A riveting collection of thirty-eight narratives by American soldiers serving in Afghanistan, Outside the Wire offers a powerful evocation of everyday life in a war zone. Christine Dumaine Leche—a writing instructor who left her home and family to teach at Bagram Air Base and a forward operating base near the volatile Afghan-Pakistani border—encouraged these deeply personal reflections, which demonstrate the power of writing to battle the most traumatic of experiences.
The soldiers whose words fill this book often met for class with Leche under extreme circumstances and in challenging conditions, some having just returned from dangerous combat missions, others having spent the day in firefights, endured hours in the bitter cold of an open guard tower, or suffered a difficult phone conversation with a spouse back home. Some choose to record momentous events from childhood or civilian life—events that motivated them to join the military or that haunt them as adults. Others capture the immediacy of the battlefield and the emotional and psychological explosions that followed. These soldiers write through the senses and from the soul, grappling with the impact of moral complexity, fear, homesickness, boredom, and despair.
We each, writes Leche, require witnesses to the narratives of our lives. Outside the Wire creates that opportunity for us as readers to bear witness to the men and women who carry the weight of war for us all.
Outside the Wire gives voice to soldiers who so often go mute and who so often retreat into isolation and despair, unable or unwilling to attach language to personal experience. The narratives and anecdotes collected in this wonderful volume are as varied and as unpredictable and as idiosyncratic as humanity itself. In this collection the reader will encounter anger, grief, laughter, loneliness, joy, terror, bitterness, redemption, hope, and cynicism. I was spellbound.
Outside the Wire gives me hope. Our young men and women in the U.S. military experience the terror and horror of war. Through Christine Leche's extraordinary new collection of their eyewitness stories, we can see how the process of writing offers them a way to live."—
Outside the Wire is testimony of the most important kind. If there are any truths to be learned from our long wars they may well be found in these pages. A powerful, and powerfully necessary, collection.
While most kids in writing classes are busy grumbling about extracurriculars, unrequited love, and long lines at the grocery store, these contributors met with Leche – a writing instructor who taught at Bagram Airfield near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border – amid combat missions, firefights, and the psychological battles that continue to haunt soldiers thousands of miles and years away from war. It's too easy to become consumed in the quotidian flotsam and jetsam of first-world life; we collectively lose touch with the harsh realities of foreign wars. Take a step toward better understanding an American soldier with what Kevin Powers called a 'powerful, and powerfully necessary, collection.'
In some ways, it was like any other writing class: backpacks, books, rough drafts, discussions about literature. But instructor Christine Dumaine Leche and her students weren't sitting in a college classroom or a community center — they were on an air base in Afghanistan and the students usually came to class after long days in a war zone. Leche was teaching them to translate their experiences — the danger, the boredom, the painful separation from their families, the fear and the hatred — into prose. Out of that classroom came dozens of intimate narratives of life as a soldier.
Christine Dumaine Leche is an Instructor in English and Creative Writing at Austin Community College.