When one thinks of heroic tales in modern-day combat, the images of special operations troops might come to mind. Outfitted with the best equipment and sporting scraggly beards, the “tip of the spear” often seems to get most of the limelight in TV, video games, film and novels.
But what of the grunt?
While the tip of the spear may be the piercing point, the majority of wounding comes from the wider portion of the spear. Given ordinary equipment and often taxingly extraordinary objectives on a long-term scale, the hard work -and suffering- of the ground soldier is often overlooked.
With that said, ask any grunt who the most important non-infantry member of their team is and you’ll likely get the same answer across the board: “Doc.”
Enter Brent Dulak, a healthcare provider in the Washington area who, like many of us, served his country in a time of war. Enlisting as a medic, Dulak fought in Afghanistan and eventually decided that his story needed to be told- in the form of a graphic novel, titled Machete Squad.
“Machete Squad tells the story of one medics deployment to Afghanistan,” Dulak told Popular Military. “It’s tough to sum up in a neat little snippet…But so is Afghanistan, so I guess that comes along with the territory. It’s not Lone Survivor, and it doesn’t follow a group of bearded door kickers. Just a freshly pinned Sergeant trying to take shit one day at a time and keep his head above the water.”
Dulak said the project “fell into his lap,” and seemed the natural thing to do for a person who loves to write.
“Whether it was writing teenage angst poems when I was high school or keeping a running journal through my deployments, it’s always been my go-to for relieving stress and relaxing,” he said. “I somehow made it through three deployments and thought I was on easy street on my way out of the Army, that’s when I realized it wasn’t over yet. I guess you could say my inspiration was alcohol and failed relationships.”
Originally destined to be a small-scale work that would get limited attention, the project took a serious turn for the better when the US Naval Institute Press gave Dulak an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“This project was initially supposed to be a short little web based comic that ran about 10 pages, detailing on exceptionally stupid mission,” he recalled. “We had barely written the first page when the US Naval Institute Press reached out saying they were looking to start a brand new graphic novel division. I wanted to write something different, free from any sort of political agenda or social commentary, and they gave me that opportunity with two thumbs up.”
For Dulak, the story is incredibly personal: it is the account of his time as a young Sergeant in Afghanistan, trying to work out life day by day, in between combat and the gruesome carnage that comes with being a healer in a time of war.
Illustrated by Per Darwin Berg, Dulak’s Machete Squad is a captivating tale that truly shows how brutal, lucid, monotonous and terrifying combat can be for the grunts in the fight.
“It’s different than most ‘war’ stories out there, at least the ones that I’ve run across,” he said. “It’s not a novel about one large battle changing the tides of the war, and it’s not a medal of honor narrative turned into a book. The story is more about the emotional and mental aspects of being deployed over and over. I feel like it makes these experiences accessible to people who may not have gone through them, not only the immediate effects but the linger of PTSD that myself and many others have tried to deal with.”
“Maybe you’ll read it and it will help you understand someone you know or love just a bit better,” he added. “If you’ve been there maybe it will do something for you? That’s my lofty goal. Hopefully you’ll kill a few hours and not feel ripped off.”
Machete Squad is available for purchase with many major book retailers.
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