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Jess Knows Best! Advice on love, life, and more for the modern geek and geekette!

Jess Knows Best

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This week: JOKER ONE reviewed.

During his junior year at college, author Donovan Campbell was looking for something good to add to his resume, so he signed up for Marine Corps Officer Candidate School; and hated it. However, something changed during his senior year and Campbell started searching for a way to give back. He ultimately settled on the USMC, and began the long road to becoming a platoon commander.

Joker One (Published by Random House) is the story of 120 Marines, led by Lieutenant Campbell, and deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, from March 2004 to September 2004. Unlike the two Fallujah battles that gained headlines and occurred before and after Joker One’s deployment, the fighting in Ramadi entailed a never-ending series of bloody firefights, in the heart of a city where the enemy disappeared amongst the citizen populace of nearly 350,000. By contrast, the Marines at Fallujah had jets, tanks, and artillery to back them, and they fought against a city populated almost entirely by insurgents.

Campbell takes the reader through the painful seven month deployment; from asinine pre-deployment training missions dictated by “The Ox” (the XO), to having to grow and train their 1/3 capacity platoon in less than two months, to what would become the platoon’s pre-mission recitation of the 23rd Psalm, to his own personal prayer that one man’s heart wouldn’t give out, “Gooch” wouldn’t shoot their Staff Sergeant in the back (another failure of leadership comparable to The Ox), and that their narcoleptic fire team member wouldn’t fall asleep while on patrol.

While all odds seemed to be against these men, they never lost sight of their mission, and often times put themselves in danger to protect the well-being of the citizens of Ramadi. After one such engagement, Joker One felt their first casualty. Facing their darkest day yet, Campbell became the backbone of the platoon for his men, telling them, “We’re not going to kill everyone we feel like. We’re not going to shoot indiscriminately at random civilians every time the fire breaks out. We’ve worked too hard to quit on the mission now.”

And they didn’t quit. In fact, when Joker One returned to the states, they learned they had taken more casualties than any battalion – Marine or Army – since Vietnam.

This book is a visceral experience told from the point of view of a soldier who lived it. It’s honestly a little difficult for me to say “You should read this book!” because Campbell’s first-hand account is appropriately extreme from time-to-time. If the subject matter holds an interest for you, then allow me to be the first to confirm that the book is well-written and a deeply immersive experience for the reader. Just make sure you’re ready.

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