fiction books and this is by far one of the best I have ever read. Because I know many of the instances in this story are based on reality, it shows just how skilled an author Mr. Hernandez is. At 197 pages this book is just the right length, although most of the time while reading this book I wanted it to be longer, I wanted more, but by the time the book finished it was just the right length.

This book actually touches on several aspects of military life including combat, day-to-day military life and what I call “Dirty Boots Leadership”. The combat action in this book focuses mostly on first person perspectives. There is some bird’s-eye commentary but for the most part, we as readers are only allowed to know as much as the characters know. I love it when an author describes combat this way. It truly portrays how it feels to be there as opposed to feeling like you are reading about a battle or engagement in a history book. With Proof of Our Resolve, Chris Hernandez has captured in book form the same jarring combat experience that audience members were exposed to when watching the movie Saving Private Ryan. The pace of this book is worth mentioning, because like any other book it has its peaks and valleys. As you can guess, the combat operations were by far the most exciting but without overdoing it, Mr. Hernandez was able to fill the valleys with a quick glimpse of what life is like the rest of the time for soldiers. Plenty of books and movies cover what down time is like for service members, and rather than beat a dead horse, Proof of Our Resolve touches on it and uses those scenes to enhance the page-turning action sequences.

Now let’s discuss the “Dirty Boots Leadership” I mentioned earlier. Chris Hernandez was a leader, which you can tell just by reading this book. What he did in Proof of Our Resolve is cut away all of the leadership concepts that seem so easy to implement when read from a manual and went straight to the dirty boots side of leadership that no school or manual can prepare you for. People seldom discuss the self doubt and second guessing that goes on in a leader’s head. Authors tend to glaze over the inner turmoil that a leader faces when one of the soldiers under their command dies or is hurt. Describing things like this don’t make for good fiction, but they are the most difficult part of being a leader. There is no manual that can tell you what to say to a soldier who just zipped up the body bag containing parts of his best friend and is still covered in their blood. Chris Hernandez goes there in Proof of Our Resolve and he is willing to say all of those things most leaders and servicemen don’t want to discuss. These moments are not the focus of the book, but in some ways they are some of the most important. I could easily see this book making an SGM‘s recommended reading list for NCOs, as well as enlisted soldiers.

This book was not without its faults though, as no book is. I was very worried that Mr. Hernandez was going to play up the identifiable enemy who the soldiers had to neutralize at all costs and in a way he did. He saved himself at the end of the story, but it was touch and go for a while. Because of the nature of the fight in Afghanistan the enemy is often unknown or worse sitting right next to you wearing an ANA uniform. Mr. Hernandez makes this obvious but he dipped his toes in the well-defined good guy/bad guy pool just a bit deeper than I would have liked. My biggest complaint was his use of “Hooah!“, especially towards the end of the novel. For those readers who are not in the Army, hooah is a kind of catchall phrase that the Army commercialized for recruiting purposes. Hooah is still used in the Army but it is often frowned upon. The hooahs were in check for the first part of the book, but by the end SFC Nunez had a bit of “hooah diarrhea.”

Proof of Our Resolve is a really well-written and accurate depiction of the type of engagements and the participants in those engagements in Afghanistan. Chris Hernandez was careful not to overwhelm the reader with tons of acronyms and the ones that he included, he explained. These explanations made Proof of Our Resolve the type of book that military and civilians can read and enjoy with ease. There are some tough moments in this book and there are chapters that will piss you off. Any book than can evoke the emotions that this book evoked for me is worth twice the cover price. It bothers me that this book will not get the exposure that it deserves because it is being released by a small company, but that is the only small thing about this story.

It doesn’t matter if you are serving, have served or have never served, this book has something for you. Even if you don’t support the war in Afghanistan, this book will give you an insight into what our troops are going through and how it is affecting their lives, in and out of uniform. This book is proof of Chris Hernandez’ resolve to tell the average soldiers story to as broad an audience as possible.

From the Indiscriminate Critic book review blog (

Quick thoughts: I wish all “based on true events” novels had this level of honesty and insight.

