Distant Thunder: A Helicopter Pilot's Letters from the War in Iraq and Afghanistan.

AuthorLukasik, Sebastian H.
PositionBook review

Distant Thunder: A Helicopter Pilot's Odyssey from the War in Iraq and Afghanistan. By Don Harward. London: Grub Street, 2012. Photographs. Index. Pp. 189. $35.00 ISBN: 978-1-908117-28-1

This may be one of the most fascinating personal accounts to emerge from America's recent wars. Its title does not really render justice to the richness and variety of experience that Harward chronicles in its pages. While his experiences as a helicopter pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan provide the central narrative framework of the memoir, his stories of flying combat missions against Iraqi insurgents and the Taliban are interspersed with reminiscences of a long and distinguished military career that began in the mid-1970s. Harward enlisted in the U.S. Army while the Vietnam War was in its final phases. Initially a tank commander and gunnery instructor, Harward became an Army aviator in the early 1980s. Qualified on a wide range of platforms, he saw combat in Operations Just Cause and Desert Storm and served with the Army's now-famous 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160 SOAR) and 101st Airborne Division. Retiring in 1999 as a Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CW4), Harward worked several years as an airline pilot before leaving the industry to fly helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2005 to 2010. This volume offers a window onto virtually all aspects of Harward's career, from field exercises intended to prepare him and his fellow soldiers to confront a Soviet armored thrust into West Germany in the 1980s, to the challenges of flying helicopters over Afghanistan's Red Desert nearly three decades later.

The diversity of experiences and professional opportunities that his career afforded him represents the chief strength of Harward's memoir. While its overall tone is intensely personal--an attribute that makes it the engrossing read it is--the book offers fascinating insights into a variety of broader issues that transcend its specific context. Foremost among them are the dynamics of the aviator culture of which the author is a member. Harward illustrates in vivid fashion the nature of the bonds that link aviators, irrespective of their parent service or nationality, into a cohesive professional community. As Harward makes clear, a shared love of flying; an abiding fascination with the technical challenges of operating various airframes and with the mechanics of flight; and a deep, almost spiritual relationship with their aircraft remain at the forefront...

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