Decisions on matters of foreign policy have consequences. For those who too often forget that those consequences are often human costs, an excellent and emotionally wrenching book by Military Times reporter Kelly Kennedy, They Fought For Each Other: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Hardest Hit Unit in Iraq, provides a much needed reminder.
Unlike many reporter’s books covering the Iraq war, Kennedy (full disclosure: we worked together at Military Times) leaves herself out of the story and instead relates the battles fought by the soldiers of Charlie Company 26th Infantry during a fifteen month tour in the Sunni stronghold of Adhamiya in Baghdad.
It was a period in the Iraq war, the “surge,” that many now regard as a triumphant moment in an otherwise pointless war. To the men of Charlie Company, the battles they fought during the surge were anything but triumphant; their battalion, the 1st of the 26th, lost 31 men killed and 122 wounded, the worst losses suffered by any battalion since Vietnam.
Their enemy was a faceless insurgent who seeded the roads the American soldiers patrolled with massive IEDs and explosively formed penetrators that could burn a hole through any armored vehicle. On a particularly bloody day in summer 2007, a deep buried IED detonated beneath one of Charlie company’s Bradley fighting vehicles, killing all six occupants. The strain of the combat and the horrible losses often proved overwhelming: a popular first sergeant shot himself in the head in front of his troops.
After a particularly difficult stretch of fighting, Charlie company refused to leave the base, for fear of what the exhausted and enraged soldiers might do. Some of the NCOs and enlisted men were shipped off to other units. The 1st of the 26th was disbanded soon after it returned home.
The supposed end of combat operations in Iraq has prompted a lot of questions about what exactly was gained by seven years of fighting in Iraq. Reading Kennedy’s account of Charlie company’s bloody 15 month tour, its hard to conclude, whatever the outcome in Iraq, that it was worth the sacrifice of so many brave young soldiers.
– Greg Grant