True War Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan
Marian Eide and Michael Gibler
Potomac Books, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2018, 280 pages
Book Review published on: December 21, 2018
The general public’s knowledge and understanding of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan comes directly from what it gleans from the news media. The result can be a distorted view and can be highly influenced by the beliefs of a particular news outlet. This is not a new phenomenon but is magnified today because the public has little connection to those men and women who serve in the military. Marian Eide and Michael Gibler seek to provide some public understanding by telling the stories of those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan in their outstanding book, After Combat.
Before delving into the particulars, the authors themselves highlight the divergence between the military and the public. Eide grew up in a family whose parents worked in the Foreign Service. During her childhood, she lived for many years abroad and attended schools with Army “brats”; however, as she grew older, her interaction with the military waned. She highlights this and her initial concern on beginning this project in the book’s introduction. She states, “I also had no qualifications to bring to the table; I didn’t know the difference between a MATV, an MRAP, an HMMWV, and an MRE.”
Gibler, on the other hand, is a retired infantry officer who served in the Army for over twenty-eight years. During his career, he saw multiple tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike Eide, he traveled many a mile in a HMMWV and consumed more MREs than he probably wanted. However, these differing backgrounds are extremely beneficial to the book’s make-up and flavor. The authors highlight this value when they state, “Our differences may be the very source of our sense of balance in bringing the experiences of these veterans to a wider world.”
The authors’ articulate the purpose of their book (and project) and its content in their introduction. They express the following:
The project aims to bridge such gaps by telling war’s unvarnished stories. Participating soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen (released, retired, on leave, or at the beginning of military careers) here describe combat in the way they believe it should be understood. They also recount memories, experiences, and views that they do not otherwise voice. In their interviews, which lasted from forty-five minutes to two hours, they spoke honestly with pride in their own strengths and accomplishments; with gratitude for friendships and adventures; but also with shame, regret, and grief; they faced controversy, misunderstanding, and sanction. In these open conversations, they describe thoughts they didn’t realize they were harboring, remember comrades faded from recollection, and recall arduous routines since forgotten.
Over the past fifteen years, there have been many books published that had similar intents and sought to feature the “words” of the combat veteran. However, I believe After Combat is unique and superior to the preponderance of the books previously printed. This is achieved because of several factors.
First, the authors decided to utilize total anonymity of those who contributed. This decision clearly had a huge impact on its content. Certainly, contributors disclosed thoughts and discussed experiences they might not have ordinarily shared. Consequently, readers find a book that, in many instances, is emotionally charged and extremely powerful.
The second contributing factor is the book’s organization, which is user friendly and highly effective. The authors have structured the volume into twenty chronological and thematic chapters. These chapters take the reader from enlistment or commission to a veteran’s challenges coming home and integrating back into society. This decision was made so a reader did not have to read the book in sequence and could move to chapters that they found most interesting. I personally maneuvered through various sections and found it very beneficial.
The book’s third unique element is its focus. The preponderance of similar books I have read tended to be more author focused than contributor focused. Specifically, these books were filled with author commentary and, in some cases, opinion. This is not the case with After Combat; this is a book almost solely dedicated to the words of the veteran/contributor. The authors only interject to provide a concise introduction of the book’s content and objectives, along with a brief background at the beginning of each chapter to set context for the reader.
Finally, in today’s world, it is all too common for an author to rush a book to the market. We have all experienced the unfortunate consequences of this. Eide and Gibler have not done this with After Combat. This book was exhaustively researched and edited. For over four years, the authors interviewed veterans in preparation for the book. They then clearly took their time in compiling the interviews and organizing their words into a cohesive book. It is the reader who reaps the benefits of this work.
In summary, After Combat is a superb book that stands out from books with comparable concepts. This is a book that is veteran focused, superbly organized, and void of any covert or overt agendas. These qualities combine to offer a volume that will be eye-opening to those not particularly familiar with the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan and the veterans who served in them. Eide and Gibler have crafted a book that will unquestionably benefit and educate the general public.
Book Review written by: Rick Baillergeon, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas