The Fighting 69th by Sean Michael Flynn

The more I read about the Iraq War, the more I am interested in it. For whatever reason (maybe the extreme differences of opinion of how the war is going between the media and the American troops on the ground), the war and its participants fascinate me. As a result of this fascination, I like to read accounts from all combat perspectives – Marines in Fallujah, Airborne in Baghdad, and so forth. Thus, when I saw The Fighting 69th by Sean Michael Flynn, I was intrigued.

The book chronicles the exploits of the famed infantry regiment from New York City – its fighting pedigree goes back to the Civil War as part of the famous Irish Brigade – from the September 11th attacks through their deployment in Iraq. Flynn writes from personal experience because he was an officer with the unit during the time period covered in the book.

Flynn does an excellent job of taking you through the process of refining the unit from one that could barely discipline itself into one that could effectively defend itself in Iraq. In Flynn’s own words, the Fighting 69th was one of the worst National Guard infantry units in the country before the September 11th attacks– it was poorly equipped, led, and staffed. Although he hammers home a little too much about how poor the unit is in performance and equipment, you get the point that the unit had almost reached a point of no return before the terrorist attacks.

Despite the lack of adequate equipment and training, Flynn explains that the unit does surprisingly well in Iraq. The unit loses fourteen men to IEDs, but they continue to stay focused and complete their mission. In fact, as a result of their performance, the road from Baghdad Airport to the Green Zone – once dubbed the most dangerous road in the world – becomes safe to drive on without excessive speeding.

Flynn captures the raw emotions that the men feel when they suffer their first casualties and how Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Slack, the 69th commander, keeps them from going over the deep end. Because of Slack’s leadership, the unit becomes an effective fighting force. In addition, the men grow to respect their leader and bond as a unit.

Based upon the experience of the Fighting 69th (and I would not be surprised of other National Guard combat units that are called to active service), it is very clear that our country needs to put more effort and money into training the National Guard for combat operations if we are to continue to call upon them to reinforce the active units.

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