As we read entry after entry written on the fields of battle, we see him grow slowly. Fortunately for the reader, he seems incapable of guile and impatient with reflection. The result is a candid, vivid diary of war, refreshing for its realism and its lack of pretense.
Seth participated in the first of the two battles for Fallujah in 2004. Together, those two fierce fights symbolized the American fighting spirit, valor, and support for one another. Seth would flinch at such words. But when you read this book, you will come to understand that Seth—excuse me, Sergeant Conner—is the classic American warrior. He’s tough, cocky, careful about details, determined, caring, and courageous.
Whoa! What happened to the selfish, self-absorbed, testosterone-ridden, sex-driven, binge-drinking teenager in the paragraph at the top of the page? Oh, he’s still there too. In fact, he’s out on some of the patrols with Sergeant Conner. It’s all there—the contradictions of the male ego and libido that pop out in the damnedest places, like downtown Fallujah, which looked in 2004 like Berlin in 1944—a war-ravaged wasteland of rubble and dust. Some letters are laugh-out-loud funny. Here Conner is, surrounded by people dedicated to killing him, and he’s absorbed in writing letters to insure he has a date for the Marine Corps Birthday Ball six months and three continents away. (Do you think he succeeded?)
What compels this narrative is its honesty. You watch a boy grow up. You sense that the Green Machine or The Rifle Club, as the Marine Corps is frequently called, wrapped around him, sensed that he was one of its own, watched over him, infused him, and when he was ready, sent him forth as one of its leaders. Conner doesn’t talk in those terms, but in the early entries you can see him struggling to learn the ropes and fit in, then rebel, then settle down, then face death, then take charge. One minute, he is missing high school; the next, he is pulling his squad out of an ambush in the black of night.
Be careful as you read. Conner is so matter-of-fact that the lines in the letters come across as normal, workaday routine. “Nights are my favorite. I can see every star. There’s a silence except for the crickets, dogs, bombs and missiles, small arms fire, grenade explosions and the Arabic prayer music…It’s beautiful, something out of the movies.” It’s springtime in Fallujah, and a young Marine’s thoughts turn to, well, other emotions. “The company commander volunteered us (for combat patrol). I work for crazy motherfuckers! I love it!”
The title defines war: boredom and death, the exhilarating and the routine. “Guard duty sucks. We have had only one or two kills…” There is nothing routine in what Conner was doing; it only seemed that way to him because he was superbly trained and is a natural warrior.
In 2004, Fallujah was a city of death. Someone was always trying to kill you. As you read Conner’s entries, you have to fill in the background for yourself. Mortars falling each night became so routine that after a while he didn’t mention them, and then, inevitably, the shells found their mark.
Altogether, the narrative encompasses six months as told in about forty short entries and letters that display the character, concerns, and slow maturing of a leader. Conner is a wild, likable guy, and something more. He is our guardian. Thank God we have teenagers who grow into men like him.