The calendar turns to autumn and to books about military influence on your world; injuries — moral, mental and physical — from Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan; institutions and business practices; second service and special operations; and insights in poetry and fiction.
Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command by Sean Naylor, St. Martin's Press, 544 pages, $29.99
With 13 pages of bibliography (including an acclaimed 2005 title by the author) and 46 pages of footnotes (with references to the author's articles), former Military Times senior reporter Naylor relentlessly documents nearly every word.
His sources, "a Delta operator" here and "a Team 6 source" there, add mystique and muster to his facts and his reputation.
The result is a history of a command (JSOC) that also assesses the evolution of U.S. military strategy since 1980. Yes, that sounds dry, and acronyms abound. Names change ("confusing, even for the labyrinthine world of special operations naming conventions"). The JSOC path is not concise, but the author's description is remarkably clear.
And the writer of "Not a Good Day to Die" knows when to give page time to the troops, such as this report from north of Mosul:
"The gunman's lifeless body toppled back through the cupola and fell to the ground floor, crashing into a Ranger, the impact tearing the latter's night vision goggles from his face.
"Abu Khalaf was dead.
"The Rangers had been in the house for less than 30 seconds."
Thirty-five years ago, special operations units without a boss were "at the mercy of ad hoc arrangements." From 2002 to 2008, the JSOC staff shot from 800 to 2,300 people, and the command became "the go-to force for ... a range of missions far broader than was ever envisioned."
Nevertheless, leaders must realize that "an elite raiding and intelligence force like JSOC can conduct tactical missions that achieve strategic effects, but it cannot hold ground."
The proof is in this publication.
"War of the Encyclopaedists" by Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite, Scribner, 442 pages, $26
Photo Credit: Scribner
War of the Encyclopaedists by Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite, Scribner, 442 pages, $26
Two guys walk into a bathroom during a party they host at their Encyclopad in Seattle. After puking together, Halifax Corderoy knows his friendship with Mickey Montauk has "evolved from superficial absurdity to something of substance."
The novel evolves similarly, as each makes ethical and romantic missteps.
Kovite, an Army lawyer, and Robinson, a poet, create a clever structure, with fake Wikipedia pages and comic situations including a punch line, told by a soldier, that might make you laugh as loudly as this reviewer did. Throughout, laughter balances the coming-of-angst theme.
"I'm left just doing things and figuring out the consequences later," a friend tells Montauk.
"Now you know how the Army feels," he replies in this enjoyable but substantive look at a Wiki world of wisecracks.
"Where Youth and Laughter Go: With 'The Cutting Edge' in Afghanistan" by Lt. Col. Seth W.B. Folsom, USMC, Naval Institute Press, 352 pages, $34.95
Photo Credit: Naval Institute Press
Where Youth and Laughter Go: With 'The Cutting Edge' in Afghanistan by Lt. Col. Seth W.B. Folsom, USMC, Naval Institute Press, 352 pages, $34.95
This narrative from the front line — which happens to be anywhere you happen to walk — is also the third memoir by a Marine who keeps a journal and notebooks and who is fond of Stephen King and World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon, from whom he borrows the title:
"You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye | who cheer when soldier lads march by, sneak home and pray you'll never know | the hell where youth and laughter go."
Telling about his unit, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, the "Cutting Edge," he presents a tribute to, and a testament of, youthful Marines who become "ethical warriors," become men, in Sangin, "a place where death and dismemberment — which now certainly included decapitation — stalked us at every turn." Ten years after 9/11, Folsom lifts a dead lance corporal's head and feels "the shattered pottery of his destroyed skull against my hands."
This sitrep has sensitivity. Folsom writes "to reconcile my experiences, to make sense of the senseless." In doing so, he makes plenty of sense.
"Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World" by David Vine, Metropolitan Books, 432 pages, $35
Photo Credit: Metropolitan Books
Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World by David Vine, Metropolitan Books, 432 pages, $35
"Although few U.S. citizens realize it," the author says, "we probably have more bases in other people's lands than any other people, nation or empire in world history," with 686 "base sites" abroad. His tally of the cost is "at least $71.8 billion every year."
There, too, are 233,000 "spouses, children and adult family members," outnumbering troops by more than 55,000. These are government figures, and the professor compiled his own list of 12 years' worth of overseas Pentagon contracts: "1.7 million of them."
The problem, which he highlights by citing General Accounting Office reports, is that the spending is "based on incomplete data, shoddy math, little or no attempt to consider cheaper alternatives, and cost analyses that appear to be either incompetent or intentionally manipulated."
Bases often require relationships with "corrupt, antidemocratic and sometimes murderous governments." Indeed, the Italy chapter is titled: "In Bed with the Mob." More than a dozen maps add details and eye-openers such as "The Global Proliferation of Lily Pad Bases" — small "cooperative security locations" that are "secretive in nature."
