The author of a gritty portrait of an NYPD homicide detective (Close Pursuit, 1986) offers an equally vivid close-up of a US Army noncom before, during, and after the Gulf War. While Stroud focuses on Master Sergeant Dee Crane, a lifer whose MOS (military occupational specialty) is 11B (combat infantryman), he leaves himself plenty of room for maneuver. In recounting how his unmarried protagonist (blooded in Vietnam during the mid-1960s) preps young all-volunteer troops for deployment to Saudi Arabia, for example, Stroud moves backward and forward in time to provide historical perspectives on Crane's outfit, the 1st Division (a.k.a. The Big Red One), which has distinguished itself on battlefields from the Argonne Forest to the Kasserina Pass. He also touches on the horrific allure of combat, careerism in the Army's upper echelons, and the factors that prevent a long-serving professional like Crane from accepting, let alone pursuing, a commission. For the most part, however, Stroud's engrossing narrative is designed to illustrate how the brotherhood of sergeants--hard but not altogether hardened men plying a violent, demanding trade--constitutes the heart and soul of an armed force. Dragooned by his captain into a press conference on the eve of battle, Crane sets the record straight in grimly hilarious fashion on subjects as varied as casualties, the evolving role of women at or near the front, and the job of a soldier (``...to close with [the enemy] and kill him''). Though in the thick of the fighting, Crane and his inexperienced but well-trained men all make it home. At the close, nearing 50 and facing enforced retirement, the universal noncom takes cold comfort from the knowledge he has been ``a part of some great thing.'' A profane, like-it-is, and oddly elegiac take on close encounters of the enlisted man's kind that rings true throughout.