A journalist's generation-spanning take on the US military's long march from humiliating defeat in Vietnam to decisive triumph in the Persian Gulf. Kitfield keeps his absorbing narrative at a human level by using the lives of senior Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy officers who were first blooded in Southeast Asia during the 1960s and '70s to recount how America's armed services managed to redeem themselves over the past two decades. Among other important developments, he documents the ways in which observations of the Arab-Israeli clash of 1973 helped trigger internal reforms that produced innovative new doctrines on how the military should operate on a variety of fronts, including battlefields. The end of the draft, appreciably larger defense budgets, a thoroughgoing reorganization of the Pentagon's command structure (to curb interbranch rivalries and mandate cooperation), and the more effective training of high-caliber recruits also prepared the armed forces to perform with lethal efficiency in the Persian Gulf. The author makes it clear, however, that the road to victory was long and hard, with setbacks along the way in Beirut, where scores of Marines died at the hands of a lone terrorist, and in Desert One, the remote venue where a mission to rescue Americans held hostage by Iranian extremists came to grief. The US military also had to deal with drug abuse in the ranks, the integration of women into the services, public apathy, media suspicion, racial strife, and strategists fixated on putative threats posed by the erstwhile Soviet bloc in Central Europe. Kitfield ends his account with Clinton's arrival in the White House, so he does not address the impact on combat-readiness of peacekeeping deployments to Haiti, Kuwait, Rwanda, and Somalia--which, of course, might prove quite another story. Worldly-wise perspectives on a major shift within a government branch historically known for its rigid adherence to tradition.