Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood

Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood

by Donovan Campbell

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After graduating from Princeton, Donovan Campbell wanted to give back to his country, engage in the world, and learn to lead. So he joined the service, becoming a commander of a forty-man infantry platoon called Joker One. Campbell had just months to train and transform a ragtag group of brand-new Marines into a first-rate cohesive fighting unit, men who would become his family. They were assigned to Ramadi, the capital of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province that was an explosion just waiting to happen. And when it did happen—with the chilling cries of "Jihad, Jihad, Jihad!" echoing from minaret to minaret—Campbell and company were there to protect the innocent, battle the insurgents, and pick up the pieces. 

Thrillingly told by the man who led the unit of hard-pressed Marines, Joker One is a gripping tale of a leadership and loyalty.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781588367785
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/10/2009
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 154,965
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Donovan Campbell graduated with honors from Princeton University and Harvard Business School, finished first in his class at the Marines’ Basic Officer Course, and served three combat deployments–two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon and a Bronze Star with Valor for his time in Iraq. He is now working for PepsiCo and living in Dallas, Texas, with his wife and daughter.

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

I found myself fascinated by the interesting geometric designs of the twisted iron rebar in front of me. For a time, my eyes traced each of the dark, thumb-thick strands where they spewed out of the cinder-block walls like the frozen tentacles of some monster from the myths of antiquity.

I have no idea how long I spent engrossed in contemplation, because time in and around firefights is somewhat fluid, but eventually I tore myself away from profound admiration of the destruction in front of my eyes. It was difficult, this return to a reality that sometimes seemed more like a myth—or maybe a nightmare—but it was necessary, because the problem immediately at hand was all too real. If I ignored it for too long, I might get everyone around me killed.

So I stepped back from the abandoned building’s wall and surveyed the floor around me. Somewhere in the various piles of newly created rubble scattered about the floor were pieces of the rockets that had just ripped through two feet of cinder block to explode inside my observation post (OP). I needed to find at least one of these pieces, preferably the base of the warhead, because this was the first time that my unit had been hit by rockets capable of doing this much damage. If I could find a piece, then we could figure out what kind of rockets these were, estimate what it would take to launch them, and predict how they would be used in the future. We could then effectively plan to thwart them and potentially save several lives, which was important to me because my job description was twofold: 1) save lives and 2) take lives. Not necessarily in that order.

With these considerations in mind, I sifted diligently through the rubble until I found what I was looking for: a smooth black object, just a little larger than a hockey puck, with a half dozen or so holes drilled through it. Though the little puck looked fairly innocuous, I knew from hard-won experience that it was actually a thing of great pain; it was the base of one of the rockets that had just struck us. Without stopping to think, I grabbed the thick circular object as firmly as I could, shrieked manfully, and then dropped it as quickly as I could. Even ten minutes after its firing, this part of the explosive warhead was still hot enough to sear my palm. Important safety lesson: When picking up a newly fired enemy rocket warhead base, allow proper time for cooling or handle it with gloves. I filed that one away with other lessons learned the hard way, right after “RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) that you need to worry about always make two booms” and “No one here is your friend.” We now lived in a bizarre world where explosions were so commonplace that we had ways of distinguishing the more from the less harmful and where little tips and tricks about proper expended rocket handling made perfect sense to collate, absorb, and pass on. The absurd had become our baseline.

Ten minutes ago, though, the world was very simple, for it consisted solely of something that seemed like one gigantic explosion. Actually, it was three separate large explosions within half seconds of one another, but it’s fairly difficult to make the distinction when you’re lying on your back with your ears ringing. However, it’s fairly easy to think rapidly and incoherently, which was exactly what I was doing as I lay on my back, wondering whether my hearing would return this time, and, incidentally, what in the hell had just happened to me and my men.

Time, I already knew, would answer the former question without any help from me, but as the lieutenant and the unit leader, it was my job to answer the latter one, and time in this case was working against me. If you’re a Marine lieutenant in a firefight, a situation that’s probably as good a proxy as any for hell, then it’s your job to figure out at least 50 to 70 percent of what is going on around you so that you can make intelligent decisions, which translate into good orders, which lead to focused, effective, and decisive action. This whole process needs to be rapid to be relevant, but if you’re too hasty, then you can lead your men to their deaths, all the while believing that you’re leading them to safety. It’s not an easy tension to manage on an ongoing basis.

However, it can be done, and to do it well you must have absolutely no concern for your own safety. You can’t think of home, you can’t miss your wife, and you can’t wonder how it would feel to take a round through the neck. You can only pretend that you’re already dead and thus free yourself up to focus on three things: 1) finding and killing the enemy, 2) communicating the situation and resulting actions to adjacent units and higher headquarters, and 3) triaging and treating your wounded. If you love your men, you naturally think about number three first, but if you do you’re wrong. The grim logic of combat dictates that numbers one and two take precedence.

