Kelly Kennedy’s They Fought For Each Other

Kelly Kennedy's compelling book about Iraq should be required reading.

Friend and Ochberg Fellow classmate Kelly Kennedy is an Army veteran who served our country in Desert Storm and Mogadishu.

Kelly’s military experience animates every page of her compelling debut book, They Fought For Each Other, an account of the hardest-hit American unit since the Vietnam War.

A reporter for the Army Times, Kelly developed the book from Blood Brothers, an award-winning multi-media series she did for the paper about the second platoon of I-26, a unit that was stationed in Adhamiya, Iraq.  She spent time with the troops in Iraq in 2007, and continued to follow the unit during the following two years.

They years were bloody ones.

Kelly writes in unflinching detail about Ross McInnis, an amiable prankster who gave his life to save other men in the unit, about Jeff McKinney, a first sergeant who killed himself in front of his troops, about Erik Osterman, who appoints himself the onerous task of cleaning tanks of his comrades’ blood every time they shed it, and about Capt. Michael Baka, whose heart aches as he is removed from his command mid-mission.

In addition to these individual soldiers, though, Kelly writes about the bone-deep love these men develop for each other, the fierce pride they take in their work, and their roiling emotional journey as more and more of their comrades are killed or have their bodies and, in some cases, spirits, destroyed by the unceasing combat, the constant exposure to danger, and the emotional toll of being away from their families.

While based in Iraq, They Fought For Each Other also has extensive material on the troops’ being in Germany as a way station to or from combat, and about the soldiers’ home lives.  Cathy Baka is just one of the wives who is an important character in the book.  Kelly shows how Baka strikes a delicate balance between working to keep her own, her husband’s and other wives’ emotional states in a positive place.

Communication is a key element in this process, and Kelly writes about how the immediacy of phone technology and email also can have its downsides.

A day of no communication from a soldier can lead to increasingly anxious feelings for the soldiers’ families and other loved ones.

The sections about the soldiers’ homes lives are powerful in their own right and because they give a fuller cost of the war’s toll.  Kelly shows convincingly that the physical wounds are just part of the damage the war inflicts, and that, in some case, death may be preferable to survival.

Her description of Ian Newland’s physical and brain injuries sustained when shrapnel riddled his body, the utter absence of any meaningful treatment and the toll his return takes on his family is utterly heartbreaking.

Kelly received a prestigious Rosalyn Carter Mental Health Fellowship to work on the project, and any time and information she received as a result of that opportunity is secondary to the soldiers’ and their families’ obvious trust in her as a witness to their experiences.

David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers has more overtly acidic commentary on the war than They Fought For Each Other.  Each chapter in his book is framed with a quote by former President George W. Bush, who Finkel consistently portrays as callow, uninformed and incompetent.

Kelly’s book is less concerned with the macro analysis, but with the forging of daily bonds, the jokes the men play on each and the resilience they show under the devastating toll they endure.

At the same time, she does raise profound questions about the war’s prosecution when the men refuse to go out on a mission because they recognize their emotional numbness and the murderous rampage they would surely inflict.

Unsurprisingly, the military command does not support the soldiers’ action and works to prevent further decoration of soldiers in the unit, even when their service preceded the mutiny.

The punishment of soldiers’ efforts to retain their damaged humanity and preserve innocent may be one of the most disturbing aspects of this gripping book.

One can feel in the work Kelly’s profound connection to her life’s purpose of giving meaning to soldiers’ experience through witnessing and writing about them.  We are fortunate to be the beneficiaries of her commitment and the fruits of her labor.

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13 responses to “Kelly Kennedy’s They Fought For Each Other

  1. Maryann Slater

    I am so pleased to read this review of They Fought for Each Other. I agree, Kelly’s book is gripping. I read it with my heart pulsing in my throat. I thought I knew a lot and understood much about the deployment; however, her book clearly shows the realities of war and the wounds that may never heal. Although many members of Charlie Rock’s extended family will read this book, I hope others will read too. ‘Bone deep love’ how true, how true!

  2. Maryann Slater

    My son was in the third platoon. Also, I was curious about the speed reading comment on your home page – did you take a course?

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Please accept my gratitude to your son and your family for his service. I did not take a course, but rather was turned onto speed reading by my late father-in-law. He directed me to a copy of the Evelyn Wood method and I practiced it by myself until I got the hang of it. I highly recommend speed reading and believe that a course is not necessary.

  3. elizabeth Sanderson denardi

    loved your blog here on the book, thank you so much for writing it,

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Elizabeth. Do you have a personal connection to the unit?

      Jeff

      • yes , sorry to take so long to get back, i found this post by accident,
        I am Gerry DeNardi’s Mom, the smart alec of charlie company

  4. This is an amazing book. My dad is First Sergeant Kenneth Hendrix and that deployment was rough. I thought I knew what was going on, but after I read that book I realized how much they kept from me. But this book makes me feel closer to my dad.

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Taylor, for sharing your comment and for your family’s service. I’m glad you enjoyed the book and will pass along your good words to Kelly, if that’s all right with you.

      Jeff

  5. It’s definitely fine with me, I want everyone to know about this book and how great it is.

  6. I just want to thank you for this review; Kelly did an amazing job in telling the story of Charlie Rock. I know time has and will pass since then, but the bond between the brothers of this Company will never vanish. Strength & Honor

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