No matter a war’s outcome, the soldier never wins. – Andrew Exum
It’s early 2000. Meet Andrew Exum: outdoorsman, Army Ranger, platoon leader, and Ivy League graduate. A son of the South, Exum grew up exploring, trapping, and raising cain wherever he went. But deep inside, he aspired to something greater. He wanted to be a Ranger. He wanted to serve his country.
This Man’s Army: A Soldier’s Story from the Frontlines of the War on Terrorism chronicles Exum’s ascent from lowly ROTC cadet (is that even the proper term?) to leading a platoon of Special Forces in Kuwait. Using the skills that won him awards an an Army journalist, he weaves a narrative of war, patriotism, and coming to terms with killing. From the swamps of boot camp to the terrorist-laden caves, he keeps the pace moving. There’s never a dull moment for a 23 year old platoon leader.
Exum is an intriguing mix of classical scholar quoting the ancients, brilliant strategist, and young hot-blooded male ready to fight anyone at any time. One second he’s quoting Euripedes and bidding his mother to stay stoic like the Greek mothers of old, and the next he’s dropping f-bombs like flower seeds on fresh tilled ground. Although he’s been carefully trained to kill, the first casualty causes him to look deep in his soul. It’s one of the defining moments of the book. He has to wrestle with the holier-than-thou attitudes that make him want to chuck his faith. The chaplains who tell him that it was God’s will for him to kill. He’s left soul-searching, trying to come to terms with what he believes and what he’s been told.
I picked up the book on a whim – walking through the library, looking for something a little bit different than my normal blog fodder. I live in a military city and it never hurts to learn more about the people who make it up. I loved the book. Though not for everyone (if you can’t stand cursing….you’ll probably want to skip this one), I appreciated the glimpse into the mind of the men who have fought for our freedom. The men who lead their peers into war, steeling themselves to face the reality that not all of them will be coming home. I laughed at the antics that the young soldiers pulled, cringed at the things they had to endure, and came from the book respecting them a whole lot more.
After his tours, Exum made a name for himself as a military analyst. He’s currently a Fellow of the Center for a New American Security.