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Rick Atkinson: In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat

Wednesday, March 17th, 2004 Rick Atkinson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, visited the library. He spoke about his new book In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat. This new work provides eye-witness accounts of the 101st Airborne Division during the War in Iraq.

A Pulitzer-winning Washington Post correspondent and military historian gives the best account yet to come out of the Iraq War, chronicling the unit in which the author was embedded, the 101st Airborne, or Screaming Eagles, and particularly its headquarters.

This inevitably puts much emphasis on the division commander, the intense, competitive and thoroughly professional Maj. Gen. David Petraeus. But no one is left out, from General Wallace, the gifted corps commander, to a Muslim convert and the victims of his ghastly but little publicized fragging incident at the opening of the war. The narrative covers this large cast from the division's being called up for the war at Fort Campbell, Ky., through to the author's departure from the unit after the fall of Baghdad.

Through the eyes of the men he associated with, we see excess loads of personal gear being lugged into Iraq and insufficient supplies of essentials like ammunition and water (the reason for the infamous "pause"). We see sandstorms and the limitations of the Apache attack helicopter, and understand the legal framework for avoiding civilian casualties and "collateral damage," and much else that went right or wrong in a manner that is antitriumphalist, but not antimilitary.

The son of an army officer and thoroughly up to date on the modern American army, the author pays an eloquent and incisive tribute to how the men and women of the 101st won their part of the war in Iraq, in a manner that bears comparison to his Pulitzer-winning WWII volume, An Army at Dawn. Superb writing and balance make this the account to beat.

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