Redeployment, by Phil Klay (Penguin Press, 2014, 291 pages, $26.95)
The award winning* Redeployment draws you in with an intriguing cover photo: a Marine with his duffel bag, in silhouette. You can tell he’s a Marine if you look closely at his cover (hat). The background is harder to identify.
I must admit, however, that I consented to review the book because I am a dog book reviewer primarily and the first of the dozen vignettes in Redeployment begins “We shot dogs.”
I must confess, however, that I have not yet read the first essay - yet - and perhaps never will. But the remaining essays or short stories are truly magnificent and reminiscent of The Things They Carried, that lasting Vietnam Conflict novel by Tim O’Brien which is now taught in college English classes.
However, not being prior-service (that is a way of saying you have never been in the military), the reader runs into so many acronyms that he may give up. However, if a glossary were added, it would be voluminous indeed. Even with 25 years’ “in,” myself, I came across a few acro’s that were new to me. Maybe they were Marine lingo. (SALUTE reports, RPGs, SAWs, EPWs are just a few that might get in the way of the non-military reader, and then there are the four-letter words. . . . )
A Baker’s Dozen
Each chapter relates the story of a different Marine and especially the recent conflict in Iraq and its effect on the US troops who were there, mostly in combat, but also some who spent their deployment on a large base supporting the others (in Vietnam they were called REMFs). Most of the book conveys what happens to the Marines when they are back Stateside, the effect the fighting (or non-fighting) had on them, how they seemed, to regular stay-at-home Americans and how they adjusted back into civilian life (not always easily). But what will stay with you most is the camaraderie the troops experienced that sometimes carried over to civilian life.
Written in the first person, each chapter tells the story of a different Marine, from junior enlisted to senior, with a few officers thrown in. Some are arty (artillery), some are adjutants, some are on MRAPs hit by an IED. Phil Klay is truly amazing in his knowledge of various MOS’ (jobs) in a combat zone. Either he is a master of interviewing different job-holders or he has done an amazing amount of research.
The Camaraderie of the Band of Brothers
Those of you who are veterans will be brought back to your days of friendship and solidarity, and bullshit, and will smile when you read ‘nine-line’ because you know what that is, like an inside secret. Some chapters are more avant-garde than others, mostly the longer ones but you will have your favorites, if the topic of ‘coming home/redeployment’ can conjure up favorites. If not, you will recognize yourself in many of the characters in each chapter and the readers will understand, perhaps for the first time, what the band of brothers is all about and why friendships forged in the military last a lifetime.
For All of Us
War touches us all and Klay writes about all of us – students, lawyers, chaplains, infantrymen, State Department employees. War is an elephant – no one can see the entire thing but, together, the whole is more than the sum of the parts. By relating the experiences of many so-different Marines, we get a glimpse of what war is like, both during and after. Now I am waiting for a similar account of Afghanistan.
*2014 National Book Award for fiction, Chatauqua Prize, New York Times list of ten best books for 2014, etc.