Mark Lamendola, author of over 4,000 articles.
While many people expect a book written about a war topic to be an academic
tome that discusses dry things like tactics, or to be a post-war propaganda
piece, this book is neither. Where this book is strong is in its human
side--we see the people in the war, not the war with people in it.
The writing is strong, and the book maintains a
fast pace. It's entertaining, because it looks at the situation and
the people involved. At times, you can almost feel the desert sand in
Atkinson adds wit to observation, and provides us
with an insider's view of the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army
during its mission in Iraq. While Major General (two-star) Petraeus
is de facto the star of the book (and he's pretty much a force of nature
in his own right), Atkinson skillfully gives others--both above and
below Petraeus in command--a voice. There are no cardboard caricatures
and no bit players. It's not a book about a general or handful of officers
commanding legions of storm troopers or faceless soldiers. Everyone
is important. Atkinson shows this with distinctly personal quotes--sometimes
hilarious ones--from people at all levels in the 101st.
We get into the spirit of the 101st, pick up the
lingo, and learn a significant amount about the military very early--and
very easily--in the book. I like that.
This book doesn't begin with tanks clanking across
the terrain or with pilots heading off toward the enemy strongpoints.
It begins in a Shoney's parking lot in Hopkinsville, KY. From there,
it goes to Fort Campbell, KY. The real saga of any military campaign
begins in such places, and this is something Atkins shows in a clear
and entertaining way. And it is here we begin to see the staggering
importance of logistics. We later see how mistake in logistics created
problems for Petraeus and others in the 101st, and how they made tough
choices because of those problems.
This book held two surprises for me.
First, anyone who grew up in the Vietnam Era and/or
watched episodes of Air Wolf (Ernest Borgnine, Jan Michael Vincent)
or Tour of Duty has this idea that the helicopter is an awesome
weapon of war and the symbol of American power on the battlefield. This
is apparently what American planners at the highest level thought at
the beginning of the the Iraqi War. The reality is quite different.
But, Atkinson doesn't spout an armchair general opinion as though he's
some kind of expert. He lets us see this through the eyes of General
Petraeus, the pilots, Lieutenant General (three star) Wallace, and others.
These are people who assessed the first--and ill-fated--Apache assault
mission (not flown by the 101st, but by a different company) and developed
a very different way of deploying helicopters. A way that proved to
work very well. It's this kind of inside view that makes this book so
I got my second surprise when I came upon the many
captioned photos at the center of the book. These put faces with the
names and added depth to an already enjoyable book.
Unfortunately, there's a fly in the ointment. Atkinson
included leftist political remarks that simply fell short of the caliber
of the rest of the book, and I found this jarring. It's as if Atkinson
wants the reader to know he's a product of the liberal left and oblivious
to the mainstream point of view. I hope a future edition has this editorializing
edited out. Yet, I still enjoyed the book. I would have enjoyed it more
if the author had focused on telling the story. It was a good story.
In fact, it was an excellent story. I would sum it up in two words:
"Air Assault!" Read the book and you'll know what that means.