For soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division, the road to Baghdad began with a midnight flight out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in late February 2003. For Rick Atkinson, who would spend nearly two months covering the division for The Washington Post, the war in Iraq provided a unique opportunity to observe today's U.S. Army in combat.
Granted complete access to the commanders and troops of the 101st, Atkinson saw their war from the preparations in Kuwait through the occupation of Baghdad. As the war unfolded, he witnessed the division's struggles to overcome a murderous attack by one of its own soldiers, a disastrous Apache helicopter raid, and fierce resistance from guerrilla diehards in Najaf, Karbala, and Hilla.
At the center of Atkinson's drama stands the compelling figure of Major General David H. Petraeus, described by one comrade as "the most competitive man on the planet." Atkinson observes Petraeus as he teaches, goads, and leads his troops and subordinate commanders in several intense battles. All around Petraeus, we watch the men and women of a storied division grapple with the challenges of waging war in an unspeakably harsh environment. But even as the military wins an overwhelming victory, we also see portents of the battles that would haunt the occupation in the long months ahead.
In the Company of Soldiers is a dramatic, utterly fresh view of the modern American soldier in action from the premier military historian of his generation.
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The advent of embedded reporters in the opening days of the 2003 US war on Iraq meant a more direct and personal point of view than battlefield coverage has historically offered. Rick Atkinson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for An Army at Dawn, an account of combat in North Africa during World War II, traveled with the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army from its deployment out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky through its entry into Baghdad. The result, In the Company of Soldiers, is a thoroughly engrossing look at the strategies, personalities, and struggles of waging modern warfare. Much of Atkinson's focus falls on the division's leader, the hugely competitive and charismatic Major General David Petraeus, who seems to guide his troops through Iraq by sheer force of will. Atkinson devotes most of his time to the senior commanders, but the loss of the G.I. perspective, while disappointing, is outweighed by Atkinson's access to the minds of the brass who must navigate an Iraq whose citizens were not nearly as happy as military planners had hoped and who offered resistance in ways other than what the Americans had prepared for. While plenty has been written about the American military effort in Iraq, Atkinson's perspective, combined with a direct, economical writing style, allows him to present sides to the war not often seen or considered: long periods of waiting punctuated with mad scrambles to apply gas masks, fretting over how to pack all necessary supplies into tiny kits, dealing with dust storms that can ground state of the art attack helicopters, and reading the irreverent yet shrewdly observant graffiti left by American soldiers. In the Company of Soldiers lionizes the American military officers but it neither condemns nor offers unqualified praise to the US effort in Iraq. Indeed, the disturbing omens of chaos hinted at soon after the invasion began in the spring of 2003 would come into sharper relief when the book was published a year later. --John MoeAbout the Author:
Rick Atkinson, recipient of the 2010 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing, is the bestselling author of The Day Of Battle, An Army at Dawn, and The Long Gray Line. He was a staff writer and senior editor at The Washington Post for twenty years, and his many awards include Pulitzer Prizes for journalism and history. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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