In an Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing

In an Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing

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by Lee Woodruff

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In January 2006, Lee and Bob Woodruff seemed to have it all–a happy marriage, four beautiful children, and marvelous careers. Bob had just been named co-anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight, but then, while he was embedded with the military in Iraq, an improvised explosive device went off near the tank he was riding in. He and his cameraman, Doug

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In January 2006, Lee and Bob Woodruff seemed to have it all–a happy marriage, four beautiful children, and marvelous careers. Bob had just been named co-anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight, but then, while he was embedded with the military in Iraq, an improvised explosive device went off near the tank he was riding in. He and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, were hit, and Bob suffered a traumatic brain injury that nearly killed him.

In an Instant is the frank and compelling account of how Bob and Lee Woodruff’s lives came together, were blown apart, and then were miraculously put together again–and how they persevered, with grit but also with humor, through intense trauma and fear. More than a dual memoir of love and courage, In an Instant is an important, wise, and inspiring guide to coping with tragedy–and an extraordinary drama of marriage, family, war, and nation.

#1 New York Times Bestseller

“Gripping . . . The Woodruffs’ devotion to each other is palpable. . . . [In an Instant is] a remarkably lucid, even engrossing story of . . . Bob Woodruff’s recovery, interwoven with tales from his marriage and family life.”
–San Jose Mercury News

“Both Woodruffs [shoot] from the hip, writing with candor about their ordeal and describing it with an intimacy that couldn’t be captured on camera. . . . Their frankness heightens the book’s impact.”
–The New York Times

“Extraordinary . . . All sorts of themes thread their way through this frank, inspiring book: courage in the face of adversity; the pursuit of career at the expense of family; the bravery of foreign correspondents; the fortitude of female friendship. . . . Woodruff’s survival story comforts.”
–The Seattle Times

“A testimony to the power of the human spirit, to the catharsis of love and to infinite hope.”
–The Oklahoman

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Editorial Reviews

On the morning of January 29, 2006, Bob Woodruff was on top of the world. Earlier that month, he had been named as Peter Jennings's successor as co-anchor on ABC's World News Tonight, one of the most coveted posts in TV journalism. By that evening, the 44-year-old newsman was in intensive care; his entire career, even his life in danger. The victim of an Iraqi explosive device, Woodruff had been hit by shrapnel, which had caused a traumatic brain injury, the effects of which were still unclear. In this husband-and-wife memoir, Lee and Bob Woodruff recount their arduous struggle back from the brink, describing their private moments of anguish and triumph.

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Random House Publishing Group
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5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.67(d)

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Chapter 1


Orlando, Florida, January 28, 2006

There is a ride at Disney World called the Tower of Terror, and on the weekend of January 28, 2006, my four children, even the twin five- year-olds, begged me to go on that ride over and over again.

Housed in a re-created aging Hollywood hotel, the ride begins where you climb into a creaky elevator that snakes its way through the creepy premises. An electrical storm kicks up, and right on cue something goes wrong with the power. The elevator in the eerie hotel suddenly drops. The descent is so rapid, so sudden, that it almost sucks your diaphragm up into your throat, and right before the drop there is a moment where you are literally suspended in air, too stunned to scream. It feels as if speed, motion, light, and time literally freeze.

We must have taken that ride a half dozen times. And then the feeling returned the following morning as I rolled over in my king-sized hotel bed. The day before, the kids and I had been to the Animal Kingdom in Disney World. We’d marveled at the African safari ride, ridden rapids in Asia, and gotten soaked as we howled our way down the man-made white water. After an early dinner we’d rented a pedal bike with another family and laughed until we cried as we raced other bikers around the lake, while fireworks from Epcot exploded overhead.

Tucking four kids into bed that night, I silently congratulated myself on a good weekend. I’d come to Disney to shoot a pilot TV show for Family Fun. We’d spent two days on set and then the rest of the time had been the kids’ reward: combing the parks for Disney character autographs for the twins and thrill-seeking rides for the older two. We’d planned to fly back home on Sunday and get ready for school.