After the explosions, I rose, ears still ringing, and grabbed for the radio handset. Once the black handset was pressed firmly against my ear, I pushed the button with my thumb and, as calmly as I could manage, informed headquarters that my eleven men and I had just been hit by several large rockets. There were probably multiple casualties, I said, and maybe some of us were dead, but I didn’t know just yet. I’d call back. Headquarters squawked something in return, but, with my hearing still questionable and one of our machine guns firing full bore inside the all-concrete building, I couldn’t understand a word, so I told HQ I’d be back in touch when I could hear again. Then I put the handset down and resolutely ignored it until I could sort out what was going on inside the old abandoned hotel that my eleven-man squad and I were using as an observation position.

After five minutes of running helter-skelter through the thick dust that the rockets had kicked up, I found Sergeant Leza, my squad leader, and we conferred. Slowly the pieces of the attack came together to form a coherent picture: The massive explosion, which we assumed to be the rockets, had kicked off the insurgent assault. Seconds after their impact, one enemy from our southwest had fired an RPG at us but had missed, probably because one of my men had shot the insurgent as he took aim.

Simultaneously, several enemies off our southeast flank had sprayed the building with AK-47 fire, and the two Marines covering that sector had returned fire with their M-16s. They were unable to tell whether they had killed anyone. We had also taken some fire from our direct north and south, and the Marines in those positions, including my medium machine gunner, had reciprocated in spades. They, too, were unable to tell whether their return fire had had any effect. For the most part it was all pretty routine, with only two small deviations.

First off, directly across the street from our hotel, a car blazed furiously in an alleyway. I had seen burning cars before, but they were usually the result of either nearby bomb detonations or steady machine gun fire during particularly fierce combat. I had yet to see a burning car accompanied by a simultaneous rocket attack. I pushed the incongruity aside—the more important question was how the enemy had managed to attack us with such powerful rockets, which were almost certainly antitank weapons and definitely not man-portable. Ten minutes later, my first squad, patrolling in
from the north, called in with an answer: The backseat of the burning car bore the clear remains of a homemade-rocket launcher, still smoldering inside. Our attackers had simply parked the vehicle in an inconspicuous place next to the gates of a house, hoping that we would lose track of the nondescript vehicle amid the hustle and bustle of the thriving marketplace area below us. When the rest of the assault was ready, a spotter within the crowd had launched the rockets with a cellphone call.

The second small plot twist, however, was that no United States Marines were wounded or killed in this story, a very unusual thing for a Ramadi day in August 2004. In spite of their clever plan and their disciplined execution, our enemies had failed—we hadn’t stopped our mission for even a second. Indeed, we had probably winged at least one of our attackers, although it’s sometimes difficult to tell because most people don’t go down when you shoot them with our little .223 bullets. So on that day, I believed that God had been watching over us. Up to that point, even with the horrors I had witnessed,

I retained my faith, if only barely. Every time events made me ready to throw in the towel, a small miracle happened—like antitank rockets missing our floor—or I saw something supernaturally beautiful in the actions of one of my Marines, and for one more day, it was enough to keep faith and hope alive.

Now, nearly three years after that August day, those Marines and I have long since parted ways. Our time together in Iraq seems like someone else’s story, for there’s nothing in America even remotely similar to what we experienced overseas, nothing that reminds us of what we suffered and achieved together. And none of us have really been able to tell that story, not fully, not even to our families, because each small telling takes a personal toll. No one wants to suffer the pain of trying to explain the unexplainable to those who rarely have either the time or the desire to comprehend. So, many of us have simply packed our war away and tried hard to fit into normalcy by ignoring that time in our lives.

But our story is an important one, and I believe that it’s worth telling truthfully and completely no matter what the cost. For seven and a half months, from March to September 2004, my company of 120 Marines battled day in and day out against thousands of enemy fighters in a city that eventually earned the title of Iraq’s most dangerous place, a city called Ramadi. Our story has been largely overshadowed by the two battles of Fallujah that bookended our deployment, battles in which the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) brought the full weight of its combat power—jets, tanks, artillery, and so on—to bear on a city populated almost entirely by insurgent fighters. Fallujah I and II have probably been the closest thing to conventional fighting since Baghdad fell, and they’re a gripping story: intense, house-to-house combat between clearly defined foes—the Marines on one side, the jihadists on the other—with a negligible civilian population muddying the battlefield.

We, by contrast, fought a much blurrier battle, a classic urban counterinsurgency, a never-ending series of engagements throughout the heart of a teeming city where our faceless enemies blended seamlessly into a surrounding populace of nearly 350,000 civilians. These civilians severely limited the assets we could bring to the fight, negating entirely the artillery and air power that American forces invariably rely upon to win pitched battles. Thus my men and I usually fought on foot, street by street and house by house, using only what we could carry on our backs. Outnumbered and outgunnedin nearly every battle, we walked the streets of Ramadi endlessly, waiting, tensely, for another enemy ambush to kick off. For us there was no end to the mission, no respite from the daily violence—for seven straight months we patrolled without ever having a single day off.

Indeed, we never experienced anything even remotely resembling a normal day, and as I searched my memory and my diary for one to bring the reader into our world, the brief August rocket attack was the best I could come up with—nothing too terrible, just a standard day with a few little twists that made it slightly memorable.

During our entire deployment, I prayed for something other than this standard day, for a respite from the unrelenting pace of combat, but a break never came. Instead, we fought and fought and fought until, on our return, one out of every two of us had been wounded—a casualty rate that, we were told, exceeded that of any other Marine or Army combat unit since Vietnam.

However, our perseverance and our sacrifices paid off. Despite the determined attacks of the insurgents, Ramadi never fell entirely into their hands as had its sister city Fallujah, and we retained control of the key thoroughfares and all the institutions of government until we were relieved by other Marines. Three weeks thereafter, Central Command doubled the U.S. forces in Ramadi, then tripled them. In early 2005, the Marine Corps formally honored our efforts by giving the Leftwich award to my company commander (CO), Captain Chris Bronzi. With this award, the USMC officially stated that it considered Captain Bronzi its best combat company commander (and our company as its best combat company) for all of 2004, a year that included both Fallujah invasions.

Throughout all the fighting, I led a forty-man infantry platoon—onequarter of our company—under the CO’s command. Day after unrelenting day bound our platoon tightly together, eventually creating a whole much greater than the sum of its parts, and we grew to love one another fiercely. I knew these men better than my best friends; better, in some ways, than my wife. For what they did and what they suffered, my men deserve to have their story told.

But it’s so hard to tell the truth, because the telling means dragging up painful memories, opening doors that you thought you had closed, and revisiting a past you hoped you had put behind you. However, I think that someone needs to do it, and I was the leader, so the responsibility falls to me.

I was neither born into the military nor bred for it—aside from a two-year stint my grandfather did as an Air Force doctor, no one in my family had ever served in the armed forces. Indeed, the thought of joining the service never really occurred to me until my junior year at college, when I decided that the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (OCS), the ten-week selection process that qualifies university students for an officer’s commission, would look good on my résumé.

With this less-than-altruistic motivation to spur me on, I headed down to Quantico, Virginia, to take in the ten weeks of uninterrupted screaming that constitutes OCS. Unsurprisingly, I hated the experience, and on the day I completed the course, I swore internally never, ever to join the Marine Corps. I hadn’t done ROTC, and I hadn’t accepted a dime from any of the services to help pay for college, so I didn’t owe the military a thing. I intended for it to stay that way.

Over the course of my senior year, though, something shifted. Somehow, the Fortune 500 recruiters and the postgraduation salaries lost their luster, and, somewhat to my surprise, I soon found myself casting about for a pursuit that would force me to assume responsibility for something greater than myself, something that would force me to give back, to serve others. Try as I might to avoid them, I kept coming back to the United States Marines. I knew from OCS that if I could make it to the Marine infantry, then I could be a platoon commander and have forty men whose lives would be entirely my responsibility. I also knew that in the infantry I’d be in a place where I could no longer hide behind potential, a place where past academic achievements and family connections were irrelevant, a place where people demanded daily excellence in action because lives hung in the balance. As my final semester of school wound down, I thought of the words one of my sergeant instructors had screamed at me over the summer: “Candidate, the currency in which we trade is human lives. Do you think you can handle that responsibility?”

I didn’t know if I could, but I did know that I wanted to try, and I knew that I wanted to learn to lead, which, I soon discovered, simply meant serving others to an increasingly great degree. Surprising everyone in my family (my mother called me crazy), I joined the Corps after graduation, and I foundered at first in the training, but eventually I righted and eventually I got my wish—I made it to an infantry platoon.

So, that’s me: an ordinary young man who once made the choice to serve. I wish I could present someone greater to the reader, someone whose exploits and whose fame could automatically make people sit up and pay attention to the story of my men, but I can’t, because I’m not that someone. However, to this day I love my Marines with all that I’m capable of, and in spite of my shortcomings I want to do my utmost to help tell their tale.

Though I can’t offer myself to the reader, I can offer my men, and I can tell a true story with love and heartfelt emotion from the inside out. And I hope and I pray that whoever reads this story will know my men as I do, and that knowing them, they too might come to love them.

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"Beautiful and harrowing.... A" —-Entertainment Weekly

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Joker One 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 121 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you want a compelling, honest look at the war on terror in Iraq - you need to buy this book. The author leaves out all the political BS, and focuses on his men and all that happened to them during their tour. Great story - the flow was great and it kept me turning the pages like no book has in quite a while. These guys are all heroes by anyone's measure.
kabbott More than 1 year ago
The professions: doctor, lawyer, priest (rabbi, minister etc) and soldier. Donovan Campbell delivers the soul of the professional soldier. The men he describes are "always faithful" to each other. You feel their love for each other. There is tension throughout the story. The reader wants each one to make it home alive and uninjured. When they do make it home, you sense the remorse of separation. As I read, I doubted myself. I don't believe I could live up to the least of these. THE FEARLESS MAN by Donald Pfarrer is a similar tale. It is so disturbing, there were times I couldn't put it down. These books are different, but both will move you, make you respect the soldier and hate war.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was looking for an honest view of what the soldier on the ground experienced in the Iraq War. The beginning was rather slow moving. The author had to describe his reasons for joining the Marine Corps and the training necessary to keep the squad alive in battle. After that, the book took off. He describes how the men bonded in battle and boredom. He explains how personalities affected each soldier's ability to cope with the dangers and loneliness facing them away from home. The author gave insight into the occasional lack of needed supplies and weaponry to fight the enemy. The conclusion was extremely moving.
Ti99er More than 1 year ago
Describing Joker One by Donovan Campbell in one word is a difficult task but if forced to do so the word would be poignant. Joker One is the story of the individual Marines who comprised one of the platoon¿s deployed to fight in Iraq. More than a story about a war, Campbell slaps the ¿Human Condition¿ on the face of the Iraqi War, and for good measure nail guns it in place. His story is one that needed to be told, not to sway your opinion of whether the United States occupation of Iraq is justified, but rather to put names and faces to the individuals who served their country. It doesn¿t matter whether you are pro or anti war what matters is that you understand the struggles of the individuals involved. The men in this story didn¿t wage the war but rather carried out their mission with courage, bravado, and outright selfless determination. If you are not touched by the words between the bindings of this book than I might suggest you send out a search party for your soul.

The Stateside news reports of the Iraqi War have been meaningless rhetoric up to this point. We have been fed the gruesome details of body counts and have seen the anti-American sentiments of the Iraqi people, but up until the story of Joker One these stories have been a benign representation of the actual happenings in Iraq. We haven¿t been told the stories of the ¿so-called¿ US allies who when forced with the decision of standing up for their own free society or their own mortality immediately switch their alliances and begin to open fire on our troops. Nor have we seen firsthand, the cowardly Iraqi insurgent¿s complete disregard of their own countrymen as they use them as human shields as a means to an end.

Some soldiers have returned to the States battered, beaten, and broken both physically and mentally. Others have returned Stateside in wooden boxes draped with the United States flag. Campbell has identified these soldiers by name. Soldiers like you and I who have families, dreams, and ambitions now which regardless of injury or death have become severely altered by their mere participation in the ugliest form of human interaction.

Lieutenant Campbell takes this opportunity to provide the reader a front row seat into the daily struggles of his platoon. It would have been easy for him to shed the spotlight directly upon himself in this story; in order to boost his own ego. But to the contrary, Campbell highlights the extraordinary camaraderie of the men under his charge. Instead of highlighting his successes, he focuses on the successes of his men and points out his errors in judgment. He continually second guesses the split-second decisions he was forced to make. If only I had done X rather than Y, things might have been different; is the common theme of his thought process.

Joker One reads like an action packed Major Motion Picture. I had to constantly remind myself that I was reading a true story and not a piece of fiction dreamed up by some overly imaginative author hammering away at the keys of his or her word processor.

