May 2022 Book Reviews

May 2022 Book Reviews

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Former Ranger Pens His Combat Story

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We March at Midnight: A War Memoir. Ray McPadden. Blackstone Publishing. 240 pages. $26.99

By Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmie Spencer, U.S. Army retired

True warriors are defined by their deeds, not their words, and by their unwavering commitment to mission accomplishment. They are highly motivated and prepared to endure the hardship and suffering they encounter along the way. We March at Midnight: A War Memoir, by award-winning author Ray McPadden, is a candid chronology by a true 21st century warrior.

McPadden delivers a powerful and intimate memoir of his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and openly shares the personal consequences of his time in combat.

Upon graduating from Texas A&M University’s ROTC program in the spring of 2005, McPadden entered the Army as a second lieutenant. After months of training, he was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, as an infantry officer. By this time, the fighting in Afghanistan had intensified, and McPadden’s first combat tour was at hand.

As a brand-new infantry platoon leader, McPadden was in command of one machine-gun squad and three rifle squads, a total of 43 soldiers. Infantrymen are affectionately referred to as “ground-pounders” because they travel by foot and fight on the ground. They carry everything they need on their backs. As the platoon leader, McPadden carried about 100 pounds—light by comparison with his soldiers’ loads. He remembers that “the machine-gun teams have to be pulled to their feet.”

Movement in the mountains of Afghanistan was difficult and hazardous. The rock-strewn terrain, often snow-covered, caused injuries requiring medical attention.

McPadden’s first mission was to establish the first outpost in Korengal, Afghanistan’s deadliest valley. What followed was a 15-month combat deployment filled with life-or-death encounters. Withstanding mortar attacks and ambushes, assaulting enemy positions and repelling counterattacks all became commonplace. The platoon would receive numerous decorations for valor while suffering nearly 50% casualties.

McPadden would serve a total of four combat deployments, receiving a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars. “I got the platoon through,” he says of his performance. “If I do nothing else in life, I have done this.”

 McPadden’s skill and effectiveness as a battle-tested leader earned him a position in the world’s most premier raiding force, the 75th Ranger Regiment. He went to Iraq, where he commanded the first joint strike force of Army Rangers and Navy SEALs. Lightning raids—by helicopter, in armored vehicles and on foot—became a nightly routine, targeting buildings that harbored bomb-makers and enemy combatants.

After a final deployment to Afghanistan, he made the long transition to civilian life, where he discovered that his “normal is not normal.”

McPadden holds nothing back in this fast-paced, spellbinding account of his time in combat. We March at Midnight is a true war story—and who doesn’t like a good war story? Especially if it is as well written as this one.

Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmie Spencer, U.S. Army retired, held assignments with infantry, Special Forces and Ranger units during his 32 years of active military service. He is the former director of the Association of the U.S. Army’s NCO and Soldier Programs and is an AUSA senior fellow.

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Fielding Solutions to Wartime Problems

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Securing the MRAP: Lessons Learned in Marketing and Military Procurement. James Hasik. Texas A&M University Press. 320 pages. $45

By Col. David Dworak, U.S. Army retired

In 2004, Donald Rumsfeld famously said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” This was the secretary of defense’s answer when troops questioned why they were being deployed to Iraq with vehicles that had little to no armored protection, despite the threat of IEDs.

Securing the MRAP: Lessons Learned in Marketing and Military Procurement, by James Hasik, provides an intriguing look into military and industrial efforts to field Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected (MRAP) wheeled armored vehicles during the war on terror.

Hasik theorizes that the fundamental problem surrounding MRAP procurement was that the nature of the conflict was fundamentally anathematic to the traditional American way of war. Insurgents avoided direct confrontation, preferring to target convoys with roadside bombs. Meanwhile, major acquisition projects such as the Army’s Future Combat Systems focused on force-on-force engagement. The need for MRAPs conflicted with long-term procurement priorities, and the vehicles were seen as less legitimate than other more traditional types of equipment.

Roadside mines were not a new threat during the war on terror. MRAP technology developed in the 1970s was readily available. However, industrial capacity was limited. Selling the product to the bureaucracy required innovative messaging. Army leaders were concerned that programs such as the MRAP might divert funding away from other high-priority acquisition programs.

