Twice Armed: An American Soldier’s Battle For Hearts & Minds In Iraq by Lt. Col. R. Alan King

While serving as a senior civil-military advisor in Baghdad, U.S. Army Lt. Col. R. Alan King disarmed several potentially dangerous situations with a weapon few members of the Coalition Provisional Authority possessed: quotations from the Qur’ran.

Twice Armed: An American Soldier’s Battle for Hearts and Minds in Iraq begins as the first American forces in Iraq in April 2003. King’s civil affairs unit acted as liaison between the military, civil authorities, and the local population. It was a job with extraordinary challenges – in the early days of the occupation, various Iraqi exiles returned to Baghdad to declare themselves mayor or sheriff, and tempers flared during the endless summer power outages. But King found success through bringing faith to the battlefield. He estimates that he met with over 3,000 sheiks, praying with them and asking for their help to rebuild Iraq. And those relationships earned him a reputation for fairness and respect for Islam that led several people on the “most-wanted” list to seek him out and surrender to him personally; he even met with Muhammad Saeed al-Sahaf, a.k.a. “Baghdad Bob”, the former Iraqi Minister of Information.

But King also writes with pain at the memory of close friends who were killed in combat, both from his battalion and the Iraqis who worked with them, and he reflects with frustration on dealings with military bureaucracy and critical blunders that cost him some of that hard-earned trust.

R. Alan King was awarded two Bronze Stars for Valor, two Bronze Stars for achievement, and the Combat Action Badge. He is currently an active reserve member of the U.S. Army, and returned from his most recent service in Iraq in October 2007. He has appeared on NBC, CNN, Fox News, and other networks as a military commentator.

Twice Armed won the 2008 Colby Award, which recognizes a first work of fiction or non-fiction that has made a significant contribution to the public’s understanding of intelligence operations, military history or international affairs. Named for the late Ambassador and former CIA Director William E. Colby, the Colby Award has been presented annually by the William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium at Norwich University, the nation’s oldest private military college, since 1999.

My Father’s Secret War: A Memoir by Lucinda Franks

My Father’s Secret War: A Memoir is the best book I’ve read in a long time. This is no surprise being written by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Lucinda Franks. It reads more like a novel, than a memoir.

The book is both an intellectual search for an understanding of her father’s secret past as a spy in World War II as well as a heart-wrenching story of the complexities of the author’s relationship with him. What makes this book so very compelling is the honesty and poetic telling of naked truths in a truly real family drama. Everything is here: burning hatred and welcome forgiveness, love’s disappointments, parent’s failings, alcoholism, psychological torture, adultery, rebellion, revelation and resolution.

We care deeply as the author so desperately searches to understand why her relationship with her father had changed from childhood adoration to hatred, because of his alcoholic withdrawal. This is a universal story of every daughter’s struggle to know and forgive her father as he ages and declines. This author’s telling is unbelievably poignant. A must read!

Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams

Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams is about being a young female in the US Army and her deployment to Iraq for a year with the 101st Airborne. Kayla Williams was an Arabic linguist. Thirty years ago, I came off active duty as a US Army officer. Ms. Williams’s book made me reflect back to all the women soldiers I worked with, lead, and knew. This is a good military memoir. While grit and rough language are on almost every page, what shines through is an intelligent young woman serving her country and putting up with all a woman experiences in the military. It appears little has change since back in my day. We learn of her role as an Arabic linguist. She tells us how she feels her skills could have been used better with direct contact with the population as oppose to routine intelligence gathering. Particularly interesting are her experiences with leadership while in Iraq as well as her questioning the war in Iraq’s day to day conduct without looking at the logic and underlying rationale. Her tale of the birth control glasses is funny, but true. Put those black framed Drew Carey or Woody Allen glasses on any man or woman and instantly they are effective birth control. Why? They make people unattractive thus scaring off members of the opposite sex. It is worth reading. Read in April 2006 by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Foot Soldier by Rocky Blunt, Jr

Foot Soldier by Rocky Blunt, Jr is well written, interesting, and gives the point of view of the common infantryman or in this case anti tank platoon member of the 84th Infantry Division. “Rocky” Blunt did a nice job writing the book. You will not be disappointed. The book was read by Jimmie Kepler in June 2005. This is the short review I wrote for the Military History Book Club in June 2005.

