The Ragged Edge

The Ragged Edge

A US Marine’s Account of Leading the Iraqi Army Fifth Battalion

Michael Zacchea and Ted Kemp

Chicago Review Press, Chicago, 2017, 384 pages

Book Review published on: July 14, 2017

U.S. military advisors faced challenges preparing and executing Phase IV (stabilize) operations after major ground combat operations “concluded” during the Iraq War. The Ragged Edge provides a unique introspection using continuous personal dialogue to highlight the “friction point” of transforming the Iraqi Army into a fully sustainable force capable of securing its own borders against an underground insurgency. The narrative exposes in graphic detail the daily struggles of being an embedded military advisor whose mission was to create, train, prepare, and sustain an Iraqi infantry battalion in 2005.

Now retired Lt. Col. Michael Zacchea, U.S. Marine Corps, became the Iraqi Fifth Battalion Military Assistance Training Team commander during a twelve-month deployment. His mission took the infantry battalion from reception of troops to major ground combat in Fallujah. His journey seemed straightforward for a seasoned Marine Corps officer, but it did not take into account a Western approach to a Middle Eastern culture. At the time, Zacchea was utterly unaware this mission would alter his life well after his return home. He had only months to prepare the unit for combat with little equipment, guidance, and expertise, and he exhausted the entire arsenal of host-nation support and coalition “favors” in the process. He befriended his mentee, Maj. Zayn al-Jibouri, and his companionship with and trust in the Iraqi officers assigned to Fifth Battalion led to great success fighting alongside Marine Corps and other coalition forces during ground combat operations.

Zacchea takes the reader for an adventure through an arduous and dangerous task set. From the onset of deployment, his team faced difficulty, as it had to charter local transportation just to reach a staging base. With no formalized language training and while learning on the move, his team accomplished its mission through unconventional means. Zacchea became close friends with many Iraqi officers, noncommissioned officers, and soldiers. His own well-being and safety lay in the hands of these newly formed friendships, and it oftentimes alienated him from his own brothers and sisters in arms. His command earned him the respect of his officers and even led to his induction into a Sunni Tribe. His career in the military ended years after this deployment, but his desire to help his Middle Eastern comrades still continues today. His new mission in life is taking care of those who cared for him and his men during combat.

The Ragged Edge is a must read for young military officers. The U.S. military’s emphasis of training, advising, and assisting remains a priority, as it cannot fight insurgencies and near-peer enemies without the assistance of host-nation allies. The lessons illustrated in this book are for all those interested in how the U.S. engages in this rewarding and extremely difficult task.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Jason E. Pelletier, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas