Green on Blue: A Novel | Elliot Ackerman | Talks at Google

BEN BOYD: First off, on behalf of Google and the Google Veterans Network, a big thanks to everyone that came You know, we’re in an interesting company that’s full perks I will argue that in my personal experience, this Authors@ series ranks towards the top You just look at the flow of just like pure intellectual horsepower that kind of flows through and shares their perspective on a topic that they’re just wildly experienced in and I think it’s a rare opportunity And so, as I look at what we’re going to talk about today and who we’re going to talk about it with, this is again, of the Authors@, this even is towards the top of my personal list, both in terms of the person that’s communicating the message and the topic that we’re going to discuss A few kind of logistical things to start The first off is my personal introduction is, I’m Ben Boyd I work with the Google Veterans Network here I’m also in a sales role on the Google For Work team And for those in the room that don’t know and for those that are going to be watching later, a little intro to what the Google Veterans Network is Google is a company that is interested in bringing the whole person to work For those that served, a very big part of who you are is that experience And today, we are a community of about 1,000 people that’s split between direct veterans and people that are supporters and those that are just interested kind of the topics that get surfaced But at the end of the day, it’s something that, for those that are involved, is a huge value add And kind of the reach of Google as a supporter of the larger veteran efforts is something that I think is worth bringing to light here Second, in terms of structure for today, we’re going to have a bit of a conversation I want to start real quick by giving you a bit of an intro on Elliot All I can say is that it’s an absolute privilege, right? Elliot’s going to speak on topics that I think everybody in the room is interested in This is, at a surface level, it’s war Beyond that it’s passion and it’s betrayal it’s all of these sorts of things But when you hear a message, it’s important to know who’s communicating that message And I think when it comes to Elliot’s experience, it’s worth going over a couple of things Five deployments between Iraq and Afghanistan His Iraq deployment was during the heaviest fighting that we had in Fallujah His Afghanistan deployment was on the special operation side in pursuit of the most priority targets that we had an in that country And I think that just presence there and participation in that effort is worthy of praise, right? But in true form, you’re going to see a trend here Elliot continues to kind of go above and beyond this Elliot has a Silver Star and a Bronze Star with a V device And so what that means in civilian speak is that not only has he faced the toughest environments and scenarios that you’re going to find overseas, but he did in a way that supersedes the expectation of how one would deal with them And I think what we can pull from that is one, there is deep expertise when it comes to what life on the ground in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan is And two, that like as a country as a whole, we’re in debt and there’s a deep gratitude for that sort of background As he transitioned out of that, I think Elliot’s going to have this brand of just a serial contributor, right? He holds an advanced degree from Tufts He was selected as a White House fellow He’s a member of the Council on Foreign Relations He has committed himself to writing and his publications and his work has appeared in just, I mean you name, the first class publication, “The New Yorker,” “The Atlantic,” “The Wall Street Journal,” to name a few, and he’s there And so, as we transition from the intro of the person to the intro of the book and what we’re here to speak of today, I think that “Green on Blue” is, if you haven’t read it yet, I’ll encourage you to pick up a copy as you make your exit But the story of young Afghan orphan who– and the circumstances of the environment that he’s a part of And this is one that is just, in this case, a war As a personal veteran, I think there is– what I’ve noticed as the transition out, is that everybody’s interested in it, but few have an opportunity to really directly relate And so we like, reach for things that might give you an opportunity to kind of better understand what the environment and the circumstances were And I think what we have here and what we’ll talk to, touch on later, and what he’ll read from in a moment is just that

So with that said, I will get to some talking and let’s give him a round of applause and welcome Elliot [APPLAUSE] So, I told him earlier, we’re going to start by keeping this light, right? We’re going to start with a little bit about Elliot as a person, a little bit about Elliot as an author And then we’ll touch on the topic in the book today And so in true Google fashion, I’m going to put him a little bit on the spot here and we’re going to play two truths and a lie So I don’t know if you’re familiar with this, but for those who aren’t, we’re going to hear three statements from Elliot, and I did give him about 30 seconds before we started, warning on this So this is pretty fresh, right? You’re going to hear three statements Two of them are going to be true One of them is going to be a lie And then we’re going to have Ms. Amy Carl guess as to which one is the lie Is that fair? ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Sure I’m forgetting my truths for a moment and my lies OK, so three things First thing My brother is an Olympic wrestler and a mathematician I once ran with the Bulls in Spain And my father used to race Formula Four race cars AMY CARL: I’m going to pretend like it’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and I’m going to get the audience to vote And then we’ll see how I feel about their vote OK, so who thinks that the brother, wrestler, mathematician is the lie? OK Who thinks the running with the bulls in Spain is a lie? And who thinks the NASCAR racing– I’m sorry, whoo, that was almost offensive Formula One I’m from Ohio, all right? All car racing is NASCAR ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Some of you voted twice You think I’m telling two lies? BEN BOYD: What have you got, Amy? AMY CARL: I actually am also going to go with the bull racing as the lie ELLIOT ACKERMAN: No, I ran with the bulls in Spain Right when I got back from Iraq BEN BOYD: I would have guessed Formula Four because I don’t know what a Formula Four is What’s the difference between a One and a Four? ELLIOT ACKERMAN: It’s One right And that’s actually the lie My father was obsessed with race car driving, but he never actually drove So when I was younger, the one day that we didn’t– the one Sunday we never went to church is when the Indy 500 was on BEN BOYD: And on that topic, I’d love to again, kind of understand a little bit more about you So we’ve talked about father We’ve talked about the truth that is a brother that is an Olympic wrestler and a mathematician Go a little bit more on your background and tell me a little bit about those What makes it unique and what were those influences on you? ELLIOT ACKERMAN: I come from a family that’s– I have one brother who’s two years older We were always pretty tight growing up My mother is a novelist So I grew up around books BEN BOYD: So you read a little ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Studied history and literature at university And yeah, I have this very eclectic brother who is “Good Will Hunting” smart mathematician I mean, who literally, when I was three years old in the back of the Volvo, picking my nose and banging my GI Joes together, he was five, saying, Dad, if x equals 3, and y is unknown– just in his blood And he was a gifted wrestler and wrestled in 2004 in Athens So that’s my family background at least But no military in my family BEN BOYD: No military ELLIOT ACKERMAN: I’m the only one BEN BOYD: I understand there’s a lot overseas time when you’re young as well ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Yeah, there was So when I was nine years old– I was born in Los Angeles and lived there until I was nine And then in a dramatic, climactic switch or climate switch, we moved from Los Angeles BEN BOYD: For a nine-year-old that move was climactic as well ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Yeah, it was climactic as well But I have vivid memories of, you know, at week number two of not seeing the sun, asking when the hell I was going to get out of this place Then it wound up being six years So I stayed there till I was 15 and then finished up high school in the States BEN BOYD: What does that do for you, right? So what kind of diversity does that contribute? So traditionally, you come from a fairly– most of us, myself included, come from more or less a cookie cutter kind of American existence But then you go to college and that’s where you start developing a little bit more deeper personality What do you think– ELLIOT ACKERMAN: I think some it kind of starts to get into the themes of what drew me into the service London is not that much different If you want to go like one culture over, it’s about the closest you can obviously get to being an American, aside from going to Canada And that’s up for debate But I think about a lot it now because I live in Istanbul So I’m raising– I have two small children We have been raising them is Istanbul, which is obviously, especially with everything that is going on right now, a pretty dramatic shift from life of the East Coast where we were before

But I think as a young person, living in London, what was great was it allowed me to travel widely through Europe, I think, which just gave me enough of a slant view on what it means to be an American, to kind of start to inspire a bit of an appreciation I think going into college, I always I felt and was and am a fortunate son of this country I came from a good family I got to go to Tufts University, a great school And I went and did ROTC in 1998 And so it was before 9/11 But I just sort of had this sense that when I got out, I wanted a job where whether I was good at my job or bad at my job, really, really mattered And I wanted a lot of responsibility young And I couldn’t think of anywhere else where at 23 years old, they put me in charge of 45 people That was I got in the Marines as an infantry platoon commander And so that coupled with just sort of a visceral sense of feeling like I should, and was somewhat almost obligated to give something back, led me into the Marines But I had, sitting there in 1998, joined the ROTC, I sort of had no idea what the next decade would hold Like you give me a very nice introduction, my mother just says, this is my son, Elliot He’s like the Forest Gump of the last 10 years BEN BOYD: But I think there’s an interesting point there, right? So 1998 is business as usual in the service, right? And so 2001 strikes You graduate college I understand you got your advanced degree in a compressed schedule, so in five years So talk to me about what the world was as you were starting your Marine Corps career ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Sure I mean I remember viscerally when 9/11 happened And I was about a year out from potentially graduating college, although I wound up doing dual bachelor’s, master’s degree I remember going into my senior ROTC instructor and saying, I’m thinking about just leaving school early, kind of very dramatically And him saying, sit down, whippersnapper, this thing’s going to go on for a long time You should probably get your college degree But those first two years, there was sort of a slow sea change taking place And I remember reporting down to Quantico to the basics school where Marine officers go through training And it was June of 2003 and the vibe there was very much this sense of like the Persian Gulf War had just happened And the captain’s who were our instructors sort of being like, oh hey, guys, you all just missed the war We just missed it too So sad, too bad We got to get down to training And I remember over that summer slowly, these first lieutenants who were kind of the junior officers who had been in the invasion, they had just started trickling back because they were going to now become captains and instructors themselves And then in August, I remember August of 2003, there was this headline in “The Marine Times” and it was headlines, Marines Back To Iraq And when we saw this, everyone, including the captains was like, what are we going to be doing in Iraq? I mean, we’re shock troops This is occupation duty The war is over, into that winter and then in the spring and I was finishing my infantry officer training in the spring when the contractors were hung from the bridge in Fallujah And within a week, sort of all hell was breaking loose An officer from the class before us was killed One of my buddies had to go as a combat replacement And there was this very quick rotation within a couple months of this idea that we were all going to war And those of us who were going weren’t going for occupation duty We were going to fight So I definitely do remember that quick shift, which I think was a little bit unique to that time because I think that in subsequent years, we really bore down Because as we were talking a little bit, by 2005, 2006, 2007, these wars were going and everybody knew they were going to war But for us, it was actually a little bit of a process, of a realization, like wow, I guess we’re going to war BEN BOYD: Interesting Interesting You know, I’ll ask the general question, right? I want to hear about Elliot, the Marine, right? I want to hear about– I mean, we’ve read the bio and we know that these valorous awards are not something that are just given out Tell us about, at a high level, those experiences and kind of impact that they’ve had you in the development as a person ELLIOT ACKERMAN: I have a very good friend of mine who has sort of always acted as a Marine Corps big brother to me And he’s been in Special Operations for a long time And he’s got more deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan that I can count on both of my hands, legitimately And he still works in those realms And so one of the ways we keep up is he’s a big runner So he doesn’t like to sleep So he’ll be like at 5:00 in the morning, we’ll go for a nice run We’re buddies So I get out of bed I remember about probably six months ago, I was in the States and we were meeting up for a run And we were sort of hoofing our way up this hill And just sort of had been reminiscing about the war at a very macro level, talking about ideas like PTSD Do I have it? Do you have it? Who knows? What is it? What did it all mean? And a certain point, he looked over at me and he said, you know, he said, you know, Elliot,

he’s like, the melancholy of it all is that we grew up there And I thought a lot about that It’s like we did grow up there I left for my first combat deployment when I was 24 I came back from my last one when I was 31 That was sort of the years where you kind of grow up and become like the adult you’re going to be So something that’s fascinated me too though is, so as much as you know me and my buddy and so many others have become completely defined by these experiences When you start reflecting on it, you realize there’s a whole other side of that coin And that the whole time you’re having these experience, you’re very much engaged in this sort of shadow dance with your adversary And so I mean I know intellectually, and again, it’s something I’m very interested in in my writing, that shadow dance has been going on with Iraqis, with Afghans And for every one of us, there’s just as many of them who’ve been exactly so defined And being so defined, in many respects, I have more in common with them than many of the people that I’ve come home with, to And what does that mean? So Yates has this great poem, around the First World War It’s called “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.” And the poem opens, “I know that I shall meet my fate somewhere amongst the clouds above Those that I fight I do not hate Those that I guard I do not love Nor law no duty bade me fight, nor public men nor cheering crowds, but a lonely impulse of delight drove me to this tumult in the clouds.” And so to me, that poem has always been a little bit about kind of that idea of, what are those things that drive us to conflict Like, what is that lonely impulse of delight that so many of us feel, whether or not we’re American, Iraqi, Afghan, Syrian, what perpetuates these wars? And I do a lot of thinking about that, I wrote a piece, I guess it was about a year ago so I do a lot of writing on the Syrian Civil War now And I traveled down there with a couple friends of mine who started basically a research company, that they bid on government contracts and NGO contracts down in this city called Gaziantep, which is in Turkey, but it’s a 45 minute drive from Aleppo And one of the fellows who’s working for them is this guy named Abed, who was a Syrian activist during the revolution’s early days And to give you just a picture, Abed is the grand nephew of the Nizar Qabbani A famous poet laureate of Syria who died in exile in London He, before the revolution, worked at the British consulate He speaks English with a perfect British accent, makes me sound like gutter trash And one day Abed came back and he’d been basically doing interviews in this place called the Akcakale, which is a refugee camp 500 meters from Syria where sometimes they take incoming artillery And he sat there with me, we were saying down, kind of eating dinner, drinking tea And he was like, Elliot, I was in Akcakale today He’s like, and I met this fellow and I think the two you should meet And I was