Toting around four children by myself was not new. That weekend my husband, Bob Woodruff, the newly anointed co-anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight, was thousands of miles away in Iraq. We spoke to him briefly that day, in between the safari and the rapids ride. He and his crew had had a tiring day covering the Palestinian elections before flying on to Baghdad in advance of President Bush’s State of the Union address. The plan was to bolster ABC’s Iraq coverage at an important moment in the war. The pace was blistering, common to any foreign correspondent who must keep moving and file stories from faraway places in time zones eight to twelve hours ahead of our own.

Bob and his crew were operating on an aggressive schedule with only a few hours’ sleep each night. As usual, the itinerary was punishing. Get in, get the stories about the Iraqi military, anchor from Baghdad during Bush’s address, do some pieces for Good Morning America, and, on the way back, try to finalize an interview with the King of Jordan in Amman, the Jordanian capital.

Our conversations with him from Disney World had been short and tough. The cell service in Iraq was spotty and the time difference was frustrating. We had one conversation midday Saturday, as he and his crew were going to bed in a military compound somewhere in Baghdad. He exhaustedly mumbled something about getting much-needed sleep the next day. Exactly what he said didn’t register with me at the time. My daughter Cathryn was determined to buy a puka shell necklace. With my shoulder cradling the cell phone, I negotiated some cash from my wallet while keeping an eye on the twins, who were dangerously close to a fence in front of a bamboo grove.

Later, Bob would swear that he told me has was going to embed with the military for some exercises, while I would swear he said only that his team was going to relax for the day. At the end of our conversation I passed the cell phone around so the kids could say hi. This was common practice in our house—good nights, kisses, homework help, all via satellite. When your father covers news around the world, the phone becomes a primary communication tool, for better or worse.

“Do you feel safe there?” I asked absentmindedly, collecting the change from Cathryn. “Are you okay?” It was a stupid rhetorical question, made more absurd by the fact that we were currently standing in Disney World, “the happiest place on earth,” while he was somewhere in the most violent place on the planet.

“I do. We’re surrounded by the military. It’s fine,” he reassured me. He and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, couldn’t know that the elevator was about to drop. In the ocher-colored sands on a godforsaken highway outside Baghdad, they were about to enter their own Tower of Terror.

That night I called the front desk to request a 7 a.m. wake-up call. With the bigger kids sleeping next to the twins, perhaps I could slip downstairs the next morning and take a quick swim in the pool before breakfast. Even though it was January in Florida, the water was invigorating and it would be a great way to start our last day in Orlando.

In a few days Bob would be home and we’d be a family again. His new appointment as co-anchor had set a grueling pace for the past month, even the weekends. His days had been crammed with photo shoots, press conferences, and ad campaigns. The new program with Bob and Elizabeth Vargas was committed to go to the story, to have one anchor on the road and one in the studio as often as possible. Bob relished the challenge. It was a new era at ABC News. There was an excitement at the broadcast that was a welcome tonic after the months of sorrow following Peter Jennings’s illness and then death from lung cancer. Bob and Elizabeth would give the news department something to rally around, after feeling like a ship without its beloved captain.

“Just get through January,” I had told Bob, as he left for the Middle East on that fateful trip. It had become a kind of mantra for us after the announcement, as he shot out of the gate as a newly minted co-anchor.

“I really don’t want to leave you guys,” he said, as he leaned into the door frame of my home office, rolling suitcase in hand. He looked exhausted, distracted, and not eager to get back on a plane to return to Iraq for the sixth or seventh time in three years. The town car was already idling in the driveway.

“Just get through January,” I repeated, “and life will take on a more normal pattern. We’ll have weekends again, and we can be a family.”

He reeled off everything he’d packed, hoping I’d figure out what he might have missed. This was familiar territory, this nonchalant leaving. It should have had more weight, but to give it any more importance would have jinxed it in my mind. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Gaza Strip: give him a kiss as always, treat it like a normal morning, and he will come home safe and sound. I had a work deadline that day, and the sooner I got him on the road the faster I could finish my task.

