The Longest War: Stories from the Battlefields of Iraq & Afghanistan by John F. Holmes, ed.

Marines honor, remember fallen brother in sout...

Marines honor, remember fallen brother in southern Helmand [Image 10 of 16] (Photo credit: DVIDSHUB)

It’s really hard to rate someone writing from personal experience. Particularly if it is an experience that you KNOW you will never have to endure. These are  personal reminiscences of the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War. The editor provides these vignettes ‘warts and all’ without correcting any spelling or grammar that did not affect the meaning of the story, though they did obscure some names of participants, particularly KIA, to spare families additional agony. Likewise, some place names were obscured to protect security data. Nevertheless, the stories are compelling; sometimes poignant, funny, enraging. Well worth the read.


Breathing the Fire Kimberly Dozier

Kimberly Dozier is a former CBS news correspondent who became the news during an embed assignment in Baghdad over the Memorial Day weekend in 2006. What was to be a ’routine’ assignment, if such a thing existed, turned into a hellish nightmare after a 500 pound car bomb was detonated at the scene. Assigned to follow a patrol over the holiday while Americans at home were eating their barbeque and doing their best to forget about the war, the incident put the war back ‘above the fold’. Four members of the party, Captain ames Alex Funkhouser, USA, CBS cameraman Paul Douglas, CBS soundman James Brolan and Captain Funhouser’s Iraqi translator, Sam, died at the scene, all but Douglas, instantly. Breathing the Fire is Dozier’s account of that day and the aftermath it wrought.

The story is engrossing, and as a reporter, Dozier makes it a compelling read. The book opens with Dozier setting the scene the night before the assignment. From there she darts back and forth through time, recounting the story as well as how she put the pieces of the story together. Not unusually for a traumatic brain injury (TBI) sufferer, it took a lot of time and a lot of digging to get the pieces to fall into place. She had to rely on information from outside sources until her slowly recovering brain could fill
in all the facts.

Breathing the Fire gives an in-depth view of trauma care and a small glimpse of the people who provide it. Dozier sets the scene from the Baghdad street corner all the way through her return to work. Included are stops at the Combat Support Hospital (CSH) in Baghdad’s Green Zone and the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a “way station” in Germany for injured troops from Iraq and
Afghanistan, as well as troops based in Germany and their family members. From there Dozier is transferred to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and finally to Kernan Hospital for further rehabilitation.

Through each step, Dozier paints a vivid picture of her injuries, her pain and her care. The tale is emotionally raw and honest. She describes the toll that the bomb took not only on her and her loved ones, but those of the other victims as well. She talks to other service members from the scene as well as family members of those that were lost. In the process, she also tells the story of how she got to her position in Baghdad. The book is really an autobiography of her entire life, including her fight to return to ‘normal
life’ and get back in the field.

Overall, this was a riveting read; almost in stream-of-consciousness mode, the pages keep turning as the tale moves along. The faults are few: Dozier shows a tendency to repeat herself occasionally; the quickly shifting timeline can be a little confusing at times; she also tends to break situations, things and people into simply dichotomies. There is very little grey; there is good and there is evil. And, with very few exceptions, regarding people, the split is class-based: military figures in the field are all good,
administrators, not so much. Nurses and corpsmen are good, doctors tend to be evil. (This is one area where exceptions can be found, notably Dr. Dunne at Bethesda)

Additionally, Dozier spends a decent amount of the book justifying herself, her life and her career choices. While understandable given the context, at times it doesn’t come across very well. She mentions in the postscript to the paperback edition that with some time and distance, she saw the writing as “angry” and chose not to edit that out, as it was her true self at that time. I didn’t sense anger so much as defensiveness and I don’t know that Dozier has anything about which to be defensive.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

Available in paperback 1 November 2011