Joker One is so vivid and alive with detail that it hits the reader in the solar plexus with unrelenting force. Thanks to Lieutenant Campbell, here is to the soldiers of Joker One, Semper Fi!
jshrop on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Joker One by Donovan Campbell is a raw account of the war in Iraq told by a USMC platoon leader who was deployed with his men in 2004. It is a heartfelt account of day to day life on the ground in a war-ravaged country, a story about the commitment that these men made to each other, and proved every single day watching one other¿s backs. This story is about what it means to serve a greater good and put aside selfish wants. It gives a first hand account of the camaraderie that the Marines of Joker One showed to each other, and the extents of the love that they had for their platoon members. The individual segments of this book tell about various battles, patrols, and missions that Joker One and the other companies of 2nd Battalion/4th Marine Regiment took on in the city of Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province (the same province in which Falujah is also located). The details of each engagement have been told very well, and with so much clarity, it is amazing the recall Campbell has, and the detail with which he kept his patrol logs. I have not read any other Iraq war books, so I am unable to comment on how this stacks up with other accounts, but Campbell¿s stories should be mandatory reading for every American. To all of us, safe in our homes tens of thousands of miles away, Iraq just seems like one big mess, but doesn¿t really affect us personally. These men on the ground are the ones that must bear the day to day hardships of emerging democracy in this tattered country. No matter what the mission, how incomprehensible it may seem, they are giving 200% in support of making Iraq a better country for all of its citizens. No matter what your politics, it is important to understand how our men and women, not just military service personnel, but civilians as well, as trying to help the Iraqis realize a country where they don¿t have to be afraid. Where they don¿t fear the current leadership¿s private police force, or corrupt military leaders. I think we can all agree that the goal is to get our troops home as soon as possible, but our Marines, as evidenced in Joker One, believe in the work they are doing to secure the future of Iraq and commit themselves without reservation. They have put themselves in harms way and laid down their lives to protect people who hate them from terrorists and insurgents trying to undermine their own future.This book tells the story of amazing individuals, young men who started out not the best or the brightest, but became strong leaders and took care of their friends and team members before thinking of themselves. I think the insight into a city like Ramadi really makes you reflect on what we are accomplishing. Campbell does a good job to not bias his accounts with political perspective and it forces you to ask yourself questions: What are we doing to help enrich the lives of the Iraqi people? Is our being there doing the people of Iraq more harm than good? How on earth can a human being launch a grenade into a group of marines crowded around by Iraqi children? How can an enemy be defeated who will use children and innocent bystanders are human shields? Are the insurgents of Iraq beatable without decimating the entire civilian population? Is it worth us being there is the answer is no?In all, I think Donovan Campbell does an excellent job of giving his account of the Iraq conflict, and gives us a better appreciation of the love that can exist between friends and comrades. Campbell ensures that their story will live on forever, and evidences the love that he had for his platoon.
drsteve on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While Campbell isn't a polished writer, his honesty and transparency are refreshing. The narrative is a little slow at times, but (thank goodness) war isn't always constant action (that's only in the movies). At times poignant, but rarely preachy. Just one man's honest appraisal of what it was like to lead a Marine platoon in combat in the dirty streets of Iraq. Some great lessons on leadership, too, particularly on empathy and taking responsibility for the welfare of those under your command.
Grandeplease on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Patrol in Ramadi, Iraq, is more than edgy ¿ it is terrifying when you are a US Marine in early 2004. Author Donovan Campbell, commander of a forty-man infantry platoon, carries the reader on patrol and shares his soul, including the terror of making split-second decisions that determine life and death for his men and the civilian population ¿ the successes and the failures.If you are looking for a book that makes sense out of the Iraq war or even one that will give you hope that what the US is doing in Iraq is for the better of mankind ¿ I don¿t recommend Joker One.If you want to feel what it is like to be a solider facing death or dismemberment any second for weeks on end, Joker One will do just that and more. Sleep well and with a thankful heart; the US Marines are bleeding for you.
gkleinman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've read my fair share of 'War is Hell' books and each of them has been written from the perspective of someone who wants to illustrate how futile and insane war is. Often these books are preaching to the choir, so it was interesting to me to read a book written from the perspective of someone who was proud to be a Marine and both willing and eager to enter the fog of war.Joker One is extremely readable, Donovan Campbell does an excellent job at capturing the essence of the men around him while providing a truly emotionally naked portrait of himself.As with all war books you get the gore of war, the incidents which reinforce how indiscriminate and heartbreaking battle is. But with Joker One there's a great sense of the impact of it all on the men who were there and how the find a way to push forward beyond all exhaustion.The book avoids many pitfalls and while it is often emotional and proud it's never overly nostalgic or maudlin. My only real gripe about Joker One is the end. The book travels such a wide emotional arch that I felt the ending was rushed. I wish we had been given another few chapters on life after war.All in all, a very good read and a unique view of war.
