When I first heard about From Basic to Baghdad being available for review, I knew immediately that I wanted to read it. My brother-in-law spent almost a year in Iraq with his Marine Reserve unit and I had heard tales of what went on over there, but I thought it would be interesting to read of this young man's journey in the Army from the very beginning. I don't imagine he EVER thought he'd join the army and, less than a year later, be in Kuwait defending his country from further terrorist attacks!
From Basic to Baghdad is a compilation of letters and emails that J.B. Hogan sent home to his family detailing his experience in the Army. If I had to give one phrase to describe this book, it would be "seriously hilarious." J.B. Hogan does not gloss over the serious nature of his exploits in Iraq, but he does it in a humorous way that has one laughing out loud while reading the book! Honestly, my family thought I was crazy when they would catch me chuckling over something that Hogan had written, but he has a very dry wit.
While reading this book, we watch a young man grow into manhood and his candor about his decision to join the Army is refreshing. The first part of the book, "Basic Training" details his introduction into the Army in June 2001 and Hogan openly admits that he's not sure he made the right choice in signing up and is not sure he's going to make it through basic combat training (BCT). After 2 months in BCT, he writes "I have finally set up a time to talk to a drill instructor about leaving. It is tomorrow. I need lots of prayer for boldness and for God's will. I am, however, nearly certain that I will be getting out." However, he soon learns that he will NOT be able to just leave because he is performing well and just two days later writes, "Well, I was very depressed when I was told I couldn't quit, but today I am feeling much better. You know, I think I actually want to graduate now." It is Hogan's honesty when expressing his feelings that draws the reader in because we have ALL been in situations like these.
Hogan's humor shines through once he is deployed to Kuwait in May 2002. In one of his first letters home after being deployed, he writes, "Hello again from the stupidest place in the world to have a country - the geological equivalent of a dust bin ..." Later, he writes, "Also, you grow to loathe anything that even remotely reminds you of a sandbag." JB's mom, Maggie, types up his letters and forwards them to her friends and family by email. Soon, Hogan is receiving mail and packages from people that he doesn't even know! He continues to detail his duties and experiences in Kuwait and lists items that he wants his readers to send to him - baby wipes are a most-desired item - then we read this, "The packages were all greatly lauded by yself and my tentmates who knew there was no way I was eating all 900 of the cookies I'd receive that month. And baby wipes .... near the end there we almost dreaded seeing baby wipes!" Eventually, he gains email access and it becomes easier for Maggie to forward his news to friends.
JB comes home on leave in December 2002 and is then deployed back to Iraq in January 2003. Living conditions leave a lot to be desired. He describes it as "cramped and odorous" with 60 men packed into a tent and showers allowed every 3-4 days at best. In March, he is on his way to Baghdad and notes "there are no showers." Hogan then launches into an extremely humorous tirade about his "smell" and how he finally "murders smell" by fashioning a shower in the desert. Soon, he is busy "driving for hours on end each day, engaging the enemy, dodging and weaving through rocket-propelled grenades and indirect fire" that he doesn't have time to write letters home, so the rest of the book is excerpted from a journal he kept during that time. This part of the book, "To Baghdad, " consists of first-hand accounts of what it's like to go to war.
Once I started reading this book, I couldn't put it down. It just totally engaged me. It is easy to read and the humor sprinkled throughout lightens the mood when things get a little serious. J.B. Hogan may have entered basic training unsure of his ability to stay the course but, in the end, we see a determined and intelligent young man emerge from the dust of Baghdad.