Senator’s Son: An Iraq War Novel is a riveting, raw, and realistic account of the convergence of shifting tactics from kinetic to nonkinetic operations and the Al Anbar Awakening. This powerful historical fiction chronicles a Marine infantry company in Iraq that matures under fire realizing the effectiveness of counterinsurgency tactics. The story directly references the combined action platoon tactics by Marines during the Vietnam War and the highly acclaimed Counterinsurgency Manual heavily scripted by Army LTG David Petraeus. This current narrative needs to be added to every warfighter’s professional bookshelf next to The Village (Pocket Books, 2002), A Bell for Adano (Vintage Books, 1988), and The Ugly American (W.W. Norton & Company, 1999).
The book is broken into four acts that provide an evocative and realistic evolution of insight in achieving success in the current operating environment. With a quick glance at the “Acts” (Denial, Learning Curve, Understanding, and Execution), the reader is provided a premeditated framework to outline the passage of one Marine unit to an enlightened understanding of counterinsurgency tactics.
In “Denial,” Marines of Golf Company struggle with the purpose of their mission. Immediately the reader is placed in a convoy along a dangerous route in Ramadi, Iraq, that is hit by an improvised explosive device (IED). This attack seriously wounds a primary character who is abruptly evacuated home. Through this character the author shows the reader the physical and mental suffering of a warfighter plucked from the battlefield due to injury. Following this attack the story reveals the mixed emotions and difficult decisions of fellow Marines within Golf Company who are continuing daily patrols and ambushes intended to support local elections and force protection in Ramadi. The violent realism is effective in forcing the reader to comprehend the violent and challenging nature of Ramadi in 2005 and 2006.
Gradually the Marines of Golf Company, 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, experience a learning curve that illuminates a more effective tactical approach to countering local insurgency. A revelation that is somewhat forced by the company commander results in the Marines having a greater appreciation and understanding of the operational environment. The Marines turn their focus from the insurgents toward the local population. Simply listening to and improving relationships with the local population leads to a greater comprehension of the needs and desires of the local tribes and families. Realizing the impact of supporting the local population to enhance their local security and reconstruction, Golf Company reorganizes into multiple small teams dispersed across their assigned sector in Ramadi. Taking lessons from the Vietnam-era combined action platoons, Marines embrace the culture and work hand in hand with the local population. These actions improved community confidence and stability and prevented freedom of movement for the al-Qaeda insurgency in Ramadi. (Of note, as Senator’s Son attests, this realization and shift in tactics were simultaneous and intentionally linked to the Anbar Awakening by local tribal and familial leadership.) The collaborative efforts by these Marines and the local leaders were not without risk. Attacks specifically against local Iraqi leaders were successful, although fortunately, these attacks resulted in greater resolve to counter the local insurgents. Nonetheless the enlightened approach to counterinsurgency proved to be successful.
The predominant characters of Senator’s Son are noncommissioned and company grade officers. These characters struggle with personal interpretations of the political agendas of the United States and the Government of Iraq, especially the impact on their tactical-level operations. Conversations between the characters cover subjects such as the cost of lives for the gain of security among a seemingly unappreciative population. The uncertainty and dissent based on disparity between strategy and combat tactics become clear even amongst the Marine leadership. These are the thoughts that resound during the early portion of the book. The reader must understand that this is just to portray the juxtaposition between the mindset of Marines during the earlier violent kinetic operations and the later “softer” tactics conducted in Ramadi. By the end of the book, these same characters honestly comprehend the positive impact of their tactical actions that in some cases had strategic implications. The book’s closing words hit on this very point, by implying that the deaths of fellow brothers in arms were not meaningless. They made a difference.
Senator’s Son is filled with lessons learned for the tactical-level leader in the current operating environment. Lessons in leadership during adversity include dealing with the death of fellow Marines and combat leaders, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), humility, combat awards, and even personnel evaluations. These lessons traverse time and battlefields and touch every level of leadership. More particular to operations, Senator’s Son relates the significance of understanding logical lines of operation (from the Counterinsurgency Manual), information operations, operational culture, and even professional military education.
Veterans of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM will be impacted by the realism of this story. From the opening setting of an IED attack, through the threats of sniper activity in an urban environment, to the continuous references to the deadly Route Michigan through Ramadi, and even drinking a Guinness in Shannon, Ireland, veterans will relate. For those veterans and family members who have had to deal with permanent wounds, PTSD, and loss of loved ones, the realism may evoke great emotion.
Worth noting are the dramatic characterizations and earthy language prevalent throughout the book. The reader must be mindful that some characters in key leadership positions have been given negative personality traits to enhance the drama of the story. These characterizations should not be taken as generalizations of all personnel in these key roles. Additionally, the language is occasionally vulgar and uses slang in keeping with the variety of personalities and backgrounds of a company of Marines.
Senator’s Son is a must-read for warfighters preparing for the current fight. The story incorporates recent lessons, tactics, and controversy from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is directly applicable to the counterinsurgency operations that are ongoing in Afghanistan and still many other regions globally. Readers will take away the importance of understanding the population within the operational environment, as well as learn some tactics, techniques, and procedures in vignette form. We all learn from others successes and failures. Read Senator’s Son to learn from Golf Company during the acclaimed Anbar Awakening to add to your tactical toolkit.