"Who among mortal men are you, good friend? Since never before have I seen you in the fighting where men win glory, yet now you have come striding far out in front of all others in your great heart..."
Homer, The Iliad
If David Uthlaut was still angry when the convoy finally rolled out of Magarah, Afghanistan, the young lieutenant kept his emotions hidden from the forty-four Army Rangers under his command. Certainly he had reason to be steamed. For the previous six hours his platoon had been stopped in the middle of Taliban territory while he argued with headquarters over what to do about a wrecked Humvee. When the discussion finally concluded, Uthlaut was on the losing end of the debate. He was ordered to complete a series of problematic tasks before nightfall, and not nearly enough time remained to meet the deadline without taking dangerous chances.
The date was April 22, 2004. For eight straight days Uthlaut and his men had been combing the rough backcountry of Khost Province for Taliban insurgents. The Rangers had slept in the mud, been soaked by freezing rain, humped up and down towering escarpments with inadequate rations. At one point they got so hungry that one of the platoon’s machine gunners had resorted to rooting in a garbage dump for edible morsels. But none of these tribulations had kept the elite Special Operations unit from executing its mission.
At 11:30 that morning, however, the gnarly terrain delivered a terminal blow to one of the platoon’s el...