I met Matt Gallagher, author of Kaboom, Embracing the suck in a savage little war, this weekend at the Milblog Conference. I read his book a few months back, but after waiting for the embargo period to end I forgot to post a review. I blame him.
First of all I thought it was great that his Mom actually gave him permission to go out and play war. Now I am not saying he is a young-looking fella, but the only question is which Jonas Brother would play him in the movie. I kid, I kid, but well, no I can't, no more kid jokes. Although during the raffle at the Milbloggies Awards the winner of an autographed copy of Kaboom was a kid way, way too young to be exposed to the quite real language and situations in the book. I accused Gallagher of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. So I guess I should mention the book.
It's quite good. I have a gold standard for "There I was, no shit" books and that is House to House by David "Quentin T" Bellavia. I won't say Kaboom was that good, but it was good enough to be mentioned with it and that is saying something. The easiest thing to say about it is it takes you there. Gallagher does a great job of portraying the hateful abuse that is the camaraderie of brothers in arms. He also maintains if not a slight detachment, at least some perspective on what is going on. He seems to be constantly evaluating the grittiness of the immediate, against the value of the whole. This could come off as jaded or uninvolved, but instead feels more like a hard look at a tough time and place.
It plays out during the surge and one of the prevailing themes is the changing rules of engagement and how this affects combat operations. Similar to the issues we hear about currently in Afghanistan, the Gravediggers were digging fewer graves and doing more hearts and minds. The Joes don't like that and they will let you know. The soldiers in his unit show that mix between bitching about every single thing and embracing the suck and driving on with their missions. He refers to them mostly by their nicknames which makes it seem more intimate and that is one of the better things about the book. A good story teller takes you along for the ride, and Kaboom gives you an inside view of the surge and what it took to make it happen on the ground.
There is almost a sub-genre of Iraq and Afghanistan war books that I would call the young LT series. Most of them felt to me like they were written by folks trying to read more into their own experiences than was warranted and extrapolate them into a treatise on either those conflicts or our policies in general. Kaboom avoids that and just gives you a chance to hang out with a bunch of grunts and their LT who doesn't seem to think the war would run better if everyone would just shut up and listen to him. More like he doesn't know what the perfect answer is, but it's his job to make the call and execute the plan and so be it. He does a little navel-gazing but it seems warranted. I don't trust people who don't question the propriety and consequences of the decisions made in wartime. In the end the question is did you do the mission; they did. Well worth a read.