‘The Unforgiving Minute’ poignant memoir

Lori Vetrano

Craig M. Mullaney’s memoir “The Unforgiving Minute” is a vivid, fascinating portrayal of a man’s extraordinary journey to become a U.S. Army soldier.

Mullaney’s memoir is an eloquent, honest look at the brutal education of a soldier and a deeply provocative read into the kind of life-changing challenges that, fortunately, most of us will never know — from West Point to Oxford University, and, eventually to Iraq, Mullaney experiences a full, but uncommon life.

The moment that Mullaney enters the U.S. Military Academy, commonly known as West Point, as an 18-year-old new cadet, he begins an unparalleled education. 

During his freshman year at West Point — known as the plebe year — Mullaney endures the hardships that accompany his place on the bottom of the military school food chain. 

On his first day of the six-week West Point preparation (“Beast Barracks”), his squad leader wastes no time in telling the cadets that they are no longer individuals and that they must earn their education, instead of the other way around. 

Everything is routine at West Point; wearing the uniforms, studying for classes and even simply eating a meal must all be done in a precise way and has ghastly consequences if not done correctly. 

“No excuse” is the only acceptable explanation for failure. 

As Mullaney says, “Plebe year was survival…endurance…obedience, discipline and conformity.” 

After plebe year comes Buckner camp (guerilla training in the summer), the much less demanding sophomore (“Yearling”) year, more training at Buckner and then Airborne camp, where Mullaney learns how to jump out of airplanes. 

“The whole point of Airborne School, it seemed, was to frustrate us so much that we would do anything, even jump out of a perfectly good airplane, in order to graduate,” he writes. 

During his senior, or “Firstie,” year, Mullaney describes his application process for the Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University to further his education.

 Upon being rewarded the scholarship, Mullaney must first endure the Ranger School, where the word “surrender” is not permitted.

 After two months of painful marathon training, near-sleepless nights and horrifying obstacle courses, Mullaney finally manages to graduate as an Airborne Ranger and arrives at Oxford.

Arriving at the University, Mullaney finds a breath of fresh, military-free air among the academic rigor surrounding the university — and also finds his future wife, an intelligent and beautiful Indian woman named Meena. 

During his time at the school, the 9/11 attacks occur, and Mullaney realizes that he must change what he is to do after completing his degree.

After living what seemed to be a blissful dream and life of “normalcy” for two years filled with studying, traveling and dating Meena, Mullaney snaps back to his reality and comes home to America to prepare for war. 

In 2003, Mullaney is deployed to Afghanistan as the leader of his platoon and realizes he must now put his years of military schooling and training to the test. 

What his training hasn’t prepared him for, he writes, are the emotional burdens that come along with the responsibility of being in charge of his soldiers’ lives. 

After one of his platoon members is killed by Al-Qaeda, Mullaney learns that no amount of instruction or studying could have prepared him for such a loss.

Announced as this year’s annual One Book Villanova, free copies of “The Unforgiving Minute” have been available on campus throughout the semester.

Craig M. Mullaney is scheduled to speak on campus about his education and experiences as a soldier, as well as answer audience questions about the novel during the Spring 2011 semester. Date and time are to be determined.