Blood on the Risers: An Airborne Soldier’s Thirty-five Months in Vietnam by John Leppleman

Blood on the Risers: An Airborne Soldier’s Thirty-five Months in Vietnam by John Leppleman is a wonderful book. His “attitude” fills every page. This is simply the best – a passionate memior. It is not for REMFs. I am not surprised by the detail of his memories. He shares his experiences with the 173rd during Operation Junction City to days on the river patrol boats during his second tour to back to the 173rd and the 2 Bn (Airborne)/75th Infantry (Rangers) during tour three. As a former US Army junior officer in the 1970’s I frequently encountered many with his outlook. They were outstanding field troops. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Personal Memoirs by US Grant

Well written and very interesting describes Personal Memoirs by US Grant. The book does not attempt to make Grant look good, rather it is more like a military after action report where he explains what has taken place. He includes his decision making process for many of the major events. My esteem for President Grant was greatly enhanced by reading this book. It is must reading for any civil war or biography lover. Read in April and May 2006 by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Stars in Their Courses : The Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863 by Shelby Foote

“Stars in Their Courses : The Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863” ” is an extended excerpt on the Gettysburg Campaign from Shelby Foote’s absolutely superb three volume narrative history of the Civil War. The Gettysburg Campaign is a gripping story in its own right, the central impressive thread of which is Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s general’s aura of invincibility.

The background for what would become the sixty day montage known as the Gettysburg campaign, Foote explores the Southern decision to invade Pennsylvania. Backed by Lee himself, the general’s aura of invincibility proved irresistible and awe inspiring even to one not easily impressed, Jefferson Davis. Setting the honorable tone for the ensuing conflict, Lee said to his soldiers: “It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed men…and that we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of our enemies, and offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth, without whose favor and support our efforts must all prove in vain.”

Before Gettysburg Lee’s four major engagements in the prior ten months against superior Union forces had yielded three spectacular victories. Now, on the eve of battle, the Union’s improbable appointment of Meade made the Pennsylvanian the fifth different commander to oppose Lee in as many tries.

From the beginning, however, Stuart’s bizarre reconnaissance delay disadvantaged Lee of important information regarding enemy position and troop strength, and he found himself in the unknown position of waging battle at a time and location not of his own choosing.

The ending of the three day conflict which concluded with Pickett’s unfortunate charge, was ordered by an inflexible Lee, executed by a unwilling Longstreet, and carried out by a multitude of fearless soldiers in the wake of the greatest concentration of artillery ever amassed on the continent. Longsreet’s reserve at the undertaking was shared by many of the commanders, with the notable exception of Pickett, who was “entirely sanguine of success in the charge.” Commanding another flank of the attack was Pettigrew. Fluent in most of the European languages and a scholar in Greek and Hebrew, he presided over a Southern peculiarity: Four of his regiments, despite a well-earned history of valor, and a four to one numerical advantage, abruptly defected in the midst of a Union assault as bold as it was unexpected.

The University Greys, made up entirely of students from the State University, were part of a Mississippi regiment that managed to nearly reach the Union line but paid the staggering price of a tabulated 100% loss. In all, the courageous efforts of 11,000 of Lee’s finest men were repulsed, and Union forces were to witness the devastation of Fredericksburg in reverse.
“This has been my fight, and upon my shoulders rests the blame,” Lee explained to a downhearted Pickett. He continued, “Your men have done all that men can do.” As he expressed the same emotion to his troops up and down the line, they responded to the tableau of the great general, and expressed their near common unchanged support in kind. The historic Gettysburg campaign had come to an end, and the two armies returned to their respective approximate starting positions. As was the Union custom, Meade did not pursue his advantage.

“Stars in Their Courses” provides a meticulous treatment of the details that comprised the events surrounding Gettysburg. Yet, such treatment is necessary, and in Foote’s skilled hands, welcome. It is so well written that you do not realize it is exerted from Foote’s Trilogy. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.