Joker One: A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood

“Welcome to the world of deception and shifting allegiances that is Iraq, Golf Company. Only a fool would take a person at his word and at face value in this place.”

Donovan Campbell’s account of his time in Iraq leading a Marine platoon is one of the most honest and open war memoirs I have ever read. Campbell isn’t from a family of servicemen; he doesn’t eat, sleep, and breathe the military life. He served because he thought it was the right thing to do. This strongly comes across in the pages of Joker One. Campbell’s compassion for his men is tangible. The reader can feel the weight of the responsibility on Campbell’s shoulders, knowing that the lives of his men are truly in his hands, that the decisions he makes could be the difference between his platoon going home in one piece or not going home at all.joker one

Campbell shows the human side of deployment and war. The longing for home and family, the camaraderie among soldiers, the knowledge that one would die for his brothers, the overwhelming loss and guilt when a Marine makes the ultimate sacrifice, the grin-and-bear-it attitude that one must have when taking orders from some high-up in dress blues with no knowledge of combat and its many dangers, and the struggles a young leader faces in a combat zone.

He discusses how our rules of engagement, meant to endear us to the locals, left us looking weak and vulnerable to the Iraqi people and caused casualties that could have been prevented.

“Knowing that we would not shoot unarmed individuals, the insurgents could thus use our rules of engagement against us by fighting from one house until they were overwhelmed, then leaving their weapons and retreating—unarmed and thus relatively safely mixed with the civilian populace at large—to the next house and the next fighting position. There they would take up arms again and repeat the process.”

I honestly can’t fathom how our men, knowing this, still put on their gear and went out into the streets of Ramadi every day. It’s like their own damn government would rather they die than offend the Iraqis, many of whom were helping the insurgents and causing (directly or indirectly) American casualties.

“Instead, despite our daily kindness, despite the relief projects, the money, the aid that we had already poured into the hospitals, despite the fact that we routinely altered our missions to make ourselves less safe in order to avoid offending them, the citizens of Ramadi had come out of their houses and actively tried to kill us. Multiple intelligence sources later told us that hundreds, if not thousands, of males ranging from teenagers to fifty-year-olds had grabbed their family’s assault rifles, and, using the chaos caused by the hard-core insurgents as cover, they had taken potshots at U.S. forces as we passed by.”

I could easily launch into a tirade about how much this pisses me off and why do we even bother to help a people who have no interest in freedom or democracy, and why should Americans spill blood for them, but since this is a book blog and not a soap box, I will just say that you need to read this book, which left me openly crying on an airplane full of onlookers. Campbell’s story of his platoon and his time in Iraq shows what our men go through in a war zone and what they continue to go through when their deployment ends. Joker One will stay with you for a long time after you’ve finished reading.



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