An unwelcome tour of duty inspires this garbled but genuine chronicle of a soldier during the Gulf War.
At the time of Iraq’s fateful invasion of Kuwait, Eash was only 19 years old and unwittingly on the brink of a bizarre coming-of-age when he is called to war. Whether recounting tales of chasing women South of the Border from his Texas base or reminiscing about epic scorpion-versus-beetle battles in the Saudi Arabian desert, the youth and inexperience of the author and his fellow Army recruits is tragically clear throughout the narrative. Despite being couched in a grammatical minefield, Eash’s account becomes an unselfconscious Everyman’s portrait of the war. Without the pretensions of a hero’s tale or intellectual jabs at the absurdity of human conflict, he fills his story with authentic details: hole-digging competitions to pass time in the desert, punishments meted out for leaving his post (even to aid a crashed helicopter) and uneasiness around the international media covering his battalion’s first entry into Iraq. The emotions, if ineloquently stated, are raw and run the gamut of rage: anger at being separated from his new wife, horror of his first killings and frustration over Iraq’s unwillingness to negotiate. Eash is flooded with relief upon learning he will go home, but it’s a comfort shot through with incredulity that the U.S. government would denounce Saddam Hussein’s atrocities but leave the dictator in power. To appreciate this soldier’s story, the reader needs to turn a blind eye to the glaring flaws in his writing. Not a page goes by without tangents rife with distrust of the military’s top brass, platitudes, trite life advice or political diatribes (Eash makes no secret of his anti-illegal immigration and pro-legalized marijuana platform). But the rhetorical style, however inexpert, opens a window into a segment of American society often dramatized by the press, romanticized by politicians or demonized by pacifists that rarely finds its own voice.
Rough-around-the-edges tale that achieves an authenticity more polished authors struggle to duplicate.