Joker One Book Review



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

By Donovan Campbell

Hardcover in dustjacket, 307 pages

Published by Random House March 2009

Language: English

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6773-2

Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1 inches


A Fire Team is composed of four Marines.

Three Fire Teams and a Squad Leader make up a Marine Infantry Squad.

Three Squads led by a Platoon Sergeant and Platoon Commander are a Marine Infantry Platoon.

Three Infantry Platoons, a Weapons Platoon, and company command section make a Company.

The same organizational paradigm is repeated to form Battalions, Regiments, and Divisions.  Additional capabilities can be added to this force structure either as a matter of routine or to tailor the unit for a specific mission.  For example, a battalion typically has a sniper platoon, or an armored platoon may be assigned if the mission requires it.  Infantry companies are supported by Navy Corpsmen who are attached to the unit before it deploys.

Donovan Campbell was a Marine First Lieutenant assigned to First Platoon, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment (2/4) in the Fall of 2003.  At the time the Company was severely undermanned – he was the only Platoon Officer in the Company, and the Platoon was the size of a squad.  Over the next few months, additional Marines and Officers were assigned to 2/4 bringing the unit’s manning levels up to allocated levels.  Many of the new Marines were assigned straight out of recruit training, and 2/4 had received orders to deploy to Ramadi in a few months leaving little time for training as a unit.  G Company organized its Weapons Platoon into a fourth Rifle Platoon, operating under the concept that infantry would be more useful than mortars and heavy machine guns in an urban environment filled with civilians.  More ominously, each Platoon received two Navy Corpsmen – far above the usual allocation.

Joker One is 1LT Donovan’s story of leading a Marine Infantry Platoon in Ramadi, Iraq in 2004.  He does an excellent job of relating the host of small decisions which an Officer must make, any one of which can decide the outcome of the mission or whether the Marines under his command become casualties.  Adding to the complexity of the task is the very nature of an insurgency in an urban environment – who is the enemy and who is the innocent civilian or potential ally?  Without a uniform, an enemy can become a civilian simply by dropping his weapon and mingling with the crowd.

This is very much a “boots on the ground” perspective, with insights into urban combat as well as the daily job of keeping up with the routine chores of camp life.  Throughout it all 1LT Donovan displays a genuine affection for his men and concern for the people of Ramadi – ironically more concern than the insurgents show for their own people.  An outstanding book, highly recommended to anyone wanting to study modern small unit leadership.