Tom Satterly, author of “All Secure”, is a highly experienced American soldier who spent most of his military career with an elite front-line group of commandos shrouded in secrecy for many years, the 1st SFOD-D (or Delta Force). One of the pivotal battles that brought the commandos out of the shadows was the Battle of Mogadishu, more commonly referred to as the “Black Hawk Down” incident. Satterly was a young Delta Force soldier in Mogadishu at that time, and he tells a harrowing tale of survival.
Having already read “In the Company of Heroes” by Michael Durant (the pilot captured by Somali forces during the Battle of Mogadishu), I was very enlightened by Satterly’s take as a foot soldier during that twenty-four-hour ordeal. He speaks very openly about particular moments in that conflict that changed him: when he killed a man in close quarters with a grenade, subsequently splashing him with blood and gore; when he learned about his friend and teammate being shot in the head; when he and his team were running low on food, water, and ammunition while enemy insurgents closed in on them during the night. Satterly and his co-author, Jackson, write about these events in intricate detail that paint a vivid picture in the reader's mind. You can almost feel the fear, anxiety, and desperation that those Americans on the ground faced during the Battle of Mogadishu.
Though a poignant exemplification of the emotional force of this work, the Battle of Mogadishu is only a segment of what “All Secure” is about. Satterly’s nearly twenty-year career in Delta Force takes him from Somalia to Sarajevo and everywhere in between. The parts that particularly intrigued me were Satterly’s tours to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He makes excellent observations about how the war changed for coalition soldiers as their tactics forced them to shift from liberators to terrorist hunters quickly.
Most of the book is written as a memoir of one of the world’s most elite military commandos. While there are some rather significant grammar and punctuation flaws, it does not take away from the picturesque storytelling that Satterly and Jackson can depict during Satterly’s years of training and deploying. Yet, while it is a gripping narrative device, some of the thought flow can be jumbled with chapters starting at a distinct time, then suddenly jarring the reader into a flashback or memory from another time. It takes absolute concentration on the reader’s part to understand when they’re back in the “present” moment (the time stated at the beginning of the chapter).
There are also times when the book struggles to find its balance with the audience, losing its footing by not extrapolating on the contradictions of values. While most of the memoir seems to be geared toward readers interested in war stories and commando training with personal military experience, it does not forget that some of its audience is also interested in the psychological aspects of Satterly’s trauma and endurance. These individuals may have no military experience at all. Satterly can appropriately navigate the problematic juxtaposition of demonizing the enemy with a racial epitaph while also reminding himself (and the reader) of the different reasons why people (including his enemy) take up arms. These point-counterpoints aren’t always explored, such as when Satterly says that he admires his soon-to-be wife’s ability to “drink with the best of them” while admitting to his alcoholism and substance abuse issues. These issues of substance abuse and maladaptive coping mechanisms are very central to the major themes of the book, and overlooking this contradiction made me wonder what Satterly’s views on alcoholism are. Is it something to be admired or denigrated? Where in this tension of the recovery process is he, and could it be further explored and developed to help others understand his process?
Despite these noted issues, “All Secure” is a gem of a book that delivers a robust and powerful message to the Special Operations community and American citizens concerned with the plight of our military. The real meat and potatoes of “All Secure” are when Satterly offers glimpses into his life as a human being, away from the weight-lifting, terrorist-hunting badass he can be. He gets into the types of music he likes, how his family and upbringing inspired him to make his choices, and how love has ultimately enabled him to start facing his demons. Satterly speaks very openly about the difficulties of balancing life at home and life in a war zone, his suicide attempt after getting out of service, and his new mission of raising awareness about the emotional, physical, and spiritual burdens that our warriors will continue to face as warfare evolves.
“All Secure” deserves a follow-up, and I hope that Tom and Jen Satterly will consider penning a manuscript about their mission in helping combat veterans. I highly recommend this book both as an exploration of what our tier-one / Special Operations Forces must endure in the “Global War on Terrorism” but also as a groundbreaking consideration as to how our leaders in the military must reshape the hypermasculine culture that only serves as a blockade to appropriately dealing with these war fighters’ mental health issues.
5/5: A unique read that balances the “commando’s memoir” with an exploration of self-discovery and healing