The Warriors

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Published by: Putnam Adult
Release Date: July 11, 2013
ISBN13: 978-0399158476


Lieutenant Colonel Michael Parson has seen plenty of action lately, so he’s happy with his new assignment as safety officer at a Kyrgyzstan air base. It’s a pretty laid-back way to spend the next year.

Or so he thought. On his second day, a C-27 crashes on the runway with a load of electronic gear—and opium. Recruiting his battle companion Sergeant Major Sophia Gold as interpreter, he investigates not only the crash but the source of the cargo. The answers they find will lead them to intrigue that could ignite a new Balkan war.

Kirkus Reviews calls The Warriors “an expertly rendered tale of lingering hostilities rooted in the former Yugoslavia.”


“Yet another triumph of the fiction of contemporary warfare.”
The Dallas Morning News

“A terrific addition to what has become an exemplary series.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“An expertly rendered tale of lingering hostilities rooted in the former Yugoslavia.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Young experienced the events of the Balkan wars first hand, and his knowledge translates well to the page.”

“The author’s descriptions of the countryside of Serbia and Bosnia touch on the poetic…. Part of Tom Young’s attraction for readers is his sense of history and ability to explain the complicated origins of past conflicts.”
The Washington Independent Review of Books

“Another fine addition to Tom Young’s oeuvre.”

“With remarkable insight, the book probes the human heart…political leaders could benefit from wrestling with the profound and disturbing thoughts within this story.”
Military Writers Society of America


I discussed The Warriors in an “Eye on Books” interview with host Bill Thompson. Click here for a link to listen.

Backstory: The Story Behind The Warriors

Even now, when I hear music from the 1990s it puts me back at Delta Squadron headquarters at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, preparing for a flight into Bosnia or Kosovo. Those Air National Guard missions seemed otherworldly, flying relief supplies to a region where an ethnic group had been targeted for extinction.

This kind of thing wasn't supposed to happen anymore. After the Holocaust, the world had said never again. But it turned out the world didn't really mean it. Marshaling the forces to stop what was taking place in the former Yugoslavia took far too long. While thousands died, politicians vied for political advantage. Whether American congressman supported or opposed action seemed to depend on party affiliation. Academics split hairs over whether it was really genocide. (During that time, I worked as a journalist in civilian life, and the discussion reminded me of a macabre newsroom joke about when to use the word massacre. Not enough dead? Then here's the lead: Five people shot to death today narrowly avoided being massacred.)

While the debate in government halls and academia turned Kafkaesque, the dying on the ground was all too real. Images coming out of the Balkans--civilians shot dead by random sniper fire, prisoners so emaciated their ribs protruded--looked like something from the 1940s, except the pictures came in color, transmitted by satellite.

We flew our C-130s over shelled villages and besieged towns, sometimes delivering food and medicine, sometimes delivering weapons for NATO combat missions. In operations with names like Noble Anvil and Provide Promise, allied military personnel gave their best effort. But that effort came too late for at least a hundred thousand people.

We owe those dead, some of whom rest in mass graves, remembrance. Yet the conflict in the former Yugoslavia has become a forgotten war. Perhaps this novel offers a small reminder.

My villain, Viktor Dusic, is entirely fictitious. I know of no Serbian war criminal who became a wealthy arms dealer. But that would have been less outlandish than other events that did happen, such as Radovan Karadzic's transformation into an "Alternative Healer and Spiritual Explorer." The real-life Karadzic has published poetry, and the lines attributed to him in The Warriors are his own.

The literary masterpiece that Dusic misunderstands, The Mountain Wreath, is one of the most important works of the Serbian canon. Published in 1847, it is a play written in folk verse, not a political tract.

My novel's historical references, including the murder of the Bosnian Romeo and Juliet, come right out of the era's headlines. On May 19, 1993, Admira Ismic and Bosko Brkic were shot to death on the Vrbanje Bridge in Sarajevo. According to reports, Ismic and Brkic had dated for years, and they were buried together. She was a Muslim; he was a Christian. In my novel, the character Stefan pulled the trigger. The real gunman has never been identified.

Dusic's flashback to a cruise missile strike by the USS Normandy is also based on an actual event. During the Bosnian War, the Normandy launched an attack on an air defense control site. As of this writing, she remains in active service.

Through the characters of Dragan and Irena, I hope I have presented the better angels of Serbian culture. To create those characters, I took inspiration from Serbian-Americans I have known, including a favorite college professor, and a pilot with whom I shared many enjoyable hours in the cockpit. I believe Dragan and Irena, and the professor and the pilot, represent the vast majority of that proud and storied people.

The Rivet Joint aircraft described in The Warriors is real, though my portrayal of its procedures is speculative. The Rivet Joint's true capabilities and methods are classified, and I have never served with the electronic warfare community.

The novel's depiction of Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan is fairly true to life. The American commanders at Manas, like my character Webster, often come from reserve components of the Air Force. I wrote the description of the base's coffee shop from memory, right down to the cat. Who knows? Maybe the cat's still there, sleeping on the lap of some off-duty aviator, providing a moment of calm and normalcy.

As The Warriors goes to press, twentieth anniversaries approach for some of the worst events of the Balkans wars. I hope we will take time to reflect on those events, and to consider the costs of turning a blind eye to things we'd rather not face.



A cold front swept across the steppes of Central Asia like an invading army. The wedge of dense, frigid air slid underneath warmer air, lifting the warm air higher until thunderheads spawned and stalked through Kyrgyzstan. The black clouds assaulted the terrain with lightning, and booms reverberated like the peals of distant air strikes.

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