Twenty-One Steps of Courage
Author: Sarah Bates
Publisher: Booklocker.com, Inc. (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 280 pages
You want to join the Army? Not the book for you unless you’re a dreamer. You want to be in Special Forces? Not quite the book for you unless you have steel in your spine. You want to be the elite of the elite? This is the book for you. Conquer the 21 stages from enlistment to elite, and you’re in the Old Guard. That’s what Sarah Bates’ character, Rod Stone, figures out. Follow his lead and you’re now a Sentinel guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier—21 measured steps, a click of the heels, a precise turn of the head, hold for 21 seconds, a smart shift of the rifle to your other shoulder, another turn, hold for 21 seconds and back those 21 measured steps in half-hour intervals. The best of the best.
Bates, author of Twenty-One Steps of Courage, paints a picture of a Sentinel’s overall appearance, his precisely-timed movements as he does his job: the ceremony of placing wreaths at graves, or escorting a group with a coffin to its final resting place in Arlington Cemetery, or standing guard at a grave site. The elite of the elite must be perfect: no lint on the jacket, each shoe glistening, each word crisp as the Sentinel announces a ceremony, every step exactly like the previous one—no matter what the weather, or the visitors who want you to talk with them, or the pain from standing perfectly still while you stand guard at one grave.
When Rod Strong is climbing that ladder from enlisting to elite, Sarah Bates, author of Twenty-One Steps of Courage, pushes him up an ivy-covered ladder hiding obstacles the Army has planned for him and the obstacles that occur simply because Strong’s riding a Harley. Strong (or “Hotrod”) possesses a strategy that is at once a goal and also a protective device. He keeps a calendar of the stages he figures he has to take—enlisting (1), training (2), proposing to his girlfriend (3), Airborne (4) all the way to Sentinel (21). He also counts when under stress such as parachuting for the first time.
Rod has another obsession: to follow in his father’s footsteps, literally and figuratively. His father, a war casualty, was both a Ranger and a Sentinel, so Ranger School and the Old Guard are a must for Rod. He plans to literally take those 21 perfect steps in the same place his father did. This powerful motive sits on his shoulders like an overweight rucksack. His older brother is already in the Army, and Rod makes a promise to his mother that seems impossible to keep. It’s not even in his list of stages.
Bates’ last test for Rod is the most challenging for him. We know it’s coming because it’s the opening of the book (pp. 1-17) followed by a long flashback of two years. Back in present time (what follows pp. 1-17), Rod suffers horrific pain, grieves at how close he was to following his father’s path, and realizes he must ask for help from others. Rod, always a leader, doesn’t easily take to his new role. But this is where Bates shows a different side to the Rod that has been running, jumping, swimming, shooting, practicing evasion and reconnaissance. What he must overcome is his pride, not one of his 21 stages. Can he ask others for the help he needs? Can he take advice? Can he allow his mother and girlfriend to see him? Bates shows that Rod Stone’s calendar of stages was much too limited. Rod knows it too at the end of the book. There is always a 22 after 21.
Reviewed by: Margaret Brown (2012)