Terror mastermind and mass murderer Osama bin Laden may be dead and his body sunk and polluting the depths of the ocean, but the duties incumbent upon America’s armed forces have not waned and likely will not for the foreseeable future. What that means is a continued strain on our armed forces and the dutiful sacrifice that comes with it. Witness my neighbor, Anthony Fought, a sandy haired, unassuming thirty-year old, representative of America’s current citizen-warrior class. Initially serving with the 107th Cavalry and currently a member of the Ohio National Guard’s 148th Infantry Battalion, Anthony has been deployed overseas twice during his tenure as citizen-soldier since enlisting in 1999. The first overseas activation saw Anthony and his battalion deployed to the Balkans of eastern Europe in 2004; Kosovo to be exact, a city that is home to a majority population of Muslim Albanians, while just so happening to be the ancient home and center of religious devotion to a minority bloc of ethnic Orthodox Christian Serbs. In short, Kosovo was the typical tinder box of religious and ethnic strife where American citizen-soldiers like Anthony and the 148th find themselves stuck between implacable enemies bent on cleansing the other from their midst and whom were less than friendly with the American soldiers tasked with keeping them from the others throats.
The second time Uncle Sam called up his unit was in 2008. Recently married and the new owner of a well-kept home, Anthony stoically accepted the news of the call-up and made preparations to leave his new bride and home. He and the other soldiers of the 148th answered the call to arms only to find themselves sweating under the weight of 70 pounds of armor in the 110 degree desert heat of Kuwait and Iraq. Each mobilization and ensuing deployment took these neighbors, friends, co-workers, husbands, sons and brothers away from their loved ones for at least a period of 13 months. More months are added to the tally when the pre-deployment training is worked into the equation.
So what’s a soldier to do with his downtime when deployed overseas and surrounded by a hostile, suspicious populace? It’s not as if every day and minute is filled with missions and it’s not as if the soldiers can stroll off base to shop for souvenirs at the local bazaar. That’s a sure way to find oneself on the wrong end of a jihadist youtube video, a plight no one really wants to contemplate. In between missions pulling security for supply convoys trekking the dangerous roads of Iraq and Kuwait, boredom inevitably sets in and boredom is the timeless enemy of every soldier, just as much as any AK-47 toting, IED-placing terrorist is. The days, weeks and months must be filled and the ways in which that time is filled is key to maintaining morale.
The military does its collective best to thwart this enemy with disciplined physical training, mission briefings and access to the PX (Post Exchange to those readers unfamiliar with military nomenclature). But there are other amenities made available to the soldiers and many engage in epic bouts of xbox, darts and pool, while others stalk the phone banks and computer terminals so as to keep abreast of current events and make much needed contact with loved ones back in the States.
But what about the books? Is it all guns, tanks, xbox and weight lifting and e-mails home? Of course not. And that’s why I picked Anthony’s brain for “Ten Books Every Soldier Should Take on Deployment”. Soldiers are just like you and me and what is especially poignant about the list is the revelation that our soldiers and their corresponding likes and dislikes are a direct reflection of our culture. Even 5000 miles away from home and with the prospect of a shortened lifespan lurking in the back of their minds, America’s citizen-soldiers seek the solace of a good read, relevant to their current situation. And so, without any further ado, I present the list of books Sgt. Anthony Fought was so kind to compile for this blog post:
#1 Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose: Personally, I loved the HBO series based on the novel and if the series is any reflection of the quality of the book itself, it’s pretty much a no-brainer as to why Anthony placed this one atop his list (though I would have placed the Bible at number 1 if it were my list, considering where the deployment is at, the dangers involved and what’s at stake. But this is Anthony’s list and he and the other soldiers are the ones carrying America’s load in present times.)
#2 D Day: June 6, 1944: the Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen Ambrose: America’s foremost military historian is at it again.
#3 The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann: From across the fence separating our backyards, Anthony gushed about this book. Someone please remind me to ask him to borrow it. It sounds fascinating.
#4 Inferno by Dante Aligheri: I can’t and won’t disagree with Anthony on this one. It made my own list of Ten Books Every Guy Should Read.
#5 Forrest Gump by Winston Groom: America loved the movie so why not the book?
#6 The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: I’ve read it myself and watched the movie.
#7 Angels and Demons by Dan Brown: Did not read this one, but I’m hoping that Anthony still has it on his bookshelf.
#8 Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars (with Rich Hill): Come on, it’s Pete Rose. Odds are it’s a good read. I would wager as much. Any takers?
#9 Lord of the Flies by William Golding: A classic read sporting the timeless theme of good vs evil, chaos vs order, peace vs violence, this blogger was pleased to discover its inclusion on the list.
#10 Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield: This one, among other titles penned by Pressfield, already resides on my bookshelf. Historical fiction at its finest, Gates of Fire chronicles the Battle of Thermopylae and the Spartans heroic stand against Xerxes and his invading horde in an authentic and riveting read sure to thrill even the most tepid of historical fiction fans. A fitting finale to a well-promulgated list. Take a bow, Staff Sgt. Anthony Fought. Job well done.