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Joker One


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

By Donovan Campbell
(Random House, 2009)

Lt. Donovan Campbell, commander of U.S Marine Infantry platoon 'Joker One' gazed on the twisted iron rebar spewed out of the cinder-block walls… his ears still ringing from the blast, he grabbed for the radio handset. 'There were probably multiple casualties', he said, 'maybe some of the men are dead' he reported.

Headquarters squawked something in return but, with his hearing still questionable and one of his machine guns firing full bore inside the all-concrete building, the Lieutenant couldn't understand a word, so he told HQ he'll be back in touch when he could hear again. His 11 men squad was pinned down by enemy attack, at an abandoned hotel in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, where they have set an observation post. The coordinated attack set by Iraqi insurgent, firing improvised rockets, RPGs and AK-47s was countered by fires from the marines that eventually came out of the battle unscathed. For seven and halve months in Iraq, this was a routine day's work for Lt.. Campbell and his men.

Nearly three years after that August day, Donovan and his Marines have long parted their ways. "Our time together in Iraq seems like someone else's story" Campbell wrote, "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."

Campbell and his men were assigned to Ramadi, a city that earned the title of Iraq's most dangerous place. The capital of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province was an explosion just waiting to happen - and when it did happen, Campbell and his company were there to pick up the pieces. "For seven and half months, from March to September 2004, the company battled day in day out against thousands of enemy fighters in the city" he recalls "Our story has been largely overshadowed by the two battles of Fallujah, battles in which the U.S. Marine Corps brought the full weight of its combat power – jets, tanks, artillery - to bear on a city populated almost entirely by insurgent fighters. By contrast, in the battles in Ramadi the Marines fought against classic urban counterinsurgency, a never ending series of engagements throughout the heart of a teeming city where faceless enemies blended seamlessly into a surrounding populace of nearly 350,000 civilians, severely limiting the assets the Marines could bring to the fight. "My men and I usually fought on foot, street by street and house by house, using only what we could carry on our backs" tells Campbell, "Outnumbered and outgunned in 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."

After seven months of day-to-day, house-to-house combat, nearly half of Campbell’s platoon had been wounded, a casualty rate that went beyond that of any Marine or Army unit since Vietnam. Yet unlike Fallujah, Ramadi never fell to the enemy.

Told by the man who led the unit of hard-pressed Marines, Joker One is a gripping tale of a leadership, loyalty, faith, and camaraderie throughout the best and worst of times.

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Based on excerpts from the book's preview by Random House publishing, excerpts from the introduction of the book. Published in Defense-Update as part of our affiliate program.