Thank You for Your Service (Review)

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Thank You for Your Service
David Finkel, 2013
272 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
March, 2014
About a third of the way into this book, we're taken into a Pentagon conference room where sit generals, a colonel or two, and Peter Chiraelli, the Army's Vice Chief of Staff. They're tying to get a handle on the high rate of military suicide, and so they talk about numbers, review cases and try, always, to arrive at a "lesson learned"—what have we learned from this one death that could help prevent others?

But it's the real lives beneath the statistics—men who return from two Mideast wars and find themselves unable to get on with their lives—that make up the heart of David Finkel's book. They're the men we follow throughout—and whom we come to care about, deeply.

All of them have been diagnosed with PTSD or TBI (traumatic brain injury) and suffer from recurrent nightmares, memory loss, anger, and guilt—deep, overwhelming guilt. They feel guilty because they couldn't save a comrade, because they shot a child held held up as a human shield, or because they broke into the wrong house during a midnight raid. One soldier remembers the thrill he got photographing bloated bodies. Now, looking back, he wonders with revulsion who that person was. The men want, desperately, to reclaim their humanity.
 
The reportage is told through several men, and two wives, connected loosely with Sergeant Adam Schumann—the central figure of the book. We arrive home with them, follow the ups and downs of their family life, and eventually sit with them in their treatment programs. We're immersed in the grittiness of daily lives and the intimacy of private fears. And all the while, we're hoping their names don't crop up at one of Peter Chiarelli's suicide meetings.

This is a beautifully told work of journalism: heartrending but, in the end, hopeful. As Finkel reminds us: "Every war has its after-war,” and these men and their wives are struggling mightily in their own private after-wars. This is an essential book for understanding our veterans.

See our Reading Guide for Thank You for Your Service.

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