Ok, I have to admit- I've been struggling with this one. I'm a bit torn, for several reasons which will become clear in a moment. But first, I want to let my good friend CSM Steve Valley say a few words on this book- he took the time to read it and send me a review; Steve and I served in Baghdad together, near the same time as this author David Abrams. I wanted another set of eyes on this to see if it were only my perceptions that were skewed. From the good CSM:
I’ll admit, as an Army Public Affairs officer that served in Baghdad for more than a year, I was really looking forward to reading David Abram’s book “Fobbit”. Abrams is a retired Army Master Sergeant that served at Camp Liberty, Iraq in 2005 with the Third Infantry Division Public Affairs Office and if anyone was going to write about the complex workings of the Army’s wartime communications machine from an insider’s perspective then this would be it
“Fobbit” received numerous accolades and wonderful reviews by the biggest names in book reviewers including the trio of heavyweights—the New York Times, Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. This of course made me think in the back of my head that the book is either the instant classic the media portrayed it as (which I really thought it would be considering that a Soldier wrote it) or it was going to be a book that made a joke of my fellow REMFs that did great work even though there never left the Forward Operating Base (FOB) for their entire tour in Iraq.
Unfortunately for me, the latter of the two scenarios was the truth as “Fobbit” gave neither an accurate portrayal of a senior enlisted public affairs NCO or for that fact, any Soldier written about in this work. Although “Fobbit” is a novel with supposedly fictional characters, Abrams based it on his journal that he kept during his year tour of duty in Iraq, so I bet you can picture Abram’s former office mates arepracticing their basic rifle marksmanship with his face as the target because of how he portrays them in the book.
Before I delve into why this book didn’t measure up to me let me clear the air and say that David Abrams is a wonderfully talented writer that shouldn’t have to worry about signing a multi-project book deal with a major publishing house. He’s master story teller that has got a real gift for prose. The Army has very few of these mucho-talented scribes and it will miss Abrams because he is that good. His words flow magically from page to page and he has created a great work of fiction, the key word being fiction, because in my opinion, this book doesn’t come close to describing how a real public affairs office operated in Iraq looked like.
I saw first-hand both a corps/division public affairs office at Baghdad’s Camp Victory and the Combined Press Information Center (CPIC) in the Green Zone and each of them differed greatly from the public affairs shops Abrams describes in Fobbit. I saw great PAOs and some that didn’t know the difference between an off-the-record interview and a live press conference, but both organizations thrived in the daily quagmire working public affairs in Baghdad during one of the most significant periods of times of the war.
On a daily basis I worked with lower enlisted Soldiers that completed the most difficult of missions while senior officers navigated impressively through the massive levels of bureaucracy which made it nearly impossible to put out an effective command message, never mind the right message. These people cared about their job and how the war was being portrayed back home, but this facet of conducting public affairs during was was never mentioned by Abrams.
Instead, Abrams ridiculed every level of Soldier portrayed in “Fobbit”, from an impatient and micromanaging chief of staff to an incompetent staff of commissioned public affairs officers hiding under their desks to avoid senior leadership, to a completely useless and embarrassing infantry company commander that ends up being the focal point of the story; as if anyone this pathetic would actually be allowed to serve as a commissioned officer in today’s Army.
The main crux of the story is how the U.S. military is deciding on how to report the 2,000th warrior killed in action in Iraq. The military is hoping for a story of heroics as U.S. forces reach this horrific milestone, while in actuality the 2,000th killed in action is none other than the utterly useless example of a disgraced infantry captain who was relieved from command after making bone-headed decisions in the field cause innocent Iraqi deaths and his Soldiers immediately losing the little amount of respect they had for him in the first place. The captain ends up the unlucky 2,000th American killed when he’s hit with a rogue mortar while drinking an Australian lager floating on an inner tube in a luxurious pool at Camp Liberty.
I remember being at the CPIC in 2004 when we were planning the strategy to announce the 1,000th U.S. military member killed in Iraq and it was nothing like the insincere atmosphere that Abrams writes about. This whole scene irritated me because there is absolutely nothing funny or petty about announcing the death of a fallen warrior in fiction or in real life. In fact, we weren’t even thinking of the story about the fallen warrior, in as much as trying to figure out the right theme and message that the U.S. military wanted to highlight to the American people back home whose support we were on the verge of losing.
In my opinion, there’s a logical reason why movies like Green Zone end up being panned by the public while books like David Bellavia’s “House to House” become instant classics---It’s because Americans want to read about factual stories from there service men and women no matter good or bad, not fictional stories that make our warriors look like fools serving in uniform.
While Abrams book has done extremely well on Amazon, most likely cashing in on the rave reviews in the main stream media, I’d bet that a large amount of readers that actually served in uninform in Iraq would shake their heads at the unprofessional, untalented and unskilled characters depicted as Army Soldiers in “Fobbit”. Yes, we’ve all served with officers and NCOs that made us wonder how they survived that long in the military, but I don’t remember serving with anyone as incapable and flat out dumb as the main characters in this piece of fiction.
While Fobbit is an enjoyable story, remember its pure fiction and shouldn’t be looked at as anything remotely described as the real life experiences of a wartime public affairs Soldier.
Let me put it succinctly: Abrams is basically trying too hard to write M*A*S*H on the backs of his fellow soldiers. He even states in his interviews that is what he's trying to do. But, based on how this book is presented, he's not taking 'literary license' with what happened- he's bashing the PA. Although the PAO world is far, far from being immune to criticism, Abrams goes a bit too far.
That, and he's NOT funny. I think that's where he falls down hardest- the humor he tries just falls flat. No laugh track? Well, maybe that would help. I'm no Seinfeld, but neither am I a 1Lt. Hauk. Abrams needs comedy writing training if he's going to do more of this.
So what's the confliction here? As I mentioned up top, trying to review this without seeming self-serving was why I have delayed posting this. See, the good CSM and I have been working a little project ourselves- Steve has a script out making its way around Hollyweird- he has been working on the writing for this for over 2 years, and enlisted some of my help to round it out. Now, he has some true heavyweights looking it over, and we hope to have good news soon. Its a far more realistic setup, and it's based on the situation in and around the Green Zone and the especially the CPIC- the Coalition Press Information Center. Nearly everything that happened in Baghdad, and to Iraq, meandered thru the CPIC in some fashion- whether it was the players, the news about it, or the situation itself- the CPIC (based in the Baghdad Convention Center) was front and center.
David, it was a bit better than you portrayed it, an a whole lot more comical at times as well...