worcester on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an honest and well written account of a young Marine officer's first combat command. Campbell does a fine job of conveying the extraordinary responsibilities taken on and sacrifices made by teenage Marines, and officers who were not much older, in Iraq in 2004. Campbell paints a vivid picture of day to day operations in a hostile environment and the struggles of a young officer to accomplish his mission and to bring his men home alive.
tjwilliams on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
To say that Donovan Campbell¿s Joker One is the Band of Brothers for the Iraq War would be delving dangerously into the murky world of hyperbole. Stephen Ambrose¿s epic tome is, perhaps, the standard for war narratives based on individual units. But Campbell¿s book relies less on the epic standing of the war in which he fought than on the experiences of his men while in the combat zone in Iraq. The Iraq War will never be seen in the same light as World War II, but Campbell¿s memoir of life and death on the streets of Ramadi deserves to stand next to other great works as a major contribution to the war narrative genre.Campbell was an ivy-league educated kid who could have taken a job at any number of Fortune 500 companies immediately after graduating from Princeton. Instead, drawn to serve his country, he joined the Marines and became the commanding officer of Joker One, a forty-man infantry platoon. For seven months in 2004, this platoon patrolled one of the most dangerous areas of Iraq. Car bombs, suicide vests, RPGs, and suburban firefights were seen with far too much frequency. Yet through the death and the mayhem Campbell had one goal: protect the citizens of Ramadi and bring as many of his men home as possible.While Campbell¿s descriptions of the battles and skirmishes Joker One saw in those seven months of insanity are lurid and enthralling, it is the cast of characters who make this book shine. A Filipino immigrant who was pulled from recruiting duty because of a large-scale tattoo of a naked she-devil on his chest. A narcoleptic capable of falling asleep in the middle of a battle and the sharpshooter assigned to give him a swift slap to the back of the head whenever he did. The speedster who became radio jockey solely because he could run three miles in under sixteen minutes. The men of Joker One are the heart of this story and their sacrifices drive the narrative.It is hard not to fall in love with Campbell¿s men and equally hard not to mourn the losses. Joker One is engaging and moving and should be read by anyone with even a passing interest in the military or the Iraq War.
classicaljunkie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow. This non-fiction work is about the author's experiences leading a marine platoon for one year in Iraq. I devoured this on one plane trip and back and was so moved towards the end, I found myself crying in public. Its a really harrowing, but honest account of the horrors of the Iraq war and I think how much we Americans do not really understand the war.
MaryKay1822 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿Donovan Campbell was a platoon commander in the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment in Anbar in 2004. In Joker One, he tells the story of a hard fight from the ground level better than most of the military writers or news people ever could. This is how it was in Ramadi in 2004,way before the Surge, when Iraq was falling apart on the evening news. The book portrays an picture of what it is like to lead men into battle. It describes the bonds that are formed between soldiers and the love he felt for all the men under his command. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in knowing what fighting in a war really entails. Whether you agree with the Iraq invasion or not you cannot help but respect the men that had such courage, who always looked out for their fellow soldiers and the Iraqi citizens and put themselves in harms way day after day.
mikewick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A quick and moving memoir of one young Marine platoon leader's experiences on the ground in Iraq. This doesn't get into the overall arc of the war but rather recounts the day-to-day realities of fighting in Iraq--from the ambushes in the street to ferreting out a carp from their water supply.
MoxieHart on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
You know how they say to never judge a book by its cover? They should update it to include never judge a book by the paragraph on its back cover. I started reading this book apprehensively because its description made it sound like it was written by a Christian jihadist out to kill hajis.Thankfully, Donovan Campbell is none of those things but he is en excellent writer. His prose is crisp as he describes the impossible situation that he and his platoon find himself in. He details the absurdities and sorrows of living in a war zone in a manner that's easy to read but still engaging. What's amazing is that he manages to do this without speaking of the politics that sent him to war. I'm still undecided if whether or not this is a good thing. Regardless, it's an important book and displays the realities of the war in Iraq. I'm just not sure how many people will pick it up, I know I wouldn't have if it weren't sent to me.
cameling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting account of a platoon of Marines who had little time to train before they were shipped out to Ramadi.Donovan's memoir brings to light the day-to-day operations of a Marine platoon from how squads are formed to saving lives in hostile territory.Following the platoon through their training, the intense tension that followed their mission in Iraq, the few glimpses of humor and relaxation and of course the horror and grief that followed deaths of some of the squad brought home the sacrifices these men make in serving their country. As you follow them along their journey, you live their fears, their stress, their anger, their courage, their grief, their thrills and the deep emotional bond that makes them an effective platoon.The details can sometimes be a little overwhelming but they do give a different and I think stronger perspective of what the Marines had to go through compared to what's covered by the news stations.