To keep bases in order, Vine suggests the Pentagon and Congress "create a regular review process" because maybe it's time to be over, over there.
"Charlie Mike: A True Story of Heroes Who Brought Their Mission Home" by Joe Klein, Simon & Schuster, 298 pages, $27
Photo Credit: Simon & Schuster
Charlie Mike: A True Story of Heroes Who Brought Their Mission Home by Joe Klein, Simon & Schuster, 298 pages, $27
Klein, a political columnist and novelist ("Primary Colors"), notes that "Charlie Mike" is "shorthand for 'Continue the Mission,' " and he follows that order in his book, due in October. He effectively uses the development of two organizations formed by and for veterans as ammunition for his theory that "the post-9/11 military would produce civilian leaders with a genius for public service."
The two are The Mission Continues, founded by former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, now a candidate for governor in Missouri, and Team Rubicon, founded by former Marines Jake Wood and William McNulty.
Greitens wrote an autobiography, Wood wrote a leadership book, and the men are household names in the veterans-service world. But Klein's reporting and interviewing produce sketches of them — and others, including Natasha Young and the late Clay Hunt — that show warmth and warts and psychological wounds. Men cry, Klein delicately reports, and leaders need love, too.
"Blue-Eyed Boy: A Memoir by Robert Timberg," Penguin Books, 306 pages, $18
Photo Credit: Penguin Books
Blue-Eyed Boy: A Memoir by Robert Timberg, Penguin Books, 306 pages, $18
For decades, the journalist and biographer thinks "the world did not need another book about a heroic recovery and the courage it took to achieve it, least of all from me."
Fortunately, he changes his mind, and his story, now in paperback, merits last year's acclaim.
Timberg is a lieutenant in South Vietnam in 1967 when a landmine burns off his face, a wound described in a Marine Corps document as "highly repugnant." "Till then," he writes, "I'd never suspected the Corps of having a way with words."
Humor and brevity in the face of adversity literally helps him survive at least 36 operations, be honest about his managing "to screw up" marriages to "two great wives," and write a moving, not maudlin, memoir.
"Tough as They Come" by Travis Mills with Marcus Brotherton, Convergent Books, 272 pages, $25
Photo Credit: Convergent Books
Tough as They Come by Travis Mills with Marcus Brotherton, Convergent Books, 272 pages, $25
On his third deployment to Afghanistan, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Army staff sergeant is on patrol and sets his backpack down — on an IED. "Such a simple act of war" claims his arms and his legs, the stumps "as shredded as raw hamburger."
"My hearing and sight were okay. My man parts were okay, if anyone's wondering. It was just the rest of me that was messed up."
With a spirit that inspires and humbles, Mills does not "think the challenges in my life are any greater than anyone else's." He explains in his memoir, due in October, that he avoids using the phrase "wounded warrior" because "if you still think of yourself as 'wounded,' then you're still focusing on your injury."
"When the Men Go Off to War: Poems by Victoria Lynn Kelly," Naval Institute Press, 96 pages, $27.95
Photo Credit: Naval Institute Press
When the Men Go Off to War: Poems by Victoria Lynn Kelly, Naval Institute Press, 96 pages, $27.95
Women also go off to war, of course, but the perspective of most of the 47 poems by the wife of a Navy fighter pilot is from the home front:
"What happens when they leave | is that the houses fold up like paper dolls."
Her themes of departure, absence and homecoming are universal in place — from Key West to Kandahar — and in meaning: "Everyone who has aged out of our lives might still be getting older somewhere else."
She writes "that the same prayers of broken mothers | still float from this fragile earth." Plenty of her other graceful lines float, too.
"Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat" by Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Penguin Random House, 304 pages, $27.95
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House
Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat by Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Penguin Random House, 304 pages, $27.95
A "several-years-old beef patty with brown sauce in a laminated plastic-and-foil pouch" — one Meal, Ready-to-Eat — has nothing to do with civilian cuisine, correct?
Wrong. The military is "almost the sole investor in the big issues in food science and groundbreaking technology," primarily at the Army Natick (Mass.) Soldier Systems Center, and "to a large degree controls the general direction of the American diet."
As the food writer explores ingredients such as special sauce, "refashioned animal tissue," "extended-life" bread, and cheese powder — "a seminal snack and industrial food ingredient" — she learns that Natick's influence is not "inherently evil."
Sometimes what's on her plate is too scientific or too chatty for everyone's taste, but her reporting deserves more than a half-baked book-jacket illustration. She recommends prying "the decision-making process that guides the Combat Feeding Program from exclusively military hands" and doing more research on products' "possible long-term effects on human health."
