An American soldier reflects on a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan in this debut memoir.
While stationed in Afghanistan for about a year, stretching from the tail end of 2009 through 2010, intelligence specialist Campau resolved to send regular emails to his family back home. The result of this correspondence is this volume, recounting his days leading a team devoted to the gathering and interpreting of intelligence in a dangerous province that hugs the Pakistani border. Campau’s account reads like a series of self-sufficient vignettes, each describing a character, experience, or cultural feature of Army life. His colorful cast of colleagues, who figure prominently in his remembrance, forms the thread that unifies sometimes-scattershot essays. Campau discusses the cultural proliferation of tattoos among soldiers, once forbidden and now ubiquitous, and the practice of “man-scaping.” (Some chapters are preceded by a disclaimer warning the reader of potentially offensive material to follow.) The best of Campau’s reflections, though, revolve around the peculiar atmosphere of military life in a war zone, which vacillates between extreme danger (incoming mortar rounds, for example) and acute boredom. The author expertly discusses the often complex social dynamics of groups working long hours in claustrophobically close quarters and the consequences of sometimes-startling multicultural diversity. A vivid tableau of the military as an organization emerges, which reveals a paradoxical brew of extraordinarily disciplined efficiency and bureaucratic convolution. The same military that can project its forces thousands of miles also buys the lowest grade toilet paper in the world. Sometimes the reader might grow frustrated by the lack of operational details regarding Campau’s profession; he dispenses pithys hint here and there, which both whets and teases one’s appetite for more. Also, the humor has both its highs and lows and can devolve into the juvenile. But Campau’s observational perspicacity and the often hilariously irreverent style of delivery should consistently keep the reader entertained. Also, there’s something touchingly human about the reliance upon lighthearted camaraderie to leaven the weight of living among danger and death day in and day out. Each of Campau’s characterizations reads like both a roast and homage, and his love for his team radiates from every page.
An insightful and comedic look at military life in the theater of war.