Frankly, I didn’t think a lot about Bob over the Disney weekend either. The days had been full and the kids eager to pack in as much as possible. Bob drew sustenance from being on the road; the stories, the energy, the adrenaline rejuvenated him. He loved being a journalist, and that meant leaving us for stretches of time. We may not have always liked it, but we had made peace with it as a family. Periods of being intensely together were interlaced with periods of being apart.

As I rolled over and turned off the bedside light that Saturday night in Disney World, I thought we would all rise to this new challenge of Bob’s career as well. “Co-anchor.” It was good and bad. Good because he had reached the pinnacle of his profession, a plum job in television news, a successor to one of broadcast journalism’s icons. Bad because we would see him even less. Our definition of family time would need some revising.

The Sunday morning phone call pierced the quiet and I jolted awake to a bedspread of floral and chintz in a totally unfamiliar room. It took me a second to register where I was. Ah, right, I thought. Disney World. The wake-up call.

I rolled over and picked up the receiver. “Thank you,” I said, and lazily began to set it back on the cradle. I had decided to lie there for a few more minutes before I snuck out the door.

“Lee?” A faint voice came from the receiver, now almost back in place. Geesh, I thought. Personalized wake-up calls, how very Disney. I brought the phone back to my ear to thank the man.

“Lee, it’s David Westin,” the voice said.

He had my immediate attention. My brain fired signals to my body as I bolted up on the pillows. The president of ABC News does not make social calls to employees’ wives at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning, even a co-anchor’s wife. I licked my lips and swallowed. My mouth was dry.

“We’ve been trying to reach you,” he said, in a slow measured voice. He stopped for a beat as if to gauge how he would say his next line. “Bob has been wounded in Iraq.”

I sat straight up, trying to process the information I was hearing. Every synapse in my brain was firing. “Wounded?” I said to David Westin, as calmly as I could. “What do you mean wounded?”

“He was on an embed outside of Baghdad riding with the Iraqi army. We don’t have a lot of information right now, Lee, but we are getting it as fast as we can. We are getting him the best care possible.”

“David.” I interrupted him. “Is my husband alive?”

“Yes, Lee. Bob is alive, but we believe he may have taken shrapnel to the brain.”

I tried to digest what that meant and couldn’t comprehend it. He was alive; I’d start with that. The rest was gravy.

“What was an anchor doing on a military exercise?” I asked, voice rising. “The last thing I knew he was doing a story about an ice cream shop in Baghdad. I thought they were sleeping!” My mind grasped for facts, searching for what I knew or thought I knew. I was back in the Tower of Terror.

You can’t know how you would behave in a crisis until it drops out of the sky and knocks you down like a bandit: stealing your future, robbing you of your dreams, and mocking anything that resembles certainty. Sudden tragic events and even slow-burning disasters teach us more about ourselves than most of us care to know.

I felt the panic in my voice as I spoke to David Westin, and slow tears streamed down my face. At the same time, I began to feel a cool steely calm seep into my brain. It slowly formed a cocoon in which I could think and react rationally, disembodied from my emotions. In the months to come, this cocoon would allow me to handle the very public nature of this crisis, synthesize information, deal with teams of doctors, communicate with family, and take care of the business at hand without collapsing into a mass of spineless marrow.

For now, that steely calm began to morph into the part of me that became “the General.” The General would make important decisions, hold things together for the troops, lead the charge, and—most important for our team—ensure we didn’t lose a single man on the battlefield. The General was beginning to take over.

“Lee, we have a plane waiting to take you and the kids home to Westchester,” David said. “You just have to tell us what time. It’s fueled up and ready to go.”

I felt I needed to keep him on the line for some reason. I wasn’t ready to start making decisions. I didn’t want to take my first step into this new world. I wanted to relish my old life for just a minute more. All four of my children were blissfully sound asleep beyond my door. Inside my room their secure little lives were being hacked apart while they dreamed, oblivious to the chaos.

“Okay,” I said in a small voice. “Tell me what you know. Please tell me what happened.”

