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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
So there has been some discussion in the 1:6 forum that gets into some of the great books out there about modern military operations/personnel that have been documented by some outstanding writers. As a lover of all things military and books as well, I decided that I would take the time to review some of the military and CIA books that I own. I am going to stick to the modern era only, as that is what I read most often. Everything I will review is non-fiction.

"Black Hawk Down" by Mark Bowden, published by Atlantic Monthly Press

I chose this book first because it is just an outstanding book that covers not only the U.S. side, but also the Somali side of the story. Bowden obviously interviewed a lot of people from the United States Military, Somalis, as well as U.N. personnel I believe when he put this book together. The reader gets a lot of in-depth looks into one of the most secret U.S. military units ever (1st SFOD-D).

The reader is introduced to a plethora of "characters" from the Rangers, 160th SOAR and Delta, almost to the point that it is a little overwhelming. In the movie they merged a lot of people from the book into one character in the movie so that the viewer wouldn't get confused or lost and could better relate. Also there would have been so many more side stories in the movie that it would have been hard to follow. I must say though that the book is MUCH BETTER than the movie. It is an awesome story to say the least.

There is a lot of dated information in this book that wouldn't lend itself to today's fighting force, but there is some good information on each of the military units depicted, a good history lesson in how we got involved in Mogadishu, and a well written depiction of the events of October 3rd/4th, 1993.

"Not A Good Day To Die" by Sean Naylor, published by Berkley Caliber

I chose to review this book next because I rank it up there with "Black Hawk Down". This is a very well written book about Operation Anaconda. The book documents the events that occurred in the Shahi-Kot Valley, Afghanistan from March 1st-18th, 2002. Naylor's subjects include the AFO (Advance Force Operations) team led by Lt. Col. Pete Blaber of Delta Force, Task Force Dagger, Task Force K-Bar, Task Force Mountain (10th Mountain Division & 101st Airborne Division), JSOC elements, and some other players to include the CIA.

Some have alluded to Sean Naylor being a SEAL basher in this book. While there are some obvious issues that are documented about some of the SEAL members, there are some wonderful depictions of an awesome firefight (on the "Finger") and the heroics on Takur Ghar by the SEAL team to attempt to rescue their fallen comrade, Neil Roberts. My belief is that the book fairly documents both the errors and successes of all of the units involved. I think IMHO the depiction of Naylor being a SEAL basher is unsubstantiated.

Overall this book is great. The reader gets an inside look at some outstanding work performed by heroes from both conventional and Special Operations units. I believe there is a good balance of both covered in this book. Of note, one of the Delta Operators from India's reece team is called Bob H. in the book. This is Bob Horrigan who was killed in Iraq on June 17th, 2005.

"Robert's Ridge" by Maclolm MacPherson, published by Dell

I chose this book next only because it ties in with "Not A Good Day To Die". This book is entirely about the events on Takur Ghar with the SEALs and Rangers during Operation Anaconda. It is a good complement to "Not A Good Day To Die" and I believe it goes a little more in-depth on the events that took place on the mountain. It's been a while since I read it so I won't delve into it much more. I will try to re-read it at some point and update this review.

"First In" by Gary Schroen, published by Ballantine Books

I decided to back up a little bit. The 1st two books I talked about, "Black Hawk Down" and Not a Good Day To Die" were picked first because of how much great information and writing went into each of those books. Now I am going to back track and go back to where it all started in Afghanistan. "First In" is a first hand account of the first members of the United States to enter Afghanistan after 9/11.

Gary Schroen is the leader of a 7 man CIA team (that grows to 9 later on) that is tasked with entering Afghanistan and preparing the battle space for American military forces to wage war on al Qaeda and the Taliban. Gary Schroen was allowed by the CIA to publish this book. There are no redactions at all in this book, which makes it a very pleasant read to say the least. There is a lot of outstanding information about not only Gary's CIA team but other CIA teams operating in Afghanistan, with an account of the near miss on Hamid Karzai's life by a miss directed JDAM (this event is well documented in "The Only Thing Worth Dying For" by Eric Blehm).

Amazingly there is a lot of information in this book that is redacted in other CIA accounts. This book was sanctioned by the CIA, and I believe that may be due to how senior Schroen was at the time (Deputy Chief of the Near East Division of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, preparing to retire after 35 years). If you are interested in the CIA I highly recommend this book.

"Jawbreaker" by Gary Berntsen, published by Crown

Next up is a book that carries over from "First In". Berntsen was tasked with relieving Schroen (so that he could retire) in Afghanistan and running the operations in the country. Basically he was the station chief for the country of Afghanistan.

This book is heavily redacted by the CIA. I think that it's odd that some of the information in this book is redacted here, but not in Schroen's "First In". My thought here is that I perceive Berntsen to be a little cocky (if that is the right term) and I get the feeling he pissed off some people at the CIA.

This book is a fantastic read except for the redactions. They are annoying as hell. If you read this book, read "First In" before you do. You can tie in information from that book to help fill in some of the blanks. There is a lot of great info in this book about CIA operations and it brings the reader up to the events at The Battle of Tora Bora in December 2001 when Schroen was replaced by Rich, the chief of the Bin Laden Unit.

"Kill Bin Laden" by "Dalton Fury", published by St. Martin's Press

"Kill Bin Laden" picks up where "Jawbreaker" left off, except the story shifts from the CIA to Delta Force. "KBL" is written by a retired Delta Force Major who uses the pseudonym "Dalton Fury". The book recounts the events in the Battle Of Tora Bora by the Delta Force element involved as well as the CIA and some Special Forces and SBS commandos from the UK.

"Dalton Fury" has received a lot of flack from Special Forces veterans for his violation of the "Silent Professionals" motto. Fury recounts a little bit of his early history in the Ranger battalion as an enlisted soldier before his Delta Selection (which he gets into a little bit in the book).

Overall the book has a lot of good information. The book doesn't flow well and there is some bouncing around, but the book provided a detailed look at the composition of a Delta Force squadron and the events that took place in the battle. If you are into Delta Force then get this book. It's worth it.

"The Only Thing Worth Dying For" by Eric Blehm, published by Harper

This wonderfully written story documents the exploits of Special Forces ODA 574 from September - December 2001. Blehm does an outstanding job recounting the men and their brave actions in his writing. Some biographies/documentary books can be dry, but I didn't experience that at all. I enjoyed this book very much and highly recommend it.

The book does a fantastic job of explaining to the reader how the ODA's work, their composition, what mission prep is like and the roles and responsibilities of each team member.

"The Mission, The Men, And Me" by Pete Blaber, published by Berkley Caliber

Pete Blaber is a retired Delta Force Lieutenant Colonel. In this book Blaber recounts some of the missions that he and his men performed during his time with Delta Force. After each story Blaber explains how leadership can be applied in the civilian sector to duplicate the successes he had. This book is intended to be a lesson in leadership, but the "war stories" are fantastic. I have a deep respect for Pete Blaber. You can tell that he is an outstanding leader of men and would be the kind of officer that I would want to follow into battle. I highly recommend this book to anyone that likes Delta for and/or leadership lessons.

I will review many more books and add more info as I can. I will put the rest of the reviews in this 1st post to keep them together.

Feel free to offer your own reviews as well. I like to know about other books that I may not have read yet and to discuss impressions and information found in these books.

Semper Fi!
Jeff
 

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thanks for taking the time to do this, Jeff. There are so many military books out right now, especially on the (War on Terror), it's good to get a well educated point of view.
 

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Read and strongly concur with Jeff's recomendations above except for "First In", "The Only Thing Worth Dying For" and "The Mission, The Men, And Me".

I'd add some books about guys you hardly hear or see anything about...

WAR by Junger - Junger embedded himself for months and visited an Infantry platoon in the Korengal Valley for 15 mo. This was some of the most hotly contested regions in Afghanistan and briefly hit the front pages with stories like the battel of Wanat and the action that resulted in SSG Guinta's Medal of Honor. Those fights are not highlighted in the book but the action this conventional infantry unit were involved were just as intense. Its a great read for those interested in the day to day realitiues of close combat.

House to House by Bellavia - SSG Bellavia relates the day to day vicious fighting his Army Infantry squad experienced in the door to door fighting of Falujah (yep, the Army was there also). Plenty of bare knuckles action an climaxes in Bellavia's single handed house clearing resulting in several dead insurgents, hand to hand combat and a silver star.

Shooter by Coughlin - Another conventional war perspective but this time from a Marine sniper supporting his BN in the early days of Iraq. Plenty of action, sniper employment details and war up close in this book. Good read
 

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Jeff - First post from another thread I started awhile back...

American Heroes:Special Operations by Oliver North

Have meant to put up this review for months and am finally getting to it without the pictures I wanted to post (soory, never enough time).

Strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in US Special Ops since 911. Its a series of short battle stories primarily conducted by special operations forces, silver star and above type missions. Covers all the services. Includes a lot of pictures and goes into depth on the various schools, qualifications etc. that spec ops warriors go through.

I believe I know a lot about current ops but this book educated me again and again.

Like I said, Strongly Recommended. The photos are cool and the stories will inspire you to bash something and give you some historical context.

Go to the below amazon link. Click on the cover and it will let you go through several pictures, jacket, table of contents and you can form your own opinion. Hope you find it as worthwhile as I did.

http://www.amazon.com/American-Heroes-Special-Operations-Oliver/dp/0805447121/
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Will,

I have that book as well. Very well put together and some great stories.

Jeff
 

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One of my favorites is My Men are My Heroes story about than 1sgt Brad Kasal in Fallujah. Fighting in the house of death (or hell house forgot what they called it). Wounded by 7 ak rounds and 43 shrapnel pieces from a grenade that he shielded from a fellow Marine. He saved several other Marines. A good book chronicles his life before the service and during. A very good leader. I believe he is a Sgt Major at SOI West.
 

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Just found this thread after an exploration, and since I was one of the people asking about this, I figure I ought to contribute a little bit. The two most recent reads:

Kill or Capture by Matthew Alexander: A chronicle of Alexander's pursuit of "Zafar," the head of al Qaeda in northern Iraq and the next in the chain after the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (whose pursuit Alexander follows in his previous book How to Break a Terrorist). Despite the red-meat title, this book reads more like a spy or police thriller, since Alexander was an interrogator for the Air Force, so he walked in after the door kickers did their thing and tried getting the people in flexcuffs to tell him things. Still incredibly interesting stuff, and he has pretty unequivocally negative things to say about torturing prisoners for information. Proof's in the pudding: his way worked. Absolutely engrossing book -- I read two chapters in a bookstore while I was waiting for someone, bought the book, and tore through the whole thing in a few days.

The Heart and the Fist by Eric Greitens: Eric Greitens did a lot of humanitarian work and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford before he joined the Navy to become a SEAL at age 26. It was part of his belief that "The world needs many more humanitarians than it needs warriors, but there can be none of the former without enough of the latter." This book reminded me a whole lot of Pete Blaber's The Mission, the Men, and Me, in that it's extraordinarily well-written, compelling, and has much to offer above and beyond war stories. In fact, probably less than half the book is about his time in the SEALs, and there's only one portion where he fires his weapon in anger. Even so, I'm glad I read it and happily made a donation to his non-profit The Mission Continues once I was done. FWIW, this is also the first SEAL memoir I've read that didn't just describe Hell Week as nothing but mental and physical anguish; Greitens doesn't deny that it was the biggest challenge of his life, but he also digs deep into what it taught him about himself and also finds the moments of levity during the week (my favorite is probably the story involving the hokey pokey).

Will also double-up on the recommendations for The Mission, The Men, and Me, Not a Good Day to Die, and Roberts Ridge.

A few other, older titles that I liked. As you'll probably figure out, my modern military bookshelf is pretty SOCOM-heavy.

Masters of Chaos by Linda Robinson: Focusing on the US Army Special Forces, starting with a history of their origins in the World War II Jedburgh teams and then progressing through most of their modern operations starting in Panama and running through Iraq and Afghanistan. Robinson seems to have won over the ODAs, since the book is pretty filled with info. Definitely one of the best modern books about Army Special Forces. Her next book, Tell Me How This Ends, was another great read, chronicling the surge in Iraq and the Anbar Awakening.

