Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War

Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War

4.5 165
by Evan Wright

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"Generation Kill follows the twenty-three Marines of First Recon, in a platoon that spearheaded the blitzkrieg on Iraq. This elite unit, nicknamed "First Suicide Battalion," took the fight directly to the enemy by racing ahead of American battle forces, literally driving into suspected ambush points from the opening days of the invasion until after the fall of Baghdad…  See more details below


"Generation Kill follows the twenty-three Marines of First Recon, in a platoon that spearheaded the blitzkrieg on Iraq. This elite unit, nicknamed "First Suicide Battalion," took the fight directly to the enemy by racing ahead of American battle forces, literally driving into suspected ambush points from the opening days of the invasion until after the fall of Baghdad. Author Evan Wright was embedded for two months with this group and saw frequent action, never leaving the side of the battle-hardened team. In one thirty-day stretch they participated in violent engagement nearly every day. He was welcomed into their ranks - even offered a weapon. From this bird's-eye perspective Wright tells the unsettling story of young men trained by their country to become ruthless killers. He chronicles all the triumph and horror - physical, moral, emotional and spiritual - that these Marines endured." Like such works as Michael Herr's Dispatches and Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers, Wright's book is a portrait of a generation. There is Sergeant Colbert, the icy professional who somehow manages to keep this ragged fraternity together; Corporal Trombley, the shy one who develops a taste for killing; Lieutenant Fick, the Ivy League graduate who would challenge his commander but never break faith with his men; and Captain America, the swaggering, out-of-control commander who is later investigated for war crimes.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Wright rode into Iraq on March 20, 2003, with a platoon of First Reconnaissance Battalion Marines-the Marine Corps' special operations unit whose motto is "Swift, Silent, Deadly." These highly trained and highly motivated First Recon Marines were the leading unit of the American-led invasion force. Wright wrote about that experience in a three-part series in Rolling Stone that was hailed for its evocative, accurate war reporting. This book, a greatly expanded version of that series, matches its accomplishment. Wright is a perceptive reporter and a facile writer. His account is a personality-driven, readable and insightful look at the Iraq War's first month from the Marine grunt's point of view. It jibes with other firsthand reports of the first phase of the Iraqi invasion (including David Zucchino's Thunder Run), showing the unsettling combination of feeble and vicious resistance put up by the Iraqi army, the Fedayeen militiamen and their Syrian allies against American forces bulldozing through towns and cities and into Baghdad. Wright paints compelling portraits of a handful of Marines, most of whom are young, street-smart and dedicated to the business of killing the enemy. As he shows them, the Marines' main problem was trying to sort out civilians from enemy fighters. Wright does not shy away from detailing what happened when the fog of war resulted in the deaths and maimings of innocent Iraqi men, women and children. Nor does he hesitate to describe intimately the few instances in which Marines were killed and wounded. Fortunately, Wright is not exposing the strengths and weaknesses of a new generation of American fighting men, as the misleadingly hyped-up title and subtitle indicate. Instead, he presents a vivid, well-drawn picture of those fighters in action on the front lines in the blitzkrieg-like opening round of the Iraq War. 59,000 first printing. Agent, Richard Abate of ICM. (June 21) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Following 24 marines of the First Recon, heading into (where else?) Iraq. Expanding on a Rolling Stone feature. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"One of the best books to come out of the Iraq war.... An adrenaline rush of intelligent prose." —Financial Times

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Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.36(h) x 1.28(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

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Generation Kill

By Evan Wright

Berkley Publishing Group

Copyright © 2005 Evan Wright
All right reserved.

ISBN: 042520040X

Chapter One

MAJOR GENERAL JAMES MATTIS calls the men in First Reconnaissance Battalion "cocky, obnoxious bastards." Recon Marines belong to a distinct military occupational specialty, and there are only about a thousand of them in the entire Marine Corps. They think of themselves, as much as this is possible within the rigid hierarchy of the military, as individualists, as the Marine Corps' cowboys. They evolved as jacks-of-all-trades, trained to move, observe, hunt and kill in any environment-land, sea or air. They are its special forces.