“Bob and the crew were traveling on a road in Taji on a routine ride,” David said. “Bob was in an Iraqi armored vehicle. We believe he was doing a stand-up at the time, and they were hit by an IED [improvised explosive device] in an orchestrated attack on the convoy. There was gunfire after that, but neither man was hit. Bob and the cameraman, Doug Vogt, have been taken by helicopter to Baghdad and are going into surgery.

“Apparently he asked Vinnie, his producer, if he was alive; he did come to.” David spoke coolly and rationally, but he was clearly rattled.

So he spoke, I thought. He spoke. This is going to be okay. The General in my brain dictated that nothing less than recovery would be acceptable. There were no other options. Bob would be okay. He was always okay. He was lucky and bright and hardworking and a good man. Things like this didn’t happen to good people. I could feel hope in my heart, on its simplest level, as clear and bright as the streak of a shooting star. Hope is the most basic human emotion. It was the hope that wives have had since the days of the caveman, when they sent their mates out past the campfire to fight marauding tribes. Hope was good. It was a brain-stem reaction. The General in my brain moved hope into the front lines, preparing for the next maneuver.

“Lee,” David gently reminded me, “there are security people on the ground to escort you out of there. The plane is standing by; you just need to tell us what you want to do. Let us know what time you want to go. When you get home, we are working on getting you to Germany, where Bob will be transported.”

For one moment the silliest thought flashed through my mind. I thought about how much my kids had wanted to ride the Soarin’ attraction and see the rest of Epcot. The part of my brain that was still in shock weighed the option of not ruining their perfectly planned morning for about a tenth of a second before I clicked into action.

“David, let me process this,” I said. “I have to call Bob’s folks and my family, and then I have to wake up the kids and pack. And I need to think. Let me just get outside of this hotel room so I can talk, and then I’ll call you back as soon as possible.”