The Company They Keep by Anna J. Simons: Before Masters of Chaos, this was probably the best book about Special Forces I'd ever read. Simons is an anthropology major who befriended some Green Berets while doing field work in Somalia (before the whole place turned to Hell on Earth), eventually marrying an SF sergeant. It's a lot less about war stories and more about the culture and philosophy of SF, following their training and the values they try to instill. Simons pretty much uses her anthropology training to analyze SF, and the results are really enlightening. It goes pretty deep into a "Robin Sage" exercise (the final test for would-be SF during Q-course), and I think this was the first book I'd ever seen that mentioned the difference in physiological reaction between the average special operations soldier and a conventional one (short, half-remembered version: adrenaline spikes much faster, but drops much faster as well -- SF is known for being able to turn hard, focused aggression on and off very quickly). It was mentioned in passing in the "SERE" episode of The Unit season 1.

Unconventional Warfare by Susan L. Marquis: This book chronicles the rise of USSOCOM from the disaster at Eagle One all the way up to the late 90's. It's definitely written from a more strategic point of view than a tactical one, though there are a number of vivid war stories sprinkled throughout. What makes this book really interesting is the chronicle of combat that occurred on Capitol Hill and Alexandria, as Congress and the Pentagon battled over this new command and how it was supposed to work. The legal wrangling that led to the establishment of SOCOM is at least as interesting as the battlefields SOCOM was deployed to, especially when the book alternates between the two to show how events in one venue affected events in the other. This book used to be out of print (my copy was an eBay purchase from a library), but it looks like it just went back in print recently.

Enough for now. Maybe I'll try to scribble one book review per week or so.
 

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edwick - Ref Alexander's opinion/experience. There are interrogation and intel experts that would differ. Specifically speaking KSM didn't break until they used enhanced interrogation and he provided 75% of what we now know about Al Qaeda's organization, training and approaches. There's also the situation thet resulted in LTC West (now congressman) leaving the service. Like you said, "Proof's in the pudding."

Maybe it's better to stick to subjects that might appeal to the individual soldier/operator and not a potentially controversial and polarizing subject?
 

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These reviews tend to appeal to readers who use their heads for more than hat racks, and they are basic introductions and recommendations. Alexander's book is his point of view, and it's the reader's job to sort things out, when you come right down to it, any book can be polarizing and potentially controversial. It is all of us here being reasonably inquisitive and disciplined people, that will keep dustups from starting.

Now I have to back that up with some recommendations/reviews of my own, which I will get on right away.
 

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I agree with edwick on Masters of Chaos. It describes the transformation of Special Forces units from their traditional tasks to that of fast-moving, hard-hitting combat units in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their adaptability to the demands of the moment is the most impressive part of the book, in my opinion. One of our members operated with these guys, and was a first-hand witness and particpant in their historical missions.

Another work dealing with Special Forces operations in Afghanistan is Hunting al Qaeda by Anonymous. It is an account of the 2002 deployment of ODA 2085, a National Guard SF unit. It recounts their operations as well as the problems they encountered, in those early days. At 239 pages, it's a fast read. I like it for the scale, and the emphasis on getting missions done by sheer determination.

The March Up, by Bing West and Major General Ray L. Smith, covers the 1st Marine Division's 22 day advance to Baghdad, 20 March - 10 April 2003. The authors both retired, combat-experienced Marines, accompanied the Marines, travelling in a small, captured yellow SUV. They moved from unit to unit, witnessing numerous engagements. Another page turner, and a good look from the ground-level.

Two books which function as one important reading, are The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan and The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War. The first was translated and edited by Dr. Les Grau, the second by Dr. Grau and Ali Ahmad Jalali. They are studies of the experience of combatants on both sides of the fight, and cover numerous situations and conditions. The Marine Corps had them published for it's use in 1996.
While there is no magical tome which will guarantee victory in a situation, these books should have been required reading for those who were going to be operating in Afghanistan. I do not think they are outdated, as there is no surety that the US is finished there, once we leave. Beyond that, they offer a close look at the adaptability and counter-adaptability of the foes in the earlier struggle to master that land, which has always known war.

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A-lot of fantastic books above. Dont know how it got this far and Marcus Luttrell's Lone Survivorhas not made this list. Also, I recommend nearly ANYTHING by Bing West- though they can be a bit overly theoretical.
 

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The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan and The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War are both great books though the second is an easier and more applicable read for company grade leaders.

Dr Grau is actually a retired Army Infantry LTC and was working for the Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas when he wrote "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" (an Army funded project). His second book (and the better of the two) was totally funded by the USMC. The Marines did pay for a second run of his first book.

