A Survival Story in Afghanistan



Thomas W. Young has flown a number of combat missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, and Kosovo, as a flight engineer for the Air National Guard. He has written a debut novel, The Mullah’s Storm. The book is about a transport plane, carrying a high-value Taliban detainee, which is shot down in Afghanistan during a ferocious snow storm. It depicts how the navigator, Major Michael Parson, and army interpreter, Sergeant Gold, must battle the elements as well as the enemy for their survival. NewsReal Blog interviewed Young about his book.

NewsRealBlog: Is the story based on an actual event?

Thomas W. Young: It is not based on any particular event; however, the plot and setting mirrors real-life conditions in Afghanistan. It is based on my worst fears, being shot down and killed. I wrote it to give the reader an insight into people who are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the motivations and mindset of the people who serve there.

NRB: The reader gets a feel for the reality of survival: cold, hunger, sleep deprivation, needing the hunter instinct. Was that your intention?

Young: I wanted to help the reader feel and see what it would be like in a situation like that in Afghanistan. All airmen must go through the survival school to be trained for a similar situation. If you are a flyer you must consider the elements, the enemy, and the cruelty of both.

NRB: What is your job in the military?

Young: In Iraq in 2003 I flew the C130 Hercules, but now in Afghanistan we fly the C5 Galaxy. Instead of deploying for months at a time we take off from the US with large amounts of cargo, fly all the way to Iraq and Afghanistan, and then come all the way back home. Basically, our job is to move cargo in and out of the war zone.

NRB: Can you talk about the Taliban?

Young: They are quite cruel. When they were in power they were a brutal regime. Look at the latest UN report that blames the Taliban for the majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. We have to get that point across. This is a teachable moment. Let’s look at who the good guys are and who are the bad guys.

NRB: There was a very interesting quote in the book: “wealth was simply to be dry and not hungry.” Can you discuss it?

Young: I wanted to get across the point that we, in the military, began to appreciate simple comforts that we normally take for granted. For example, when I was deployed in Bangladesh before 9/11, we experienced terrible humidity. As soon as you walked out all your clothing was going to get completely wet. It was quite an experience.

NRB: The Gold character was fascinating in that she seemed to be able to speak and communicate in Pashto, something not normally taught in school. How are Americans able to learn it?

Young: The military has the Defense Language Institute where they train interpreters and translators. It is very thorough training. People can get language and cultural training that is quite comprehensive.

NRB: It appears that someone with good hunting instincts would be able to survive better under those conditions. Agree?

Young: I am a country boy myself and found a rural background helps you. It certainly helped me get through survival school. In the book those scenes depicting the character’s skills was a part of me.

NRB: So what does the survival school teach?

Young: Part of it is how to conduct yourself if you become a POW. The overall initial basic school was three weeks. There were sub-specialties such as arctic and tropical survival. There were also the outdoor survival skills, such as how to find food and water, how to build your own shelter, and how to hide in a combat zone. It was very strenuous. I really can’t go into the details because the rest is classified.

NRB: What was the theme of the book?

Young: My goal was to portray the professional relationship between a military man and a military woman that are fighting for their survival by battling the enemy, the Taliban and nature. One cannot write a novel about the military without including women characters. Sergeant Gold was a shout out to them.

NRB: Will your next book include these characters?

Young: I am working on another novel where Major Parson and Sergeant Gold cross paths again. Their relationship deepens but it is still professional. In a survival situation like they faced in The Mullah’s Storm it would not have been realistic for them to form any kind of relationship because they were in too much pain, too tired, and faced too much danger.

The author Thomas Young will be on the Dennis Miller Show this Wednesday, September 22nd.

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