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4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What would it be like to have one's brain blown open and body sheared by an IED to the point where everything shifts physically, mentally and emotionally? How does one and one's family deal with the aftermath with all the possible implications of possible infection, complications, recovery and/or death? In An Instant is that story, described by Bob as a reworking of the brain, ' seeing the top of a mountain from a path, but without the ability to find the way taking one step at a time, little by little, I realize I can still get there...' Lee and Bob's story is starkly told from two perspectives not only of voice but also interweaving the past with the present. Their story begins with the devastating event that so dramatically changed their lives, the explosion of that IED on an Iraqi road where Bob was working as an embedded journalist/anchor for ABC News. Lee is a respected public relations executive and freelance editor whose career has evolved with the multiple changes of Bob's career from high-paid lawyer to executive anchor man for a top notch news service. Bob and Lee do a superb job of carrying the reader through history as Bob's teaching law stint in China allows him to enter the world of journalism as a 'fixer' during the Tiananmen Square crisis and numerous other smaller and larger historical, pivotal events including 911, the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and more. They are skilled writers who know how to convey the excitement, peril and significance of these events. At the same time, In An Instant is the story of the 'Landstuhl survivors,' a group of family members trying to deal with the multiple demands of a challenging career and now of a devastating crisis enough to break the toughest spirits. Their story is told with honesty, intelligence and a specificity that renders the reader humbled and highly respectful of this daunting experience that has reshaped not only the Woodruff family but continues to affect numerous other families of soldiers and journalists serving in Iraq. The best nonfiction work this reviewer has read in a very long time! Reviewed by Viviane Crystal on March 5, 2008
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I read this book, I went through an intense emotional ride. There was intense gripping moments,heart-tugging,rollercoaster ride emotiomal pain, tender motivating moments! I loved every minute! Through all of their trials, Bob & Lee Woodruff showed Courage in the face of a life and death situation, solid dedication to the vows they made as Husband & Wife, and all the while putting every ounce of effort into the role and blessing of parenthood! I have been a fan of Journalism & Biographies for a long time, and IN AN INSTANT is by far one of the best books you'll EVER read!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very moving and true-to-life. I related to the powerful emotions of sadness, fear as well as love and gratitude, which I felt at my teenage son's beside as he was recovering from a TBI. The book reminds me of how important love is in the healing process. My son likes to point out that the accident happened to him and not to me. The book clearly demonstrates that accidents happen to a whole family and community.
CommentQueen More than 1 year ago
While I love the love story of Bob and Lee and I am so happy for his success and progress in dealing with the TBI, I believe that this book is a fairy tale. My husband also has a TBI. We could not afford the best hospitals and the best doctors; as most people cannot. I think this book gives people a sense that everyone who has a TBI will fully recover which is not the case. Bob's recovery was miraculous. He came back to his wife and children. So many TBI survivors do not. Even Bob is not back to work at his full capacity as they had hoped for in the book and its been several years. I think what happened is this book was written too soon after his accident. Now I think it may be a totally different story. All Traumatic Brain Injuries are different. It depends on what type of injury, what part of the brain is damaged and how quickly the person gets the correct medical help. I thank Bob and Lee for writing this book because it brought a lot of attentention to the world of traumatic brain injury that was not there before the book. For that I am very grateful. But I'd like an honest look into their lives right now. I think we'd get a better insight to the real life of a TBI survivor.
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Elthea Danley More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I have ever read!!!!!!!!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was extremely impressed with this book. First off Lee and Bob are very detailed in sharing the lives, their stories, as well as pictures of their lives. I had a hard time putting it down. Some of the way they state things are so poignant and spot on in their descriptions that I was so amazed. The only thing I did not like was the back and forth of the story. If I did not look at the date, I had no idea where in their story I was at. I think it would have been best to have the diary like passages from the beginning to end so that they had flow. A truly beautiful story. I am also happy that they mention the soldiers with injuries who were suffering. Would defintely recommend.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a love story. One might question this when a journalist has to fight for his life after being wounded while covering the Iraqi war, but not once you read Lee and Bob Woodruff¿s amazingly poignant story. This is their love story-the story of Bob and Lee, and how their love came to be and sustained them through a year of pain, hope, fear, recovery, and dedication. Told in alternating time frames from the dreadful moment when Lee is called and told that Bob has been critically injured to how they met and fell in love. Lee tells her account of their love story with passion and feeling, while Bob is as always the accomplished journalist with his fact based style of recollection. Both Lee and Bob are heroes in this story. Bob¿s valiant effort to handle his severe injuries mostly to the brain, and Lee¿s courageous, steadfast support and love throughout the entire process make up this amazingly miraculous story. Bob, only recently having been named co-anchor of ABC News, was in Iraq imbedded with troops covering the Iraqi war while Lee and their four children were at Disney World. While that may sound almost callous to many, this is the life a journalist and his family. When a bomb explodes and Bob is literally blown to pieces, not much hope seems to exist that he will survive as Lee is rushed to her husband¿s side. Telling about how she got the call and what immediately transpired, Lee aptly recounts their story first hand and truly earns the title of In an Instant: A Family¿s Journey of Love