Sometimes the stars just align and drop a book in your lap. Call it divine providence, call it fate. Whatever label you choose, it’s the best explanation for how I came to read this book. For a blogger like me who puts a lot of effort into drafting book reviews that may or may not be read or appreciated, comments are a sustaining lifeblood. They show that somebody took the time to read your review, and was in some way affected by what you had to say. My immediate reaction to comments at this point is to make some sort of repayment in kind. When Chris Hernandez was kind enough to leave some comments on one of my reviews, I dropped by his blog and found out that he was a combat veteran with a recently published book. Curiosity piqued, it was only a matter of minutes before Kindle had my money and I had Chris’s book.

Before wading into my opinion about this book, I want to preface things with a few points about my approach to reviews. I tend to mentally divide my reading of fiction into three loose but distinct categories: literature as art; literature as entertainment; and literature as voice. I’m not sure whether that makes sense to anyone but me, but that division of intent is the essential reason why I can rave equally about a Pulitzer winner and some piece of pulp schlock. For me, it’s all about whether an author succeeded in meeting my expectations based on how the book was pitched.The last of my three self-defined categories—literature as voice—is by far the rarest, and one that I don’t get the opportunity to stumble across very often. In my opinion (which is all that really matters here, since it’s my personal classification system), Proof of Our Resolve fits nicely in this category. It’s a narrative that has something real to say, and expressing that reality takes precedence over the embellishments of mindless entertainment or the metaphors and literary subversions of highbrow fiction.

This book in particular is the experience of a war veteran told through the lens of a fictional medium, which provides a voice for the personal struggles that could never be captured in a simple memoir. Autobiographies—the ones I’ve read, in any case—tend to work backwards from a known conclusion, and are never as soul-baring or revealing as they suggest. By projecting autobiography into a fictionalized milieu, however, there is no escaping the inside voice or internal conflict. Rather than getting some butt-covering burnishing of credentials after the fact, this feels more like a journey into the very soul of a soldier.

Proof of Our Resolve starts off in breathless fashion by inserting us directly into a military convoy in Afghanistan, where we half-expect an IED attack at any moment. We are also introduced to Sergeant First Class Jerry Nunez, who serves as the narrative anchor to the story. He and his Texas National Guard infantry platoon have been assigned to work alongside the French army in Kapisa province, and we follow a story arc of impotent frustration as these soldiers fight an enemy that manipulates the rules of engagement to its advantage.

Something that impressed me immensely was how the French were portrayed here as real soldiers. Too often the ignorant “cheese-eating surrender monkey” caricature takes a shameful centre stage. The mutual respect between French and American forces here, however, gave an air of authenticity that is sorely missing from the usual tales of Stars and Stripes with guns a-blazin’. Instead of whitewashed heroism befitting a Hollywood screenplay, this seemed in every respect to be the real deal.

In terms of literary criticism, my impressions were almost entirely positive. Any scenes where the soldiers were off base had a crackling energy that kept me on the edge of my seat. The tension was often ratcheted to a nail-biting degree, and the action was fluidly written with an incredibly well-realized spatial awareness. I always had a clear mental image of physical layouts, friendly positions and the relative direction of incoming enemy fire. Reading these scenes was effortless, and I was continually swept into the action without any difficulty.

The continual chirping between the soldiers was another strong point, and it seemed to always come at the perfect moment. I suppose that’s something you get a feel for after so many years of service, but experience doesn’t necessarily translate to the written word. This felt just about pitch-perfect. With one scene involving a misplaced water bottle, I actually laughed out loud for longer than I can remember laughing at any other book in recent memory. That’s just plain impressive.

Where the writing suffers just a little, in my opinion, is the expositional dialogue. When the narrative had to relay factual information or set up the next series of events, the writing suddenly became just a bit too stiff and formal. The words coming out of Nunez’s mouth didn’t feel like they belonged to the character I was familiar with from scenes outside of the firebase, and the effect was a little jarring. Gone was the fluidity of the previous scenes, and it suddenly felt like I was being led through events rather than experiencing them.

