The Reaper by Nicholas Irving
Running Title: The Reaper – Autobiography of one of the deadliest Special Ops snipers.
Co-author: Gary Brozek
The first time I learned about this book was from an article in a local NYC newspaper: The New York Daily News. It a featured a very non-dignifying picture of Mr. Irving, with his tongue stuck out as if auditioning for Gene Simmons in a KISS biopic, with his team as he cradled an SR-25 rifle. At first (and I’ll be honest about this) I was a bit turned off and sort of rolled my eyes whilst muttering something to the likes of “the one time we get to see a story of a black sniper and we’re being graced with this cocky picture”. It was tempting to avoid the book, but since I don’t judge book by their covers (or in this case … as it turns out … a badly chosen photo), when it landed in my stacks, my curiosity got the better of me. At a quick glance at some of the pictures in the book, it was clear that the folks at the Daily News were a bunch of tossers and could have chosen a much better picture … for there were many. I guess someone bollocksed up on that one.
In reading the first two chapters of the book, it is pretty clear that Mr. Irving is quite down-to-earth and straight shooter (pun possibly intended). He is also very modest despite his accomplishment as the first Afro-American to serve as a sniper for the Army’s Special Operations 3rd Ranger Battalion 75th Regiment. Sure, he could have run with the whole legend bit where they hyped up the number of confirmed kills and he would have probably been backed up by a ton of his brothers-at-arms. Instead he simply sets the record straight and humbly lists his confirmed kills, earlier in the book: it is 33. The book takes you back and forth through his upbringing, his training and experience in combat. It is interesting to note that Mr. Irving actually tried out for the SEALs and could not qualify due to one technicality: he discovered he was colour-blind. So you may ask, how did he wash out of SEAL qualification but it to the Rangers? Let’s just say that some nurse saw a young man that was eager to serve his country and provided him with some “aid” in qualifying. Hopefully someone did not lose their job, and considering the lives he may have saved … I guess a pay raise or promotion might have been a better deal. As delve deeper into the book there is a sense of déjà vu and Chris Kyle flashes in the one’s mind. Except for the subtle differences. Kyle is white, a Navy SEAL, and endured major combat operations in Iraq. Nicholas is black, an Army Ranger and endured major combat operations in Afghanistan. The stories of combat and the action is just as riveting, harrowing and in many cases, gut wrenching. One chapter called “The Chechen”, reads like a blockbuster movie where the bad guy is a Chechen sniper that has been hunting American soldiers, even down to the firefight that ensues … up until the reader wakes up to the reality that “bloody hell” this is not a movie but it is real. And frightening. And what those brave men and women deal with in Afghanistan. Bloody sobering. It is not all gut wrenching, and white-knuckled-gripping excursions. There are a few moments of embarrassing details about Afghan and Taliban forces that go under the category of TMI: such as some in the Afghan forces in the barracks getting their male-on-male jollies on (for some strange reason) Thursday nights, Irving and his team unwittingly stumbling onto what pretty much amounted to a Taliban male orgy (a Taliban sausagefest in the worst way). And there is even talk of drones picking up videos of in-field bestiality. Did you lose your lunch, or burp-vomitted into your mouth … I apologize, sorry about that mates.
Captivating, filled with adrenaline-inducing action, and heart-wrenching, Reaper, even though it was set out to tell the story a young Army Special Ops sniper turns out to be yet another delightful tribute to Mr. Irving’s brothers-at-arms. One such person is Cpl. Benjamin Kopp, who put his life on the line to provide suppressing fire during the unit’s encounter with the Chechen. Even in death, Cpl. Kopp went on to save lives since he was an organ donor.. A truly noble, honourable man. The real definition of courage (not some bloke in a white dress going through a “change”). It never ceases to amaze me about the humility of these brave men, these silent professionals. They are truly America’s best. Thanks for your service Mr. Irving. May God bless you and yours and your days under the sun.