The Iraq War is still a bit abstract to me, even though I spent many months training to deploy there. When I was coming up in the Army, still a wet-behind-the-ears Second Lieutenant, Iraq was all the rage. In the parlance of our times, Afghanistan was tired and Iraq was wired. Everybody who was anybody was going to Iraq. But not me. After months of training up in 2008, my Brigade’s deployment orders were switched from Iraq to Afghanistan and the rest is history. Now, years later, I still seek out novels and memoirs that will give me an accurate account of the Iraq experience to better understand my close friends who deployed there and the day-to-day of the young leaders on the ground. I recently had the privilege of readying Darin Pepple’s debut novel, Dodgebomb: Outside The Wire In The Second Iraq War, which is an excellent depiction of exactly these things from the perspective of a junior officer in the most excellent type of combat unit: the Cavalry.
Dodgebomb focuses on the deployment of 2nd Lieutenant Eddie Fitzgerald, a fresh-faced Cavalry Officer, who is deployed to Iraq to serve as a replacement Platoon Leader in a Troop operating from a remote Patrol Base in Iraq. After a long, tedious journey from the States to his new unit in Iraq, Fitzgerald first meets his Squadron Commander, a brash and egotistical, Lieutenant Colonel who is eager to show everyone just how smart he is about war. This seems to be the predominant trope for officers of that rank in GWOT literature and it’s satisfying every time. As Fitz gets closer to his ultimate destination, Patrol Base Murray, he meets an array of Soldiers who view him with annoyance and skepticism, at having to risk life, limb, and eyesight ferrying this new officer to his post, where he will, in their minds, probably be just another worthless “butter bar”. Even before they reach PB Murray, Fitz experiences his first of many tragedies in the war, as one of the convoy’s trucks strikes an IED, killing an American Soldier. This sudden trauma sets a tone of uncertainty for the rest of the book, which is perfect given how fast things can change in a warzone. The rest of Pepple’s Dodgebomb follows Fitz through the remainder of his Squadron’s deployment, where he earns the respect of his soldiers and peers, experiences victories in combat, endures no shortage of tragedies, continues to be plagued by the pompous pageantry of his superior officers, faces awkward interaction with weirdly over-eager local nationals, and endures his first-ever Squadron staff meeting, a hellish nightmare I know all too well.
What I enjoyed most about Dodgebomb was the way Pepple captured the subtle nuances of deployed life, especially for a first-time deployment. Pepple starts the novel with an excellent example of this as the reader accompanies Fitz on the last part of his long, awkward trip from the States to his assigned Troop, all the while only vaguely knowing where he’s supposed to go and how he’s supposed to act around other soldiers who’ve already been around the block a time or two. Fitz’s introductions to his Platoon Sergeant and other Platoon Leaders are perfect. As several very different personalities collide, you can almost feel the men measuring each other up and gauging each other’s level of competence and professionalism. These morph beautifully into ever-progressing relationships throughout the book. Fitz is thrown into action almost immediately upon arrival and he is again measured up by this Commander, fellow Platoon Leaders, and soldiers. For anyone who has ever arrived at a new military unit, you understand this behavior well.
I highly recommend Dodgebomb to anyone looking to understand what life was like for veterans of Iraq or to any veterans looking for a trip down memory lane (which was recently cleared of IEDs). For me, it painted a much clearer picture of what day-to-day life was like there and I am continually surprised by how different the Iraq experience was from an Afghanistan deployment. It’s strange how two Army Officers of the same rank and similar dates of service, could have two dramatically different experiences in two very different wars, serving under the command of nearly identical personalities. This, in itself, highlights the importance of novels like Dodgebomb. I’m grateful to Pepple for writing this and to all veteran authors who share their stories, helping us to better understand each other as we figure out where to go from here.
You can pick up a copy of Dodgebomb: Outside The Wire In The Second Iraq War by Darin Pepple here!