Marine Corps Tank Battles in the Middle East Book Review

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Marine Corps Tank Battles in the Middle East

By Oscar E. Gilbert

Hardcover in dustjacket, 312 pages, photographs, references, and index

Published by Casemate February 2015

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1612002676

ISBN-13: 978-1612002675

Dimensions:  6.1 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches

Like so many of the modern world’s current political problems, the on-going turmoil in the Middle East can be traced back to diplomatic missteps in the aftermath of the First World War.  Those decisions remain with us and are still costing lives on a daily basis over a century later.  In the first twenty pages of this book Oscar E. Gilbert traces the modern history of the Middle East which imparts on the reader an understanding of the basis for the conflicts which have plagued the region.  This chapter is concise and exceptionally well-written, it alone warrants the purchase of the book and is worthy of periodic re-reading.

The bulk of the book focusses on the use of Marine armor in Iraq and Afghanistan, both the M60 and M1 Abrams main battle tanks along with the lighter LAV-25.  The dominance of the better trained and equipped Marines during the conflicts with the Iraqi Army, even when outnumbered, are well described.  The use of armor in the drawn-out counter insurgency operations also offers many insights, such as the use of the vehicle’s impressive array of sensors.  Tactics used during the Battle of Fallujah illustrates the value of armor in clearing an urban environment, an arena where tanks are generally considered to be at a disadvantage.

The book is well researched and interspaced with first-hand accounts taken from interviews with the participants.  This is an engaging read, made somewhat more poignant by the recent decision to eliminate tanks from the Marine Corp’s inventory.  This is the second of Gilbert’s Marine tanks histories which I have read, and I can recommend them without hesitation.

Hunter Killer Book Review

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Hunter Killer: Inside America’s Unmanned Air War

By LCOL T. Mark McCurley with Kevin Maurer

Hardcover in dustjacket, 368 pages, photographs

Published by Dutton, October 2015

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0525954430

ISBN-13: 978-0525954439

Dimensions: 6.25 x 1.13 x 9.25 inches

This book pulls back the curtain on America’s MQ-1 Predator “drone” program and the people who operate it.  LCOL McCurley was a U.S. Air Force instructor pilot who volunteered for transfer to the Predator program after the 9/11 attacks.  The transfer was not a normal request, the program was not a popular assignment within the USAF – “real” pilots flew fighters, and the Predator had become a dumping ground for officers who didn’t qualify for other assignments.

The term “drone”, though widely used in the press, is inaccurate.  A drone is an automatous vehicle, programmed to perform its mission without human intervention.  The U.S. Navy’s XM-47B is an example.   The MQ-1 Predator and its larger cousin, the MQ-9 Reaper, are more accurately described as Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV) or Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), flown by a pilot and a sensor operator on the ground.  The crew is linked to the aircraft via satellite and can be physically located anywhere in the world.  RPVs operating over Afghanistan are routinely piloted by crews within the U.S.

One revelation for me was that it takes two separate crews to fly a mission – one where the aircraft is physically based to launch and recover the aircraft and one to fly the mission.   Many missions are flown in shifts due to the duration.  The crews operate under similar rules of engagement as any other U.S. unit.  Strike missions which eliminate high-value terrorist targets grab the headlines, but these are usually supported by weeks of routine 24/7 surveillance missions to establish the target’s patterns and minimize collateral damage.

The book is written from the first-person perspective and follows LCOL McCurley’s career in the RPV community.  It is an interesting insight into one of the USAF’s most-used platforms, and corrects many popular misconceptions.  It is an enjoyable read and an engaging story which I can recommend.

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Shooter Book Review

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Shooter: The Autobiography of the Top-Ranked Marine Sniper

By Jack Coughlin and Casey Kuhlman with Donald A. Davis

Hardcover in dustjacket, 320 pages, photographs, indexed

Published by St. Martin’s Press, May 2005

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0312336853

ISBN-13: 978-0312336851

Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches

Shooter is the story of U.S. Marine Staff Sargent Jack Coughlin, told in his own words.   SSGT Coughlin is a sniper.  The book opens with an engagement in Mogadishu, Somalia against Somali militia.  Next are a few chapters focusing on training, exercises, and base life.  Then more training after 9/11 and deployment with the 1st Marine Division and the war in Iraq.