like, OK, Abed, who’s the guy? What’s the deal? He’s like, well, he used to fight for Al Qaeda in Iraq He’s like, but bear with me I think the two of you would really get along And so, OK So we talked about it, and basically the idea was like, I would go meet this guy and do a story that was basically two vets from the Iraq war sit down and have lunch but we fought on different sides of the war And then talking to Abed, it was sort of this idea, how are we going to meet? I mean, we can’t really just tell him that I was a Marine Because this guy was still an Islamist at the time And at the time, I had some affiliations with Jabat al Nusra, a big fighting group there And so then he was, the first line of the story was, Abed and I agreed the night before we’d lie and tell I’d been a journalist And that was what we told him But within about half an hour of sitting down and he was sort of telling me about fighting You know, I felt like there was a real sort of– we were very simpatico with one another And I kind of dropped my [INAUDIBLE] and I was like, hey, listen, his name was [INAUDIBLE] I wasn’t really there as a journalist I was there as a Marine And he kind of looked at me and smiled And then we kept talking and it turned into a six hour lunch And then I’ll just relay this, then I’ll finish And for me one of the most poignant points of that lunch was, Abed had been translating between us the entire time as we were talking, drinking tea, eating baklava, sort of reminiscing about our wars and what they meant to us And then after about three hours, good old Abed, he says, listen I’ve got to go to the bathroom So all tea So he gets up to go to the bathroom And now Abu Hasar and I are sitting there, the two of us And we had this very intense conversation for three hours And now we’re sitting there like two teenagers on their first date Like, we can’t talk, everything’s really awkward all of a sudden And so I had my notebook where I was scribbling down our conversation And I had an idea I sort of took a squiggly line and basically traced out on a page the Euphrates River And he kind of saw what I was doing and then he traced out the sharp, tangential border between Iraq and Syria Because he had run guns and fighters across the border That was one of his responsibilities And we started writing in– I started writing in the names of places And he could sort of see where they were at on the map And he took the pen from me and started writing in the dates

And our hands were chasing each other around the map much like the way we chased each other around the country years ago And the only thing that we could communicate without an interpreter was the place names and the dates And we wrote those dates down to see if we’d fought in the same place at the same time And hadn’t BEN BOYD: Interesting I want to transition and I want to transition to– we’ve talked about the upbringing and then the service experience And let’s talk about as an author a little bit So you transitioned out of the service You got a stint as a White House fellow I’m sure you’re writing throughout What was that kind of conversation, what was that decision point that said, hey, this is me, I want to go, I want to go all in? ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Sure You know I mean, I always knew that I was going to write Again, it was something that I grew up around Even from early days in the service, I felt like, I’m likely going to write something about this some day but I could never really get at the material It was still going on I didn’t have any type of feeling of closure with it And actually my last deployment in Afghanistan in 2011, I’d made the decision that I was going to come home It almost certain sounds trite to frame it in this way, but literally two days later, I start writing the first scene that I ever that ever really kind of took sort of fictionalizing what I thought would be the beginnings of a story And that was two days So for me, it was actually, I didn’t know what would enable the writing to begin But it was this hard decision I made that the war is over for me now And once I’d made that decision, I think I had the mental space to start trying to render it and other things in fiction But I think even if I hadn’t been writing about the war, if I’d been writing about guys hanging out in Brooklyn or whatever, I would’ve have been able to do it while I was in the military My emotional space was too occupied by that experience BEN BOYD: What is- tell me about the process of writing I see you’re in Istanbul I see like a balcony over the Bosphorus and a cup of chai I mean is this something that just consumes you? Are you a like lock yourself in a room and write or slow and steady sort of approach here? ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Well I’m definitely like cup of chai, looking at the Bosphorus is always nice if you can figure that out I think everyone has a different process For me, once I have an idea, I’m definitely kind of a grinder It’s probably the military side of me If I’m working on a new project and it’s going well and I know where it’s going, I write about 1,000 words a day It’s kind of what I try to hit And then if I’m revising, I sort of set intermediary goals I’m going to revise these 30 pages today And again, you have to sort of have a lead on something that you’re working on But for me, it’s very much– I don’t work in spurts of inspiration I actually know few successful writers who do Most will tell you, it’s very workman-like BEN BOYD: Bit of a grind ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Bit of a grind And you know, when you’re getting to the end and you’re sitting there with a manuscript– I mean, when I’m at the final stages of a manuscript, I lock myself in a room, a quiet room, and I read it out loud to myself with a pencil And I do that multiple times, just to get the rhythm right, the sentences right So it’s a slog BEN BOYD: Any mentors that stick out to you here? ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Sure I’ve had great mentors My mother, who’s a novelist I remember from a very young age, sitting on her sofa as she sort of tore apart my sixth grade papers But you know, that matters Teachers matter I had a couple of phenomenal English teachers in high school And then later on as you surround yourself with other writers who inspire you When I was in college, my freshman creative writing teacher was Andre Dubus, who wrote “The House of Sand and Fog,” if you’re familiar with that book It was made into a film I remember him, he was actually finishing that novel when he was sort of adjuncting at Tufts and working carpentry jobs on the side I remember he would come in just exhausted, sawdust still on his jeans What are we talking about today, guys? And then two years later, he was this internationally acclaimed author with a movie And for me, it was always fun to just know that I had a window of him when he was working hard But so much of it is a struggle, it’s a lot of struggle As your working through your material and trying to get it out there in the world BEN BOYD: Well, great I want to give enough time to talk about “Green on Blue.” So maybe I can just kind of pass it to you for a few minutes And maybe an intro to the idea of the book and then we’d would love to hear passages if you’re willing to share ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Sure Well, the title, “Green on Blue” refers to the insider attacks in Afghanistan So green is sort of military short speak for friendly troops, i.e. the Afghan soldiers and blue for American soldiers So a green on blue attack is when an Afghan soldier takes his weapon and shoots his adviser and we’ve seen that as a trend But in the novel, it really sort of acts as a metaphor, this idea of what happens when the cause that you fight for threatens to destroy you So I’m just going to read just from beginning so you guys can get a sense for what the book feels like And this is basically the opening page “Many would call me a dishonest man but I’ve always kept faith with myself

There’s an honesty in that I think I am Ali’s brother We are from a village that no longer exists and our family was not large or prosperous The war that came after the Russians but before the Americans killed our parents Of them, I have only dim memories There is my father’s Kalashnikov, hidden in a wood pile by the door, him cleaning it, working oiled rags on its parts, and the smell of gun metal, and feeling safe There is my mother’s secret, the one she shared with me Once a month she’d count out my father’s earnings from fighting in the mountains or farming She’d send me and Ali from our village, [INAUDIBLE], to the large bazaar in Orgun, a two day walk The Orgun bazaar sold everything, fine cooking oils and spices, candles to light our home, and fabrics to repair our clothes My mother always entrusted me with a special purchase Before we left she would press an extra coin in my hand, one she’d stolen from my father Among the crowded stalls of the bazaar, I would slip away from my brother’s watchful eye and buy her a pack of cigarettes, a vice forbidden to a woman When we returned home I would place the pack in her hiding spot, the birch wood cradle where she’d rocked me and Ali as infants Our mud-walled house was small, two thatched roofed rooms with a courtyard between them The cradle was kept in the room I shared with Ali My mother would never get rid of the cradle It was the one thing that was truly hers At night, after we returned from the bazaar, she’d sneak into our room, her small, sandaled feet gliding across the carpets that lined the dirt floor Her hand would cup a candle, it’s smothered light casting shadows on her young face, aging her Her eyes, one brown and the other green, a miracle or defect of birth, shifted about the room Carefully she would lean over the cradle as she’d done before taking us to nurse, she would run her fingers between the blankets that once swaddled my brother and me, and finding the pack I’d left her, she’d step into the courtyard And I’d fall back asleep to the faint smell of her tobacco just past my door This secret made me feel close to my mother In the years since, I’ve wondered why she entrusted me with it At times, I’ve thought it was because I was her favorite But this isn’t why The truth is, she recognized in me, her own ability to deceive.” So, that’s the opening of the novel The whole book is told in the first person, from the perspective of Aziz, who you hear there This is him as a young Afghan boy And the trajectory of the novel basically follows him as he goes off to fight with an Afghan militia It’s always difficult to sort of say where a book begins, because so much of the process of writing a novel is you’re really groping in the dark for the story So oftentimes what starts as the beginning winds up as the middle The middle winds up as the end The end winds up as the beginning But for me, in writing the book too, you know, there sort of like– I’ll just share an anecdote that I will keep coming back to As has been mentioned, when I was in Afghanistan, I served exclusively in Special Operations And as an adviser to Afghan troops, so in many respects, my war buddies or a few Americans, but many of them were Afghans So these weren’t guys that I, when the war was over, would really ever see again But we’d done all the things people have always done when they fight together We’d fought together, mourned friends together We’d bled together But trapped as they were, in that country’s elliptical conflict, they weren’t a bunch of guys I could, you know, friend on Facebook, go get beers with at the local VFW for a quarter or call long distance So really for me, the novel was an effort to render their world, kind of as a last act of friendship And for me it was also a way to reckon with the loss of that friendship But when I think about what that war was like, I often