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Danger Close: The Long Walk and the Loss of a Fallen Friend

The Long Walk

EOD1 Sean Carson

Brandon Willitts writes about how Brian Castner’s memoir The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows helped him through the loss of his friend, EOD1 Sean Carson.

Shortly after I moved to New York City, news came that an old Navy buddy, Sean Carson, was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan. The loss of Sean seemed to rip a hole right through me, for a lot of reasons really, but mostly because it felt like no matter how far I traveled away from Afghanistan, or how long ago I left that war, it might never leave me.

Sometimes a book comes along at exactly the right moment you most need to read it. I found solace in Brian Castner’s extraordinary memoir, The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows.

Brian Castner is a former Air Force EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) officer – Sean was a Navy EOD technician – and his memoir is a magnificent portrayal of his experiences dealing with the confusion of war, struggles with coming home, and learning how to manage his difficult post-war emotions. The real power of Castner’s writing comes from the raw honesty of his struggles with PTSD – his frustration and confusion were palpable and real for me.

Through his writing, I felt like someone was throwing me a lifeline: the pain he described felt like my own pain, the confusion he described felt like my own confusion. It has become one of the most difficult reads of my life, while also being the most necessary.

After I finished The Long Walk the hole in my heart felt smaller. The loss of every one of my brothers now hurts a little less sharply than before. I might never completely put my war behind me, but somehow knowing that someone else has also struggled with such similar emotions, allows me to feel much less alone.


Will you be in NYC on 11/2? Come to our first public event, “Danger Close: Writers on War” featuring Brian Castner and some of our favorite writers! Information and tickets HERE. Can’t attend but interested in getting involved? Make a tax-deductible donation HERE.



“Danger Close: Writers on War” – Katey Schultz and Flashes of War

Flashes of War

The Airstream

Over the next few weeks we are going to be using the blog to shine a spotlight on the participants of the first installment of “Danger Close: Writers on War,” a series held at Brooklyn’s ACME Studio on November 2, 2013. This week is Katey Schultz, civilian author of Flashes of War.

The panel will include both veterans and civilians whose work engages with war and its aftermath. Award-winning NPR News correspondent Quil Lawrence will serve as moderator for a panel of veteran and civilian authors that will include Matt Gallagher, Brian Castner, Lea Carpenter and Katey Schultz. We hope to see you there!

Allow us to introduce Katey Schultz. Katey’s Flashes of War: Short Stories (Loyola University Maryland, 2013) recently won the Military Writers Society of America’s Gold Medal Award. Read what Duff Brenna of The Los Angeles Review of Books had to say about Katey’s debut collection:

Heartbreaking one moment, triumph the next. Stories filled with an immense humanity, all, together, detailing the trivia, the nonsense, the rudiments and the essentials. The nuts and bolts of war, its lifeblood, its jargon, its maddening absurdities and heroisms and senseless deaths and maimings are laid out in a clear, clean, rhythmic tessellation, united with a deceptively minimalist style that out-Carvers Carver and exposes the traumas of war without any breast-beating outrage. But outrage is what one feels. Outrage and exasperation, as well as a sense of satisfaction at Schultz’s adept achievement.

Katey holds an MFA from Pacific University and is a recipient of the Linda Flowers Literary Award from the North Carolina Humanities Council. She lives in a sweet 1970 Airstream trailer bordering the Pisgah National Forest. Katey’s work illustrates the power of civilian war writing and we are honored that she agreed to be included in this event. Buy her book HERE or buy a copy at the event!

Have a great week.


As always, we thank you for your time and support. Want to help us provide no-cost, high-quality literary programming for veterans, their families and civilian supporters? Make a tax-deductible donation HERE.

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Unquiet Memories: A Reading of Phil Klay’s Short Story Redeployment


Released March 6, 2014

Executive Director Brandon Willitts reviews Phil Klay’s short story, “Redeployment,” and draws a connection between the story and his own homecoming.

Phil Klay’s short story “Redeployment,” which is featured in both Fire and Forget and Granta, as well as in his forthcoming collection Redeployment, begins with one of the finest first lines I have ever read: “We shot dogs.” This line is like a jab to the face, putting the reader on notice that whatever happens next, his or her complete and undivided attention will be required.

As far as war stories go, it’s on par with the best. “Redeployment” skillfully examines the complexities of military service by describing organized violence and war without glorifying either. At the same time, the story balances the emotions of a returned service member – anger, confusion, and heartbreak – without leaning on oversimplification or cliché.

Klay’s prose is clear and concise, giving the story a very measured pace. And the most honest, human moments come not through Klay’s descriptions of the chaos of battle, but instead through the descriptions of those quiet moments of domestic life.

At times, we come to better understand war and it’s aftereffects through the many unspoken words that stand between a husband and wife; other times, it comes through the narrator’s use of understatement:

And that was my homecoming. It was fine, I guess. Getting back feels like your first breath after nearly drowning. Even if it hurts, it’s good.

Those few sentences are all rather subtle phrases, but they become the entry into this marine’s thoughts and emotions. Because he has just returned from his deployment, he hasn’t had the necessary time to process his wartime experience. These lines are as honest as he can be at the time, and that’s what makes them so uncomfortable. And the analogy he draws between drowning and his deployment becomes telling of the difficulty of turning ‘it off’ once he’s back stateside.

In early 2013, I was sitting in an audience, where I was listening to a panel of veteran authors discuss war writing. When it came time for the questions and answers segment, an audience member asked the panel why there weren’t more battle scenes in their works. As soon as the question was asked, every veteran in the room looked at one another and just sort of shrugged. I can’t remember how the panel responded, because honestly I didn’t listen for their response. I didn’t have to – I already knew why.

When people ask me about the war, I have two options, two stories to tell: I can tell a story about the missions where we captured terrorists in Afghanistan, or I can tell a story about the night I sat alone on the curb of Hickam Air Force Base after seven months in the Middle East with no one to pick me up. I don’t think too often about those missions in Afghanistan. But I think nearly every day about that night I came home.

And maybe it’s just me, but stories like “Redeployment” are the types of stories I need to read now. They are the stories that have helped me through the confusion and frustration of sitting on that curb. They are the types of stories I want to read, the types of stories I want to tell. It’s stories like this, and authors like Phil Klay, that have allowed me to better understand and process the “unquiet memories” of my life after I came home.

Listen to Phil Klay talk about his forthcoming collection, Redeployment, published by Penguin Press.