"Joker One' in Ramadi

Dallas Morning News:

The story of Joker One is war at its most intimate level.

This unblinking, almost claustrophobic account follows one unit of men caught up in something incomprehensibly larger, who realize quickly that they have no one else but their buddies to get them through and, they hope, home again.

Author Donovan Campbell, who now lives in Dallas with his wife and young daughter, had spent a no-obligation summer in the Marines' Officer Candidate School. And despite his own reservations, he left college with an Ivy League sheepskin and found himself choosing the military over corporate America because he wanted responsibility for something greater than himself.

The green Marine lieutenant finds it fast when he's assigned to lead Joker One, the first platoon of Golf Company in the Second Battalion of the 4th Marine Regiment.

His ragtag unit of country boys and émigrés and a narcoleptic who falls asleep under stress rolls into Ramadi, Iraq, in March 2004, part of a 120-member unit responsible for maintaining the peace in this tinderbox of a half-million people. And while you're at it, they're told, try winning over the hearts and minds of the populace, too.


Campbell, a deft writer who must be an obsessive diarist, recounts his unit's 7 ½ -month tour in powerful, exacting detail, from a U.S. major's babbling incoherency after an attack to the way a rocket-propelled grenade skipped down the street before finally hitting something solid enough to detonate it.

He tells it all with lyrical grace.

After one harrowing firefight, Joker One is ordered to move out, and Campbell turns and runs from the compound they'd just breached.

"A stream of tracers passed smoothly through the spot where I had just been standing," he writes. "Corporal Brown stared at me wide-eyed as I ran past him.

"When I got to Easy, a beautiful sight greeted my eyes. Weapons Company ... had arrived on the scene with Humvees equipped with heavy .50-caliber machine guns and Mark-19s, our automatic grenade launchers. The Marks were dusting off the rooftops of the buildings lining Easy while the .50-cals slammed through their walls in their wonderful, slowly rhythmic thumping."


These kind of stories give a good feel for the face of battle. They make up for their lack of context with the raw emotion of being there and experiencing the blows that lead to a change that eventually takes place as a result of the battles. It sounds like a good read.


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