I could see on the Afghani faces that they were unsure of what to make of us. Some of the children waved, while other people just seemed to disappear. I heard a report on the radio that our interpreter, through reliable sources, had overhead the locals calling us ‘the new evil.’
-They Called Us The New Evil, Memories from Afghanistan 2006-2008
Marvin MacNeill never set out to write a book, never thought of himself as an author.
He spent his life in service to the country, joining the military shortly after graduating from high school. His unit was the Lord Strathcona’s Horse out of Edmonton, and he became a member of a tank crew that went to war-torn countries like Bosnia, Afghanistan and Kosovo. Working in tanks over the last few decades in these theatres of operations has given him a unique perspective of battle and peacekeeping.
And it’s given him a lifetime of stories that need to be told.
Still, he never thought of himself of an author. Then, one day he received an email from Strathcona that they wanted to put together some stories for a project. They wanted submissions. MacNeill started writing about Afghanistan. He started writing about funny things that happened overseas, and the not-so-funny things.
“It snowballed, one story after another,” he says, sitting in his Sardis dining room. He ended up delivering 100 pages of stories to the unit, and left it with them. When nothing seemed to be happening months or maybe a year later, he went back to inquire. Turned out they didn’t get much other than MacNeill’s and the project had been dropped.
“I thought, well, I’m going to run with it and do it on my own,” he says.
So it was back to the keyboard, and he completed the first version of They Called Us The New Evil. That first edition is a beautiful, large bound book with a solid black hardcover, and only three exist. He laid out the pages himself and had them published at Staples; one for himself, one for each of his parents for Christmas last year. The book was a hit among family and friends.
MacNeill’s candid recounts of war have been well-received by his colleagues who were in the battlefield with him, and also with a well-established military publisher in England, Michael Shackleton.
“He picked it up right away,” MacNeill says, and polished his original work into a more professional format. MacNeill browses through the manuscript on his computer, comparing the font, the photos, the cover and other elements to his first efforts. Both are an accomplishment and he’s equally proud of them. But again, it’s not something he’s ever strived for and his modesty is evident. Along with MacNeill’s own retelling of his experiences in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2008, there is an accurate account of machinery there, tactical gear, and countless intriguing photographs for any military enthusiast or history buff.
He’s purchased several copies of the book himself, to ensure he can get them into the hands of his friends and family. But anyone can purchase them online from the publisher, Trackpad Publishing, or in town from Joint Force Tactical in the Garrison Village.
Stories to tell
It was 1999 and MacNeill and his unit were transporting displaced Albanian Muslims through Kosovo as peacekeepers.
“We were going through a village and I was shot in the head,” he says. “But nobody knew what happened. I blacked out.”
He fell backward into his fellow crew without a mark, and woke up sometime later. What followed was a series of medical transports, treatments and confusion that took about a week. They thought maybe he’d had a brain aneurysm, and sent him to a British medical hospital in the area. They did a spinal tap six times, without getting any fluid out. Next they flew him to an American unit for a CT scan, only to learn the scanner was broken. He was sent to Macedonia, and Germany, and nobody knew what was wrong with him.
He was sent back to Kosovo a week later, with no answers, and he was worried about his health.
When he got to his bunk, he saw his helmet and picked it up. He removed the camouflage and saw the answer — a bullet hole on one side, and an exit hole on the other.
“This was a hotbed of activity we were in but they weren’t known for engaging so nobody thought of it,” he says.
He went back for three more tours, and was released in February 2017, with a formal retirement as Warrant Officer a few months later.