Additionally, MRAPs did not look like traditional fighting vehicles, which would necessitate a transition in thought for Army leadership. And MRAPs put the focus on protecting the soldier, vice defeating the enemy.

Hasik’s book takes the reader through three distinct cycles of attempted adoption. A loose marketing effort coordinated among public and private entrepreneurs, the military and civil government ultimately resulted in Defense Secretary Robert Gates declaring MRAPs to be a top procurement priority in 2007—years after the need was first identified. Perhaps most interesting is the marketing strategy itself: build a handful of vehicles and get them into the hands of the Marine Corps, since that service is known for agility and innovation. Let word spread of the usefulness of MRAPs, then the Army will go along based on demonstrated results. Small numbers were needed to get purchase orders for bigger numbers.

What Hasik provides is not just a history of the MRAP program and his thoughts on the importance of a marketing strategy, but the book itself serves as a unique case study on the challenges of designing an effective and flexible procurement system.

The MRAP story raises questions about institutional agility, assumptions and the relationship between those who generate requirements, industry, logisticians, Congress and service bureaucracies. There is even a question raised about the role of retired flag officers advocating for materiel solutions when those solutions may be disjointed from the needs of a changing operational environment.

When the battlefield gives an unexpected problem, how can the nation bring industry, the military and government together to work on developing innovative wartime solutions? Hasik proposes that marketing is a possible approach when a service vision is out of alignment with the demands of the environment, and he shows that innovation does not always come from the top down.

Securing the MRAP is well researched, and Hasik has the right background to add context to the story: He’s been a procurement consultant at IBM, a logistician at Accenture and a weapon systems analyst. The book is not just about buying a new system of vehicles; it also addresses service priorities and the purpose and future of land forces. There are insights and recommendations for legislators, policymakers, industrialists, theorists and senior military leaders.

Col. David Dworak, U.S. Army retired, is deputy provost of the U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. He is a career logistician and has taught graduate-level courses in operational planning, military history and supply chain management. He has a doctorate in history from Syracuse University, New York.

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Powerful Weapons Spur Military Medicine

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The Great War and the Birth of Modern Medicine: A History. Thomas Helling, M.D. Pegasus Books. 496 pages. $32

By Maj. Gen. George Alexander, M.D., U.S. Army retired

The Great War and the Birth of Modern Medicine: A History is a book whose very premise about the horrors of war leading to wonders of healing will make you want to complete a cover-to-cover reading.

Written by Dr. Thomas Helling, head of general surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the book is a 12-part treatise on the casualties of World War I in Europe. It chronicles how a new generation of weapons inflicted wounds—described in sometimes unnerving detail by chemists, physicists, doctors and researchers—but prompted notable advancements in military medicine and surgery.

Helling begins by detailing how battlefield medical men were ill-prepared to cope with the early 20th century’s powerful munitions of destruction that resulted in complete carnage. This included death, wretched injury, hemorrhagic shock, gas gangrene, brain trauma, poisoning and influenza. For instance, in a four-day period of combat during the summer of 1914, French forces suffered some 140,000 casualties on the borders of France and Belgium. This number stunned health workers, who were unable to care for or evacuate soldiers in a timely manner. The wounds inflicted were terribly complex. The fate of the wounded was appalling.

Professor Alfred Mignon, a French surgeon in chief and medical director for the army of Verdun, was impressed with the development of fully functioning mobile field hospitals and overcame resistance to place them at the front. The mobile hospitals delivered swift surgical care to critically wounded patients. Early intervention revolutionized battlefield medicine and ensured that mobile surgical hospitals would become standard on future battlefields.

Understanding the effects of massive warfare injury ultimately led to breakthroughs in blood preservation, blood storage and means of rapid infusion for the majority of wounded soldiers. These medical advances would form the foundations of care for battlefield trauma for generations to come.

Gas gangrene was one of the many nightmares of the Great War. Considered the “most atrocious of ills,” it became a frightening problem for soldiers. This form of gangrene was caused by infection of the bacterium Clostridium perfringens, prevalent in the mud and filth of the trenches, which produced toxins that released gas and caused tissue death in battlefield wounds. Investigating this problem brought together scientists and surgeons, and led to an understanding of the cause and the development of new treatments.

