Rick McCrabb: War book about his platoon 'too painful' for Butler County soldier to read

Rick McCrabb, Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio
·3 min read

Feb. 28—Dallas Haggard, one of the many surviving First Platoon members interviewed by bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize finalist Annie Jacobsen for her latest book, tried to listen to the audio version.

He lasted 90 seconds. Then he shut it off. The war wounds were still fresh.

"Too painful," said Haggard, a specialist in the U.S. Army and part of the 82nd Airborne Division. "It brought it all back again. All the pain. Everything. I couldn't do it."

Haggard, 36, of Fairfield was reluctant at first to talk to me about the book and his experiences in Afghanistan. He didn't want another one-sided media report. He just wanted the truth told.

"War is ugly," he said. "Nothing good comes from war."

Haggard said he has attended more funerals than most people twice his age. Some of his "brothers," as he calls them, were killed in battle, while others committed suicide. Since returning home in 2013, five of the platoon's three dozen soldiers have died and at least four have been hospitalized following suicide attempts or struggles with drug or alcohol addiction, according to media reports.

"I look at them like my own blood," Haggard said quietly. "I would give anything to go back to that spot (in Afghanistan) with my brothers."

Haggard graduated from Princeton High School, then continued his football career at Campbellsville University in Kentucky. In his early 20s, he "didn't like the way" his life was going, so he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2010, following in the military footprints of his grandfather, father and brother.

Jacobsen called Haggard "a very interesting person" she enjoyed interviewing for her book, "First Platoon: A Story of Modern War in the Age of Identity Dominance."

"I can still see his face," she said.

In her book, Jacobsen writes about the platoon of young soldiers sent to Afghanistan whose experience ended "abruptly in tragedy" under 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, the disgraced former military leader who ordered the murder of Afghan civilians.

She said President Trump's pardon of Lorance was based on faulty information after biometric experts claimed the military's biometric evidence proved the men killed were terrorist bomb makers, not civilians.

She wrote about how the platoon was unwittingly involved in a Defense Department program to capture biometrics — fingerprints, iris scans, facial images, and DNA — on 80 percent of Afghanistan's population. All across Afghanistan, military forces were capturing biometric data in an effort called Identity Dominance.

Young American soldiers patrolled villages carrying small biometric collection devices to create a giant catalog, which would then be used as the database to compare criminal fingerprints pulled off bombs, Jacobsen wrote.

She said the soldiers were essentially acting like "cops on a beat."

"They did their jobs honorably," she said. "This became a great tragedy."

The book also details how these biometric programs have come to the U.S. She said the same systems are being used to "tag, track, and locate" Americans even before they commit crimes.

"Right here, right now," she said. "This just gives us another thing to worry about."

Haggard, who served in the Army for eight years, including four years in the reserves, is married. He and his wife, Holly, have three children from separate relationships. He works for a security company.

He was asked if he'll ever read Jacobsen's book.

The silence on the phone spoke volumes.