Where Youth and Laughter Go

With "The Cutting Edge" in Afghanistan

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Where Youth and Laughter Go completes LtCol Seth Folsom’s recounting of his personal experiences in command over a decade of war. It is the culminating chapter of a trilogy that began with The Highway War: A Marine Company Commander in Iraq in 2006 and continued with In the Gray Area: A Marine Advisor Team at War in 2010.

The chronicle of Folsom’s command of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, “The Cutting Edge,” and his harrowing deployment to Afghanistan’s volatile Sangin District presents a deeper look into the complexities and perils of modern counterinsurgency operations in America’s longest war. Charged with the daunting task of pacifying a region with a long history of violence and instability, Folsom and his Marines struggled daily to wage a dynamic campaign against the shadowy enemy force that held Sangin’s population firmly in its grip. With peace and stability always teetering on the brink of collapse, the Marines of “The Cutting Edge” confronted their own mortality as they conducted endless patrols through Sangin’s minefields while fighting to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan villagers.

No other books have been published from the perspective of a Marine infantry battalion commander in Afghanistan. It was Folsom’s job, as the unit commander, to lead his Marines under impossible circumstances. LtCol Folsom made the unusual decision to patrol with his rifle squads every day through Sangin, where his Marines dodged improvised explosive devices and sniper fire from an invisible enemy. As his tour progressed and casualties mounted, he found his objectivity evaporating and the love for his men growing. Where Youth and Laughter Go is more than a blood-and-guts war story, it is a jarring, “boots on the ground”–level examination of the myriad challenges and personal dilemmas that today’s young service members face as the United States approaches its final endgame in Afghanistan.

About the Author

Editorial Reviews

“Meant to demonstrate incredible courage and bravery exemplified by an experienced fighting force serving in the Sangin Valley just a year prior, Folsom shows war is personal.” Aviation Digest
“The author recounts his experiences commanding the US 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment (known as 'The Cutting Edge') in the Sangin District of Afghanistan, a violent and unstable region that presented US troops with abundant challenges as they carried out counter-insurgency operations against Taliban forces.” —Survival: Global Politics and Strategy
“This book is destined to become a classic on unconventional warfare. The author's writing draws the reader into the scene being presented whether on the battlefield or elsewhere. Anyone seeking to prepare themselves to lead men and woman into battle cannot go wrong by reading this book.” —Naval Historical Foundation
“This book is a masterpiece that draws you from the first page. You ask yourself, What would I do if I commanded a thousand Marines in a hellhole like Sangin? This is the textbook of agonizing combat leadership, when the task is beyond the battalion's control. Nation-building was a mistake that our policymakers and generals refused to admit. Only grit, love for each other and self-pride kept our grunts going. Here is the raw, unflinching truth all infantry battalions knowùthe story of the American fighting man in Afghanistan.” —Bing West, combat Marine, assistant secretary of defense and best-selling author of The Wrong War and One Million Steps
Where Youth and Laughter Go is by no stretch of the imagination a laughing matter. Lieutenant Colonel Folsom, commander of 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, describes his unit, men, and mission with the knowledge of a seasoned coach and the respect of a loving father. He does this with the eye of a leader who takes charge and leads by example, walking numerous patrols with his men without special regard for himself or the difficult conditions 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, must live and operate in. His descriptions and recounting of what transpired during the deployment is as real as real can get–a worthwhile read that brings you into the world of this battalion and keeps you there through the epilogue. It leaves the reader with the distinct impression, as it did for many Afghan children in the Sangin District, 'Marines good' (p. 348).” —Marine Corps History
“Be warned, the battles do not end when Folsom and his marines come home. Anyone who has felt the uneasy press of a crowd, heard the unmistakable crump of an IED, smelled the fear of the wounded, watched helplessly as insurgents plant IEDs, or tasted greasy lamb and pale green tea will revisit those experiences with Folsom as he grapples with the unease he feels in his own country and his own home. This is perhaps the most personal part of the book, that which lays bare the struggle of coming home and adjusting to what was once considered normal. This book is worth revisiting. America faces weighty decisions in the years ahead, and Folsom's experience is instructive. There are limits to what can be done. If you debated the strategy of the surge, or if you believe it didn't last long enough, or if you believe we ought to go back again, you should read this book.” —The Strategy Bridge
“A visceral, first-hand account of Marines at war in the Taliban sanctuary of Helmand Province and of the grinding, brutal reality of combat, command, and counterinsurgency. A timeless classic in the tradition of Bing West's The Village.–Daniel R. Green, Defense Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and co-author of Fallujah Redux: The Anbar Awakening and the Struggle with al-Qaeda
Where Youth and Laughter Go is an unusually candid, detailed account of what it's like to prepare and lead a battalion of US Marines on deployment to one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan. Lt. Col. Folsom's insights into the leadership, tactical and personal challenges posed by operations in Sangin at the tail end of an uncertain war contain valuable, hard-won lessons for future counterinsurgent leaders and students of the conflict.” —Bill Ardolino, associate editor of The Long War Journal and author of Fallujah Awakens: Marines, Sheikhs, and the Battle against al Qaeda
Where Youth and Laughter Go is a compelling read that offers a unique perspective into the war in Afghanistan. Folsom makes his part of the war in the Sangin Valley come alive for the American reader by sharing anecdotes and incidents that occurred during his command. Put together, these experiences tell a bigger story that allows the reader to appreciate the difficulties of a commander who has to reconcile strategic considerations with operational problems on a daily basis. Especially for civilian readers whose main source of information about the war is general newspaper coverage, this book is highly recommended.” —The Huffington Post
“This narrative from the front line–which happens to be anywhere you happen to walk–is also the third memoir by a Marine who keeps a journal and notebooks and who is fond of Stephen King and World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon, from whom he borrows the title: 'You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye | who cheer when soldier lads march by, sneak home and pray you'll never know | the hell where youth and laughter go.' Telling about his unit, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, the 'Cutting Edge,' he presents a tribute to, and a testament of, youthful Marines who become 'ethical warriors,' become men, in Sangin, 'a place where death and dismemberment – which now certainly included decapitation – stalked us at every turn.' Ten years after 9/11, Folsom lifts a dead lance corporal's head and feels 'the shattered pottery of his destroyed skull against my hands.' This sitrep has sensitivity. Folsom writes to reconcile my experiences, to make sense of the senseless. In doing so, he makes plenty of sense.” —Military Times
“LtCol Folsom writes with eloquence and passion, and his impactful book details the myriad challenges faced by the battalion during the beginning of the critical turnover period. He ably reports on his unit's trials and tribulations while fighting in a faraway land: faraway in both historical time and distance. During their seven-month tour, the Marines of 3/7 lost seven killed and a larger number severely wounded. They fought the good fight and skillfully weathered the extreme culture clash that accompanied the pending handoff to the Afghan national forces. Well-written, sir. Your love and deep respect for the Marines and sailors of 3/7 rings true!” —Leatherneck
“This brings me back to the book's proper audience. Marines who have been to Sangin or Helmand don't need to read it; living through it once is enough. But this book should be placed in the hands of every general, every Beltway politician and pundit, and every civilian blessedly untouched by the conflict. They need to read it, so that the actions of 3/7, and every sailor and Marine who waded through a canal or patrolled through moondust, are remembered and honored. They need to know what they have asked the best American youth to do and have some idea of the hell that brought them home aged and mirthless. Several times Folsom observes that people back home will not understand what his Marines experienced. The public never truly will; but, reading this book, at least they will no longer be ignorant.”Marine Corps Gazette