On the Bookshelf: Rage Company by Thomas P. Daly
Rage Company is told from the first person perspective of Lieutenant Thomas Daly, the company Fire Support Team and Intelligence Cell leader of Company F (call sign Rage) of 2nd Battalion/4th Marines (2/4), part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) during its deployment in the Al Anbar province from November 2006 to March 2007 as part of Operation Squeeze Play. It is a ground level chronicle of the beginning of the Awakening movement in Ramadi and gives a visceral, granular feel for the evolution of the counterinsurgency that coincided with the ‘Surge’.
“It wasn’t until I witnessed this example of American firepower that I began to think about our purpose. Had we brought anything more than destruction and chaos to this city? This was a huge building that we had just obliterated in one moment…
It was my forty-eighth day in Ramadi, and I had never even considered how the locals viewed me, an American… I realized that when the war was over, no one would remember the lone sniper who was in that building. They would remember that America had destroyed their home. Ramadi was a public relations nightmare.” (pg .164)
At the beginning of the book the Marines behave as soldiers are trained to behave. Their mission is to relentlessly pursue and engage the enemy, but without being able to separate the enemy from the population they end up acting like the proverbial bulls in the china shop. It becomes routine to take over random houses, question the occupants, search for hidden weapons, and in the process, destroy any potential good-will that could be cultivated with the Iraqi people. In a sense, this approach doesn’t change. Rather, events unfold that create a rift between some of the Sunni tribes and Al Qaeda in Iraq that are able to be exploited. As the Marines of Rage Company slowly and unsurely create a bond with the Iraqi ‘scouts,’ they take the first step toward winning the population away from the Al Qaeda elements.
“The scouts responded to the danger by returning to the original room that contained the majority of the detainees. They snatched a young man, probably in his late teens, and dragged him out into the foyer. They threw the boy at my feet and told me he was a member of the mortar team that was firing at us. Then the two questioning scouts heckled him for the rest of the detainees to hear. They spouted off the names of the boy’s family and friends. They even rattled off the names of the other members of his mortar cell. It was sort of a morale crusher for the detainees, who probably had taken satisfaction in knowing their comrades were dropping mortar rounds all around us. 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. (pg. 245)”
Without the scouts there would be no counterinsurgency. They provide the leverage needed for the Marines to establish an environment of greater security. What was once a hostile situation between Marines and Iraqis slowly becomes one of greater mutual respect. By the end of the book, and the turnover of the area to a company of army mechanized infantry, instead of hiding in fear of the Marines the Iraqis are meeting the American soldiers at their doorways with offers of hospitality.
“On the way back to the COP, after six cups of sugar-laden chai, Lieutenant Thomas came to a realization. The incoming army unit, one that would exert no influence over the region, could be a blessing. By not engaging the populace, they would ensure that Colonel Mohammed and the scouts would have free rein. The men with the knowledge and ability to exert control just might be in a better position to do so. To the Iraqis, it would appear that America was rewarding them with the power to govern themselves. Hopefully, other regions, tribes, and cities would recognize this and assist the United States in order to gain a similar power. (pg. 343)”
This is the entire point of the book, this core lesson of counterinsurgency. It is the people who have the power to defeat an insurgency.
I initially picked up this book because of the fiction novel Senator’s Son by Luke S. Larson (and the Foreward written by Bing West as an endorsement didn’t hurt). It turns out that the two books, one fiction and one non-fiction, take place during the same time frame and in the same (though slightly different) areas of Ramadi. The similarity is striking in the descriptions of the people, the situations and the actions and feelings of the Marines that fill their pages. There is one striking dissimilarity. Senator’s Son is a novel where the Company leadership of the Marines recognizes that the approach to combating the insurgency needs to be population-centric not enemy-centric. In Rage Company the Company (and Battalion) leadership never really seem to make this connection and at times it seems that the best the junior leaders and NCOs of Rage Company can do, is do their best to stay out of the Iraqi’s way while they conduct their own population-centric campaign, aiding them when possible with medical care and weaponry. In all a prime argument for the concept of the strategic-corporal.
I found Rage Company to be very well written and incredibly interesting in its vivid descriptions and first-hand account of a pivotal time in the Iraq War. It is books like this one that contain the lessons of current and future conflicts and make us remember those who died to learn those lessons lest we forget.