As a retired LTC and combat veteran, I found Kaboom hard to put down. It offers a platoon-level gritty look at what happens outside the wire where the real conflict is found. I've nothing against the desk jockeys who enable the action, so long as they don't impede it (sometimes they do). LT G gets dirty with the troops and into the scary places where things are happening--namely, missions of substance. While some things don't change in war, every war has its own unique touches, vocabulary, and frustrations. His depiction of the diverse people, both US and Iraqi, are outstanding. Every war has its characters, heroes, and screw-ups. I came away from this book with a better appreciation of the feel of the war. Vividly depicted are the conflicts with higher-ups, the various dangers on the ground, responding to change, funny stuff happening, and all very human, very real. This should be required reading for Officers Basic, every branch.
Junior officer Matt Gallagher parlayed his 15 minutes of fame as a widely-read military blogger into a contract for this memoir of his 15-month deployment in Iraq, where he was assigned to lead a cavalry platoon in counterinsurgency duties in a small desert municipality. Later, he gets in trouble when he submits an unauthorized blog entry complaining about an irrational promotion that takes him away from his beloved platoon, but he gets kicked upstairs anyway and spends nearly half of his deployment as an intelligence captain near Sadr City. Gallagher's sympathy, and his strongest material, lies with the first section of the memoir in which he is actually leading soldiers in dangerous situations -- he wisely emphasizes this part of his war experience in the book.
It's interesting to see what modern war looks like, and Gallagher writes an engaging picture of it. Counterinsurgency is more like what we would think of as policing than the types of battles we associate with war in the movies -- diplomacy and the coolheadedness not to shoot in panic situations are more important to his mission than violence. Throughout his deployment, neither Gallagher nor anyone in his unit is injured in combat or fires upon anyone. The greatest loss to his unit comes in an accidental fire that critically burns a member of his platoon; the greatest loss of innocence he experiences is when he gives a conditional order to fire, even though circumstances make it unnecessary for his men to shoot anyone on his orders. But some military experience is universal, and the usual ground-level gripes about the bizarre and labyrinthine American military bureaucracy get a thorough airing here. (You'd think after all this time we'd have figured a way around that.)
Considering the author's blogger origin and his book's subtitle ("Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War"), I expected a more colloquial, Diablo Cody-style book, but Gallagher aims a little higher than that on the literary scale. A talented writer, he often succeeds in being more lyrical and evocative than I expected. But the guy's young and pretty well satisfied with himself, and that comes through too in some ill-advised metaphors and some attempts at poetical, stream-of-consciousness interludes that seemed to me to overreach his talent (your mileage, of course, may vary). As he did in the military, Gallagher sets high standards for himself as a writer -- I guess I can't fault him for that. But this book would have been nearly as good if it had been written half as carefully, since its greatest value is in the vivid characters Gallagher evokes and his stereotype-busting descriptions of the role of the private soldier and junior officer in twenty-first century war.
on March 12, 2010
My copy of Kaboom arrived Thursday at 2pm. I started reading it at 3:30 pm expecting to knock out a chapter or two a day until I'd finished it. By 6:53 pm that same day I had finished the entire book. It drew me in within the first three paragraphs and didn't let go. Well written account of what it was like over there dealing with the complex, wild world of COIN while dealing with sheiks who want to make a difference in their country, or sheiks who only want to make a buck.
Superiors out to make a name for themselves at the expense of their character, our how tight the common Soldier bonds with other Soldiers of all races and nationalities that they may have never even spoken to had they passed each other on the streets as civilians.
If you're looking for intense combat,with bullets flying on every page then go pick up a few copies of a Sgt Rock comic book. If you want a realistic look into a 15 month deployment on the tail end of The Surge in a COIN fight while trying to maintain your sanity and sense of purpose,while staying true to yourself,your country,and your Soldiers and while managing to make sense of this period of the war that the Soldiers were living,scarifying,fighting and dying in while the rest of America was at the mall,then this book is for you.
on April 9, 2010
I wanted to enjoy this book -- I really did -- and I tried -- but the writing was just not overly compelling. Maybe this has to do with the fact that I was a combat officer in Iraq in 2004 and in Afghanistan in 2008. I could understand and empathize with the author and the challenges he faced, but after each small entry, I was left with the feeling that the good Lieutenant was in over his head. Although he purported all his actions were about his men on the line, there was an underlying sense of selfishness I was left with by his descriptions of his interaction with his soldiers and those around him. Also, the author used the rape analogy way to many times to describe his time in Iraq -- a bit off putting.