They are commonly required reading in the Army CGSC and War College curriculum.

Tatu - Loved Lone Survivor after wading through the required BUDS is the toughest blah blah blah part. Great story telling of his insertion and eventual rescue, very inspiring. For those that read it I recommend at least visiting visiting the "Victory Point" website http://www.darack.com/sawtalosar/ or reading the book. It fills in some holes, provides back story and makes some corrections to "Lone Survivor" though the author does get into a twist over the op occasionally being incorrectly referred to as Op Red Wing or Redwing (it was Op Red Wings like the Hockey team).
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
A-lot of fantastic books above. Dont know how it got this far and Marcus Luttrell's Lone Survivorhas not made this list. Also, I recommend nearly ANYTHING by Bing West- though they can be a bit overly theoretical.

I'll review "Lone Survivor" when I get the time. I need to reread it as it has been a few years since I first read it.

Going back to Matthew Alexander's book "Kill Or Capture", I have read this book as well as his other book, "How To Break A Terrorist", which predates the previous book. Both books are well written and give a second side to the art of interrogation. While I agree with the author and his assertion of how best to interrogate lower level combatants and non "true believers", I think that there are certain individuals that are die hard in their beliefs that can not be broken through conventional interrogation methods. I am not an expert on the subject, so I will stop right there as this is only my personal opinion.

The books are well written and I am a firm believer that hearing all sides to a story/argument is the way to better enlightenment on any subject.

Jeff
 

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I also forgot to mention Two Wars by former Ranger Nate Self. He was the PL of Rangers that went to Takur Ghar (Roberts Ridge). A lil "preachy" in my opinion but not a bad book. Talks about the challenges they had on the mountain and after leaving the Rangers and Army. I highly recommend this.
 

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I would also add Mike Durant's other book, "The Night Stalkers"... Best for the whole 160th history.

A little more off topic... "Enigma - The battle for the code". All about the various missions in WW2 to capture the German enigma codes and machines.

"Project Azorian"... All about the CIA's attempt to raise the Russain sub.

"Red Eagles"... Covers the once secret Russian aircraft operated as adversaries by the USAF from Tonopah, NV.
 

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Finished "American Sniper" a few days ago and it was FANTASTIC. Written in a straightforward and honest way with plain language for all. A must read in my opinion.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Finished "American Sniper" a few days ago and it was FANTASTIC. Written in a straightforward and honest way with plain language for all. A must read in my opinion.
I just ordered this book from Amazon the other day and I am looking forward to reading it.

Jeff
 

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Just read two books I'd recommend:

American Sniper by Chris Kyle - As Tat already said great book. Concur with everything he's said. First SEAL book I've read that hasn't oozed with over the top arrogance. Plenty of action and he devotes a section to describing his kit in detail.

SEAL Target Geronimo by Chuck Pfarrer - This book is one of the few books SOCOM has ever blacklisted and has received tons of bad reviews. I believed them until I read the book to stop my close friend (badass former CID agent that lurks here) from nagging me to death. He even lent me his copy because I wouldn't buy it. My mistake.

Up front I didn't like the author's blatant and one sided anti-Israel bias and he describes what's going on in the operator's mind sometimes which seems overly "novelish" but he delivers BIG in other ways.

I learned quite a bit about DEVGRU that I didn't know. His combat descriptions are tactically sound though sometimes a bit overdramatic. His descriptions of the Maersk takedown and Bin Laden raid are riveting. In fact his Bin Laden raid version is the most believable I've read yet. (Maybe that's why he's been slammed?) He describes a top-down takedown, the choreography in Bin Laden's bedroom to rationally explain how Bin Laden took two in the chest, one in the head and his wife was hit in the calf.
All in all this is a good read and considering Pfarrer actually served in DEVGRU might be more plausible than most. I think SOCOM "doth protest too much"…
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
I was on the fence about "SEAL Target Geronimo" but I may pick it up after all. I was a little hesitant after SOCOM threw a fit. I was thinking that there may be a lot of made up stuff, but I may just give it a read to compare all of the other stuff that I have read out there.

I got "American Sniper" the other day with a bunch of other books and have yet to even open it up. I have about 10 new books to read through, mostly fiction.

Jeff
 
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