All this talk about “American Sniper” reminded me that I had a book review to share with you, still, regarding Operation Iraqi Freedom. It’s called, We Got Him: A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein, by Lt. Col. Steve Russell (Ret).
Full disclosure: Steve is a long-time friend and gave us the book for free. But this was a while ago and he has no knowledge of this review. Or probably my blog.
We Got Him focuses on a very specific timeframe – Steve’s time as commander of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment while they spearheaded the search for Saddam. I originally intended to share this review for the 10th anniversary of the capture, but, well, December is a crazy busy time and it gets away from you.
Steve has been a daily journaler his entire adult life, and the benefit of it is shared in this book. The detail, not only of his decisions and mission executions, but also of the soldiers he served with and over, makes the reader feels immediately present. You begin to feel you know the people he served with, at least to a degree, which is especially poignant since not everyone makes it home. I appreciated that he gave life to several of those who died in the line of executing this mission, as well as listing their names in the back of the book for posterity.
His dry humor and straight-forward delivery are present on every page. One of my favorite examples is the story of how he got “personally banned” from the mess hall downrange over some Coca-Cola. I won’t reproduce it here because it is a few pages, but I laughed. We share a mutual dislike of Stupid Army Rules.
I read this book while SoldierMan was deployed. Come to think of it, I didn’t really avoid “war stuff” while he was gone. I think I sought it out even more. I wanted to relate somehow to the experiences he was having, completely apart from me. Anyway, I read this right after he left, and so paragraphs like this were particularly impactful:
“It was time to go. I hugged my five kids one by one. Hard. I smelled them and embraced them in the hopes of remembering their every detail. I knew from previous deployments that it was actually possible to forget the sharp details of what my loved ones actually looked like….Cindy and I embraced at the airport. We had done this before. Nothing made it any easier. It was hard to watch her walk away. It was even harder through moist eyes. I felt a wash of guilt flow over me for leaving my wife to shoulder family responsibility single-handedly for months on end. Left alone with five kids, worried about my safety, and staring at a long separation, she could scarcely relate any of it to friends and family at home. Like so many military wives, it was her burden to bear alone.”
Something else I appreciated reading about was what for lack of a better term would be called the public relations with the Iraqis they worked around. Obviously, they needed the Iraqi people to pass along rumors and “tips,” as he calls them, so they could sift through as much information as possible, as well as keeping his soldiers safe by keeping feelings, if not friendly, at least diplomatic. There’s an instance of one of the female soldiers playing duck-duck-goose with some local children that sticks out in my mind.
Steve is also very open about his faith, and what part it played in his mission and his career.
“I often told my soldiers that if God intended for me to die in Iraq, then nothing could prevent it. If not, there was nothing the enemy could do to make it so. I took comfort, like millions of Americans, in my Christian faith. I could lead from the front because I believed that my life was in God’s hands. It didn’t eliminate my fear of death, but it eliminated my anxiety about death.”
He tells the story of Dick Dwinnell, who called Steve’s wife one day out of the blue, finding her number in the phone book. He asked Steve’s wife to pass along this message: God knows where Saddam is, so if they would pray and seek God’s wisdom, God can lead Steve and his men to him.
That became regular practice for Steve and anyone who wished to join him and the chaplain in praying for God to expose the location of the dictator. As he writes, “The flood of information that broke loose in the next three weeks was simply astounding.”
And he’s not exaggerating. What follows is an account that’s every bit as intriguing and exciting as “Zero Dark Thirty,” in my opinion. And who knows, maybe now that “American Sniper” has shown Hollywood that good movies about the War in Iraq aren’t box office poison, this story will finally get the celluloid it deserves. (Yes, I know everything is digital now. Figure of speech.)
Until that happens, I highly encourage you to pick up We Got Him. It’s a great read and available in the usual places.