Helling’s sophisticated and scholarly prose goes on to examine other horrors of war such as chemical warfare, shell shock and influenza, showing how their challenges led to medical advancements. He provides compelling evidence that revolutionary developments in the use of X-rays, brain surgery, plastic surgery and bone setting had their beginnings on the battlefields of France.

The Great War and the Birth of Modern Medicine provides a harsh, realistic view of World War I and the battlefield wounds soldiers endured. It affords today’s leaders and soldiers with an understanding of the perils of warfare and how they should be prepared mentally and physically to serve in the Army.

The book also highlights the great efforts of military surgeons and scientists to reduce the suffering of the wounded. They combined new knowledge and technology for the benefit of the next generation.

Maj. Gen. George Alexander, M.D., U.S. Army retired, served as deputy surgeon general for the Army National Guard in the Office of the U.S. Army Surgeon General. He earned his medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine, Washington, D.C., and completed postgraduate medical specialty training at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.

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Africa Battles Forged Iron-Willed Leader

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Patton’s Payback: The Battle of El Guettar and General Patton’s Rise to Glory. Stephen Moore. Dutton Caliber. 368 pages. $30

By Col. Cole Kingseed, U.S. Army retired

Seventy-seven years after the end of World War II in Europe, Gen. George Patton Jr. continues to fascinate the American public and military historians alike. In a fresh interpretation of Patton’s military career, author Stephen Moore examines Patton’s campaigns in North Africa in 1943. Patton’s Payback: The Battle of El Guettar and General Patton’s Rise to Glory concentrates on Patton’s command of the U.S. Army’s II Corps in the aftermath of the debacle at Tunisia’s Kasserine Pass in February 1943, when German forces routed inexperienced Allied troops.

Other than in the prologue, Patton does not appear as a major player in Moore’s narrative until the aftermath of the battles around Sidi Bou Zid and Kasserine Pass is discussed. During those engagements, II Corps sustained 6,600 killed, wounded or captured, including Lt. Col. John Knight Waters, Patton’s son-in-law, who was captured on Feb. 14, 1943. II Corps’ poor showing is widely viewed by military historians as a significant defeat. Moore, however, takes an opposing stance, opining that the “U.S. Army was the real winner at Kasserine Pass by stopping [German Field Marshal Erwin] Rommel’s offensive.”

Fueled by his personal observations and those of his emissaries, Lt. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower relieved II Corps commander Maj. Gen. Lloyd Fredendall. Enter charismatic Patton, who immediately instilled ironclad discipline to a dispirited army.

Ordering an immediate offensive against the German Afrika Korps, now commanded by Gen. Hans-Jurgen von Arnim, Patton set the stage for the Battles of El Guettar and the Maknassy Hills on March 23, 1943. Patton’s relentless drive resulted in a clear-cut victory over the 10th Panzer Division. In the process, Patton grieved the loss of his personal aide Capt. Dick Jenson, who was killed in combat in Tunisia.

Moore is at his best in identifying Patton’s command philosophy. As outlined in his personal diary, the aggressive Patton believed that the key to martial success was to have armored forces “find out where the enemy is, hold him in front by fire, and get around him.” Second, Patton intended to create in his adversaries “the fear of the unknown.” “If you can’t think of anything else to do, throw a fit, burn a town, do something!” Patton once advised.

Moore contends that Patton possessed a more personal motivation beyond his quest for military glory now that he was in command of American soldiers in combat. Moore writes, “The loss of Jenson, coupled with the earlier capture of his son-in-law, further fueled the passion of George Patton to drive the Germans from Tunisia.”

Perhaps, but what is undeniable is that in assuming command of II Corps on March 5, 1943, Patton had “charted a course for victory, and had whipped an ill-prepared army into shape,” Moore writes.

When Patton relinquished command of II Corps to Maj. Gen. Omar Bradley in mid-April 1943 to concentrate on planning the invasion of Sicily, the war in Tunisia was unfinished. Axis forces in North Africa surrendered on May 13. It was in North Africa that the legend of Patton as a ruthless and aggressive commander was born. Moore helps us understand how that evolution occurred.

Col. Cole Kingseed, U.S. Army retired, a former professor of history at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, is a writer and consultant. He has a doctorate in history from Ohio State University.