22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2007
For four years I had privileged access to classified military information as an Operation Specialist in the United States Navy. Not long after I obtained a security clearance, I came to the sobering revelation that once my tour was over I would be mainly dependent on the same old convoluted media coverage the rest of us are accustomed to.
My enlistment ended four years before we invaded Iraq. Therefore, I had a hard time painting in my mind what was really happening in Iraq. I did not want to assume the media was painting a complete picture -- they never did when I served.
At last Paul Rieckhoff's strikling articulate memoir "Chasing Ghosts" hit the shelves and provided that breath of fresh air (reality) I had been feverishly waiting for.
Paul does an excellent job of presenting the good, the bad, and the ugly of his ten month experience as a Second Lieutenant in the National Guard in Baghdad. The lead up to be Paul's deployment, and the fight on the homefront after his tour had ended is equally intriguing.
I am not a big fan of telling people what they "should" or "ought" to do or read. But if you have not experienced Iraq first hand, you really should read this book to at least get some perspective the media will not offer. Perception rules over reality too much in our society. We need some fresh perspective to help ensure our fallen troops and innocent Iraqis have not died in vain.
Paul Rieckhoff has fought very hard and very bravely to not only protect us, but also to enlighten us. "Chasing Ghosts" offers us the inspiration we need to fuel the support necessary to make a difference. I highly recommend this book.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2006
Reading this book was a really wierd experience for me. I deployed to Iraq with B Co, 2/124 INF out of Sanford, FL. It was almost like reading a story about my own life that someone else wrote and lived.
We didn't see much of 3rd Bat after we left Stewart, but overall the experiences were remarkably similar in the trends, if not the details. One Catch-22 absurdity that wasn't mentioned in the book is that before we came home, we had been extended so many times that the one year ID cards we were issued at the start of the deployment for a "worst case scenario" all expired so every soldier in the Brigade had to get issued new military IDs - in Iraq.
If anything, the book glosses over the gross incompetence and complete disconnet most higher level leaders were operating under. Like the LTC who told one of our Squad Leaders to put his kids in foster care after the guy's wife had nervous breakdown upon hearing the news of our third tour extension. Or the number of translators we lost because we weren't allowed to go into the towns and protect them. The new to Iraq active duty units that didn't want to hear anything the "Nasty Guard" had to say about the territory and towns they were about to patrol through - a week later 2ID had about a dozen Strykers in the graveyard. My personal favorite was the armor Colonel from 4ID I met at Landstuhl who I had to explain to that no, the war wasn't over just because the President said so.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to get more involved than the standard for this war, which so far seems to be "I bought a magnetic yellow bumber sticker!" As someone who was in a lot of the same places at the same times, I didn't find a single thing in it that didn't ring true.
57 of 69 people found the following review helpful
Like many Americans, I've been less-than-pleased with how the Iraqi war has played out. The reasons for going into action were likely fabricated, and now we find ourselves trapped in a morass with no easy way out. After reading Chasing Ghosts : A Soldier's Fight for America from Baghdad to Washington by Paul Rieckhoff, I'm more convinced than ever that our political leadership has completely failed both Iraq *and* America.
Rieckhoff was a National Guardsman who signed up knowing that he'd likely see action in the Middle East. He was committed to the cause and was ready to help the Iraqi people realize their freedom under a democracy. What happened was far different. He and 38 other ill-trained soldiers were put in charge of protecting a hot zone that included a hospital where they had set up base. Grossly understaffed with faulty equipment, they ended up doing the best they could with what they had, risking their lives on a daily basis. The leadership in command there seemed to be completely out of touch with the reality of the war in the streets, and the politicians at home were presenting a view of the Iraqi situation that was diametrically opposite of what the troops were facing. After having their tours extended numerous times with little warning, he finally made it home after nearly a year of service in the heart of Baghdad. His view and outlook on life upon his return had totally changed, and he decided that he had to be a voice to speak out for the servicemen and women who were on the front lines of a war that was only getting worse. He offered his services to both presidential candidates during the 2004 election, but no one wanted to confront those issues head on. His ongoing mission is to raise the public awareness of the *real* Iraqi conflict, and to help support those who have returned from those horrid conditions with little fanfare and nearly no aid.
