Where Youth and Laughter Go: With "The Cutting Edge" in Afghanistan; by Seth W.B. Folsom

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MWSA Review
The IED war in Afghanistan
Lt Col Seth Folsom received a call in his small cubicle in the bowels of the Pentagon, informing him he had been selected to command the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, The Cutting Edge. Seven months later he assumed command of the battalion,  and Where Youth and Laughter Go is his memory the 3/7’s preparation and seven-month deployment to the Sangin District of Helmand Province, Afghanistan. 

This was The Cutting Edge’s second deployment to Sangin, but most of the officers and NCOs were new and much had changed since their last deployment. Their mission, like that of their predecessor the 1/5, which they relieved in place, was not only to engage Taliban fighters attempting to regain control and impose their version of Shariah law, but also to stabilize the district by training local law agencies by introducing the people to democracy prior to 2012 elections. Folsom soon learned that , shuras/meetings, with Afghan government and military agencies, ANA, ANCOP, ANSF, and the AUP, not only took up his time, but were often futile – No plan survives first contact with the enemy or the ANSF. [A glossary is included to familiarize the reader with terms used by the author]

More than a memoir, Colonel Folsom’s account of the 3/7’s  mission is the heart-wrenching story of The Cutting Edge’s valiant struggle to follow our government’s strategy to introduce democracy to a people who have no concept of it and no real desire to make the changes necessary to implement it. In recalling his thoughts about Iraq, Colonel Folsom wrote, “They have to want this more than we do if this is ever going to work.” He realized this is also true of Afghanistan.

While Folsom’s recollections of Sangin are not intended to be a critique of the U.S.’s Afghanistan counterinsurgency strategy, as the story unfolds, reasons for the strategy’s failure become apparent. Afghanistan is a country of tribes with an ideology and values incompatible with Western concepts, a country where corruption is endemic and democracy is a foreign concept that is incompatible with Islamic ideology. The author comments more than once that Afghans have long memories for the past, but can only see two weeks into the future.

A book about courage, determination and dedication, Where Youth and Laughter Go is the story of young American men and a few women who followed orders and gave their all while attempting to save a people that could not understand our concept of democracy, and the responsibilities demanded by it. 
MWSA Reviewer: Lee Boyland

Author's Synopsis

Where Youth and Laughter Go: With “The Cutting Edge” in Afghanistan completes LtCol Seth Folsom’s recounting of his personal experiences in command over a decade of war. It is the culminating chapter of a trilogy that began with The Highway War: A Marine Company Commander in Iraq in 2006 and continued with In the Gray Area: A Marine Advisor Team at War in 2010.

The chronicle of Folsom’s command of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, “The Cutting Edge,” and his harrowing deployment to Afghanistan’s volatile Sangin District presents a deeper look into the complexities and perils of modern counterinsurgency operations in America’s longest war. Charged with the daunting task of pacifying a region with a long history of violence and instability, Folsom and his Marines struggled daily to wage a dynamic campaign against the shadowy enemy force that held Sangin’s population firmly in its grip. With peace and stability always teetering on the brink of collapse, the Marines of “The Cutting Edge” confronted their own mortality as they conducted endless patrols through Sangin’s minefields while fighting to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan villagers.

No other books have been published from the perspective of a Marine infantry battalion commander in Afghanistan. It was Folsom’s job, as the unit commander, to lead his Marines under impossible circumstances. LtCol Folsom made the unusual decision to patrol with his rifle squads every day through Sangin, where his Marines dodged improvised explosive devices and sniper fire from an invisible enemy. As his tour progressed and casualties mounted, he found his objectivity evaporating and the love for his men growing. Where Youth and Laughter Go is more than a blood-and-guts war story, it is a jarring, “boots on the ground”–level examination of the myriad challenges and personal dilemmas that today’s young service members face as the United States approaches its final endgame in Afghanistan.