Review

The Night Stalkers

Michael J. Durant and Steven Hartov



If THE NIGHT STALKERS was a novel rather than what it is --- a
collection of anecdotes about the hazards of serving under fire in
the Army's crack helicopter outfit --- you couldn't ask for a
better hero than Mike Grimm. Grimm has a solid jaw, a powerful
build, and (as the authors describe him) comes off as a cross
between Sergeant Rock and the Silver Surfer. He enters the story as
an infantry lieutenant in Vietnam in 1968, fresh out of Officer's
Candidate School, and earns the Bronze Star on one of his first
patrols when he saves his men from a Viet Cong ambush. 

Eight years later, after earning the Distinguished Service Cross,
Grimm finds himself in a barracks in Hawaii, thinking about how the
Army needs to upgrade its special forces capabilities. His ideas
gain momentum after the fiasco at Desert One, where a top-secret
mission to save the American hostages in Iran ends in blood and
fire when a Marine helicopter collides with a grounded Air Force
transport plane. Within months, Mike Grimm shows up in a deserted
corner of Fort Campbell to oversee the birth of the Night Stalkers,
Army helicopter pilots with a special forces mission.

The next year, Grimm --- now a major, on his way to lieutenant
colonel --- is flying a routine training mission over the Tennessee
hills, taking his helicopter formation over the nap of the earth at
hair-raising speeds. It is just a routine flight, a dog-and-pony
show for the brass at the Pentagon to show off the capabilities of
the newly-minted unit. But Grimm's "Little Bird" hits a low-hanging
power line over the Cumberland River. His co-pilot is thrown in the
river, but Grimm is still in the helicopter when it smashes into
the steel tower holding up the power lines. Grimm is killed
instantly; his is one of the first names on the Night Stalker
Memorial Wall. The co-pilot survives and six months later is back
flying helicopters, minus a left thumb.

THE NIGHT STALKERS is a book about heroes written by a hero
(Michael Durant, a former Night Stalker, was captured by Somali
forces after the battle described in Mark Bowden's BLACK HAWK DOWN
and dramatized in the Ridley Scott film of the same name). But the
heroes are not matchless men of virtue, and some of them do not get
to go home to hearth and family at the end of the tale. The
"characters" are all recognizably human, trained to fly helicopters
and deliver their comrades in Special Forces or Delta to trouble
spots in the most dangerous places on earth, arriving on-target in
plus or minus 30 seconds.

The book covers the sweep of Night Stalker history, starting with
the unit's first mission --- the Grenada invasion (which, to
everyone's consternation, starts in the daytime) --- and continuing
on to the first days of the second Iraq War. It is organized by
conflict and reads much more like a short-story collection, with a
new set of characters introduced at the start of each chapter (and
some popping up again and again in the narrative). Most of the
missions are ones that ordinary civilians know about, despite the
secretive special-forces character of the Night Stalkers missions.
One infers that many of these stories still cannot be told,
although one is an almost-forgotten mission where a ragtag Navy
task force guarded American-flagged Kuwaiti oil tankers in the
Persian Gulf against Iranian provocation. The Night Stalkers worked
with a Navy SEAL commander who took --- of all unlikely things ---
a giant barge used to service offshore oil rigs and made it into
something of a fortress, or at least a suitable base for the
helicopter pilots to pick off overly-ambitious Iranian naval
forces.

The book has its weaknesses. It is --- somewhat unavoidably ---
tied to, and dependent on, obscure military jargon and acronyms
(there's a handy glossary in the back). This is not a real barrier
for anyone who has plowed through Tom Clancy's books, but readers
without that experience might be lost at times. However, the action
sequences are thrilling, and the authors have the real-world
expertise to keep the stories gritty and realistic, never
over-dramatizing the situations or indulging in hero-worship.

THE NIGHT STALKERS is more than just a good read; it's a reminder
of just how dangerous it is for our men and women in uniform to
defend our country and what an excellent job they perform in doing
so.

Reviewed by Curtis Edmonds on January 13, 2011

The Night Stalkers
Michael J. Durant and Steven Hartov

  • Publication Date: December 28, 2006
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0399153926
  • ISBN-13: 9780399153921