Recon Marines go through much of the same training as do Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces soldiers. They are physical prodigies who can run twelve miles loaded with 150-pound packs, then jump in the ocean and swim several more miles, still wearing their boots and fatigues, and carrying their weapons and packs. They are trained to parachute, scuba dive, snowshoe, mountain climb and rappel from helicopters. Fewer than 2 percent of all Marines who enter in the Corps are selected for Recon training, and of those chosen, more than half wash out. Even those who make it commonly only do so after suffering bodily injury that borders on the grievous, from shattered legs to broken backs.

Recon Marines are also put through Survival Evasion Resistance Escape school (SERE), a secretive training course where Marines, fighter pilots, Navy SEALs and other military personnel in high-risk jobs are held "captive" in a simulated prisoner-of-war camp in which the student inmates are locked in cages, beaten and subjected to psychological torture overseen by military psychiatrists-all with the intent of training them to stand up to enemy captivity. When Gunny Wynn went through SERE, his "captors," playing on his Texas accent, forced him to wear a Ku Klux Klan hood for several days and pull one of his fellow "inmate" Marines, an African American, around on a leash, treating him as a slave. "They'll think of anything to fuck you up in the head," Gunny Wynn says.

Those who make it through Recon training in one piece, which takes several years to cycle all the way through, are by objective standards the best and toughest in the Marine Corps. Traditionally, their mission is highly specialized. Their training is geared toward stealth-sneaking behind enemy lines in teams of four to six men, observing positions and, above all, avoiding contact with hostile forces.

The one thing they are not trained for is to fight from Humvees, maneuvering in convoys, rushing headlong into enemy positions. This is exactly what they will be doing in Iraq. While the vast majority of the troops will reach Baghdad by swinging west onto modern superhighways and driving, largely unopposed, until they reach the outskirts of the Iraqi capital, Colbert's team in First Recon will get there by fighting its way through some of the crummiest, most treacherous parts of Iraq, usually far ahead of all other American forces. By the end of the campaign, Marines will dub their unit "First Suicide Battalion."

Mattis began hatching his plans for First Recon's unorthodox mission back in November. The General is a small man in his mid-fifties who moves and speaks quickly, with a vowel-mashing speech impediment that gives him a sort of folksy charm. A bold thinker, Mattis's favorite expression is "Doctrine is the last refuge of the unimaginative." On the battlefield, his call sign is "Chaos." His plan for the Marines in Iraq would hinge on disregarding sacred tenets of American military doctrine. His goal was not to shield his Marines from chaos, but to embrace it. No unit would embody this daring philosophy more than First Recon.

In the months leading up to the war on Iraq, battles over doctrine and tactics were still raging within the military. The struggle was primarily between the more cautious "Clinton generals" in the Army, who advocated a methodical invasion with a robust force of several hundred thousand, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his acolytes, who argued for unleashing a sort of American blitzkrieg on Iraq, using a much smaller invasion force-one that would rely on speed and mobility more than on firepower. Rumsfeld's interest in "maneuver warfare," as the doctrine that emphasizes mobility over firepower is called, predated invasion planning for Iraq. Ever since becoming Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld had been pushing his vision of a stripped-down, more mobile military force on the Pentagon as part of a sweeping transformation plan.

Mattis and the Marine Corps had been moving in that direction for nearly a decade. The Iraq campaign would showcase the Corps' embrace of maneuver warfare. Mattis envisioned the Marines' role in Iraq as a rush. While the U.S. Army-all-powerful, slow-moving and cautious-planned its methodical, logistically robust movement up a broad, desert highway, Mattis prepared the Marines for an entirely different campaign. After seizing southern oil facilities within the first forty-eight hours of the war, Mattis planned to immediately send First Recon and a force of some 6,000 Marines into a violent assault through Iraq's Fertile Crescent. Their mission would be to seize the most treacherous route to Baghdad-the roughly 185-kilometer-long, canal-laced urban and agricultural corridor from Nasiriyah to Al Kut.

