Thursday, August 9, 2012

My Review of the Outstanding Iraq War Novel, "Fobbit"

"I'm The Fighting Leprechaun...and I'm a Fobbit." 
(Or at least was one for a year.)

As a recovering Fobbit, who blogged during my deployment as my 

personal journal, I had very high expectations when David Abrams' novel 
was announced. 
I made an advance purchase for my Kindle the first week it was available, 
and my anticipation grew from hearing the positive buzz from other 
military writers I respect and admire. (i.e., Matt Gallagher) 
When the opportunity arose to get an advance copy of "Fobbit" through 
the Amazon Vine program, I jumped at the chance.

"Fobbit" exceeded my expectations in a very big way. 

David Abrams absolutely NAILED what it was like to serve in the 
Baghdad area, both for those who went "outside the wire" 
on a regular basis, and for those who stayed on the inside 
of the Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), especially like 
Camp Victory, Camp Liberty, and the other FOBs which 
made up Victory Base Complex. 
Although I was there several years later than Mr. Abrams, very little of 
the culture, aside from different uniforms and the 
absence of multi-national forces, had changed.

Accuracy alone would not have made this superb novel as excellent as it is. 

David Abrams has drawn characters so real and vivid, 
even when they are somewhat of a caricature, 
that they came alive for me. That's pretty tough to do, and it is where 
many military novels fall short. "Fobbit's" cast could very easily be 
soldiers I served alongside...and a few of the scenes came 
uncomfortably close to instances of my own behavior. 
(Thankfully, none of the really egregious examples...
but diving under my desk during an unscheduled "controlled detonation" 
of confiscated enemy explosives is still painful to recall.) 

The divide between Fobbits and combat troops, and 
even "Semi-Fobbits" like I was (30 missions outside the wire) was tangible, 
and often pretty tense. David Abrams artfully illustrates 
that divide with a couple of sentences, which will bring it alive for 
readers, whether you deployed over there or not.

I can't predict with certainty how "Fobbit" will affect readers 

who did NOT serve in Iraq. Obviously my perception is framed 
by my own experience. On the other hand, I was deeply affected by 
military novels such as "Catch-22", "Better Times Than These", 
and "The Thin Red Line" before I became a soldier. 
I'm willing to bet that "Fobbit" will have a similar impact 
on this and future generations. It is that good.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Feeling That Ol' Olympic Games Inadequacy

Every four years, I join with most of the World in cheering the amazing athletic endeavors of Olympians. Their triumphs, and even defeats stir my emotions like no other sporting events. (Of course, being a Seattle Mariners fan, I get so little to cheer about, aside from when Felix Hernandez is pitching another brilliant game, but that's a bit off point.)

For every Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas, or best of all the unexpected champions like Andy Murray, there are the competitors who give it all they've got, yet fall short. Those gritty women's marathoners are a prime example of "No Quit in Them".

Sadly, and selfishly, every year since 1972, I've watched the Summer Olympic Games with a nagging feeling of personal failure lurking behind every vignette. That was the year I tried out for the Olympics, as a trapshooter. I made it to the regional trial, where I was promptly swatted out of the competition like a clay target hit by #8 dust in the sky. I hadn't made it my life's ambition to qualify, mind you, and entered as an impulse, but once I got caught up in the immensity of "making the USA Olympic Team", I wanted it badly.

So I tried and disgrace in that, is there? Well, it's more what I did after that failure which has left me nursing regret for 40 years. Every time I hear another heartwarming story of Olympians overcoming setbacks, injuries, major tragedies to finally qualify for their national team, all I can think is, "You gave up, dude." Maybe I wasn't ever going to be good enough to make the team. But simply because it didn't fall into my lap the first time, I walked away from ever trying again. Perhaps if I had The Right Stuff, had dedicated my energy and time to improving, reaching the very best that I was capable of being, I could have achieved that rare status of "Olympian". Just before the women's marathon, Desiree Davila, who had qualified as the #2 US woman, was being interviewed about the very painful hip flexor injury she had incurred. When asked if she was going to withdraw from the marathon, Ms. Davila squared up to the interviewer and said, "In order to be considered an Olympian, I have to run the race. I don't know how long I'll be able to run, but all my life I've wanted to be considered an yes, I'm going to start."
That statement neatly summed up why Desiree Davila deserves to be a part of that special group, for the rest of her life...and why I'm sitting in my recliner, cheering her, and others like her, while feeling damned inadequate.

I feel better now...thanks.