It's likely that you'll view this book through your own preconceptions and political beliefs, and make some general assumptions about the validity of his position. Conservatives (where I would fall in the spectrum) might label him a traitor and liar, while liberals might hold him up as the complete reality of Iraq. The truth, as in all areas of life, falls somewhere between those two extremes. As for me, I find it nearly impossible to dismiss his account as fabricated or exaggerated. There are too many other voices, too many other high-ranking officials, who have come out and made the same claims as Rieckhoff. Not having served in the military, I can't bring any insight to bear on his story. But it rings true to this reader. We find ourselves in another Vietnam, fighting an enemy that looks like those we're trying to protect, being run by politicians and leaders who seemingly don't want to win. And at this stage, there are no easy answers to allow ourselves to exit the war...
If you're already against the war in Iraq, this book will only solidify your opposition. But if you're on the fence or a staunch supporter, I would challenge you to read this book from someone who's been there and done that. Your view of the "superior force of the US military" will not emerge unscathed...
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2006
Paul Rieckhoff gives a chilling account of his days as an infantry lieutenant commanding a platoon covering a section of recently liberated Bagdad. He did a great job of capturing the atmosphere and drama that surrounded him and his unit and tying it together into a compelling read. Whether your interest is history (albeit still being created), current events or just reading a really good book I highly recommend this book.
Prior to reading Chasing Ghosts I had read reports in the papers that soldiers lacked the necessary supplies to get the job done. Frankly I was a little bewildered by these assertions; after all don't we have the most technologically advanced army in the world? Reading how soldiers had to buy batteries from street "markets" for their night vision gear as one example of these problems really infuriated me. This book is filled with the reality that we are not doing the right things for our soldiers. We can pass hundreds of billions of dollars of aid but we cannot provide basic supplies for our men and women in the field? This book will get you thinking.
The stories of personal sacrifice, the horrors of war and mind numbingly bad decisions are not new. It is just surprising that they are so prevalent in the twenty-first century. This book also provides some insight to missed opportunities and how we got to the brink of civil war in Iraq.
While the topic is current, Rieckhoff has written a classic story of a soldier at war. Chasing Ghosts has earned a place in my permanent collection (about fifty books that I reread every ten years or so). It is that good.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Rieckhoff was the leader of 38 infantrymen for almost a year in Baghdad. He joined after graduating from Amherst, looking for a real leadership challenge. While he didn't believe Bush's rationale on Iraq, he did accept Powell's.
And so it was off to 12-hour combat patrols in heat reaching 120 degrees, with one bottle of water/soldier, full combat gear, and no vehicles. It was up to Rieckhoff and his men to liberate vehicles from Saddam's storage, and buy their own flashlights, tactical lights, batteries, GPS unit (lighter, more accurate, and easier to get batteries for than the Army-supplied unit), as well as take up collections amongst themselves to pay schoolteachers and arrange for an Iraqi surgeon to take a bullet out of their local janitor. Other problems included the lack of training in urban combat (Rieckhoff managed to cadge this from Special Forces men, and for this initiative was dressed down by one of his superiors) and Iraqi customs. In addition there were the well-publicized (elsewhere) problems of vehicles with insufficient armor, and not enough body armor.
The "good news" is that everyone in Rieckhoff's unit came back alive, though one lost both legs to an IED. In addition, we have the benefits of his candid insights: 1)Sunni-Shia hatred goes back hundreds of years, and like our racial tensions, will not be quickly resolved. 2)The "plan" for Iraq was totally inadequate, and we now have replaced Saddam as the object of Iraqi's hatred. Part of the problem is that we over-promised Iraqis. 3)American forces deployed in Iraq were not nearly enough to do the job. This has resulted in poor security (eg. Baghdad went from 20 gunshot deaths/month prior to the U.S., to about 500. Electricity outages and long gas-lines have similarly outraged the locals. 4)First-line troops (at least in his case) are held back by rear-echelon incompetents "earning" their CIBs in air-conditioned comfort. 5)Democracy did not come easy in the U.S., despite our having experience in that area. For Iraq, it will be much more difficult. 6)U.S. troops are stretched too far - repeated duty extensions and Iraq rotations seriously undermine morale.
The "bad news" is that we are in a no-win situation. We should not have gone, but now that we're their, we should not leave (until the situation is stabilized), but the longer we stay, the more the Iraqi's hate us. Hopefully the Sunni-Shia thing will fade enough to allow Iraqis to unite and restore order.
"Chasing Ghosts" ends with Rieckhoff dealing with the unreality of the contrast between Baghdad and U.S. civilian life - two entirely different and seemingly unconnected realities.
Rieckhoff and his men are totally admirable - hopefully we can earn their respect by becoming and staying informed on Iraq, and pushing for appropriate resolution.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2006
Chasing Ghosts by Paul Rieckhoff is a gripping sitting on the edge of you seat type of book.
Chasing Ghosts tells it like it is Iraq no punches pulled, nothing soften just the cold facts of what a Loyal American Army officer encountered in Iraq, from policing the bloody streets of Baghdad to the deserts of Iraq.
Chasing Ghosts tells of how American blood and the blood of Iraq's satruate the air, the sand and the dest. It tells of not only fighting an enemy but also fighting the elements in Iraq.
You come away from the books with humble of feeling of gratitude for our fighting troops and the American Veteran.
You also come away with a sinking feeling when you realize that President Bush has gotten us into another Vietnam whose name is Iraq.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2006
This book illustrates both the good and the ridiculously bad sides of military service. Among many other things, this book gives a truthful perspective of what serving in the Army is like and what soldiers have to sacrifice and what they have to tolerate from their own "leadership".
While reading this book, keep in mind that many of the command decisions that needlessly disregard the welfare and morale of the soldiers are not all unique to being in a combat zone, but are a part of everyday life for those who are active duty.
Lt. Rieckhoff sets a superlative example of what a soldier should be. Unfortunately, my five years of active duty experience led me to believe that the Lt. Rieckhoff's of the world are the exception and not the rule.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2006
In a time when a lot of Americans seem to prefer to cover their eyes with waving flags and stuff their ears with patriotic platitudes, a reader must use caution in reading a book like this. Paul Reickhoff, after all, has been there. He was a platoon leader. He actually knows, and is willing to say, what it's like to be there. I have friends who were there, but most of them don't want to talk about it at all. But Reickhoff tells about the sand, the heat, the boredom, and the terror of being a soldier in Iraq. You'll learn more about this war in this book than you will watching your local news in a month.
So if you actually care about the truth; if you really want to support our enlisted men and women; if you think you can love the country and still admit our leadership can be seriously wrong about a lot of things..read this book!
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2006
I have heard Paul Rieckhoff on the radio and seen his writings online. So I came to this book already impressed by his poise and ability to articulate the problems of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.
This book blew me away.
As a chronicle of the history of the Iraq occupation, it was a revelation. I had thought the early days just after the Iraq War were peaceful, but Paul's book shows that almost immediately it was clear that there were deep problems and a lack of everything, troops, supplies, and leadership.
As a story about men in uniform, it is a testament to the best of America. I'm proud that these men represent us in the world. At the same time, it's tragic that the leaders of our country have betrayed them by putting them in the hell in Iraq.
Finally, as a personal tale, I am very impressed by everything Paul Rieckhoff has done. He was in the rubble of the towers on 9/11. He was on the ground in Bagdhad. He was on the political front line in 2004. Whenever leadership was needed, Paul stepped up. I look forward to watching Paul Rieckhoff in the future.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2006
This book by a genuine American hero is amazingly well-written. The story of his service at Ground Zero after 9/11, the motivations that led him to join the reserve and apply to be an officer and his formation of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran's Association is in the highest tradition of the true American patriot. This is the story of a citizen-warrior.
The parts of the book describing his platoon's actions in Baghdad during the first nine months of the war captures the feel of "being there" better than anything I've read.
I admire and respect his concern about the way our veterans are treated both in Iraq - inadequate equipment, etc. - and after their return. I am impressed at how he has acted on that concern in forming the IAVA.
I was a Marine officer in Vietnam and our treatment of those who served in that war after they returned has always struck me as a national disgrace. The Bushes, Cheneys and Wolfowitzes of the world are always ready to send someone else or someone else's kid to war (having avoided serving themselves.) That would be bad enough, but when our leaders send them without a plan and without proper equipment and then ignore the hardships our warriors and their families endure when they return it makes me sick.
Read this book and then write your congressman demanding better treatment for our veterans.