come back to this one story, which was one of the guys I advised was this guy named Ezak And Ezak was this Tajik tribal guy in Paktika province, which is right on the border with South Waziristan and Pakistan, really sort of a remote, bad place Ezak had worked here for about 10 years And we lived on a firebase that was basically about three football fields up in the high desert And about once every two weeks, we would have what was very grandly termed, our operational planning meeting But what it really involved was me sort of bebopping across the firebase into Ezak’s little hooch, which was this sort of plywood hut And I’d walk into his hooch And Ezak would be– he had this– I remember he has this lumpy sofa in the corner that he was always sort of reclining on And I would kind of flop down next to him on the lumpy sofa There’d be a little plywood table in front of us and he would go to his dresser and he’d pull out a pack of smokes get a pot of chai, sit it on the dresser and we’d sit back, the two of us kind to leaning there And we’d look up at the far wall And on the far wall there were two things There was a map and there was a calendar So Ezak would, sort of, cigarette in hand, would get up to the map And he’d look at it and I’d say, so, Esak, what do you think we should do

for the next couple weeks? And looking at the map, he would sort of sit there, and he’d look up at one of the villages right on the border And he’d say, yeah, well, you know, Mr. Elliot, we could go up Rarakaray There’s always very good hunting up in Rarakaray So I’d say, all right We’d get on the trucks, load them up, 12 vehicles, about 120, 130 Afghans We’d drive up to Rarakaray over a couple of days, you know, 50-50 chance we would get into a gun fight up there We’d come back down We would clean up the trucks for a day, fix them up, give the guys a day off Inevitably I would come back in for the operational planning meeting Two weeks would have passed I’d sit down on the lumpy sofa with Ezak Same thing, pack of smokes, pot of chai, Ezak up at the map All right, Ezak, hey, that was a great op up in Rarakaray You know, what are you thinking about next? I mean, you know the ground better than anyone You’ve been here 10 years And he’d look at the map, stroke his chin and say, next village south, you know, Mr. Elliot, we could go to Mangratay It’s always very good hunting in Mangratay And we’d do the same thing Load up the trucks, head up to Mangratay And you know, the conversation between us was never one where it was like, you know, Mr. Elliot, if we go to Rarakaray, then we hit them in Mangratay, we can run one last operation in Malashay, seal the border, seal the border shut, the war will be over I can go back to my crops You can get your Master of Fine Arts, you know, write that novel you keep talking about Like it was not that type of war So what type of war was it? And for me, one of the ambitions of the novel was to try to show that paradigm that existed in Afghanistan The one that existed for Ezak, that kept his war being fought for every reason but the ending of it You know for a war that’s been going on for over 30 years But also the paradigm for us It’s kept us at war for 15 years Because as much as Esak was going village to village and had, in many respects more in common with a beat cop than with like a General Eisenhower figure Yet, so sort of did I in a lot of ways I wasn’t sitting there saying, hey, Esak, how are we going to win the war in Paktika province? I, at that point, was a guy who worked in special operations I’d been doing this work for years It’s what defined me I wanted to be on the deployments where sort of the action was thickest That assured my promotion And that was sort of my incentive structure So for me, a real ambition of the book is to try to show that as truly as I could and then let the reader determine what they think of it BEN BOYD: Part of what I pulled out was, and you alluded to it in the book, where you superimpose this American way of life It’s a timeline and it’s discipline and it’s these results, x results by y date And then you drop that on top of this kind of beat cop mentality in this very low level way of life approach to it as opposed to, let’s get something we can tag as a win and depart I’d love to know what kind of, on a couple of different levels maybe, and we’ll start with the American citizens’ interpretation of the Afghan community and population and partner network I would love to hear your thoughts on what you hope the American citizen can pull out of this after reading, in terms of their understanding of the Afghan community ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Again, I hope it sort of is able to render the war as the Afghan saw it And as I mentioned, people behave according to their incentive structure So for a fellow like Ezak, if the war ended, it wouldn’t actually be great for Ezak All of his stature was derived by his position in his tribe, in his community as the head of one of these militias So in many respects, everything– wars build their– economies build out around wars And I don’t necessarily mean like financial economies exclusively, although they can often be part of it, but economies in terms of where people stand socially, people’s careers, and they build out on both sides And I think for us, one of the things I’m hoping a reader might take away from the book, and I think in fiction and through story, oftentimes I don’t think good work necessarily provides pedantic answers I think it just frames questions in ways that are honest and gives the reader enough generous space to start asking themselves those questions So I think in many respects one of the questions the book gets at is, why does a war going for 30 years? Why does it go on for 15 years? Why are these wars, do they go on in a way and why are they being fought for every reason but the ending of them? Is that because we just can’t get to that final peace treaty where we’ve achieved our objectives or is it because these wars are just starting to feed themselves? And if they are starting to feed themselves, what is the economy that’s creating that? And just trying to show that And in many respects, the paradigm that exists in the book is one I saw play out in Afghanistan many times over in different provinces, villages, districts BEN BOYD: Interesting Have you shared it with any Afghans? ELLIOT ACKERMAN: A few of my readers were Afghans, folks I knew in Kabul who were checking it There’s a lot of Afghan slang in it,

