Book Review: They Fought For Each Other

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

  • mat

    Simple answer is no,iraq was torn apart ,once secular nation fell to religious hardliners that took over the vacum left by dismantling Baath party and iraqi army,what followed was near civil war on ethnic and religious lines and end result hundreds of thousands dead ,destroyed infrastructure,a dictator replaced by a corrupt goverment ,huge boost of Iranian Influence in the region and destabilising effect in general. No to mention bankrupting US and its alies in process .

  • mareo2

    “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.”

    The lessons that bribe terrorist can save blood? That many insurgents are just unemployed trying to release their anger from their problems? That repeat Germany and Japan on Irak don’t get much international and Iraqi support if the one starting the war is the US? That Irak is not ethnically homogeneous like Japan? That Irak was put in danger to be divided in three smaller countries like british India in to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh?

    I think that many schoolars, intelectual and some think tanks talked about this things before.

  • repeat same in Afganistan now?

  • STemplar

    I think history will be the judge. People that make long term strategic judgments based on current events are typically proven egotistical and wrong. Difficult to say what would have occurred between AQ and Hussein had we not taken action since we did. Far too much partisanship politically to accept any pronouncements by anyone at this point in my opinion.

    • jonas

      Had Hussein shown any real inclination to partner with AQ, you might have a point. Since he never did, and the only terrorist presence in Iraq came after Bush’s idiotic gambit, your comment seems a little self-serving. The price we paid in blood, treasure, lost prestige, and appearance of incompetence alone make this a failed venture. It’s just happy talk to pretend that the lives lost there went to some meaningful resolution of a real problem. Saddam was in a box, the war was and is pointless. The fact that this realization hurts doesn’t make it less t

      • STemplar

        I’ll let history be the judge. I also don’t pretend that using hindsight of events still unfolding makes me smart enough to dismiss the decisions of those not gifted with precognition and shouldered with the responsibility of making those decisions.

  • Brenden

    Go there, spend atleast 3 months there. Travel the roads, meet the people, talk to them about the issues at hand. The media represents the worst in that country, and the worst now are fighting a losing battle against a populace who are keen at adapting and quite resiliant to almost any situation. I certainly hope that those of us that have served and fought there have achieved a goal, and after being there I certainly do think that we have.

    • Nadnerbus

      Good lord, I hope you are right.

      Like STemplar said, no one knows the long term results of the war yet, and anyone that claims to is just blowing smoke. But I know that, as someone that supported the war at its beginning, for all the usual reasons, freedom and all that jazz included, it broke my heart to see the mess that was created, and the lives lost, theirs and our own. A kid I worked with, James Coon, was shot in the head and killed there a couple months after deploying on his first tour, and I spent a lot of time wondering how much his death, and all the others were in part my fault for my support.

      All I know is that our only shot at redemption was to try to make it right, and I hope with all my being that we (and by “we” I mean the men and women that have served and sacrificed, not me) have given the people there a shot at something better, and that we think longer and harder the next time we send our kids into harms way.

      My deepest thanks for your service.

  • JRL

    Just a point of clarification/correction to the original post. 1/26 IN was not disbanded after their return from Iraq. 2 BCT, 1st Infantry Division was reflagged as the 172 Infantry BDE (Seperate) and remained in Germany. 1/26 IN became 2/28 IN. The whole 172d BDE deployed again to Iraq in DEC 2008 and returned to Germany in DEC 2009.

  • Oblat

    The biggest winner by far in Iraq has been Iran. Al Quaeda also got a completely new branch for free. Both have profusely and publicly thanked the US for the invasion.

    There is a reason why they call it a strategic blunder of the first order.

  • Drake1

    Was it worth losing our global legitimacy, putting the nation in a weaker political and strategic position in comparison to our adversaries?…that’s not even touching on the irreplaceable lives that were wasted on this preemptive boondoggle.

    No future outcome in Iraq is worth that.

  • Matt Musson

    You still have to be amazed that the US Army was able to pull this off.

    They were not trained for this type of warfare. Yet, they were able to transition

    from fighting major engagements to fighting IED’s.

    The biggest problem in urban warfare will always be the politics – bridging the gulf

    between the officers who want to hold hands around a lake and sing we are the world

    and the warriors who want to shoot bad guys.

  • You people debate the moral aspects of invading Iraq,and I am going to talk about the military implications of losing the war. Yes,we lost the war.Much like we are losing the war in Afghanistan right now. When we invaded Iraq,we did so foolishly and recklessly. We went in with too few forces and tried to hold ground with no forces in place. Only after we started losing soldiers at record rates did we do something about the problem.

    If we went into Iraq for the wrong reasons will be answered by history. But the fact remains….we lost a war by our pathetic, poor,and meaningless rhetoric spewed by the white house and those who control it. Using the excuse we are fighting for their freedom just does not cut the crap when soldiers come home demoralized, and many innocent civilians killed in the cause of freedom…especially when our freedom is in question here at home.

    • cody

      record rates huh?

  • David

    Just a side note, and I haven’t read the book but the unit struck a brain cell. I looked it up and it is the same unit that Ross McGinnis died for and would later receive the Medal of Honor for. I’ll definitely pick this one up.

  • M.G.Halvorsen

    I fully support any Soldier, Sailor, Marine, or Airman who served in Iraq or currently serves in Iraq/ A-stan…and I fully support the arrest, trial and (hopeful) conviction of Bush/Cheney et. al., for high crimes and misdemeanors in reference to this 9 year debacle. The original target was an organization called “Al Qiada”, led by one Osama bin Laden, as I recall…when is HE gonna be brought to trial?

  • prometheusgonewild

    Random thought of the day.
    When the discussion of US nation building comes up in a discussion, I usually point to the difference between South Korea and Vietnam.
    In one instance we prevailed, and the country is now a stable; democratic; economically strong.
    In the other we blew it, and it is a complete disaster. One of the poorest countries on the planet where US activist have to boycott NIKE in order to keep the factories there from treating their workers like slaves…..
    Granted, in both those instances we did not start the conflict. However, the argument could be made that Saddam Hussein started it all by invading Kuwait, and then keeping hostilities at a high point for ten years through brinkmanship.
    Many people say this conflict is about oil. I agree, just not in the same way they are thinking about the issue.
    Oil allowed Hussein to run the country without having to compromise with anyone. It allowed him to buy weapons and bribe foreign diplomats with ease. As long as he had control of the oil he was invulnerable from inside forces.
    In the end, due to the power he wielded through the sale of oil, the prick had to go.
    Anyway, hopefully the future of Iraq is in their own hands. And the oil the country sells will go to them through their elected representatives.
    Am I naive? I really hope not. If you are reading this and hoping I am wrong you have to keep in mind you are hoping an entire country fails because of US politics. Not the deepest sentiment……