The bulk of the book focuses on Coughlin’s experiences in the three weeks it took his unit, the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment to reach Baghdad from their starting point in Kuwait.  He chaffed at his position within the Headquarters and Services Company and clashed with his Company Commander, but had the respect of his Battalion Commander.  While he was arguably one of the most experienced snipers within the Battalion, while assigned to the H&S Company his job was not sniping.  He was often able to get into the thick of the action with his own small support team however, and usually with the support (and even insistence) of the Battalion CO.

This is very much a “boots on the ground” narrative, with Coughlin describing details of each action, what he did, what he saw, and what he felt – both good and bad.  The Marines lived in their vehicles and endured heat, sandstorms, and MREs while under constant threat of attack by chemical weapons and the regular Iraqi Army, along with ambushes by irregular forces.

This was a very fast read for me as I enjoy this type of book.  It is full of Marine bravado and pulls no punches on the descriptions of combat and the specific tactics used to achieve each objective.  An engaging account, recommend.

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The Fighters Book Review

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The Fighters:  Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq

by C. J. Chivers

Hardcover in dustjacket, 400 pages, indexed

Published by Simon & Schuster August 2018

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1451676646

ISBN-13: 978-1451676648

Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches

The Fighters follows the stories of six American military personnel through their deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In some cases this is a single tour, in others there are multiple deployments.  The progression of both wars is viewed through their personal perspectives, and those perspectives and the wars themselves change over time.   The protagonists are:

  • a Navy fighter pilot, flying F-14s and later F/A-18s from carriers
  • a Navy corpsman assigned to a Marine platoon
  • an Army OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter pilot
  • an Army infantryman
  • a Marine platoon commander
  • an Army Special Forces sergeant.

The stories are very personal and often tragic.  Chivers pulls no punches and gives the reader the whole story, both the good and the bad.  The book is arranged chronologically, so the chapters follow one individual and then shift to another, later returning to the original person on a later deployment.  It is thoroughly researched and very well written, just as you would expect from a Pulitzer Prize winning author.  I can recommend it without hesitation to anyone interested in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.

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American Commander Audiobook Review

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American Commander: Serving a Country Worth Fighting for and Training the Brave Soldiers Who Lead the Way

By Ryan Zinke and Scott McEwen, read by Daniel Butler

Audiobook, 10 hours and 39 minutes, 10 disks

Release Date November 2016

Published by Thomas Nelson

Unabridged

Language: English

ISBN: 9780718092887

ASIN: B01IAIPX3C

Ryan Zenke was a Navy SEAL for twenty-three years, rising to the rank of Commander.  After leaving the service he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Congressman from Montana.  He was later appointed as the Secretary of the Interior in March of 2017.

I often check out audiobooks from the local public library to have something to listen to while driving to model shows or while working at the bench.  It’s a good way to make some constructive use of the time and hopefully learn something new.  SEAL memoirs are often action packed and offer interesting insights into Special Warfare tactics and operations.  This one promised the additional perspective of how military experience could translate into a political career in Washington.

Zinke served in the SEALs from 1986 through 2008, which meant that he had fewer opportunities for combat at the operational level than SEALs who began their service fifteen years later.  Most of the book relates to training, exercises, and planning & coordination.  Still interesting, but not the firsthand combat stories which are standard fare for the majority of the Special Operations autobiographies.  The narrative also jumps around without regard to chronological order or thematic continuity which made the book unnecessarily hard to follow at times.  While Zinke does offer commentary on many political issues throughout the book (President Obama was very unpopular among most military Officers who served during his tenure) there is little offered of Zinke’s term as a Congressman nor how his military service prepared him for Washington.

Zinke relates one negative incident from his time on the SEAL Teams, he was found to have committed a small transgression regarding travel funds and was forced to make restitution.  He described this as a learning experience in the book.  Ironically, he was forced to leave his post as Secretary of the Interior in January 2019 over ethical concerns regarding his travel expenditures.

Not necessarily a bad book, but one which never really grabbed my interest.  The jumping from period to period was an unnecessary distraction and did not add to the narrative in any way.  Pick it up if you are curious about SEAL training or operational planning and haven’t already read enough accounts of that in other books.

US Marine in Iraq Book Review

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US Marine in Iraq: Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003

By Richard S. Lowry, Illustrated by Howard Gerrard

Osprey Warrior Series Book 106

Paperback, 64 pages, heavily illustrated

Published by Osprey Publishing July 2006

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1841769827

ISBN-13: 978-1841769820

Dimensions: 7.2 x 0.1 x 9.7 inches

U.S. Marine in Iraq details the experiences of two Marine enlistees from recruitment through Boot Camp, Infantry School, mechanized combined arms training at Twentynine Palms, deployment aboard ship and eventual combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the invasion of Iraq.  The story follows the Marines’ actions as part of the Second Marine Regiment through the battle of the bridge at An Nasiriya and the fight to capture Baghdad.

