by Rob Schultheis
New York: Gotham Books, 2005. Pp. xxxvi, 188.
Illus, map, index. $26.00. ISBN:1-592-40127-9
Rob Schultheis dedicates this book to the soldiers his memoirs eternalize, those “who have given their lives serving their country and the people of Iraq.” He opens with a famous Patton quote, “Win the war, and also win the peace.” His author’s note tells us he generally carried either a rifle or a pistol with him alongside the Civil Affairs troops with whom he rode because he viewed himself as “another pair of eyes, another finger on the trigger. As long as I was with the team, I was fully prepared to fight in defense of them.” This idea that the war correspondent should, at least in some sense, be rooting for his countrymen may be as foreign as an Iraqi to many reporters these days, but for those readers who care about such things, Schultheis is a stand-up guy.
Schultheis describes a “worldwide free-fire zone” in which “Ground Zero is literally everywhere.” In such a world, Civil Affairs units take on a role of great importance. Nation-building is critical to US strategic aims, and CA units, which he likens to “giant Swiss Army knives,” are up to the task in any number of forms. The US, he says, holds the role of “the guardian of orderly progress in the world.”
Schultheis has a delightful command of the English language and a strikingly relevant knowledge of military history. One point, while describing how his unit is driving around Baghdad after trying to deliver some toys to an orphanage, he writes: “This is the archetypal nightmare of the East, to be caught in a sea, a whirlpool of hostile natives, that could swallow you up in an instant and not leave a trace: shades of Zulu, Custer’s Last Stand, Gordon at Khartoum.” The whole concept of Civil Affairs, according to Schultheis, “is the U.S. military’s great untold story.” Since the Mexican-American War, “our armies have continued helping defeated enemies recover and occupied countries improve themselves.” Tracing back Civil Affairs’ history from General Winfield Scott to the now-famous Small Wars Handbook, he opines: “It was as if there were two sides to the American heart, one violent, even brutal, the other generous and compassionate, and they were both on display everywhere our Manifest Destiny took us.”
His story begins with Chiclet-5, a U.S. Army CA team in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. He says the local Afghanis “expressed scorn for the overpaid, overly bureaucratic civilian aid workers and praised the job the Chiclets were doing.” When a French NGO abandons hundreds of refugees, he explains how Chiclet-5’s colonel, “with a rural American’s root instinct for fair play,” steps up to save them. Seeing Chiclet-5 at work in the newly liberated Afghanistan “was a true revelation” for Schultheis. The team members “were risking their lives every day in order to build a future for a forgotten people betrayed by the rest of the world…your next-door neighbors and mine, but through true grit and sheer nerve they had become heroes, the stuff of myths and legends.”
Schultheis soon heads over to the next front in the Global War on Terrorism, Iraq, living with, reporting on, and serving alongside Civil Affairs Team-A 13 and other units. He criticizes the Coalition Provisional Authority for not employing former Iraqi soldiers and ex-Ba’athists and, as a result, fomenting the insurgency, which coincided with the arrival of foreign jihadists. He describes how one Army sergeant has grown fond of a young Iraqi child who shares the same disease as his son and wants to help her; “maybe this is why we invaded Iraq,” Schultheis suggests, “the secret reason behind the war: so that good ol’ Sergeant Venters can change the life of one little girl.” This, he says, “makes a lot more sense at this point than all the official illusions, like finding weapons that aren’t there, or building mansions on sand and castles in the air.”
The majority of his book focuses on his time with CAT-A 13, “the Always the Hearts and Minds Brigade.” He describes each member of the team in humorous detail a