Have you ever felt hopeless like you were gonna die, like no one cared, or like you were being treated unfair. We all feel these emotions but in controlled environments in the safety of our home. Imagine these feelings in the middle of a war zone being a soldier neglected by his superiors, thinking you’re going to die every time you leave the squalor of your small patrol base. These emotions were common in Mahmudiyah, Iraq circa 2006 where the 502nd Airborne Brigade of the legendary of 101st Airborne Division was posted. To be more precise the First Platoon of Bravo Company were feeling these emotions. Their war was a harsh one, more than a year of living hell, out of it came hate, violence and death but also love, loyalty and brotherhood came from it. This book is a testament to human will, what combat does to a group of close knit men and also how the warrior class of America is to be forever respected.
This book is about the year that 502nd Airborne Brigade or the Black Hearts Brigade, due to the fact that each member had a heart patch sown on their helmets, spent in Iraq. On this tour the infamous Muhmudiyah killings took place but despite what you might think this is not an anti-war book as it focuses on their whole tour and not just that single moment. The book is about the environment this group of soldiers was subjected too and how they would try and cope. The book revolves around Bravo Company First Platoon and also a few major players in the Brigade. The book starts by giving you extensive information on the Brigade and on its commanders then its gives you a background on the soldiers and company grade officers of Bravo Company who this book mainly revolves around. The story progresses in chronological order chronicling each grueling event that happened during the tour each death and the effect of it on the men. The book is extremely detailed painting a clear enough picture on the events that transpired while also being indifferent. The book also tells a tale of incompetence on part of the command staff of the Brigade. It paints a picture on how they failed to get vital equipment to the troops of first platoon and how they completely ignored their lack of manpower when manning the dangerous traffic control points. It shows how the men of the platoon were forced to live without the basic needs of a human being such as bathrooms or air conditioning to deal with the 120F heat. Or how command blamed the death of two of the soldiers in first platoon on a lack of discipline and combat readiness not on lack of Hesco barriers they failed to provide or the prevention of allowing them to procure a building. It tells you about how command would make the men walk down IED lined streets because they didn’t want to use Humvee’s which would cost more to replace than a soldier. It tells how madness slowly gripped the platoon members after the death, the kidnap and execution of their brothers due to the lack of manpower and equipment they were given. Or how they became closed off to outsiders and barley acknowledged anyone else in their company. It shows the incompetence of the Iraqi Army and the fact that soldiers were drinking and going on patrol drunk due to all the stress. It also paints a picture of bravery under fire and their willingness to die for each other. It is a book of many contrasts but that’s what makes it special.
The books character are all real people and more importantly real soldiers. The characters in the book are as diverse as they are deep with each one making actions that define the type of person they are. The star of the book which was written about beautifully was a tie between Private First Class Steven Green, who was a bullied and misunderstood child who was mentally scarred by his childhood who turned to the Army and ended up becoming a sub-par soldier who didn’t care about anything except for his battle brothers. It also portrayed his mental deterioration in a beautifully sick way and his growing hate for Iraqis and his willingness to harm Iraqis up to his delight in murdering the Janabi family and the pride he felt for partaking in the incident. The other character that caught my eye was Colonel Kunk who was the commander of the brigade and the embodiment of incompetence throughout from neglecting his men to reprimanding them for actions that were his own fault all the way to refusing to take any advise and verbally abusing the men of first platoon every chance he got. The characters are so vividly written about that their emotions effect you be it sadness or hate. By the last page of the book you feel a strong bond to the men of Bravo Company, First Platoon of the Black Hearts Brigade.
In my opinion this book is an account of a year in hell on earth and that is a compliment. The book was beautifully dark and was terribly grim it was delightful to read. Each page was a cliffhanger and each paragraph was a wonder. This book was a rollercoaster of emotion and left you crying, screaming or laughing. It was like reading Apocalypse Now in Iraq or reading a serial killer story set in a war zone. It is by far the best book I have read on the War in Iraq and one of the best on the War on Terror.
This book takes you to both extremes and leaves you as satisfied as a 20 ounce steak. This book is not for the feint of heart but for those who read it will get an intense journey. The cast is diverse and unlike many books with an impressive cast is non fiction. It gets you thinking “what if I was there” or “what would I do there” and gives you an insight on America’s finest and the harrowing journey of combat