Inside the Fortress
Author: Steve Valley
Publisher: American Book Publishing (2009)
Binding: Paperback, 284 pages
Inside the Fortress is a behind the scenes look at life for an Army senior enlisted leader inside the world renowned Green Zone, where he lived and worked from January 2004 to January 2005.
This book gives the reader an up close and personal look at what was really happening in Baghdad because what everyone saw back home via the main stream media was 180 degrees different of what was actually happening.
Steve Valley was the first sergeant of a unit made up of highly talented public affairs and combat arms Soldiers that brought with them an endless onslaught of personal issues and situations that that he and the unit's commander had to deal with on a daily basis. He played leader, father, brother and friend to countless American Soldiers that looked to him for answers and information while trying to survive the never ending incoming barrage of mortars, rockets and bullets.
Valley's duty station was at the Combined Press Information Center (CPIC) in Baghdad, located in the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq. The CPIC was made up of nearly 70 multi-service and international military members and civilians. The organization was responsible for writing and distributing press releases, setting up and hosting all the coalition's press conferences, organizing the military's media embed program and performing extensive media relations with the international media and governmental relations with top level diplomats and politicians.
Valley performed media escort duties for first media trip to the Abu Ghraib prison after the story broke in February 2004. He played a major role in the Abu Ghraib court martial proceedings held at the Baghdad Convention Center, the signing of the Iraqi Transitional Administrative Law, the transfer of sovereignty from the US to the Iraq in June 2004 and Sadaam Hussein's first court appearance the following month. Valley also served as a coalition spokesperson for the major battles of Najaf and Fallujah. He dealt with every reporter that came to Iraq from CNN's Christiana Amanpour, to the Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter John F. Burns to the late Peter Jennings in addition to the numerous American daily and weekly community newspapers that needed updated information for their readers and viewers concerning Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Some of the media outlets that Valley worked with on a regular basis included the Associated Press, BBC, Washington Post, New York Times, Fox News (2 separate appearances on the Neil Cavuto Show), CNN, NBC, CBS and Al-Jazeera. He also worked with the CIA and FBI, White House liaisons, Department of Defense and State Department officials and senior Iraqi Governmental officials as part of his normal daily duties.
Inside the Fortress is a firsthand account of one senior NCO's year long deployment to Iraq. Though a soldier first and foremost, author Steve Valley's primary job was not that of a trigger-puller, but instead of a public affairs professional. Therefore, the book differs substantially from other books about Iraq. Rather than deal with patrols and military operations in a "kill or be killed" fashion, instead Valley exposes the public affairs aspect of the mission, and details his perspective on what those media professionals were trying to accomplish during their time in the sand.
Valley pulls no punches when dealing with both his soldiers and the officers above him in the chain of command. Those that earned his respect are lauded for their contributions; those that fall short have their miscues detailed in full, regardless of rank. Indeed, Valley's favorite target appears to be the general in charge of public affairs for much of Valley's deployment!
The author does an excellent job of educating the reader on the public affairs mission, which is something that even many military veterans do not have a proper understanding of. He also deflates the myth about the "Green Zone" being a safe haven, which I admit was one that I believed. However, he also takes the time to mix in some funny stories, and to relate some of the "blow off steam moments that made the deployment survivable.
Overall, the book was educational, informative, and an easy read. Iraq vets will enjoy the sentiments presented, and media professionals who deal with the military would benefit from the insights given by a professional public affairs soldier.
Reviewed by: Rob Ballister (2010)