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Posted on Aug 10, 2007 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Chasing Ghosts: Failures and Facades in Iraq – Book Review

By Richard N Story

cover.jpgBook Review: Chasing Ghosts: Failures and Facades in Iraq: A Soldier’s Perspective
NAL Caliber, 2007, Soft cover.

When does a light infantry company equal a reinforced airborne battalion? When the Florida National Guard is sent to occupy and pacify Baghdad the same day that President Bush declares the ‘mission accomplished’ in Iraq. For Paul Rieckhoff, 3rd platoon commander, Bravo Company, Third Battalion, 124th Regiment, 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division the war has just started for him and the 38 other men in his platoon. Chasing Ghosts is not only his memoirs of the time he spent in Iraq, but also the events leading up to his deployment and the aftermath of his return.

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Paul Rieckhoff is something of an anomaly in his family. His grandfather was drafted and dispute speaking fluent German was sent to fight World War II in the Pacific theatre. His father was drafted during the Vietnam War, but spent his entire tour in Germany. Who says the military doesn’t have an ironic sense of humor? Upon graduating from Amherst College; Paul decided to join the National Guard. He was sent through OCS to become a leader of men. A native of New York City, his unit was activated to help in the rescue and recovery effort at the World Trade Center after 9/11, Seeing that war was coming to the United States in 2003 he volunteered for active duty despite some of the reservations he, like many Americans, felt about taking on Iraq. Still as a good soldier he would lead his men and hope that the leadership from the Company Commander to the highest political leadership all did their duty for the soldiers.

Paul’s combat tour was nearly cut short by worn out military equipment and if not for the quick thinking of a couple of the troops in his command; Paul would have been the first casualty of 3-B-124th. Paul chronicles his tour in Baghdad and makes notes of events that changed the political and military landscape in Iraq. One of the things that was especially interesting was the disconnect between the grunts in the field and the pogues (soldiers on the dull end of the stick). The pogues sat in air conditioned offices away from the hustle and bustle of the streets of Baghdad and the Iraqi people. In fact this reviewer recalled a similar disconnect between the combat troops and the headquarters and support troops in Vietnam. Such disconnects leads to orders being issued that do not face the reality of the soldier on the street. One major disconnect was that the troops on the ground could not communicate directly with units in the next area even if they were only separated by a couple of streets or a bridge.

Yet the book is not all doom and gloom over the situation in Iraq. Paul Rieckhoff takes times to chronicles the successes of the unit both large and small. Sometimes the success could be narrowed down to just one individual. For example there is the story of the Iraqi called ‘Big Foot’ by the 3rd platoon. A very tall individual by anybody’s definition; Lt. Rieckhoff noticed that he was wearing worn out shoes that left his toes bare. Using all his resources they were finally able to get him a pair of size 19 Air Jordan’s made by Nike. This small act won the goodwill of at least one Iraqi. Yet 3rd platoon and Paul Rieckhoff continued to try and improve the conditions of the Iraqis as well as their own environment.

Despite conditions 3-B-124th came home with all their men to discover that their needs were neglected by the Brass in Iraq; their service, outside of those communities that have military populations and their families, was ignored. America might be at war, but the only ones fighting it were the soldiers. Paul became an advocate for the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines fighting for a country that has no clear goals or strategy and one where supplies aren’t available and those that are seem to be stuck in the pogue’s country. Dissatisfied with the inept political leadership and its responses to the problems of the returning soldier; Paul has started an advocacy campaign for the veterans called: The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.iava.org).

Technically speaking the book is flawless with no typographical or grammatical errors. Paul Rieckhoff writes in a very gripping manner that keeps pulling the reader deeper and deeper into the book. The illustrations included in the book are generally complimentary to the text with one exception. The author included a photo of him meeting Hillary Clinton and noted, in the caption, that the IAVA had a long, interesting and private discussion with the possible future Presidential candidate. Yet with no mention in the text about the conversation this photo appears, at least to this reviewer, to be nothing better than ‘name dropping’ and distracts from the overall quality of the illustrations.

No matter where you stand politically or how you feel about the war in Iraq if you want to see an unabashed and unapologetic look at the war in Iraq as seen by the grunts on the sharp end of the stick than this book is for you. With a list price of $15 dollars this book is in the budget of every person. And as a bonus if you buy this book a portion of the proceeds goes to a worthy charity: Hope for New Veterans Program. This charity fights to prevent homelessness of the veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

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