AJ CROCKETT HAD TWO SEEMINGLY OPPOSING SKILLS: he was a fast runner and a crack shot. His explosive foot speed earned him the nickname "The Crockett Rocket," and a reputation as the fastest white boy Crockett County had ever seen. His starting leg on the 4x400 relay team helped make tiny, backwater Crockett High a contender for the state championship.

But his ability to engage such a "blast-off" level of energy in track wasn't nearly as impressive to his friends as his ability to achieve a level of calmness so pure that he seemed to turn to stone with a rifle or pistol in his hands. Nothing was safe when he turned his sights toward it: a rat scurrying through a woodpile, a cottonmouth swimming in swampwater, a rabbit zig-zagging through the briars, a deer loping across a distant hillside.

After high school he joined the Army and became a sniper in Afghanistan and Iraq. Three dozen confirmed kills. And then one day on patrol he made a mistake, and a bomb tore off both his legs and his balls, and left a sliver of a little girl's cranium lodged dangerously close to his spinal cord.

But he could never tell anyone why he made that mistake--he could not confess what he saw that made him lose his legendary discipline and expose himself to save a little girl when he should have stayed back. He just told his doctors and therapists that he saw the enemy. He didn't tell them it was an enemy from back home.

And so when he got back to Alabama, when he recovered from his wounds enough to walk again, he started the Crockett Militia. And he prepared for a final war in Hell's Back Forty.


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