March 2024
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Review: Joker One, Donovan Campbell

In college, Donovan Campbell went to a training camp for the US Marine Corps.  He thought it would look good on his resume and provide him with some experience.  He never had any intention of joining the Marines in actuality.  When he graduated from Princeton, Donovan realized that he wanted to do something more with his life than work in an office.  He wanted to do something that mattered.  So he joined the Marine Corps for real.  Leaving his young wife Christy behind, Donovan was required to train his 40-man infantry platoon in record speed as they prepared for their deployment in Iraq.  The platoon, named Joker One, was relieved when they were stationed in Ramadi, as it had been relatively quiet.  Ramadi did not stay quiet.  During his months in Iraq, Donovan’s leadership and quick thinking were tested and questioned time and time again, but his greatest constant remained his love for his men.  This book is in part his tribute to them.

I was amazed by how this story of war in Iraq could pull me in.  Even when, at times, terminology was confusing and I had to flip to the glossary at the back, I never regretted picking it up and perhaps most surprisingly, I didn’t want to put it down.  It would be wrong to call this an exciting book, given the horrific events that happen herein, but it was a moving, astonishing memoir.  The love shared between Donovan and his men, their extremely strong friendship, is what powers their mission and this narrative.  I was with them when they met, during their training, and while they fought for their lives against insurgents they could hardly distinguish from regular Iraqis.

Joker One is a way for those of us who have never experienced war, who may even be against the war (though never against the soldiers), to get a hint of what living in Iraq must be like.  Donovan describes in detail the 50-80 lb gear that they are required to wear, the constant heat in mid-summer, the indifference and sometimes hatred that the Iraqis feel towards the American soldiers, the fear of running for his life and the anguish when one of his men is injured or killed because of a decision he made.  The Marines hardly sleep and their lives are in constant danger from bombs tossed against their compound.  Men are injured and killed and the platoon shrinks, week by week and month by month.  I am more than ever astonished by the courage and strength it must take to volunteer for this and I admire the men in this book for their fortitude and honor.

With all the strife and pain in this book, I was frankly amazed by how easy it was to read.  I suspect the author has a gift; he is educated and it shows.  He is a worthy choice to put a voice to this compelling story and to reveal to us the sacrifices that men make every day in Iraq as well as the friendship, respect, and love that can grow between them.  I am glad I chose to read this book.  Ignorance is never a virtue and it is extremely important to understand what is happening in the world around us.  Joker One was a fabulous choice.

Available from IndieBound, Powell’s, and Amazon.


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