Aug 12

Shooting Ghosts: A Book by Finbarr O’Reilly and Thomas James Brennan

Shooting Ghosts: The Authors Finbarr O’Reilly and Thomas James Brennan

A U.S. Marine, a Combat Photographer, and Their Journey Back from War. A unique joint memoir by a U.S. Marine and a conflict photographer whose unlikely friendship helped both heal their war-wounded bodies and souls. “Brennan and O’Reilly strip away any misplaced notions of glamour, bravery, and stoicism to craft an affecting memoir of a deep friendship”.

Thomas James Brennan  is a retired Marine Corps sergeant who served in Iraq during the Second Battle of Fallujah, and as a squad leader in Afghanistan’s Helmand province with the First Battalion, Eighth Marines. He was medically retired in December 2012 and is a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Since 2012, he has turned to journalism and in 2016 founded The War Horse, a nonprofit investigative newsroom. In March 2017 he broke the nude photo sharing scandal in the military, forcing Pentagonand Congressional investigations that have changed legislation about sexual exploitation across the Department of Defense. Brennan profiled Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Carpenter for Vanity Fair and has been a regular contributor to The New York Times At War blog. His work for At War earned him a 2013 Honorable Mention from the Dart Center at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Brennan was the military affairs reporter at The Daily News from early 2013 through mid-2014, when he was accepted to the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. He earned his Masters in Journalism in May 2015. He won the 2014 American Legion Fourth Estate Award for exposing how government sequestration in 2013 hindered mental health care at Camp Lejeune, N.C. and at U.S. military bases worldwide, prompting then-secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to restore staffing and treatment to full capacity across the Department of Defense.  Brennan is based in Jacksonville, N.C.

Finbarr O’Reilly

October 23, 2010—We’re moving up a narrow alleyway about half an hour into the patrol when a machine gun muzzle flashes from a corner about 150 feet ahead of us. The curved alleyway is two blocks long with high mud walls and it’s barely wider than a car. We are stuck half way along it with only the wall’s contour as cover. The machine gun sounds like one of the Russian-made, belt-fed PKMs favored by the Taliban and capable of firing 650 rounds per minute. Our attacker fires in controlled bursts, ricocheting bullets off the wall in an effort to strike us. There’s no way to move forward or back along the alley without getting hit. We’re pinned down.

Marines break “contact” by moving. Remaining static is the worst thing to do in a firefight. Brennan radios in a contact report and orders one of his men to fire a 40mm fragmentation grenade toward the attacker’s position. Lance Corporal Dustin Moon kneels in the middle of the alley under a burst of covering fire and lobs the grenade forward. As an embedded photographer and a non-combatant, I concentrate on taking pictures as bullets gouge the mud wall above Moon. Having something to do in such situations helps contain my fear. My shutter whirs as a projectile from Moon’s weapon makes a distinct “plunk” sound, followed moments later by the crump of the explosion.

Brennan’s Marines kneel in the middle of the lane and fire up the alleyway, drawing return fire. Moments later, a volley of .50-caliber rounds from the Marine sniper’s Barrett M82A1A SASR rifle whooshes over our heads. The Taliban machine gun falls silent. Another nearby squad team of Marine Snipers manoeuvres to hunt the insurgents, but as usual the Taliban have vanished like ghosts into the warren of compounds and alleyways, hauling their dead or wounded away with them. All they leave behind are the metal casings of spent bullets.

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