|Harper Collins Paperbacks|
the guardian Sat 15 November 2008
A US Apache helicopter in Iraq once took a direct hit from a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile, shredding its starboard engine and wing and leaving its rotor blade in tatters, but it still managed to return fire, kill the attackers and get back to base. Apaches are universally reckoned to be the deadliest, toughest and most efficient of all military helicopters, with pilots to match. Only 2% of applicants eventually qualify as fliers. Their cockpits are crammed with hi-tech gadgets such as cameras that can detect a fleck of blood on the ground 3km away. This is essentially a book about boys' toys (mega-expensive boys' toys), after which you'll understand better why the war in Iraq is costing the American taxpayers an estimated $700m a day. But this isn't about American soldiers in Iraq, it's about British soldiers in Afghanistan and, specifically, Ed Macy's helicopter squadron flying missions across the notoriously dangerous Helmand province in 2007. Macy enlisted in the army when he was 16. "Once my bust nose, dislocated jaw, three broken ribs and split testicle had healed, I fell in love with life as a paratrooper," he recalls. But his hopes of going on to join the SAS were scotched by a near-fatal motorbike accident. So he signed up with the Army Air Corps as a pilot instead. Books like this remind you that soldiers truly are a breed apart.