to make sure that I had gotten that all right, Pashto slang They are folks who frankly, their English is not at a level where they’re really appreciating literary fiction They can kind of get by on it So I would say the first Afghan reader who read who was someone who was a literary person was Khaled Hosseini who read it in [? Tablurbit ?] So we were glad when he liked the book BEN BOYD: OK I’m interested in kind of on this topic of feedback that you’ve had since Do you feel like you have accomplished the objectives that you set out to in terms of just posing those tough questions? Do you feel like in retrospect you would course correct any way? ELLIOT ACKERMAN: You mean like rewrite the book? BEN BOYD: In terms of kind of how you’re– in terms of really getting at how you poll those questions ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Yeah, I mean I sort of hate to frame in terms of like, there’s an objective to be achieved I mean, it’s art You’re telling story If people read the book and they feel something, that’s all I care about In so many ways, I think one of things that’s interesting about writing a novel in particular, because it’s very much rooted in emotional is that you’ve had this incredibly– I’ve had a very intimate experience with that book for a long time For a long, long time was a thing that I would hold like this And only the closest people were allowed to read it as it was in draft and give me their opinions I had to really think about all of those opinions and how I would incorporate them into the story or whether they merited the incorporating in the story And the book comes out and you throw it out to the world And everybody can read it and everybody can have their opinion And people see things in the book that you didn’t even know were in the book, And that makes you think about– because so much of these stories get written by your subconscious So again, I don’t know if there’s an objective I think the objective of all art is to basically transfer your emotion into another person through some type of medium, whether it’s visual or through story So if somebody reads the book and they feel something, then that’s a good thing BEN BOYD: That’s great That’s great We as a society, I think this is one of the many outlets that we have to kind of hear the message of specifically kind of these global war on terror efforts I think the one that we just consume at the quicker pace is a lot of the Hollywood renditions And I think this year especially, until recently the lead box office was in terms of sales was the “American Sniper.” And we had “Lone Survivor” before that Can you tell us a little bit about your– share some thoughts in terms of how good of a job those are communicating and what messages they’re passing on? ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Well, it’s a lot of Seals BEN BOYD: If there was a marketing effort to be had for the military community, do what the Seals do ELLIOT ACKERMAN: They seemed to have nailed that Without getting into like the relative, sort of which one I think is good, which one I didn’t like, which one I walked out of, I think it’s a good thing that these movies are– the fact that these movies are doing well shows that there is, I think, an appetite in the country for people to reflect back on these wars and what they meant and try to understand what they meant And I think that’s a good thing I’m glad BEN BOYD: What would you caution a viewer? What would you tell somebody going in that might have that thirst and that interest in understanding, but not have a direct relationship? ELLIOT ACKERMAN: I think sometimes it’s the undercurrent is kind of like, well, is that what it was like? Is “American Sniper” what it was like? No one can tell you what it’s like because everyone’s experience in the wars has been very, very different I had a very diverse military experience from being in Iraq, to being in Afghanistan, to being in different parts of Afghanistan And so I’m just very leery of someone who feels like they have to true experience Everyone has a right to their experience BEN BOYD: So I want to give the audience an opportunity to participate We have a mic So based off the discussion, would love to hear maybe some thoughts and some things we’d like to do hear AUDIENCE: My name’s Mike I’m interested in hearing a little bit about your transition It looks like it was kind of a model, successful transition What advice you have for the flood of new veterans and people getting out of the military right now ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Sure, thanks I don’t know if it was a model transition I think it’s like, everybody struggles when you get out to figure out what the next thing is going to be once you are leaving and how you’re going to basically repurpose yourself Because I think for anybody, where we often derive our happiness is from what we feel is our purpose in life And whether that’s defined as simply as I work a job and that job– or as conventionally as I work a job That job puts food on the table My kids get to go to school They get opportunities because of that That’s a good purpose I think something that can be a challenge for vets is that for those of us who have gone and served, particularly in the wars, you come out and you’re maybe 20 years old You go right into the war

