EMBEDDED: A Marine Corps Adviser Inside the Iraqi Army, by Wesley Gray

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MWSA Review

Embedded is like many other non-fiction books about war.  A young man joins the military and learns the skills that he will need in the months ahead.  He receives orders that will take him into the heart of a historical event.  He arrives at his assignment -- green and eager to learn.  Things are not what he has expected so he adapts. He becomes attached to the people around him. Events overcome him and he performs his job to the best of his ability.  Too soon it's over and he returns home to write about his adventures-- changed forever.   I've read it a hundred times -- yet, this story stands out like a glowing bald head in a room full of wigs.  

First, the author has an engaging style that captures the reader from the first chapter.  Warm and charming, Gray's narrative reads like a blog -- easy going, sometimes funny, sometimes frustrated -- sometimes philosophical.   Worldly and practical, his approach to his job -- advisor embedded with the Iraqi Army near Haditha -- is sophisticated and well-considered.  For example, knowing that Iraqi culture values family, Lt. Gray compiled a scrapbook of pictures showing himself with his family. Whenever he found himself trying to establish a rapport with Iraqi soldiers, he'd pull out the scrapbook and share its contents with the men around him.

Second, Embedded takes the middle ground between "raqis love/hate Americans" espoused by the right and left media outlets.  This realistic assessment of Gray's tour in Iraq makes this book especially believable. His description of the enormous cultural divide between American and Iraqi definitions of progress explains why the Bush Administration's overly optimistic assertions of success began to ring hollow as time passed.

Third, Gray's description of Iraqi jundi is frank and entertaining.  One tale of an Iraqi soldier begging for his belongings -- from iPods to cameras to computers to the socks the author was wearing that day -- illustrates his frustration with people who ask for handouts one minute and throw them out the next. Then after a long series of such stories, he concludes with a bit of Iraqi insight. A friend explained to him that Americans aren't free all the way. Americans cannot kill anyone they want, they can't take anything they want or beat each other with abandon. Americans live within a set of clearly defined rules.  However, America has bestowed total freedom on Iraq -- anarchy.  

Embedded presents as a polished, professional piece of writing.  It's lively language and anecdotal approach makes it a quick read for the casual reader.  However, it's also filled with background information that students and journalists might find useful. 

Reviewed by: Joyce Faulkner (2009)

Author's Synopsis

In 2006, 1st Lt. Wesley Gray was deployed as a U.S. Marine Corps military adviser to an Iraqi Army battalion in the Haditha Triad. For 210 days, he lived and fought beside Iraqi soldiers in the most dangerous and austere province of western Iraq. Al-Anbar was filled with an insurgent population traumatized by a recent massacre of twenty-four men, women, and children shot at close range by U.S. Marines in retaliation for the death of one of their comrades in a roadside bombing. Despite the high tensions created by the shootings, Gray was able to form a bond with the Iraqis because he had an edge that very few U.S. service members possess -the ability to communicate in Iraqi Arabic. His language skills and his understanding of the culture led the Iraqi soldiers to call him a brother and fondly name him Jamal. By the end of his tour he was a legend within the Iraqi Army. Gray draws on the brutally honest and detailed record he kept during his tour, including extensive interviews with Iraqi soldiers and citizens. He offers a comprehensive portrait of the struggles of the Iraqi people to make their country a nation once again and includes a compelling report on the status and prospects of the U.S. government's strategy for success in Iraq.