and Healing because that is what happened to this family in just one minute. The part of the story of Lee and Bob¿s personal life is interspersed with the realities of Bob¿s day-to-day survival and recovery following the bomb in Iraq. Bob¿s 5 week coma, swelling of the brain, and many near death complications are told with detail and clarity so that the reader really experiences, as much as possible, first hand what this family went through. The never ending waiting to see if Bob will survive is a story of such devotion that in reality, you wonder just how someone can go through something like that. Lee tells this story in a way that makes you realize that you can never know, as did she, until you are tested, how you would respond in a situation such as this. At one point, after about five weeks, Lee crawls up into bed with Bob to try and hold him, with all his medical contraptions and tubes, and she tells him that he must fight for his life because she and their four children need him. Barely leaving his side, Lee is shocked when a few days later she walks into his room and he is sitting up and asking her where she has been?! It is at that point that the real fight begins for Bob to work hard to return to his life as he knew it. Meanwhile, Lee must juggle duel roles of parent and caregiver. This compelling story of love and devotion is told with honesty, humor, and hope. The friendships both Lee and Bob have, the love and family they share, guides one through an often graphic but also witty and very human novel. Get the book In An Instant and you will find it won¿t take much longer than that to be hooked and not want to put it down!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was saddened to hear of what happened to Bob. I was excited to hear about the book that was coming out. I am not an avid reader, but was very interested in reading 'In An Instant.' I, like many of the other readers, went on the emotional ride with Bob and Lee. The intense emotions and rollercoasters they have been on is just amazing. It really showed me how strong their family values are and how strong a marriage can be. I took this book with me and read every chance I got. I would be sitting in the bleachers at my son's wrestling practice with tears rolling down my cheeks. The other day I found myself with a big grin on my face when I saw Bob on air. Finally back to one of his many true loves. I loved the book and would recommend it to everyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This seemed as if this book was written only as a money maker, since Mr Woodruff will probably not bring in the salary in which this family is accustomed to. In An Instant does not deflect the horrific damage Bob Woodruff and others wounded in war endured, but only tells a slow story of he and his wife's meeting and somewhat ordinary married life told primarily by his wife. This book is a disservice to all of the wounded survivors of war, and those family members of those that did not survive as it only tells of a personal everyday love story when the title indicates otherwise. A VERY DISAPPOINTING READ!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a loyal ABC News viewer, I was horrified to learn of Bob Woodruff's accident, and like many, prayed he and his family would survive. This book is an honest, touching insight into not only the faith, love and fortitude it takes to overcome a terrible tragedy, but also shares a look at what a real, solid, loving marriage/relationship is all about. Getting thru a crisis such as the Woodruffs have does involve feelings that run the gamet from love, gratitude, anger, fear -- kudos to them both for being so open and honest in sharing their story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bob and Lee Woodruff have done an outstanding service to publish this book and acknowledge that they were very fortunate to have the medical treatment Bob needed to recover from his TBI. Through this book they are helping veterans get the attention and help they need to recover from their own TBIs. I recommend this book to anyone who lives with a TBI person or with anyone who has had a stroke. The healing process is remarkably the same, and there's hope for full recovery in both.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I got the book out of the library and put it aside, thinking it would be boring, yet another story that we know all about. I then picked it up, started to read it, and couldn't put it down! It is the most amazing story, and it's all true! It is very well-written and very inspiring and quite a love story, without being too mushy. I like that Lee is a real person, with real feelings, and she didn't pull any punches in her writing her feelings - yes, there was 'woe is me', and anger, but who wouldn't have those kind of feelings when your whole life and that of your family turn completely upside down. Lee and Bob show their true love for each other and their family and the amazing fact that they stayed together through all of the adversity that Bob went through. More power to them! Everyone should read this book - there's no holding back on anything written in this book - it will make you cry and laugh.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book so much I couldn't put it down. The truthfulness with which Bob and Lee told the story was amazing. Their honesty with their feelings gave insight into how people in this situation think. It showed how Lee at sometimes felt she couldn't go on. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to eveyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although I enjoyed this book very much, there were a few things that disappointed me. Like mentioned before, I was hoping to hear that some how, faith in God helped the family through. No mention of that. I would have liked to hear more about Bob and how his recovery was. To me, Lee sometimes came across as selfish. I don't want to sound rude, I know this was a life changing event for her but she did come across as a weeee bit 'what about me-ish'. I really did like their writing style, it was nice to read both sides of the story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lee and Bob Woodruff write a truly engaging chronicle of their horrendous experiences following Bob's tragic injury last year. Their descriptions of their courtship and early marital experiences allow the reader to know and care for these fine individuals. Always honest, highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Even though I don't 'personally' know anyone who has been injured or is fighting in this war I found this book to be very inspirational. It was hard to put down and made me appreciate all the blessings I have and to try not to take them for granted. This books makes you want to be a better person, and to not waste your life. I'm glad they wrote it to share with everyone. It also made me better understand what is happening in Iraq and I hope our troops can safely get out of their soon.