Joker One: A Recommended Read
Donovan Campbell wanted to lead men. However, he didn't know that until before his senior year at Princeton when he decided to take officer training school to add one more notable bullet point on his resume. While there he had the honor of being screamed at by Marine drill instructors, and left hating the place. However, he could still hear the Marine drill instructor screaming in his face, "Candidate, the currency in which we trade is human lives. Do you think you can handle that responsibility?" After graduation Campbell decided that he could handle that responsibility and that he actually desired it. So with Princeton University in his rearview mirror, Campbell forsook the path of corporate career, and enlisted in the Marines with a passion to lead men. He was determined to enter an environment where he could not hide behind his pedigree, academic record, or mere potential. So he joined the Marines.
Campbell served one tour of duty in Iraq as an intel office but upon coming back home in late 2003 begged for a command position. It was finally granted and he was given the first platoon of Golf Company of Marine Battalion 2/4, nicknamed Joker One and hence the title of the book.
The book begins with Campbell's decision to join the Marines and the reasons for his choice which are very well-explained. This is a good point to say that the book is loaded with a good bit of gung-ho patriotism and a basic faith in God that pervades the story. If you can't handle such a positive appraisal of either and particularly the combination of God and country then perhaps you should pass on this one.
Nevertheless the story is a gripping narrative of the American soldier in combat during the war in Iraq. Campbell's platoon was in the very heat of the 2004 insurgency in Iraq. The 2/4 was stationed in Ramadi which was a key battleground like it's neighboring city of Fallujah. The tour of 2/4 in Ramadi lasted from April to September 2004 during which the insurgency began and gained momentum barely letting up during their time there. In fact, it was after their departure that the Marine force was doubled and tripled in order to put down the insurgency.
One of every two soldiers in Golf company became casualties before September's end and the 2/4 gained the status of being the Marine battalion with the highest casualties since Vietnam. Campbell led his 40-man platoon in mission after mission climaxing in a harrowing account of losing almost all hope. He nearly broke down completely but came back just shy of the breaking point. He made it through to return home and later to go on and serve in Afghanistan.
I listened to the book mainly just to get an account of what combat was like for American soldiers during the Iraqi insurgency so that I could better understand my country, its armed forces, the Iraq war, and the times in which I live. That is, to achieve more of a front-row seat to events in Iraq than that received from the news. For that, I think the book served the purpose well.
The book however went far beyond that. I was surprised by the strong element of faith and brotherhood. Thoughtful reflections on leadership, life and death are found through out. Amazingly, the climax of the entire book is an interesting passage on the evidence of love among the men with whom he served. While that may sound strange in a book on Marines, it is not at all strange in the context of true leadership and the bonds of brotherhood in which each soldier lays his life on the line for the man next to him. Indeed, he found that leadership is all about serving, as he himself stated early in the book, leadership is basically "serving others to an increasingly great degree."
All in all a good read if you enjoy this sort of thing. And a warning: as with most accounts of modern combat, there is plenty of salty speech.