Beyond Duty: Life on the Frontline in Iraq
Author: Shannon Meehan
Publisher: Polity (2011)
Binding: Paperback, 280 pages
Under the blazing Iraqi sun in the summer of 2007, Shannon Meehan, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, ordered a strike that would take the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians. He thought he was doing the right thing. He thought he was protecting his men. He thought that he would only kill the enemy, but in the ruins of the strike, he discovers his mistake and uncovers a tragedy.
For most of his deployment in Iraq, Lt. Meehan felt that he had been made for a life in the military. A tank commander, he worked in the violent Diyala Province, successfully fighting the insurgency by various Sunni and Shia factions. He was celebrated by his senior officers and decorated with medals. But when the U.S. surge to retake Iraq in 2006 and 2007 finally pushed into Baqubah, a town virtually entirely controlled by al Qaida, Meehan would make the decision that would change his life.
This is the true story of one soldier's attempt to reconcile what he has done with what he felt he had to do. Stark and devastating, it recounts first-hand the reality of a new type of warfare that remains largely unspoken and forgotten on the frontlines of Iraq.
Book of the Month, November 2009
During the Surge in Iraq of 2007, Lt. Meehan, a tank platoon leader in the 1st Cavalry Division, ordered an air strike on Baqubah, an al-Qaida held town north of Baghdad.
Lt. Meehan thought he was doing the right thing given his family's legacy. He thought he was doing the right thing given the months of working with the locals, avoiding IEDs and hunting al-Qaida insurgents; given the intel he had. He thought he was protecting his men; would only be killing the enemy. What he found, among the ruins of that strike would sear his soul. However, what he heard back at base on news reports and political celeb rants from home wounded him far worse because those sowed the insidious seeds of doubt.
This articulate and devastating memoir begins with the event that rocked this young American's world and then tells the backstory of his life and times and the daily grind of the missions of his tour of duty: from "butter boy" second lieutenant leaving for war to seasoned warrior in a conflict unlike any fought before.
These are the memories of a modest man who made something of himself; a thinking man, loving son, brother and new husband, learning to be a leader of men. He is to be recommended for turning to Roger Thompson, Professor of English and Fine Arts at Virginia Military Institute from which Meehan graduated, in the writing of this project.
Beyond Duty is also a telling of how the relentless, endless press of combat wears away at a man's emotions, his certitude, his humanity. As friendly locals are cut down by insurgents we watch as he earns his platoon's nickname "Capone" in his dealings with civilian deceit and lies.
Meehan was a citizen soldier determined to do his job well and keep his men safe. In the end, he couldn't do that for himself and is now living with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the result of stepping on the wires of an IED.
In his Epilogue, Meehan wonders about being for or against The War: damned if you are or aren't. About how he's finding his way home; what happened to his Translator from Michigan, also wounded by that IED, and his men. At the end he lists all the Fallen Soldiers in the Baqubah area during his deployment: Gone but not forgotten...
Beyond Duty: Life on the Frontline is a profoundly moving and instructive memoir which needs to be required reading for everyone no matter their opinion of war in general or the al-Qaida in Iraq, in particular.
Very well done, Captain Meehan, and thank you for your Service.
Reviewed by: Dave Brown (2009)