"The War Came Home With Him: A Daughter's Memoir" by Catherine Madison, University of Minnesota Press, 232 pages, $24.95
Photo Credit: University of Minnesota Press
The War Came Home With Him: A Daughter's Memoir by Catherine Madison, University of Minnesota Press, 232 pages, $24.95
The war is in Korea, where Capt. Alexander "Doc" Boysen is imprisoned for 38 months and 12 days. In 1953, he is released with unacknowledged post-traumatic stress, and his stoicism is impenetrable — until times it is not. When teenage Catherine is showering, Doc opens the curtain and pulls her nipple because "that's what men do," he explains. "You'd better get used to it."
His children never get used to Army Colonel Surgeon Father God, who secretly keeps a "Whole Story!!" personal file in order "to leave some of me to my children, a part they really never knew." In his daughter's hands, those records become "the tools I needed to learn not only about war and its effect on families but also about him." Her unselfish absolution is admirable.
"Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win" by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, St. Martin's Press, 320 pages, $26.99
Photo Credit: St. Martin's Press
Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, St. Martin's Press, 320 pages, $26.99
Nearly every SEAL author apologizes for adding to the burgeoning SEAL bookshelf, and the two former Navy officers meet the unofficial regulation:
"SEALs have piqued the public's interest," they write, "and received more attention than most of us ever wanted." But they write on. (When will the interest peak?)
In these management cases applicable in the field or the office, the added attention is merited. Why? The men alternate the writing load, and each chapter opens with a detailed report of Iraq battles where "there is no 100 percent right solution" because "the picture is never complete."
But they're 100 percent sure about this principle: "All responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader" who must "own everything in his or her world." Extreme ownership is not to be confused with egotism and requires "operating with a high degree of humility."
In a degree of class, the front cover refrains from touting the name of a SEAL sniper who was under the authors' command in Iraq — the late Chris Kyle. Other books might have tried to cash in on the name, but it does not show up until page 247 of this book, due in October.
"First, Fast, Fearless: How to Lead Like a Navy SEAL" by Brian "Iron Ed" Hiner, retired Navy SEAL lieutenant commander, McGraw Hill, 252 pages, $26
Photo Credit: McGraw Hill
First, Fast, Fearless: How to Lead Like a Navy SEAL by Brian "Iron Ed" Hiner, retired Navy SEAL lieutenant commander, McGraw Hill, 252 pages, $26
"SEALs have risen into the national consciousness through books and movies," the author dutifully explains, "but they don't tell the whole story."
Hiner dives in, stating that successful teams "from the battlefield to the boardroom" share "themes and principles."
For example: Time and attention, respect, unbreakable values, sacrifice and technical proficiency comprise the acronym TRUST and help fill the book with truisms, including 96 in a "maxims" glossary (in case you miss them in the text).
At the end of the day (a phrase that appears at least thrice), first, fast and fearless morph into a fourth "f" word, "familiar." And familiarity breeds content that lacks freshness.
"Timeless Soldier" by Bernard Cenney, AuthorHouse, 328 pages, $27
Photo Credit: AuthorHouse
Timeless Soldier by Bernard Cenney, AuthorHouse, 328 pages, $27
The novel is the fourth in the retired Army lieutenant colonel's "A Sparrow's Tears" series, and the soldier in the title is Special Forces Capt. James Ross.
Ross loves French onion soup and his fiancé, on whose finger he wants to slip an engagement ring while dining by a "huge panoramic" window in Zurich. The intimate situation explodes, which surprises Ross but not readers, and the menu includes Nazis ("Unhand me, swine!"), ISIS, Mossad, romance, the afterlife, a time machine and a "mysterious taxicab driver" without mystery.
This thriller is short on character development and exposition yet makes you want to know how it ends, which is quickly.
ALSO ON THE SHELVES:
War in the Chesapeake: The British Campaigns to Control the Bay, 1813-1814 by Charles Patrick Neimeyer, Naval Institute Press, 256 pages, $44.95
The director of Marine Corps history and retired lieutenant colonel with a Ph.D. brings his academic and military insights to battles.
Last to Die: A Defeated Empire, A Forgotten Mission, and the Last American Killed in World War II by Stephen Harding, Da Capo Press, 288 pages, $26.99
The editor of Military History magazine tells the story of 20-year-old airman and Army sergeant Anthony J. Marchione.
Stump! by Larry Allen Lindsey, Koehlerbooks, 288 pages, $17.95
World War II Navy frogman Lee "Stump" Kelley is the subject of this biography by a retired Navy officer.
4-3-2-1 Leadership: Lessons America's Sons and Daughters Taught Me on the Road from Second Lieutenant to Two-Star General by Vincent E. Boles, Blooming Twig Books, 250 pages, $22
The retired Army major general presents his take and tips about teamwork.
The War Planners by Andrew Watts, Amazon, 104 pages, $12.99
A Naval Academy graduate presents a thriller about cybersecurity, the CIA and China.
J. Ford Huffman is a Military Times book reviewer.