William Yeske was on a hilltop in Afghanistan when some of his platoon mates started joking about a book being written about their exploits — former Army Sgt. Robert Musil joked that Yeske’s name would be on it. They had been involved in some of the fiercest fighting in the improvised explosive device-filled Arghandab River Valley in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Damn the valley.

Yeske never dreamed of writing a book about his deployment to Afghanistan in 2009. But over a decade later, he wrote the author note for his book titled, “Damn the Valley: 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 2/508 PIR, 82nd Airborne in the Arghandab River Valley Afghanistan” over Memorial Day weekend in 2023. The title is a tip of the hat to a common phrase used by anyone who fought in that valley. 

“The records are now in the DOD historical archives for perpetuity. Being able to enable these guys to get that story there and to push the stuff out to the public meant everything to me,” Yeske said. “Quite honestly, this is now something they can take their kids or grandkids and be like, ‘Hey, we’re part of something.’ It’s been pretty cool.”

Yeske grew up in 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Three soldiers were killed during the deployment, and three more since they all returned home. 

2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2/508 PIR paratroopers
Paratroopers from Bravo Company, 2/508 Parachute Infantry Regiment patrolling down a canal in the Arghandab River Valley in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of former soldiers of Bravo Company)

Some old platoon mates hadn’t processed the deployment over the years, while others didn’t realize what haunted them every day. But a cathartic process followed when Yeske reached out asking for them to tell their side of the story for the book. 

“I’ve gotten calls like, ‘Hey, I’m getting smells from the battlefield’ has been one of them,” Yeske said. “Guys are reading through a chapter, and they’re sitting on their couch and smelling the shit water from Afghanistan from the streets at that particular patrol that they’re on, and they’re like, ‘holy cow, where’s this coming from?’ They’d realize those traumas have gone unaddressed.”

One of the many caches of IED making materials located during a raid of a bomb making facility in Afghanistan. Bravo company stacked it all up to blow it in place. (Photo courtesy of former soldiers of Bravo Company)

One of the grittier stories from the book details how Spc. Jason Johnston was killed by an IED on Dec. 26, 2009. Capturing all the details of what a human body looks like after taking the full blast of an explosive is difficult. Spc. Will Ross was with Johnston when the explosion went off, and Yeske was there shortly after to assist Ross and their medic while trying to save Johnston.

“I saw Jason Johnston as he passed from this world, and his body went gray and slack. I remember the look of defeat on Doc’s face,” an excerpt from the book reads. “I remember sitting there and feeling utterly useless. Right about then is when something rained down from the sky.”

Damn the valley.

Entertainment photo
A plaque hung up in Combat Outpost Johnston. (Photo courtesy of former soldiers of Bravo Company)

Writing war nonfiction comes with a burden of responsibility, a responsibility to get the story right. Yeske felt the total weight of that burden. He made every effort to get everyone on board, including the Gold Star families. Some of his former platoon mates supported Yeske, while others were very outspoken in their feelings against it. 

He received threatening messages but felt the story needed to be told, so the platoon’s efforts were documented.

Subscribe to Task & Purpose today. Get the latest military news and culture in your inbox daily.

Once it was published, he heard back from several of his old teammates. They said he did a good job and that they could tell his intentions weren’t to glorify war. Some naysayers didn’t say anything about the book but hinted that they didn’t hate it. 

Entertainment photo
1st Squat, 1st Platoon Sgt. Malcom Ackers patrolling through an area in the Arghandab River Valley in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, on March 27, 2010. (Photo courtesy of former soldiers of Bravo Company)

Yeske has received confirmation that his book is reaching audiences he never imagined. One of the kids who lived in a village that fell under 1st platoon’s area of operations reached out to him to thank him. 

“I was just like, holy shit, okay, that was interesting. He’s like, ‘Man, we love you guys. You’re different than the other Americans here before,’” Yeske said. “‘We didn’t have to fear for stuff and knew you guys were coming here to take care of us.’” 

Now, Yeske is determined to help others from the 2/508 PIR who want to write books detailing what they went through while deployed. He hopes his book will inspire many others to tell their stories so that all their sacrifices will be memorialized in history books. Damn the valley.

The latest on Task & Purpose