hermit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While the author, Donovan Campbell, was attending the Harvard Business School he wrote this memoir as part of a veteran's writting project for full credit.This book, Joker One, is the result of this course. An easy to read first person account of a U.S. Marine Infantry Platoon leader whose platoon ended up serving a tour of duty in Ramadi, Iraq.Donovan Campbell, Lt. Campbell, had already served a tour of duty in Iraq as an Intelligence Officer but wanted the responsibility of leading an infantry platoon. He finally got his wish and was transferred to an Infantry Company as the Platoon Leader of the First Platoon. When he arrived at his first combat command position the platoon was under manned and not combat ready. And soon after his arrival notice is given of the companies impending deployment to Iraq, his first front line combat deployment but second tour of duty in that theater of war.When the orders arrived not only was the Company at its bare bones minimum, including missing a platoon leader, they filled out companies platoons complement of men with green men right out of boot camp. This means that the platoon would not have the bonding or training that a fully staffed platoon that had trained together would have had. The memoir starts here and we follow Lt. Campbell as he relates what he has to deal with as a newely assigned platoon leader. We read about his daily stress and the informal training he gets from performing his job, his squad leaders and from his tough platoon sergeant. Then once in a war zone we learn how a combat platoon and its leader quikly learn their responsibilities in a combat zone. Here the responsibility of all platoon missions and the lives of his men rest on his shoulders. The Lt. was blessed that he had the aid of very good non-commission offciers to aid him. Then Iraq! The main part of this memoir is of the platoon's deployment in Iraq. Their Company call sign was Joker and being the first platoon Lt. Campbell's platoon was called Joker One. He writes about what their daily lives were like while deployed in Ramadi, Iraqi. The constant stress and pressures of a combat zone seven days a week, 24 hours a day. As you read you get a glimpse of what these U.S. Marines went through.The belief on arrival that they all know they will be going home to assuming they are already dead so they can concetrate at the job at hand with the feeling of constant stress of the unknown which was always present. Joker One started each mission in prayer as a unit. Every platoon leader has the responsibility to complete the mission and keep his men safe. Joker was deployed to the city where some of the fiercest battle took place. Donovan Campell was one of the brave service to make it home and was willing to share some of his experience with us.
Oberon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Joker One by Donovan Campbell is the first person account of a Marine lieutenant serving in Ramadi, Iraq in 2004. Joker One, the platoon¿s call sign, is not an in-depth review of why the United States is fighting in Iraq. Instead, Campbell provides a personal and detailed account of one platoon, thrown into an intense combat situation, with limited practical training and Campbell¿s efforts to bring his men out alive. Campbell provides excellent insight into the daily life of a Marine stationed in Ramadi, just as the violence in the area begins to increase. The vast majority of the book contains retellings of the day-to-day life of the Marine platoon that Campbell leads. Many of the stories are humorous¿the retelling of a particularly raucous song and dance number is amusing, other tales are much more grim. Campbell¿s retelling of patrols in hostile territory, coming under enemy fire, and ultimately, the loss of a fellow Marine, places the war in Iraq in a narrow focus, from a unique point of view.Ultimately, Joker One is the closest most Americans will come to being in an actual war zone. Campbell¿s love of his fellow Marines, his deep faith in God, and his own personal determination to lead his platoon to the best of his ability, makes for a fascinating, if somewhat heartbreaking, read.
clif_hiker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was hard to read this book without becoming overwhelmingly furious at the leaders, both military and civilian, who ask our young men to do impossible jobs without the proper tools. President Bush surely knew better than to attempt a land war in Asia, after all, it's only been a military maxim for better than 50 years. How many times did Mr. Campbell mention that the radios didn't work correctly? Funny how the civilian mercenaries can seem to find radios that work perfectly...But the Marines do the best job they can, mostly without complaint or bitterness. Campbell provides us with a multitude of leadership lessons. And in the end, we have another war memoir that illustrates the futility and wastefulness of attempting to impose our will on another culture... no matter how good our intentions.
mramos on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a first person account of a U.S. Marine Infantry Platoon leader whose platoon ended up serving a tour of duty in Ramadi, Iraq. We are introduced to the author as he transfer from a HQ intelligence job to a front line combat infantry position where the lives of men will be his responsibility. It was surprising o me after reading this account how ill prepared our Marines were for combat...yet they still performed s we would expect of a U.S. Marine. When Lt. Campbell is given his transfer to his infantry platoon it is woefully understaffed and as they get orders for deployment new and green men right out of boot camp are sent to fill out the ranks. So his platoon is did not have the opportunity too get the bonding or training one would expect of a combat unit before deployment. This first hand telling let¿s us see the daily stress and learning curve that a infantry platoon Lt. has to go through in a U.S. base and in a combat zone and how the responsibility of the men are always on his shoulders. You also see the truism of how important good non-commission officers are.As they are deployed and we read Campbell¿s retelling of their deployment in Iraq we can almost feel the times of stress and relief he went through. And how you go from knowing you will go home to assuming you are already dead so the stress is lessened. You can also tell how dedicated he was to his men and his resolve to try to get everyman home and still perform their duty to the best of their ability...always with the thought of upholding the honor of the Marines. This look inside what actually happened in a city where some of the fiercest battle took place. If you were not deployed yourself, thank God that these men volunteered for service. This is a very good memoir of a front line Marine and I am glad I was able to read it.
