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Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood Paperback – January 12, 2010
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After graduating from Princeton, Donovan Campbell wanted to give back to his country, engage in the world, and learn to lead. So he joined the service, becoming a commander of a forty-man infantry platoon called Joker One. Campbell had just months to train and transform a ragtag group of brand-new Marines into a first-rate cohesive fighting unit, men who would become his family. They were assigned to Ramadi, the capital of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province that was an explosion just waiting to happen. And when it did happenâwith the chilling cries of "Jihad, Jihad, Jihad!" echoing from minaret to minaretâCampbell and company were there to protect the innocent, battle the insurgents, and pick up the pieces.
Thrillingly told by the man who led the unit of hard-pressed Marines, Joker One is a gripping tale of a leadership and loyalty.
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The hellish experience that is war changes every man who experiences it. This book embraces that change and gives readers a glimpse of what a year in the grinding maw that is "modern" warfare at the tip of the spear, where horrifying events shape or even end the futures of the young men who fight on our behalf.
Thanks for the author who had the courage to try and describe the color red to a blind person. With less than one percent of our citizens having served in the military stories like this can only help to explain to those who've never been, the experience that wartime service truly is.
Campbell does spend some time on the themes well covered by other war accounts - the gallows humor, the comically absurd, the surreal juxtaposition of normal Iraqis carrying out every day business in the middle of a war zone, the tragic and inhumane occurrences of modern warfare - but it is in Campbell’s open and honest account of the love he had for his Marines, and the love those Marines had for each other, that Joker One sets itself apart.
At the end of the book, after tearing up several times, I have to say that Joker One is now one of two books I would recommend to anyone wanting to attempt to understand what it was like in the Iraq war (the other being Generation Kill). It’s one of the best I’ve ever read.
The author tells the story based on what he saw and heard, and complements it with information he must have learned from some of the other Marines at a later time, but the narrative is quite interesting and flows well. While at its heart, this is a collection of stories of individual skirmishes, battles, and events, it is pulled together into a book by the author's reflections on the meaning of war, what the role of the Marines was at that time, and what lessons he has drawn from his experiences. Unfortunately, for me, those passages were the weakest points in the book. His main message is that the Marines were magnificent; that they fought in Ramadi while maintaining their humanity and morals; that they did a dirty job that someone had to do - so why not them? And that the overwhelming reason for putting up with all the horrors and destruction was their love of each other and love of humanity as a whole. While the message is fine on its own, the way this comes across in the book is a bit preachy, condescending, and self-centered.
Another negative point are several stories where the author congratulates himself on making the right decisions while in battle. This appeared rather self-serving as he invariably points out other situations where his commanders, or other officers, made choices that turned out badly. It's a jarring bit of self-congratulations that I felt did not need to interfere with the story that he was telling.
Having taken care of the two negative points that marred this book slightly, let me now focus on the positives: The book is very well written and flows rather seamlessly from the training that the Marines underwent in Camp Pendelton, through their stopover in Kuwait, then the six months in Ramadi, and then back through Kuwait to California. Of course, the majority of the pages are focused on Ramadi and the events there. While in Ramadi, there are no excuses given as a platoon of eager Marines, who thought they were coming to smile and wave at happy Iraqis turned into battle-hardened soldiers who comported themselves well in fire fight after fire fight. Without trying to sugar coat the events, the individual anecdotes of various battles and fire fights are told, as are the lessons that the platoon's soldiers draw about them.
Throughout the deployment, the platoon does not survive unscathed and we learn about how their one death occurred, as we also learn about the three Marines who suffered wounds significant enough that they were evacuated out of Ramadi, only to join their platoon-mates when they make it back to Camp Pendelton. The story of the one death, and how deeply it affected the author is well-told if a bit overwrought. However, one can only assume that other platoon commanders who suffered through the deaths of their soldiers, feel the same about it. Interestingly, the one time that he is involved in an action where another Marine is killed in a traffic accident, he does not fret over it as much - maybe because it's not one of his platoon's soldiers? Or, more likely in my opinion, because it is much later in the deployment and he has hardened even more.
This book serves many purposes in my mind. Of course it tells the story of one specific platoon during one deployment in one city in Iraq. But, it does much more than that: it can also serve as a good primer to other young men and women who will be placed in positions of platoon command as both a lesson of what to expect, as well as some good guidelines on what to do when you are in that position. The lessons are there, sometimes between the lines, as to how to conduct oneself in a leadership position. In other settings, more leeway can be given to your "troops" as even in this book we read about how much creativity and accomplishments can be achieved by having a team working together rather than a pure command and control environments. I would definitely recommend this book to many people for the stories and the lessons it contains.
Most recent customer reviews
Found this extremely well done . Not ha ing served in combat myself I was riveted by the clarity of the writing and the detail that describes the events so realistically.Read more