It’s a very intense purpose You’re surrounded by your best friends You have an objective that can oftentimes seem at least somewhat clear at face value Hold an output from patrols here So coming back and repurposing yourself can sometimes feel disorienting But it’s what we sort of have to do It’s kind of like the last steps or the last mission is figuring out what that purpose is going to be that carries you on into your life And for me it’s writing And I think that one thing it seems this generation of vets is doing a good job amongst each other with, is sort of being the support network that’s helping each other achieve that last purpose, that final sense of purpose So I don’t know, I feel very lucky to be part of this generation of vets We seem to be a pretty good group BEN BOYD: I think it’s a good question and I think it’s one that we discussed and we really tried to prioritize as the veterans network internal to Google We certainly dabble and try to have a positive influence in some of the recruiting efforts and some internal things But I think a big part of what we do is just the support of the external community Once a year, kind of our big bang is, 20 plus offices throughout the country, we do a Help A Hero Get Hired events We bring a bunch of folks that have recently transitioned We sit them down We help them kind of translate their resume of what they did in the service to what can be read and understood and digested from a potential hiring position Would love to, on that kind of topic of advice for somebody that’s trying to really package what they did And when the tangible skill sets might not be directly transferable, what’s your advice in helping people think through what they can do to communicate their value ELLIOT ACKERMAN: I don’t know if I have any neat advice aside from have a personal narrative of kind of what your experience was, what it was to you, who you are as a person and be able to tell that story with a certain level of consistency, I think helps Because I can imagine some of those things don’t necessarily– if you were an infantry squad leader, the level of responsibility you’ve had might not necessarily translate across the pages easily But hopefully, too, I would tell someone, try to plug in with other vets because no one’s going to take care of vets better than other vets And so if you can be at least getting your entry experience at a place where some of that is understood, I would look for those opportunities BEN BOYD: Yes, and like you said, highlighting that core competency You can’t train that discipline and that work ethic and all those sorts of things that just kind of come with somebody that has earned the position of squad leader in an infantry, in an infantry platoon I think there’s something to be said for that AUDIENCE: Elliot, nice to meet you My name is Will I haven’t served and but I have family members and friends that have If you had the microphone at our company-wide meeting later this afternoon that’s broadcast to 50,000 Googlers across the world, I’m curious, what would be the two or three things that you would want people that live in a relatively comfortable environment as you can see here to think about, whether it’s about the experience you had or misperceptions that 99% of the country has who’s not enlisted or issues with veterans affairs But what would be the two or three bullet points that you would want to communicate to a wide audience ELLIOT ACKERMAN: I think a couple bullet points that I would communicate about these wars is and the experience of them is, every time the US has gone to war, it has been under a certain construct So the Second World War was a national mobilization, funded by war bonds The Vietnam War was a war typified by sort of the draft and conscription These wars have been fought with an all volunteer military and funded largely through deficit spending And that construct that we put in place has made it so unless you are in the military, you don’t really feel the war And it’s led to a system where we have wars that can perpetuate There’s a discussion right now, a debate about whether or not we’re going to be putting troops back into Iraq to fight ISIS And for most people it’s a debate that’s completely ancillary to their personal lives because if you’re not affiliated with the military, you don’t have to feel that pain And I don’t know, if that’s the new framework, we’re probably going to have wars that go on a lot longer We probably won’t feel the wars in the same way Is that the type of country we want to live in? Is that how we think we want to be projecting ourselves abroad? I’m not going to sit here and claim that I necessarily have that answer But I think it’s something that’s going on beneath the surface that many Americans might not be recognizing, is how we’ve sort of transformed And how we project force says a lot about us as a country And it’s a conversation, I think, that’s worth having So I don’t know if that was two or three sharp PowerPoint bullets, but it’s something I think about a lot BEN BOYD: We can get two more before the meeting this afternoon ELLIOT ACKERMAN: OK, you let me know BEN BOYD: Well, great So I’m going to pose the final question

and open it back up to you to cover anything that you think we might not have touched on that you think the book could be a good vehicle to communicate ELLIOT ACKERMAN: I hate that question BEN BOYD: You don’t like fast balls That’s what we’re throwing here ELLIOT ACKERMAN: What we haven’t talked about I believe in books I think books matter I think as much as the world has gone more to YouTube and has gone to film and gone to other things, I think that books matter And I think that there’s a lot of great literature that has come out about these wars and that I know is coming out on the horizon And I hope people read it And I feel like they are I think that’s a good thing and that’s happened kind of for each generation BEN BOYD: Elliot, sir, much appreciated Absolute pleasure ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Pleasure [APPLAUSE]