I find tremendous value in these memories and I usually snap them right up as I want to be reassured others experienced the horror's of war as I did and I firmly believe more people need to know the stories from Iraq. This story though just did not satisfy.
on June 2, 2010
With a unique voice and from an uncommon perspective, Matt captures his experience as a tactical-level Army combat leader operating in the Baghdad Province of Iraq on the coattails of the surge. Through his often detached, tell-it-like-it-is style, Matt presents his readers with a first-hand account of what it is like to lead Soldiers in a modern counterinsurgency environment. I believe that readers quickly understand that such responsibility in said environment is wrought in complexity and frustration and requires young leaders like Matt to perform as diplomats, pacifiers, and policemen- an amalgamation far above the stereotype of meathead Soldier. The insight that Matt is availed and then paints for readers of Kaboom is a relatively unknown picture of the day-to-day struggles in Iraq that supersedes those provided by embedded journalists and other media outlets. Matt depicts his dealings with shady Sheiks, his platoon's partnership with the often amateurish Iraqi Security Forces, and the misgivings he sees in the leadership and actions of his superiors. A most gripping aspect of Matt's shared reality is that while his leadership role forced him to follow sometimes fuzzy orders in the most obscure of military operating environments, it is the Troopers he led- very well-intentioned, admirable men, ripped from a cross-section of America and smartly depicted in this book- that kept Matt poised and propelled him through day upon arduous day. This account is not only a page-turner because it presents the harsh, eye-opening realities of actual military operations, but it is Matt's distinct literary style, boosted by his ability to find the humorous amongst the sometimes desperate and destitute, that keeps the reader yearning for more. No matter where you place yourself on the political spectrum or how you live as an American, this book will educate, entertain, and hopefully deepen your sense of appreciation for those military personnel deployed to combat zones.
on May 18, 2010
I had followed Mr. Gallagher's blog during his time in Iraq and was eager to pick up his book when I learned of its release. Not being a military man myself, I had often looked upon the big green machine as a breeding ground for the macho meat rockets whose motto was lead, follow or get out of the way. Mr. Gallagher completely changed my prejudice. A thoughtful, introspective, modest, mustache challenged soldier like Captain Gallagher made me realize that the men of the army are not prototypical drones but men intent on making their corners of the world safe as best they can. I really enjoyed the familiarity with which the author writes and the honesty he employs at all times. It would be easy to clean up his thoughts and the words of his fellow military men, but he decides to let the work speak for itself and for the reader to decide. Captain Gallagher is an excellent study of how to be the all-purpose go between of protecting his soldiers through the slog of the day to day grind all the while dealing with "the big picture" desk humpers back at the FOB. Capturing madness so poetically and with such clarity, I would highly recommend this book to anybody.
on April 5, 2011
A brutally honest engaging account of Mr Gallaghers' 15 month tour in Iraq.
His description of the complexities of dealing with the various local tribes and factions, gives the reader an idea of what the average soldier on the ground goes through on a daily basis.
The men in his unit are brought to life and the reader is aware of the cross section of young American soldiers being asked to do a job with no end in sight.
Very good read and I hightly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good personal memoir.
on June 21, 2010
Matt Gallagher's description of his tour of duty in Iraq is riveting and, at times, heart-rending. He details his daily experiences in a format that vignettes his experiences without political judgment. His ordinary approach to his extraordinary career as a junior officer in the Army and in Iraq makes his observations captivating and compelling. I look forward to whatever he does next.
on March 22, 2016
This book provides a very interesting perspective of what it was like to serve in Iraq in more remote locations outside the Green Zone, and the complexity of dealing with a tribal society. Matt Gallagher is respectful of the US Army to the extent that it deserves, but also makes clear the obvious failings of a very large, complex organization that presents huge management challenges. There are moments that will make you proud and moments that will make your cringe. What is even more clear is that Iraq is perhaps not governable in the sense of a US type democracy because there is no concept of a separation of church and state. We owe the veterans who served in this dangerous and complex environment our respect and care.
A lot has been written about this book, so I'll try not to be redundant. The author, Matt Gallagher, is clearly an educated person who can write well. His knowledge of history and American culture permeate this book, and they are part of what makes it such a fascinating read. As Gallagher alludes to a few times, his Iraq experience and, of course, this book aren't just about Iraq - they're about the intersection of America, in particular its military institution, and Iraq. At it's deepest level, the book does an excellent job conveying the humanity of the whole war - the individual characters, the institutional dynamics, all constantly colliding. Gallagher's role at the eye of the storm, documenting that series of collisions (and in some cases, triggering the collisions), really makes this book a special read. I found it to be a relatively quick read, even at almost 300 pages, because I couldn't put it down once I started it.
Some have focused their energy on Gallagher's critiques of the military, and those certainly play a large part in this book, but focusing solely on those also denies the insights Gallagher has made into the Iraqi people and how the war has affected them in many ways (as seen through the eyes of an American soldier). Similarly, his genuine bond with his fellow soldiers really shines through.
I'm not a veteran. I don't know what it's like to be in combat, and I've never been to the Middle East. Regardless, I feel more informed about what we're doing there now that I've read this book. It's definitely worth reading.