Saddam had viewed this route, with its almost impenetrable terrain of canals, villages, rickety bridges, hidden tar swamps and dense groves of palm trees, as his not-so-secret weapon in bogging down the Americans. Thousands of Saddam loyalists, both Iraqi regulars and foreign jihadi warriors from Syria, Egypt and Palestinian refugee camps, would hunker down in towns and ambush points along the route. They had excavated thousands of bunkers along the main roads, sown mines and propositioned tens of thousands of weapons. When Saddam famously promised to sink the American invaders into a "quagmire," he was probably thinking of the road from Nasiriyah to Al Kut. It was the worst place in Iraq to send an invading army.

Mattis planned to subvert the quagmire strategy Saddam had planned there by throwing out a basic element of military doctrine: His Marines would assault through the planned route and continue moving without pausing to establish rear security. According to conventional wisdom, invading armies take great pains to secure supply lines to their rear, or they perish. In Mattis's plan, the Marines would never stop charging.

The men in First Recon would be his "shock troops." During key phases of the assault, First Recon would race ahead of the already swift-moving Marine battle forces to throw the Iraqis further off balance. Not only would the Marines in First Recon spearhead the invasion on the ground, they would be at the forefront of a grand American experiment in maneuver warfare. Abstract theories of transforming U.S. military doctrine would come down on their shoulders in the form of sleepless nights and driving into bullets and bombs day after day, often with no idea what their objective was. This experiment would succeed in producing an astonishingly fast invasion. It would also result, in the view of some Marines who witnessed the descent of liberated Baghdad into chaos, in a Pyrrhic victory for a conquering force ill-trained and unequipped to impose order on the country it occupied.

Mattis did not reveal his radical plans for First Recon to its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Ferrando, until November 2002, a couple of months before the battalion deployed to the Middle East. Ferrando would later tell me, "Major General Mattis's plan went against all our training and doctrine, but I can't tell a general I don't do windows."

At the time of Ferrando's initial planning meetings with Mattis, the battalion possessed neither Humvees nor the heavy weapons that go with them. To the men in First Recon, trained to swim or parachute into enemy territory in small teams, the concept of fighting in columns of up to seventy vehicles, as they would in Iraq, was entirely new. Many didn't even have military operators' licenses for Humvees. The vehicles had to be scrounged from Marine Corps recycling depots and arrived in poor condition. The Marines were given only a few weeks to practice combat maneuvers in the Humvees, and just a few days to practice firing the heavy weapons mounted on them before the invasion.

What made Mattis's selection of First Recon for this daring role in the campaign even more surprising is that he had other units available to him-specifically, Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) battalions-which are trained and equipped to fight through enemy ambushes in specialized armored vehicles. When I later ask Mattis why he put First Recon into this unorthodox role, he falls back on what sounds like romantic palaver: "What I look for in the people I want on the battlefield," he says, "are not specific job titles but courage and initiative."

Mattis apparently had such faith in their skills that the Marines in First Recon were kept in the dark as to the nature of their mission in Iraq. Their commanders never told them they would be leading the way through much of the invasion, serving more or less as guinea pigs in the military's experiment with maneuver warfare. Most of the men in First Recon entered the war under the impression that they had been given Humvees to be used as transport vehicles to get them into position to execute conventional, stealthy recon missions on foot. Few imagined the ambush-hunting role they would play in the war. As one of the Marines in First Recon would later put it, "Bunch of psycho officers sent us into shit we never should have gone into. But we came out okay, dog, even though all we was packing was some sac."


