Way of the Reaper

Way of the Reaper

My Greatest Untold Missions and the Art of Being a Sniper

Nicholas Irving with Gary Brozek

St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2016, 304 pages

Book Review published on: April 6, 2018

Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Nicholas Irving aka “The Reaper” was one of the most successful snipers in recent military history. A native of Fort Meade, Maryland, and the son of Army veterans, Irving spent six years in the Army, much of that time forward deployed at the height of the Global War on Terrorism. From a Stryker driver to a sniper team leader, from Iraq to Afghanistan, Irving’s book captures the essence of the sniper motto, “Without Warning; Without Remorse.” The book title itself, Way of the Reaper: My Greatest Untold Missions and the Art of Being a Sniper, is a bit misleading. Yes, it is an action-packed thriller, which takes you on a wild ride with members of the elite 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment on some of their most perilous missions. However, it’s certainly much more than a bunch of Rambo-esque operators wreaking havoc on enemy forces with impunity. Interestingly, Way of the Reaper also illustrates the human side of war: fear, anxiety, pain, embarrassment, elation, relief, and guilt.

This is Irving‘s second book in the Reaper series, and coauthor Gary Brozek’s twentieth publication—six of those publications were New York Times best sellers. Irving, with the help of Brozek, lays out Way of the Reaper in an introspective manner with an easy-flowing conversational tone. At times, it can feel like you are sitting across a kitchen table from “Irv” listening to him matter-of-factly recount the numerous enemy fighters he and his sniper-partner Mike Pemberton dispatched on their deployments. Other times, it feels like you are running out of the back of a Stryker with an assault team under fire with your heart pounding in your ears or silently lying in wait on a rooftop next to “Irv” and Pemberton looking through a spotting scope at a potential high-value target.

This book centers on a series of extraordinary direct-action missions from Irving’s deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan that had a significant impact on his life. Although it is unconventional—and at times a bit onerous—his stories are not written in chronological order, and he clearly states in the preface that he wrote the book as “a series of memories and impressions.” However, each story is easy to follow because it has its own mini-plot with some applicable background information, a high degree of suspense, a climax, and a conclusion. Irving was a professional, a student of the game as evidenced by his borrowing techniques from Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock, a marine who was undeniably the greatest sniper of the Vietnam War. Unlike Hathcock, who at times laid in wait for days or inched his way into range for a firing solution, Irving and the 3rd Ranger Battalion missions were more hit and run, in and out, and smash and grab. The commonality between the two men may lie in the reason why they both became such prolific snipers: in Hathcock’s case, protecting young marines and in Irving’s case, his assault team.

Irving was someone who was always striving for perfection, always looking for that “one shot one kill” solution. What is truly refreshing about Way of the Reaper is Irvings’ brutal honesty, because in reality the “one shot one kill” solution does not always work out. There are clear “honesty” parallels between Way of the Reaper and the book American Sniper, the autobiography of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, with respect to honest reflection when writing about the physical and mental suffering associated with war. It is true “bullets don’t lie,” but people do, and they make mistakes too; this is a look into the inner workings of a man who shoulders the responsibility of death. Irving does not always get it right; he is at times scared out of his mind, afraid of heights, claustrophobic, and does the unthinkable countless times. His “memories and impressions” are deftly written with an emotional quality that connects you to each character and situation.

Way of the Reaper is a must read for anyone thinking about pursuing a military occupation specialty that involves direct-action combat. Specifically for that young soldier, sailor, airman, or marine who will, given today’s security environment, experience combat anxiety, the fog of war, confusion, embarrassment, death, and potentially failing to live up to his or her own expectations. Way of the Reaper is not a beginner’s guide to long-distance shooting or some systematic checklist you follow to becoming a master sniper. If you are an experienced shooter, you appreciate the art of long-distance shooting that Irving is talking about—minute of angle, Mil-dot reticle, data on previous engagements (or DOPE), wind drift, controlled breathing, distance, and drop calculations. Additionally, Irving weaves nuggets of leadership into his stories that apply equally to all service personnel and civilians throughout different stages of life. For example, who does not need to exercise more patience or honesty reflect on your job performance in order to avoid complacency? Although it is well written and easy to understand, there are a few editing errors throughout the book, none of which distract the reader from thoroughly enjoying it. Overall, the author’s knowledge, raw emotion, enthusiasm, and ability to capture the intangible elements of the human experience in war is evident throughout Way of the Reaper.

Book Review written by: Capt. James F. Buckley, U.S. Navy, Retired, Fort Belvoir, Virginia