CstSnow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Here's to hoping that the current (much deserved)success of The Hurt Locker will lead to the masses discovering the other great works of the Iraqi war, including Joker One by Donovan Campbell. What helps both The Hurt Locker and Joker one is how immersive the worlds being portrayed are, the story of Campbell and his platoon is not one we the reader feel as if we are on the outside looking in on, instead after a surprisingly short amount of time his platoon is your platoon. You run through the same gamut of emotions that the characters are put through. Just as in actual deployment the days/skirmishes start to run together until all of a sudden out of nowhere the realities of the horror these men are going through hits you like a ton of bricks. A definite must read.
ggarfield on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Candid, Minute to Minute, On the Ground AccountDonavan Campbell gives us a candid view of what he and his Marine platoon, Joker One, experienced as they trained at Camp Pendleton California for their deployment in Ramadi, Iraq. The ¿hit and run¿ tactics of the enemy, how terrorists melt back into the city streets after an RPG attack, errant AK 47 ¿spray and pray¿ firefights in the city¿s streets, the shocking consequences of an IED explosion, the heartbreaking death of young Iraqi children and the consequences on Campbell¿s platoon who we feel we know by the end. Not only is the book a candid account of what the platoon experienced in Ramadi, but also a useful self assessment by Campbell of his own decisions, the confusion in decision making (fog of war) and the self doubt around some decisions. It is a good book on leadership as well.The book¿s minute-by-minute account of urban firefights is a good and granular companion to higher altitude perspectives that miss the real consequences of war.
PallanDavid on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Donovan Cmpbell has given us a memoir of how it is to be the officer in charge of a group of men who may die at any moment. He has not written an intense "shoot 'em up" book, although there is plenty of fire power in his story. Rather he has told how the interaction between himself and his men created a caring family who was willing to work together for a common cause.Iraq in 2004 was not a fun place, and we see the work our men performed through the eyes of their leader. Donovan Campbell was not raised to be a military man, but circumstances led him to join the military and go to the middle east to fight. We see a man who is very similar to those under his command - a man who is willing to look outside himself for guidance yet takes his command position very seriously. If he is typical of our leaders in the military, I have no qualms of sending my son to fight under their protective eye.
KR2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I will be honest and say that I did not expect this quality of a book from a Marine. I was quite surprised at how well it is written. I have not been so moved by a book about war since All Quiet on the Western Front. That was fiction; this is non-fiction. I was very proud about some of the decisions these "kids" made while in the heat of battle. Campbell did well to show the reader how training will never be enough, supplies run out or don't work, and anything that can go wrong whi...moreI will be honest and say that I did not expect this quality of a book from a Marine. I was quite surprised at how well it is written. I have not been so moved by a book about war since All Quiet on the Western Front. That was fiction; this is non-fiction. I was very proud about some of the decisions these "kids" made while in the heat of battle. Campbell did well to show the reader how training will never be enough, supplies run out or don't work, and anything that can go wrong while being shot at, will. He also showed how camaraderie and faith can get you through anything.
tyroeternal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Joker One is nothing short of an excellent book. Campbell was very open about his time in Iraq. It was enthralling to follow his story and his inner thoughts as they changed through his deployment. His honesty about all of his struggles and shortcomings made his story stand a head taller than similar books I've read in the past. Following the squads of Joker One through their good moments and especially the bad ones, drew me into the story and kept me on edge every time the tension of a moment increased.The writing was excellent, and his storytelling had me completely immersed from beginning to end. A well balanced mix of action and introspection.The tragedies encountered on a daily basis woke me up to the depths of the struggles that so many service men and women have had to deal with in the past, and are facing even now.
Sararush on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I should disclose this was not only my first book on Iraq, but the first war memoir I have ever read. I¿m not even exactly sure what made me pick it up or that I would make it through the first few chapters. As a housewife, I have as little in common with your typical marine as anyone. But this book is excellent, and surprisingly relatable. The consummately humble Campbell tells the story of his platoon, Joker One, from it¿s inception through deployment to Iraqi city of Ramadi for a nine month peace keeping mission. The reader is presented with a straightforward and honest account of war from the men who fought it. Campbell writes with grace and humor telling us of the platoon¿s growing pains and mistakes as well as his short comings as a leader. He takes the time to walk the reader through military basics and the political setting of Ramadi making the story accessible without over politicizing or romanticizing his work. There is plenty of action, though nothing is gritty, and the book brims with poignant moments. I doubt it is possible to finish this book without renewed appreciation for the sacrifices our men make out of love for each other and our country. If you¿ve ever wondered how service men keep their lives, faith and humanity¿read this book.