A memoir of a man who joined the military in the 1970s as his ticket out of Chicago’s inner city.
Debut author Braddock grew up in a tough neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. His biological father mistreated his mother, he says, and the fallout from witnessing such cruelty was lasting. The author was expelled from elementary school after striking a bully with a brick, which forced the family to relocate to another, more dangerous part of town. There, Braddock was robbed at gunpoint on his paper route. He says that his sixth-grade teacher told him that becoming a janitor was the highest achievement he could reasonably aspire to. However, Braddock drew inspiration from a neighborhood woman, Mrs. Hannaberry, who delivered wise counsel from the steps of her apartment building, which were commonly referred to as “The Stump.” Partly as a result of her encouragement and the support of his loving mother and stepfather, Braddock enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1973 and went on to have a long, distinguished career. He was eventually chosen to attend the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, and rose to the rank of command sergeant major. He also won a reputation for being a capable leader, consistently tasked with turning around units lacking discipline and morale. The author’s remembrance jumps back and forth in time as it considers his troubled childhood and his military tenure, and it discusses his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder in a remarkably candid manner. The African-American author also starkly relates his encounters with racism in Chicago and in the South. Overall, Braddock’s life has been a notably dramatic one, and his trajectory from inauspicious origins to being a leader of soldiers is as gripping as it is inspiriting. That said, this account could have been streamlined a touch—there are too many digressions and detours that are inessential to the main themes, even if they’re engaging in their own right. Also, the text too often relates recollections of praise—a tendency that flirts with self-congratulation. However, Braddock still ably delivers a cinematic tale of personal triumph while also offering an illuminating portal into military culture.
An often edifying tour of American military life.