Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Soldier's Promise by Daniel Hendrex

book cover

A Soldier's Promise:
The Heroic True Story of an American Soldier and an Iraqi Boy
by Daniel Hendrex, Wes Smith

Hardback: 272 pages
Publisher: Simon Spotlight Entertainment
First Released: 2006

Source: Bought through Half.com.

Back Cover Description:
After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, First Sergeant Daniel Hendrex was dispatched along with his unit, Dragon Company, to Husaybah, a small town bordering Syria in the Sunni-dominated Al Anbar Province in Iraq. Their mission was to plug the bottleneck at the border checkpoint, where foreign fighters and weapons smugglers were filtering through daily to join the increasingly menacing insurgency growing rapidly in the region. It was at this checkpoint, amid relentless attacks, that Daniel and his men found the most effective ally of the war effort in the most unlikely of sources.

In December 2003 a skinny Iraqi kid about fourteen years old approached one of the soldiers at the border and said simply, "Arrest me." Jamil, as he was called, claimed to have valuable information about the insurgency, but First Sergeant Hendrex was skeptical -- especially when the boy announced that the man he wanted to turn in was his own father. The story that unfolds is one of heartbreaking tragedy, remarkable courage, and unprecedented resiliency, as this child of the insurgency takes it upon himself to fight back with the help of the U.S. Army...and loses everything in the process -- his country, his home, and his family.

But through the power of his own conviction and his finely honed survival skills, Jamil (who was quickly nicknamed Steve-O by the soldiers of Dragon Company) sought refuge with the U.S. military in exchange for information. He risked everything he knew for a chance at freedom -- a choice few men, let alone children, have to make in their lifetimes. And after Steve-O helped save countless lives, First Sergeant Hendrex made it his personal mission to repay his debt and get the boy to safety.

A Soldier's Promise is an incredible story of sacrifice and courage by an Iraqi boy and the U.S. soldiers who protected him from certain death by bringing him to the United States. It's an astonishing tale of two countries and two very different kinds of people joining together against terror and tyranny, and of the young man who, against all odds, gave Dragon Company what they desperately needed -- hope.

A Soldier's Promise was a soldier's memoir covering the years 2000 to 2004. If you've read other memoirs by soldiers' in Iraq, then there isn't much new information here though it was interesting to read about the particular challenges of his location and how his tank crew had to adapt to usually patrolling on foot or in unarmored Humvees.

For me, the interesting part was Jamil's story. Stories from his childhood and the events leading up to his meeting with Hendrex were told in alternating chapters with Hendrex's story. It was interesting to see what life had been like there before the war and an inside view of the insurgency in that city.

The book was easy to read and often suspenseful. There was some bad language--usually other people's bad language was referred to in "he cussed" style while Hendrex sprinkled actual bad words throughout his narrative. There were some black and white photos of the people mentioned in the book.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from pages 26-27
Jamil had been drafted into a local insurgent cell of about forty Iraqis operating under the leadership of his father and his next-door neighbor, Sayed Atta Ali, who would become a major target of U.S. intelligence agencies. The boy would also come to realize that Sayed and his father were widely feared in their own community because they were responsible for keeping local Iraqis in line with the insurgency's mission. If a male family member refused to join the insurgents, or if a family member was suspected of sympathizing, cooperating, or trading with the American soldiers in the region, these men stepped in. They raped, tortured, mutilated, and killed the offender and sometimes his family members, too.

There would be many more meetings with the insurgent cell in the weeks and months that followed. Jamil sat transfixed by the strategies and the planning but terrified at the prospect of participating. He listened as they talked about weapons caches they'd created in their homes and yards for mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and rifles. He accompanied them on scouting trips to select ambush sites along routes used by the American troops.

The American soldiers and their menacing weaponry were all over Husaybah. Yet, Jamil's initial fear of them had given way to curiosity. They were intimidating with all of the military equipment and protection they carried. He'd seen them awkwardly trying to greet people in the marketplace, although most Iraqis were afraid to trade with them for fear of reprisals from the ever-present spies for the insurgency. Jamil had watched American soldiers reaching out to schoolchildren and adults in his neighborhood with gifts of clothing, shoes, food, soccer balls, toys, and candy. Some had even helped repair the school. It was difficult for him to reconcile the men he'd observed with the hated "Great Satan" of which his father and Sayed spoke. He had never seen them attack anyone. The American soldiers could be aggressive and threatening but only when threatened themselves. They rarely fired their weapons unless someone was firing at them.

The day Jamil had dreaded finally came. Late into a meeting of the insurgency cell, his father disappeared and came back with a battle-scarred AK-47 rifle and tossed it to him. Nearly every boy in Iraq learned to fire these rifles at a young age. But Jamil had never had one of his own. And this rile was not for shooting games or target practice. His father expected him to kill with it. If he refused to fight, he was essentially signing his own death sentence and perhaps putting his other family members in jeopardy. If he did not join his father, Nassir might recruit his younger brothers. Jamil had gone along with the insurgent training, pretending to be enthused as the others even while dreading the night when he would be forced to join an attack.

Now it was upon him, and there was no turning back.

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