There are two scenes in particular where Nunez has to make phone or house calls, and these are the hardest for me to voice an opinion about. The inner turmoil may have been drawn out just a little too long for my taste, but there was also an incredibly powerful resonance behind the words. These were scenes from real life, so intimate that you almost feel compelled to look away. Any minor issues that I had with pacing or wooden dialogue were more than amply rewarded by the privilege of experience something so genuine beneath the text.

I feel confident in predicting that Proof of Our Resolve is going to stay with me for some time. It’s simply too real to accept as just another story. If publicity is to be believed, Chris is planning to write a series of books in a similar vein. If so, I can guarantee you that I’ll be standing in line to get my copy.”

From user “Soot” on (

“Just finished the book last night.

Awesome f*****g job Chris.

I can’t speak to the authenticity of the combat sequences as I’ve never been involved in any but as an old Low Speed, High Drag Army Infantryman you hit the platoon dynamic dead in the ten ring. It might not be how Marines or Rangers relate to each other but it captures the second string perfectly.

Also, having read upward of a thousand books in my lifetime I know the difference between a good author and a bad one and you deserve to be proud of the job you’ve done here. I’ve read Sean Parnell, Sebastian Junger, David Bellavia, Chris Kyle, and most other OIF/OEF authors’ work and for what it’s worth your book compares favorably to any of theirs from a talent perspective and is better than more than a few despite not having worked with a ghost/co author and a big-name publisher.

Speaking professionally as a librarian I’d have no problem at all recomending this book as historical fiction to a patron who’d read this generation’s non-fiction accounts of the wars and was looking for something different but the same.

Kudos dude. You can count me a fan and I’m looking forward to your next release.

(PS. I would have had no problem telling you that your book sucked if it sucked or that it was middling if it was middling.)”

From an infantry combat veteran on (

“I finished Proof of Our Resolve, by Chris Hernandez within 8 hours of downloading it to my Kindle. Full disclosure, up front, Chris and I are acquainted from before he began writing. I am a combat Infantry veteran and feel well qualified to speak to the realism of this book. Proof of Our Resolve is a gritty tale of a US Army Infantry Platoon in combat in Afghanistan, told from the perspective of the platoon sergeant. Chris is a subject matter expert, as he has served in that same capacity in real life. The book captures combat from the point of view of the small unit. If you are looking for strategic, world-wide media level stuff, this is not the book for you. For that, I suggest finding a book with ‘Gen.’, ‘Adm.’ or ‘Col.’ in front of the authors name. If you want to get a glimpse into the day to day life of a platoon engaged in the important business of fighting the enemy as he hides in the mountains and among the population then read on. You will find that combat is rarely like the movies. Weapons run low on ammo, not all the bullets hit the target and knock the enemy back 100 feet and gritty men make decisions that affect the lives of those with whom they share every waking moment, for better or for worse. The book also touches on what it is like to ‘come home’ from war and face the fact that some of your brothers did not make the return trip with you. Combat at the platoon level is not glamorous and is full of small victories and defeats. This book offers the reader a peek into the war in Afghanistan. The book is written at a level that both combat veterans and civilians will be able to understand and appreciate. Combat veterans will nod their heads in understanding and civilians will learn about the struggles, victories and defeats that soldiers deal with every day.”

Author’s note: This reviewer was mistaken about my military background. I was a support guy in the Marines, then a tank crewman and scout in the Army, then a member of the Army intelligence community. As an intel weenie I accompanied infantry on many missions but was never an infantryman.

From reader “armyscout33” on (

“I bought this book and finished it in 2 days. It is a damn good book and about as realistic as you can get. I served in the Army for almost 20 years as a Scout squad leader and spent a few tours in Iraq. Everything that Chris wrote in the book reminded me of my time deployed, from the friendly banter the men enjoyed with each other to the dark realities of combat. I can’t wait for the future books from Chris to come out.”

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