Tuesday, July 05, 2005

This Man's Army

Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Andrew Exum enlisted in the Army thinking that military service would be a good way to pay for his education at the University of Pennsylvania as well as serve his country in peacetime. He thought that he would likely serve in peacekeeping duties in Europe or perhaps Africa, but not actually see combat. There was value, in his mind, of Army service even in the peacetime. He had enlisted in the Army ROTC as a student and became an officer in 2000. September 11 changed the nature of what his service would be.

"This Man's Army" is Captain Exum's story of his time as a soldier. He details his reasons for enlisting, what sort of upbringing he had, and what his experience was in training and on the battlefield. Exum offers a fresh perspective of the life of an Army officer. While books like Anthony Swofford's "Jarhead" and Joel Turnipseed's "Baghdad Express" offer accounts of the modern day disillusioned soldier (both about Gulf War I), Captain Exum is a motivated leader of men who takes pride in his work, his platoon, and his Army. He does not blindly accept political rhetoric, and unlike many military men Exum is far from being a staunch Republican. He struggles to fit what he must do as a soldier with his beliefs as a Christian, but accepts that there are times that fighting for the greater good can supercede personal belief.

Readers looking for a book filled with combat and blazing guns should look someplace else (perhaps Evan Wright's excellent "Generation Kill"). "This Man's Army" is the experience of Captain Andrew Exum, and while the nature of his service did include quite a bit of risk, stress, being shot at, and completing valuable missions in Afghanistan; there are not many gun battles or what would traditionally be thought of as "battlefield combat". Yet, "This Man's Army" is compulsively readable and was a book I did not want to put down. Exum's descriptions of his training, going through Ranger school, and his style (and experiences) of leadership is fascinating. While I am glad that Exum is out of harm's way now, I wish he was still able to serve in the Army because our military and our country needs more men of his character and apparent ability. He is the sort of man I want protecting our country.

Captain Exum also gives an excellent description of how a soldier comes home and tries to adapt to a life where he does not have a rifle in his hand. How he has to adapt to paying for things again, fight the feeling that he is "entitled" to things because of his service, and just become a civilian again.

Something else that I found very interesting was that if he wasn't injured (outside of combat), Exum would have been part of the mission which rescued Private Jessica Lynch. Having to watch that on television was a very difficult thing for Captain Exum, not the least of which because he was still in uniform.

Overall I found "This Man's Army" to be an excellent account of Andrew Exum's time in the military and what one possible experience of a modern day soldier is. It isn't exactly what one might consider a traditional war memoir, but this is also a different kind of war. I would recommend this book without hesitation, just with the understanding that there is a very small amount of actual combat or field action.

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