In my continued quest to better understand the Iraq War from the perspective of the foot soldiers, I decided to read Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War by Matt Gallagher. Gallagher was a company grade officer in Iraq from 2008 into 2009 – while in-country he was promoted from lieutenant to captain. He chronicles his experiences as a scout platoon leader in the armored cavalry and then as an infantry officer. During his time, the Surge was in full effect and was turning the war in our favor.
This book is a memoir of what officers and men should expect in the new wars of counterinsurgency that our country will be fighting. For the foreseeable future, we will not be meeting massive armies on flat plains in open combat. Our adversaries will be sneakier and less willing to fully expose themselves to American firepower. Gallagher wonderfully describes what this new type of warfare looks like and how our military is handling these new circumstances.
I am encouraged and saddened by what I read in this book. I am encouraged in that our soldiers are adapting well and coping as well as they can. If Gallagher’s experiences are any indication, the American fighting spirit is alive and well in our foot soldiers. It continues to amaze me to see the dedication and resolve our troops have (even in the most difficult of situations). They drive-on in a variety of situations and environments. Although they moan and groan like any normal American, they do the job to the best of their abilities – proving time and again that they are the best infantry in the world. The company grade officers seem to have their heads on straight and are willing to lead their men under the most adverse circumstances.
The part that saddens me is that many of our brightest leaders are choosing to leave the military when their first commitments expire (this includes Gallagher). This is troubling because our military needs as many strong and motivated leaders as it can keep. It is not only important to have these young officers leading our troops in the field today, but also these officers will eventually advance and have a larger say in strategy – and we need sound leaders to create rational strategy. The book also saddens me because many in the Army’s hierarchy are still preparing to fight the Cold War – this attitude is hindering our military’s need for officers to adapt to very fluid circumstances without “higher ups” looking over their shoulders. Gallagher brings forth many examples of “Cold Warriors” trying to impede the counterinsurgency mission with their inflexibility – thankfully many of our general officers realize that counterinsurgency demands that our company grade officers have more flexibility to make decisions in the field.
Gallagher does an excellent job of portraying the daily grind of counterinsurgency warfare. The patrols are not glorious and do not provide many opportunities to prove a person’s military prowess, but they do help cement a bond between our soldiers and the civilians they are there to protect. Gallagher describes weeks of patrols that are uneventful except for the interactions with Iraqi civilians or Iraqi protection forces.
Gallagher’s writing style is free and easy to read. He does not write with a lot of military jargon – so it easy for a person who is not well-versed in military jargon to understand what he is writing about. There are plenty of photographs sprinkled throughout the book – many are of his men posing for the camera or out on patrol.
This book is a must-read for anyone interested in reading a grunt officer’s perspective on the counterinsurgency war in Iraq.