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Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families Hardcover – September 12, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This beautifully edited compilation of writings from modern warriors and their loved ones contains a wonderful range of voices and experience. Culled from an NEA call for the personal stories of service members and their families-a call that resulted in some ten thousand pages of material-the writing on display might make one think war transformed these untrained writers into fearless poets, ready and able to tackle the big topics: heartbreak, courage, sheer pluck and God-awful horror. Divided into six sections, including "Heading into Combat," the "Daily Grind" and "Life on the Home Front," Carroll has pulled together dozens of unique voices to achieve the "integrity and authenticity ... of a full spectrum of viewpoints and experiences." The results, a series of short, charged narratives that generally range from one to ten pages, are heartening and heartbreaking. In "Reclamation," a seasoned marine is ordered to clean a cemetery, "little more than a sunken acre of rotting garbage and donkey carcasses... a nasty task that seemed to have no direct benefit to the Iraqi people," which would become for him a pivotal experience in building hope and honoring sacrifice. In "Shallow Hands," a 27-year-old Marine attempts to explain the bitter divide between those who've fought and those who have not, while confessing, "I've been drinking steadily since coming back from the war." In the remarkable "Dover," readers go into the enormous military mortuary in Deleware that receives home-bound bodies, learning how one of the war's "politically sanitized phrases" like "the fallen hero" can reclaim its meaning. This collection provides a truly multi-faceted and agenda-free look at the ongoing conflict from the Americans who lived it, and deserves a large audience.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* This history-making project records feelings about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan even as conflicts continue in those nations. Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the project brought together some of the nation's most distinguished writers, including Tobias Wolff and Marilyn Nelson, and the men and women (and their spouses) fighting in the Middle East. The result is an incredibly wide range of opinions and emotions about U.S. policy in the Middle East, the war on terrorism, and the duties and responsibilities of citizens and the military. In 100 pieces of poetry, essays, letters, e-mails, plays, and journal entries, soldiers recall the awful thrill in the threat of killing or being killed, the deaths of buddies, and the cultural and psychological adjustments to a strange land. The book is divided into sections, including the war in the beginning, when 9/11 fueled certainty among the military; the campaigns to win the hearts and minds of Afghanis and Iraqis; the daily terror and boredom of war; efforts to sustain family life on the home front; and the joy and anxiety of homecoming. Intimate perspectives from the people on the frontlines. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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This is not a political book. In it you can find something that supports your view of the war in Iraq - no matter what it is. And you can find something that rebukes that view.
It also is not a war book. Although some of the contributor's stories deal with combat, most deal with the ever-present danger of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although 99% of the people might be nonhostile, they look exactly like that other 1% who would be absolutely delighted to kill you.
The stories also deal with the troops experience in helping to rebuild the destruction from a starting place of overwhelming poverty. These stories tell of the culture shock - on both the Iraqi side and the American side.
There also is plenty on the ironies of having both men and women in the military. A Marine and helicopter pilot wrote about how difficult it was to say goodbye to his wife - when she deployed to Iraq and he stayed home.
To help the military contributors, teams of professional writers went to military bases and conducted classes on writing. They weren't trying to slant the contributors' content, but to show them how to write and to encourage them to contribute their journals, letters and e-mails. The result was a flood of over 12,000 pages of source material.
The book really is a tribute to Andy being able to persuade the military hierarchy to allow him to have access to the troops. Since the end of the heavy fighting, the media has gone out of its way to portray the military as a bunch of idiots who, when they aren't torturing prisoners, delight in killing civilians. Such coverage doesn't persuade military commanders that you are an exception to this rule. Andy's track record - two other books on this subject - opened doors that would have been welded shut had Andy been employed by, say, The New York Times.
Andy also had to persuade the troops to write about what they had done and seen. The military culture is one of "soldier on and shut up." Troops are not encouraged to talk about their feelings - or their experience. When Andrew asked one military group why they were participating, one person said that no one else had asked them to write about what was going on.
I was glad to see that the troops have retained a warped sense of humor that is uniquely American.
While in Iraq, one staff sergeant wrote in his journal, "I'm going to kill my travel agent!"
Another soldier commented about a friend, "I don't think Jeff could say a good word about [President] Bush with a gun to his head - and some of us have, trust me, entertained the thought."
Several stories were contributed by wives who described their suffering and anguish on the home front. One wife (whose husband flew a Kiowa helicopter) talked about the terror she suffered when the media reported that a Kiowa helicopter had been shot down in Iraq. The other wives called one another to see if anyone had heard more details. She described the relief she felt when it turned out that the crashed helicopter crash was not from her husband's unit. She also described the guilt she felt, because although her husband was safe, several other military wives were about to learn that their husbands were dead.
One mother described the nightmare that she had long dreamed about: the arrival of a casualty notification team that had come to tell her that her son was dead.
One man commented on how Afghanistan had disappeared from the media reporting, and wondered if civilians realized that the war still was going on. Several troops wondered what kind of reception they would receive when they got home, and made worried comparisons to Vietnam.
Most people don't realize that Vietnam started as a popular war. Only as the war dragged on did people start spitting on the returning troops.
I was lucky when I came back from Vietnam. No one spit on me. I hope these troops fare better.
This book can give you an idea of what it means to be in the armed forces - poor food, long hours, lousy working conditions, the off chance of violent death - all for minimal pay. It also can show you the terrors their families suffer - whether or not their loved ones come home.
Some of the stories in this book will remain w/me for the rest of my life. I get cold chills just trying to write my thoughts now. It is raw and it is real. It covers a magnitude of information and emotions from all sides related in this war. The Troops and the families literally poured out their souls on paper...it is mind-boggling the heart that is in this book.
Other books by Andrew I read in one sitting, I can't put them down, this book due to my compassion, understanding, and personal ties to our Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan I could not read this book in one sitting. I could only get through a few stories at a time. I had to take a break before I could pick it up again. I love the tradition and history of the American Soldier and I never thought it possible to love them anymore than what I already do, Operation Homecoming has raised my respect, pride, and admiration for our military to a far deeper and more powerful level. God Bless you all and thank you for your service to our country.
If anyone reads this book and is not affected by it, then there is something wrong w/them. When I finished the book at 3 am all I could do was sit solemnly and gently hold it in my hands in a moment of silence. I can tell you no other book has ever left such a profound impression on me.
Many, many thanks to the Contributors, Mr. Carroll, NEA, Boeing, Southern Foundation, the DOD, and all the other folks that worked so hard to make this unique project happen. In my mind it is a national treasure and a blessing to our country. It is a work of art, a thing of beauty, a book that I will cherish and read again and again.
I am looking forward to Grace Under Fire, I will probably need the gold plated glasses again.