The 1st Infantry Division and the US Army Transformed
Road to Victory in Desert Storm, 1970–1991
University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, 2017, 560 pages
Book Review published on: July 28, 2017
Over the past one hundred years, the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division (1ID) has established itself as one the premier fighting forces in the world. It is a reputation built from the battlefields of World War I to the recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. During this period, one conflict that clearly deserves far more attention is the 1991 Persian Gulf War. It is a war in which the 1ID truly distinguished itself. However, like the entire war, it is a time that has been relatively forgotten by historians and authors. Fortunately, Greg Fontenot provides a long overdue look at the “The Big Red One” and the Persian Gulf War in his outstanding book, The 1st Infantry Division and the US Army Transformed.
For Fontenot, the crafting of this book was clearly a labor of love. His association with the 1ID is a long one. As a child, he lived at Fort Riley, Kansas, while his father was stationed there, and he would later graduate from nearby Kansas State University. During his own twenty-eight-year career in the Army, he served two tours with the 1ID. One of these included commanding the 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Battalion during the Persian Gulf War. Fontenot obviously relies heavily on this experience.
However, this closeness can also bring too much familiarity leading to bias, and the author relates to this in his preface. He states, “I worry that I will fail to tell the story as well as it deserves to be told, and that I will fail to render as objective a judgement as possible.” After reading the book, I believe Fontenot’s worries are unfounded. Readers will find that the author delivers a book that is fair and objective, one that tells a story true to the division and its soldiers.
Within the pages, Fontenot contributes significantly in three valuable ways. First, as the title suggests, the author offers detailed discussion and analysis on the transformation of the 1ID (and the Army as a whole) from the end of the Vietnam War to the beginning of the Persian Gulf War. He addresses numerous factors that contributed to this twenty-year transformation. These include substantial changes in doctrine, a training renaissance within the Army, society and cultural changes, and a complete mindset shift within all ranks of the Army. This superb section alone makes this a book clearly worthy of reading.
Second, he provides a thorough look at 1ID’s role in the Persian Gulf War. In this examination, he takes readers from the division’s predeployment activities through its redeployment to Fort Riley following the war. Particularly noteworthy is his treatment of the division’s combat operations, which is extremely comprehensive. This discussion is aided tremendously by Fontenot’s insertion of numerous maps, sketches, and task organizations tied to the operations.
Finally, Fontenot has written a book that is a fitting tribute to the soldiers of the 1ID who fought in the Persian Gulf War. One of the great ways he achieves this is by addressing operations at all levels within the division. In one paragraph, Fontenot will discuss execution at the squad and platoon level, and in the next, he will explain how these operations assisted in the overall accomplishment of the division’s mission. Within this context, the author greatly personalizes the volume by giving credit by name to the soldiers who performed so superbly for the division.
One of the most impressive qualities of the book is the exhaustive research Fontenot conducted in his preparation. The number, quality, and variety of sources the author has utilized is superb. These include museum archives, libraries, and Iraqi Army documents. Most importantly, he conducted personal interviews or collected materials from over 150 “Big Red One” soldiers. An excellent decision the author made regarding his sources is that he inserts notes at the end of each chapter rather than at the conclusion of the book. This is more convenient for the reader, and the notes are of the explanatory variety, making them far more beneficial as well.
In summary, this is a book that has been sorely needed for several decades. Fontenot has crafted a book that fills or assists in filling many gaps in our understanding of several areas. In particular, these include the transformation of the Army following the Vietnam War and the 1ID’s role in the Persian Gulf War. This is a book that is passionate and informative, one that honors a division with a proud and celebrated history. The 1st Infantry Division and the US Army Transformed is unquestionably well worth reading.
Book Review written by: Frederick A. Baillergeon, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas