Shrapnel Wounds by Tom Crowley

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Tom Crowley’s Shrapnel Wounds: An Infantry Lieutenant’s Vietnam War Memoir (Pacifica Military History, 198 pp. $24.95, paper; $7.99, Kindle) is a how-to book on leading men in combat, circa 1966, although the author sees the same thoughts and ideas as still valid today.

Crowley presents two themes. Mainly, he discusses the traits of a good combat leader, particularly at the platoon level. Secondly, he analyzes the Army’s promotion and rank structures.

The book’s strength is Crowley’s account of combat as a platoon leader in the 25th Infantry Division at Cu Chi. He deals with battle in a vivid and straightforward manner. He says that he worked hard to become a competent and respected officer who cared for his men. Often he proves a point by referring to an encounter. For example, in speaking of fear, Crowly describes a prolonged shootout that occurred after his platoon unexpectedly found a large number of VC in a supposedly abandoned village.

He believes that the best leaders make both physical and emotional commitments to their men. Crowley felt this type of involvement to a high degree in Vietnam, and it took a tremendous psychological toll. After receiving two dozen shrapnel wounds in one battle, despite doctors’ objections and still-open wounds, he returned to his platoon after only a week in hospital.

Crowley once considered a career as an Army officer. A college dropout facing the Vietnam War draft, he instead enlisted and earned a commission through OCS. Watching the contrivances of his peers and superiors with career development convinced him to leave the military at the end of his enlistment because, he says, “I just saw no future in it.”

He determined that an officer’s position in the Army pecking order depended on the source of his commission (West Point at the top, then ROTC, and OCS last) and type of commission (regular Army above reservist). Within that framework, officers maneuvered to complete a combat assignment, earn an efficiency report that reflected great leadership in battle, and win medals, Crowley says. Favoritism based on these many factors determined promotions and assignments. He cites instances in which field activities to achieve such ends cost enlisted men’s lives.

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Based on the self-centered behavior of his contemporaries, Crowley lost faith in the military structure. He believes that Vietnam was a “squad leader’s and platoon leader’s war” and higher levels of command made plans and decisions based on outdated experience, namely set piece battles. He says that reality for “virtually all of the military’s top officers wasn’t the Vietnam War, it was the war for promotion.”

Tom Crowley’s story contains twists and turns that I have not mentioned. That surprised me and gave greater meaning to his leadership qualities. Fundamentally, he has cared about people and has led a meaningful and productive life both in the Army and as a civilian.

The author’s website is www.tomcrowleybooks.com

—Henry Zeybel

The Marine Corps Way to Win on Wall Street by Ken Marlin

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The Marine Corps Way to Win on Wall Street: 11 Key Principles from Battlefield to Boardroom (St. Martin’s Press, 256 pp, $26.99) is a meticulously interweaving of basic Marine Corps strategies with business activities on Wall Street. The introduction, which at first seemed a bit lengthy, provided evidence of the merits of author Ken Marlin’s concepts. In fact, the Preface and Introduction alone could arguably be worth the price of the book.

Marlin, an investment banker, will never be accused of not being a proud Marine. His admiration and respect for the Corps come charging through loudly and clearly. His belief that “once a Marine always a Marine” is the foundation upon which he has built his business career.

Unlike many books based on Vietnam War experiences, in this one Marlin—who served as a Marine from 1970-81—jumps right into the business world on Wall Street. In a unique manner, he describes succeeding in the corporate world by incorporating the basic principles he learned in the Marine Corps.

This reviewer claims no great knowledge of the workings of Wall Street, but after reading the book, I felt like I had gained a better understanding of the complexity of daily activities at the high levels of business. I began to understand how some of Marlin’s Marine principles were used and why they were effective.

The validity of the old saying “It’s hard to argue with success” is well substantiated chapter after chapter. I found that the chapter titles themselves clarified Marlin’s application of the military into business. “Take the Long View,” “Know the Enemy,” “Know Yourself,” “Negotiate from the High Ground.”

Marlin also uses events to show how the principles have worked—or not—in  other wars, including in the Civil War and the Korean War. He served as a senior Marine officer on the USS Tripoli in the early 1970s, and uses every opportunity to describe how problems were solved through Marine ingenuity.

Quick fixes of problems often lead to additional problems in the future. In his chapter “Take the Long View” Marlin uses the battle of Khe Sahn to illustrate what can happen when long-term objectives are unclear and winning is all that matters.

“There has to be more to justifying the cost of a battle or a war than whether or not we won,” he writes.

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Ken Marlin

In the “Negotiate from the High Ground” chapter Marlin deals with business and corporate relationships on Wall Street, as well as international diplomacy, politics, and personal relationships. I found this chapter to be a kind of spiritual reading in which Marlin extrapolates the rules of conduct for the success of any group endeavor.

The author closes his book with these words: “I have seen that those that do apply these principles with honor, courage, competence, commitment and loyalty have a much higher likelihood of successfully achieving their long-term strategic objectives – and along the way they have less drama and feel good about how they got there too. I like that. It’s the Marine Corps Way.”

The Marine Corps Way to Win on Wall Street is a powerful book for the business world and for anyone who desires to better his or her life and relationships.

—Joseph Reitz

With Schwarzkopf by Gus Lee

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The latest book from author Gus Lee, a character-based leadership authority, is With Schwarzkopf: Life Lessons of the Bear (Smithsonian Books, 312 pp., $27.95). Lee also has written two other bestsellers: China Boy and Courage: the Backbone of Leadership.

Gus Lee was in his junior year at West Point in 1966 when he learned he was in danger of failing. He then came under the personal tutelage of instructor Norman Schwarzkopf who, in addition to academics, mentored Lee on character, leadership, and the need to do the right thing, no matter how difficult. Even though Lee failed to graduate from West Point, his many hours spent in the company of then Maj. Schwarzkopf created a bond between the two men that lasted more than forty years.

Lee gives the reader a close-up account of life at West Point through his own experiences, both positive and negative. He reveals a little-known side of Schwarzkopf—as a wise, insightful intellectual with unwavering personal values of honesty, courage, and commitment. Affectionately known as “The Bear,” his mentoring of Gus Lee helped Lee deal with his struggles at West Point and, years later, as a legal officer in the post-Vietnam War Army.

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Gus Lee

Lee relates then Schwarzkopf’s experiences as an advisor to a Vietnamese Airborne unit. He earned Vietnamese Master Parachute wings, but in the process suffered a back injury that plagued him for years.

Lee writes that Schwarzkopf wondered back then if he could succeed with an Army career–if he could “keep his damn mouth shut with rear-area types who never got muddied or bloodied and never lost a man.” Schwarzkopf managed, despite his legendary temper, to rise to stardom as the celebrated general who led the way to victory in the first Persian Gulf War, aka Operation Desert Storm.

In 1991, the Bear declined the offer to become Army Chief of Staff. He retired after 39 years in uniform.

Gus Lee has written an inspiring story about one of America’s greatest post-World War II generals. We can all learn from the life lessons and personal values passed along from The Bear to Lee.

The author’s web site is www.guslee.net

—James Coan

 

 

A Stranger in My Bed by Debbie Sprague

I finished reading Debbie Sprague’s A Stranger in My Bed: Eight Steps to Taking Your Life Back from the Contagious Effects of Your Veteran’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder  (Morgan James Publishing, 360 pp., $24.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) late at night. It had been a worthwhile, red-eye learning experience.

Sprague, a certified life and career coach, begins her book with a painfully raw narrative of life with her Vietnam War veteran husband. The reader is taken into a world of darkness and chaos, confusion and fear, anger and hopelessness. The possibility of financial disaster is always on the front burner, and infinite frustration grows with the turn of each page.

The most serious PTSD symptoms of the author’s husband began in earnest thirty years after he came home from Vietnam. It was as though he were pushing some kind of envelope, unconsciously crying out for help. Many will be able to relate to the author’s inclination to ignore small aberrations of behavior, hoping  they would go away.

The chapters describing the gradual dissolution of the couple’s marriage were heartbreaking. Little by little, Sprague’s husband would spend more time with friends where everything was fine, and less time with his wife where their marriage was one continual conflict. His purchase of guns added a serious threat. Daily life became so traumatic that the author herself was diagnosed with PTSD.

Why didn’t the couple simply divorce and start their lives over?  The answer to that question is what makes this book so different from other PTSD books I’ve read.

Sprague loved her husband deeply despite his faults, and she was very committed to her marriage vows. Her courage and tenacity to stick has similarities to what a soldier in combat goes through in order to not turn and run.

Perhaps it was prophetic that the couple’s turnaround began while they were on their way to church on June 6, 2010, the anniversary of D-Day. Her husband read aloud a warning sign telling of a dead-end street by saying, “Debbie’s a dead-end.” As the words echoed through her ears, Sprague said she silently screamed, “NO! I am not a dead-end! I am not a quitter.”

Thus began the turnaround in the life of a true heroine, and the fodder for an excellent PTSD reference book. Perhaps the most important thing Spraque explains is that while it is often impossible to change the actions of another person, it is always possible to change one’s own reactions to those actions. She also shares the sage insight that we can only make progress when we deal with reality and not illusions.

Debbie Sprague

Sprague’s use of biblical verses becomes more frequent as the book goes along. She uses sacred words in a realistic, practical way, though, and does not pontificate.

The final two thirds of the book consists of a well-organized PTSD textbook. It contains information on developing support systems and coping with fear and anger, shame and guilt, and sexual dysfunction, among other things

Were Debbie Sprague’s efforts to pull her much-loved husband back from the abyss worth it? Readers will undoubtedly concur with his response:

“I will be eternally grateful for Debbie and her commitment, not only to me, but to veterans, their spouses, and their families everywhere. God bless her, and God bless our veterans and their families.”

The author’s web site is http://astrangerinmybed.com

—Joseph Reitz

Peak Business Performance Under Pressure by Bill Driscoll

“Way over the top” was my first impression of Peak Business Performance Under Pressure: A Navy Ace Shows How to Make Great Decisions in the Heat of Business Battle by Bill Driscoll and Peter Joffre Nye (Allworth Press, 210 pp., $19.95). The length of the title alone overwhelmed me. And then a flood of endorsements by admirals and a rousing blessing in the Forward by Sen. John McCain further wowed me. The wealth of hoopla turns out to be justified.

Driscoll presents an inspirational blend of personal experience and advice from others in offering his formula on how to be a successful executive leader. And he does it with boundless enthusiasm.

The blend includes his experiences from a forty-year association with the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) and twenty-six years of selling real estate, along with interviews with more than 200 senior executives and twenty-six Ace fighter pilots.

Along with Randy “Duke” Cunningham, Driscoll became an Ace while flying 170 Navy F-4 Phantom missions in the Vietnam War. Driscoll opens the book with an account of his final mission in which his crew destroyed three MIGs before being shot down by a surface-to-air missile. That success had created momentary complacency that nearly killed the crew. The remainder of the book presents similar lessons.

Driscoll’s “Peak Performance” goal is winning every time. His credo for cockpit or boardroom is: “The day you stop wanting to be better is the day you stop being good.”

Bill Driscoll

Success in any endeavor requires a person to “follow every element of the Peak Performance Formula, every day,” Driscoll says. Each element has its own chapter. The lessons contain steps to maximize success.

Each chapter ends with a probing question-and-answer “debrief,” much like what follows a combat mission.

Overall, the text is to the point and personalized so that the reader easily becomes involved in the discussion. At the same time, the book resembles a training manual because it is interspersed with facts and advice that parallel the topic at hand.

You don’t have to be seeking success in business to benefit from reading this book. Driscoll provides suggestions for behavior that can enhance just about anyone’s everyday life. Although highly zealous, he recognizes when enough is enough and helps the reader to do the same.

The author’s web site is www.willydriscoll.com

—Henry Zeybel

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, the founder and director of the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, began practicing psychiatry in 1978 at the Boston VA Clinic. On his very first day on the job he ran into an extremely troubled Vietnam veteran. That former Marine became “the first veteran I had ever encountered on a professional basis,” van der Kolk writes in The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (Viking, 464 pp., $27.95), his best-selling blend of memoir, clinical observations, and recommended treatments.

It won’t surprise any Vietnam veteran to learn that Dr. van der Kolk—who today is one of the most renowned experts on post-traumatic stress—ran into nothing but roadblocks at the VA in 1978 as he attempted to work with the former Marine and other Vietnam veterans with what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

van der Kolk was not trained to deal with war-related post-traumatic stress. So after he began working with his first Vietnam veteran patient, he decided to read up on the subject at the VA’s medial library. van der Kolk  was looking for “books on war neurosis, shell shock, battle fatigue, or any other term or diagnosis I could think of that might shed light on my patients,” he writes.

Back in 1978, van der Kolk didn’t find one book “about any of those conditions” at the VA, he says. “Five years after the last American soldier left Vietnam, the issue of wartime trauma was not on anyone’s agenda.”

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After a breakthrough in 1980—when a group of Vietnam veterans working with pyschoanalysts Chaim Shatan and Robert J. Lifton convinced the American Psychiatric Association to recognize PTSD–van der Kolk wrote a proposal for a study that would look at traumatic memories and PTSD.

The VA rejected his proposal, saying: “It has never been shown that PTSD is relevant to the mission of the Veterans Administration.”

Nor surprisingly, van der Kolk soon left the VA, and went to work at Harvard University’s Massachusetts Mental Health Center. As frustrating as it was, van der Kolk’s experience at the VA proved to be good training. His experiences treating Vietnam veterans, he writes, “had so senstized me to the impact of trauma that I now listened with a very different ear when depressed or anxious patients told me stories of molestation and family violence.”

In many ways, he says, “these patients were not so different from the veterans I had just left behind at the VA. They also had nightmares and flashbacks. They also alternated between the occasional bouts of explosive rage and long periods of being emotionally shut down. Most of them had great difficulty getting along with other people and had trouble maintaining meaningful relationships.”

van der Kolk has spent more than three decades doing innovative work with veterans, their families, rape victims, and other survivors of trauma. In this well-written and readable book he explains how trauma rearranges the brain’s wiring and offers ways to treat PTSD. That includes neurofeedback, group role-playing, mindfulness techniques, and yoga.

You can make a case that one of the biggest influences on van der Kolk’s pioneering work has been the time he spent working with Vietnam veterans at the uncooperative VA back in the late seventies.

–Marc Leepson

Wommack’s The Art of Leadership by David R. Wommack

Wommack’s The Art of Leadership: Moving from Military to Industry  (CreateSpace, 118 pp., $12.95, paper; $4.99, e book) is a gigantic book crammed into just over a hundred pages. Author David R. Wommack’s career stretches through several realms in the military (including serving as an Army lieutenant in the Vietnam War in 1969-71) as well in the public sector.

The text is a clear-cut, well-organized guide designed to empower former military personnel to move into leadership roles in industy. It is obvious that the author speaks from personal experience in the workplace and not from a theoretical perspective.

Perhaps the most important concept that Wommack explains is the difference between management and leadership. Both are necessary positions in industry, but are very different. Wommack uses quotes from successful leaders to illustrate his points. For instance, this observation from Peter Drucker: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

What makes this book unique are the first 88 pages in which Wommack describes the characteristics of a true leader and how military life, by its very nature, develops those important skills. I believe anyone with military training will better understand the possibilities for leadership roles as the author explains how to make the transition from military to industrial leadership.

Chapter 3, “Leading,” is the book’s powerhouse. In it, Wommack explains how trust, honesty, and a willingness to take responsibility are integral components to successful leadership. Wommack also suggests using humility and humor—traits that one might not expect to come across in an industrial setting.

David R. Wommack

The author believes that humor can lighten the workplace atmosphere.  “Humor can make work fun. Fun? Yes, fun! Jokes. Laughter. Puns. Pranks. Games. Humor. Keep away from sexual humor for obvious and legal reasons, but self-deprecation—poking fun at oneself—is a sure sign of humility.”

Chapter 5 deals with motivating, training, and coaching of groups and individuals, necessary skills for any successful leadership career. Later, Wommack discusses finding a new job, covering areas such as resume writing, interviewing, and the need to be persistent in follow-up with employers.

While this book focuses on individuals leaving the military, I believe it would be helpful for anyone looking for a career. Any energetic job seeker is bound to feel grateful for the empowering ideas Wommack presents.

When you finish reading Wommack’s the Art of Leadership, the pages should be severely dog-eared and profusely highlighted.

The author’s website is www.davewommack.com

—Joseph Reitz