Excerpted from Generation Kill by Evan Wright Copyright © 2005 by Evan Wright. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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"One of the best books to come out of the Iraq war.... An adrenaline rush of intelligent prose." —-Financial Times

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Generation Kill 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 165 reviews.
Raven_Nevermore2004 More than 1 year ago
Generation Kill is a daunting and eye opening account of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I as well as most people in America I'm sure, thought of the invasion to be an easy sweep across the desert country. It was compared to other military invasions, but when you get down to the nitty gritty of it and experience what the individual soldiers experienced you see just how special these men and women are. This book details the atrocities a group of special marines had to go through on their way to Baghdad. The buildup of the characters in important in portraying the events as real. You don't want to see them get hurt. You want to relate to them or put yourselves in their shoes. I have never seen the HBO series, but I don't need to. This book does enough to illustrate the strong will of these men and what it took to take over Iraq and occupy it. A good read would be an understatement.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found it very hard to put this book down once I started reading it. Actually I have not yet finished with it, I'm stretching it out to last as long as possible. If you want a realistic and accurate impression of the start of the current war in Iraq, this tome is for you. Sometimes happy, sometimes sad and tragic, many times funny. The dialogue is very catchy, for instance you don't say fire when you want to engage the enemy, you say 'light em up'. Also included are many good photos of the cast of characters. It gives you the feeling you almost know these Marines, most just out of their teens. So if you like reading about the Military and Military conflict as I do, I recommend that you buy, beg, borrow or steal this book.
Isaac Tran More than 1 year ago
Very entertaining and well written. I throughly enjoyed reading every single page in this book. It offers an interesting perspective on the war in Iraq.
sluf More than 1 year ago
As a former Marine NCO, this book reveals alot about the basic day to day facts of life that Marines endure when deployed over seas. This is one of the few books that actually protrays life in a line unit. Both the good and the bad.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a revelation!! Young combat Marines being emotional and speaking their minds to a willing Walter Mitty. Just kidding about the revelation thing. I was in the 1st Marine Division during this time period and believe me all these men are interchangeable with every other least in thought processes if not qualifications. The only exception was that the other Marines were well led. Too bad the author got stuck with the moronic leadership of that company and in that battalion at that time. Although his agenda was clear, and would have been for any other unit he embedded with, the book leads one to believe that malcontents stumbled their way to victory. Obviously not the case. This leads me to believe his goal was to appeal to the 'wanna-be' commando types like some of the reviewers below who believe everything written to be fact. Add this book to your soldier of fortune hero collection.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've been trying to read first hand accounts of the Iraq War, as many of you have, to experience (through reading only) what the enlisted man went through as a soldier in this war. Politics has totally corrupted the current events genre, and the politics of this war are particulary disrupting. This author, Evan Wright, has NO BONES TO PICK. (the most important thing right now). The reviewer before who gave this book one star is completely incorrect, the platoon never does anything more than complain about the grooming standard, or the commander of first Recon who administors it. The author states they respect him (Ferrando) although they think is going to get them killed through his aggresiveness. However, they do rebel against their company commander (Captain America). I suggest the previous reviewer did not find the book supportive enough of his/her opinions of the war and he/she should stick to accounts of the war by partisans who parade as military historians/reporters such as Ollie North, and not a real non-fiction novel. A real telling of the war would have to include plenty of ammunition against the war, because after all, we do not live in a black and white world, and war is one hell of a policy. The best thing about this book is it's depiction of the soldiers who fight in it. You will not find more vivid and real characters. With those characters, tells the story of a new generation who bring new dimensions to the battlefield such as 'gameboys', rap music, and digital video cameras. MUST READ. I PROMISE.
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Since I am not of the military, the jargon could bog me down at times. As a mother of two men, I am saddened at what our young men appear to be turned into: cold hearted killers who are just doing their jobs. Theysound so young, so immature and then I remember that is what they are: kids put into unthinkable positions. This story pretty much helped me realize that there never has been anything noble about war. What was our mission in this country? I dont think I know any more than these young men knew: nothing From the Vietnam books I have read on the ineptness and waste in that useless war, to the awful March 2005 rape and murder of an entire innocent family by an out ofcontrol unit, I simply cannot fathom why we send anyone into war when many of our own commanders are inept, egotistical, narcissists who simply play a game of gotcha. I am appalled at the likez of Capt America and that he was allowed to continue. My heart aches for every kid and I mean that literally called upon to be killers in a world that leaves them with what? PTSD as well as questions about their own humanity.
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