Sunday, June 22, 2008

Twice Armed: An American Soldier's Battle For Hearts & Minds In Iraq by Lt. Col. R. Alan King

While serving as a senior civil-military advisor in Baghdad, U.S. Army Lt. Col. R. Alan King disarmed several potentially dangerous situations with a weapon few members of the Coalition Provisional Authority possessed: quotations from the Qur'ran.

Twice Armed: An American Soldier's Battle for Hearts and Minds in Iraq begins as the first American forces in Iraq in April 2003. King's civil affairs unit acted as liaison between the military, civil authorities, and the local population. It was a job with extraordinary challenges – in the early days of the occupation, various Iraqi exiles returned to Baghdad to declare themselves mayor or sheriff, and tempers flared during the endless summer power outages. But King found success through bringing faith to the battlefield. He estimates that he met with over 3,000 sheiks, praying with them and asking for their help to rebuild Iraq. And those relationships earned him a reputation for fairness and respect for Islam that led several people on the "most-wanted" list to seek him out and surrender to him personally; he even met with Muhammad Saeed al-Sahaf, a.k.a. "Baghdad Bob", the former Iraqi Minister of Information.

But King also writes with pain at the memory of close friends who were killed in combat, both from his battalion and the Iraqis who worked with them, and he reflects with frustration on dealings with military bureaucracy and critical blunders that cost him some of that hard-earned trust.

R. Alan King was awarded two Bronze Stars for Valor, two Bronze Stars for achievement, and the Combat Action Badge. He is currently an active reserve member of the U.S. Army, and returned from his most recent service in Iraq in October 2007. He has appeared on NBC, CNN, Fox News, and other networks as a military commentator.

Twice Armed won the 2008 Colby Award, which recognizes a first work of fiction or non-fiction that has made a significant contribution to the public's understanding of intelligence operations, military history or international affairs. Named for the late Ambassador and former CIA Director William E. Colby, the Colby Award has been presented annually by the William E. Colby Military Writers' Symposium at Norwich University, the nation's oldest private military college, since 1999.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My Father's Secret War: A Memoir by Lucinda Franks

My Father's Secret War: A Memoir is the best book I've read in a long time. This is no surprise being written by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Lucinda Franks. It reads more like a novel, than a memoir.

The book is both an intellectual search for an understanding of her father's secret past as a spy in World War II as well as a heart-wrenching story of the complexities of the author's relationship with him. What makes this book so very compelling is the honesty and poetic telling of naked truths in a truly real family drama. Everything is here: burning hatred and welcome forgiveness, love’s disappointments, parent’s failings, alcoholism, psychological torture, adultery, rebellion, revelation and resolution.

We care deeply as the author so desperately searches to understand why her relationship with her father had changed from childhood adoration to hatred, because of his alcoholic withdrawal. This is a universal story of every daughter's struggle to know and forgive her father as he ages and declines. This author's telling is unbelievably poignant. A must read!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams


Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams is about being a young female in the US Army and her deployment to Iraq for a year with the 101st Airborne.

Kayla Williams was an Arabic linguist. Thirty-four years ago, I came off active duty as an US Army officer. Ms. Williams’s book made me reflect back to all the women soldiers I worked with, lead, and knew.

This is a good military memoir. While grit and rough language are on almost every page, what shines through is an intelligent young woman serving her country and putting up with all a woman experiences in the military. It appears little has change since back in my day.

We learn of her role as an Arabic linguist. She tells us how she feels her skills could have been used better with direct contact with the population as oppose to routine intelligence gathering. Particularly interesting are her experiences with leadership while in Iraq as well as her questioning the war in Iraq’s day-to-day conduct without looking at the logic and underlying rationale.

On the light side – her tale of the birth control glasses is funny, but true. Put those military black framed Drew Carey or Woody Allen styled glasses on any man or woman and instantly they are effective birth control. Why? They make people unattractive thus scaring off members of the opposite sex. It is a book worth reading.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Foot Soldier by Rocky Blunt, Jr


Foot Soldier by Rocky Blunt, Jr is well written, interesting, and gives the point of view of the common infantryman or in this case anti tank platoon member of the 84th Infantry Division. "Rocky" Blunt did a nice job writing the book. You will not be disappointed. The book was read by Jimmie Kepler in June 2005. This is the short review (blurb) I wrote for the Military History Book Club in June 2005. It was used to promote the book when the book was was a monthly club selection.