One section which will be of interest to wargamers is the integration of a Marine infantry battalion with Amphibious Armored Vehicles (AAV) and M1 Abrams tanks to basically transform them into mechanized infantry.  There are various ways a battalion commander can structure his force around the attached assets and supporting forces to best accomplish the mission and the different options are explained.  Here the armchair LCOL is given some examples of how to configure his (or her) force.

Like all Osprey Warrior books, this one is heavily illustrated and well written.  It provides the reader with a brief but thorough insight into how a Marine battalion is organized and how it fights.  I found the construction of the two fictitious protagonists to be unnecessary and a distraction, the narrative would have been more useful without that device.  Overall though, a good book showing how Marines train and fight.

 

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Bounty Hunter 4/3 Book Review

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Bounty Hunter 4/3

By Jason Delgado with Chris Martin

Hardcover in dustjacket, 352 pages

Published by St. Martin’s Press October 2017

Language: English

ISBN 978-1-250-11200-2

Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches

Each Marine Battalion has a Scout Sniper Platoon which reports to the battalion’s Intelligence Officer.  The platoon consists of approximately twenty Marines who form two man teams.  Becoming a sniper is considered to be stepping up to an elite formation, volunteers are selected from with the battalion.  If a Marine is selected for the sniper platoon, he is taught the fine art of long-range marksmanship and concealment by the more senior members of the platoon and is transformed into a Professionally Instructed Gunman, or PIG.  The best PIGs are selected to attend the USMC Scout Sniper Basic Course, if they graduate they become HOGs – Hunters Of Gunmen.

Bounty Hunter 4/3 is Jason Delgado’s story.  He begins as a street kid growing up in the Bronx who joined the Marines.  He describes his progression from Boot Camp to an infantry battalion, and from there his selection into the sniper platoon.  His training within the platoon during a deployment to Okinawa prepared him for a slot at the Scout Sniper Basic Course, which he passed.  This narrative is the first third of the book.

Operation Desert Storm saw the Marines employ snipers in support of the thrust into Baghdad and the destruction of the Iraqi Army.  Delgado and the other snipers provided support and overwatch to their battalion during the assault through Iraq.  This was a conventional mechanized assault against an organized army.

Delgado’s second deployment to Iraq was to a small city on the Iraqi/Syrian border named Husaybah.  By this time the conflict in Iraq has devolved into an insurgency, with Jihadis infiltrating in from Syria.  This deployment is in marked contrast to Operation Desert Storm, a static occupation with guerrillas amongst the civilian population and all the complexities and rules of engagement which go along with that.

The final portion of the book concerns Delgado’s return to the United States and duty at Marine Special Operations Training Group, where he was a sniper instructor.  The Marines had kept their Force Recon out of the overall Special Operation Command, preferring to keep them under direct Marine control.  MARSOC was founded in 2005, dipping a Marine toe into SOC.  Delgado was ideally positioned the help train and equip that force.

This is a very “hands on” and personalized account of sniper’s role in Iraq in both conventional and counter-insurgency roles.  It was interesting to hear the descriptions of sniper training and employment.  I was surprised at the physical requirements of the Scout Sniper Basic Course, and that they had their own version of Hell Week and subsequent 60% attrition rate.  The similarities and differences between the two deployments are a good indication of the changes in the conflict in Iraq itself – fighting an army is not the same as fighting an insurgency.  This is good insight into one Marine’s journey through life and war, a recommended read.

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Hasegawa Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk in 1/72 Scale

Here is Hasegawa’s Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter.  I think of these as being “modern”, but they’re already retired.  Hard to believe.  I’m old.   This is a relatively simple kit.  The plastic is harder than usual, must be to absorb radar energy better.  It’s also much bigger than I expected, I kept checking to make sure it was the proper scale.  Quite a lot can be seen even with the canopy closed due to the large flat panels.  I used the Eduard mask set which saved time with the sawtooth frames.  The fuselage seams needed filled on the underside, as do the wing joints. The clear sprue contains a solid nose weight.  This was barely enough to keep the nose down, the model will sit on its tail if positioned that way.  I’d add just a bit more weight just to be sure if building another.

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Joker One Book Review

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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.

 

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