Sunday, April 19, 2009

Recent reading on the GWOT

I've often thought and occasionally said that my second greatest regret in life is not "having served." I've recently finished two and and am starting a third first-hand account of service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Knowing what I know now, had I served (even in my prime) I'd have been extremely lucky just to have made it through basic training and then headed off for a life as a JAG officer, at best, or some kind of Radar (O'Reilly, that is) clerk, at worst.

The first I read was David Bellavia’s House to House. What struck me most was the absolutely honest description of the horrors of battle. Shamelessly lifted from the Amazon site:

Product Description

One of the great heroes of the Iraq War, Staff Sergeant David Bellavia captures the brutal action and raw intensity of leading his Third Platoon, Alpha Company, into a lethally choreographed kill zone: the booby-trapped, explosive-laden houses of Fallujah's militant insurgents. Bringing to searing life the terrifying intimacy of hand-to-hand infantry combat, this stunning war memoir features an indelibly drawn cast of characters, not all of whom would make it out of the city alive, as well as chilling accounts of Bellavia's singular courage: Entering one house alone, he used every weapon at his disposal in the fight of his life against America's most implacable enemy.

The next was Marcus Lutrell’s Lone Survivor. Also pilfered from the Amazon site:

Product Description

Four US Navy SEALS departed one clear night in early July 2005 for the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border for a reconnaissance mission. Their task was to document the activity of an al Qaeda leader rumored to be very close to Bin Laden with a small army in a Taliban stronghold. Five days later, only one of those Navy SEALS made it out alive.

This is the story of the only survivor of Operation Redwing, SEAL fire team leader Marcus Luttrell, and the extraordinary firefight that led to the largest loss of life in American Navy SEAL history. His squadmates fought valiantly beside him until he was the only one left alive, blasted by an RPG into a place where his pursuers could not find him. Over the next four days, terribly injured and presumed dead, Luttrell crawled for miles through the mountains and was taken in by sympathetic villagers who risked their lives to keep him safe from surrounding Taliban warriors.

A born and raised Texan, Marcus Luttrell takes us from the rigors of SEAL training, where he and his fellow SEALs discovered what it took to join the most elite of the American special forces, to a fight in the desolate hills of Afghanistan for which they never could have been prepared. His account of his squadmates' heroism and mutual support renders an experience that is both heartrending and life affirming. In this rich chronicle of courage and sacrifice, honor and patriotism, Marcus Luttrell delivers a powerful narrative of modern war.

This one touched me pretty deeply as his love for Texas and his country (no secessionist here) really comes through. Even more so, his love for his fallen comrades really touched me. Also, he really explores one thing that I really admire about the Muslim (in particular, the Pashtun culture), the concept of lokhay, an extraordinary concept of hospitality. If one offers you shelter, food, er..., hospitality, one will risk one's life, family, and entire village to preserve that hospitality.

Most touching, and I had to remove my contacts to read through the tears, was the way his east Texas community came to the moral support of his family while he was missing.

He had two insights on the US Press that I found very disturbing. Caveat: these insights may ruin the whole account for those not of my political bent though the book was an NYT bestseller and I'm not sure righties alone can get a book that high on the list.

Finally, I haven't read this one yet but heard the author interviewed on the Bill Bennett show. I'm particularly interested in this because the author Donovan Campbell mentioned a crisis of faith as a result of his experience. Also, because my Dad was a marine.

This one is called Joker One:

Product Description

After graduating from Princeton, Donovan Campbell, motivated by his unwavering patriotism and commitment, decided to join the service, realizing that becoming a Marine officer would allow him to give back to his country, engage in the world, and learn to lead. In this immediate, thrilling, and inspiring memoir, Campbell recounts a timeless and transcendent tale of brotherhood, courage, and sacrifice.

As commander of a forty-man infantry platoon called Joker One, Campbell had just months to train and transform a ragtag group of brand-new Marines into a first-rate cohesive fighting unit, men who would become his family: Sergeant Leza, the house intellectual who read Che Guevara; Sergeant Mariano Noriel, the “Filipino ball of fire” who would become Campbell’s closest confidant and friend; Lance Corporal William Feldmeir, a narcoleptic who fell asleep during battle; and a lieutenant known simply as “the Ox,” whose stubborn aggressiveness would be more curse than blessing.

Campbell and his men were assigned to Ramadi, that capital of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province that was an explosion just waiting to happen. And when it did happen–with the chilling cries of “Jihad, Jihad, Jihad!” echoing from minaret to minaret–Campbell and company were there to protect the innocent, battle the insurgents, and pick up the pieces. After seven months of day-to-day, house-to-house combat, nearly half of Campbell’s platoon had been wounded, a casualty rate that went beyond that of any Marine or Army unit since Vietnam. Yet unlike Fallujah, Ramadi never fell to the enemy.Told by the man who led the unit of hard-pressed Marines, Joker One is a gripping tale of a leadership, loyalty, faith, and camaraderie throughout the best and worst of times.


Stephanie said...

I hear a veteran/author talking about his book in an NPR interview this week and he had some negative things to say about press coverage (but nothing I didn't think was fair). He talked about the hospitality concept so I'm wondering if it was the middle one, Marcus Lutrell. They didn't say his name while I was listening. Left me wanting to read it.

love johnson said...

Just after the Lutrell book came out, I heard him on some Laura Ingraham/Dennis Prager/Michael Medved type show. Very soft-spoken. Very pained by the death of his fellow soldiers, especially his Lt. I went out the next day and bought the book, read it in a day or 2.

I also heard the Joker One guy on with Prager just a few weeks ago. He had some very pointed opinions about the press, but I thought his views sounded fair IF the events and conversations he related were true and accurate (which I have no reason to not believe).