WHY? What did Lance Corporal Anthony Melia, Sergeant Clinton Ahlquist and LCpl Steven Chavez die for? “Rage Company,” the call sign for Company F, 2d Battalion, Fourth Marine Regiment, is an intense, first-person narrative by then-First Lieutenant Thomas Daly in which he brings the reader into the Marines’ lives and attempts to answer that question. As the Rage Co forward observer, in charge of the company intelligence cell, Daly had a unique viewpoint and access to information that enables him to describe the complex issues of urban guerrilla warfare in a foreign culture.
“Rage Company” has a narrow perspective, in that it deals with the experiences of one company of Marines from November 2006 to March 2007. Even so, those experiences require Rage Co Marines to apply policies from the highest levels of the American government in making split-second decisions that decide the life and death of U.S. Marines, insurgents and Iraqi civilians.
It is no easy task, but Daly immerses the reader in the hot and cold, dust and mud, streets and homes, fear and pride, superstition and faith, and sometimes hourly experiences of the Marines, insurgents and civilians.
Although narrow in an operational and chronological sense, “Rage Company” is monumental in its description of the “Awakening of Anbar’s tribes against al-Qaida” and the role of the local Sunnis, known as Thawar Al Anbar, in the defeat of the insurgents.
The Awakening resulted in a dramatic change in attitude of the civilian population toward the Marines. To illustrate, on Nov. 26, 2006, during a night patrol, Daly describes interviewing a 60-year-old man in his home: “I became more frustrated. Through his fear, the old man was telling me that the insurgents were the obvious power in the area.”
A few short months later on March 25, 2007, while on another night patrol, “Julayba’s citizens met the Marines at the door, rather than hiding in a room and waiting for them to barge in. Interior lights were on; blinds were open. Families gathered in living rooms. A sense of normalcy that none of the Americans had previously seen in Iraq seemed to be taking place.”
The difference? Previously on Jan. 27, 2007, the Awakening scouts had questioned detainees and identified them and their families by name. “The scouts were informing them that their one advantage over the Americans was no longer in play. The shadow of anonymity surrounding the local militants was thrust into the light.”
The Awakening is only one of many episodes in “Rage Company” worthy of study. Embedded in Daly’s narration are opportunities for studies in policy, theory and leadership at many levels. Daly does not enumerate these “lessons”; he leaves it up to the reader to identify them. His approach is a strength that can generate numerous thoughtful discussions. But there is, perhaps, another benefit. It is difficult to explain to the parents of a Marine killed in action why his comrades may have been prevented from returning fire due to rules of engagement. Some insight into that perplexing situation can be gained by the reader.
The overall value of Daly’s work is his contribution to the study of leadership and insurgent warfare in an urban environment. It joins books from another era such as “A Rumor of War” (Philip Caputo), “The Village” (Bing West), “Fields of Fire” (James Webb), “Village at War” (James W. Trullinger), and it recalls the issues raised in “The Ugly American” (William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick). Students can take such studies and extract policy and leadership principles that transcend the physical and cultural environments.
As Daly learned, “military tactics is an art, not a science. There is no set answer for battlefield problems, only principles to help you make up your mind.” For this reason, “Rage Company” should be read by noncommissioned officers and officers who are preparing for deployments involving insurgent warfare, and it should be considered for the Commandant’s professional reading list. Others will enjoy the book for its vivid description of heroic Marines engaged in the struggle to bring peace in Iraq.