Book-Bound in Sweat and Blood, Replayed in the Theaters in Their Heads

I haven’t had time or energy to post much recently as work has been crazy-busy, and we’re putting in a lot of hours. But something recently came to my attention that I could not let rest only in my head, or in my tortured soul: Kevin Powers. For those of you who do not know, Powers is an Iraq War veteran and author of a few books, including the very popular The Yellow Birds.

 I read Powers’ book The Yellow Birds in 2013.

I think I read about it in a magazine while I was either on a plane or in a waiting room somewhere.  I was interested to learn that Powers was also in Tal’Afar and Mosul at the same time as I was. I asked around to some of my buddies in 2-14 Cav and in A Co. 1-5 Infantry.  Then I asked some of my friends in 1-24 Infantry.  Some guys thought they remembered him as being in the 73rd Engineer Company (our organic engineer support).  Now, the engineers are fine folks, and I escorted them out to sites a number of times to install protective measures like barbed wire and HESCO barriers.  Hell, there is a pretty good chance that if he was, then Powers and I met on more than one occasion and have no recollection of each other. But his bio says he was in Iraq Feb 04 to March 05 – those were not the dates that 1-25 served.  2-25 was in Iraq February 2004, but at that time, Mosul and Tal’Afar were occupied by 3rd Brigade, 2nd ID [our sister-brigade at Ft. Lewis; 2nd Bde 25th IN was in Kirkuk]. So, who was this Powers, and who was he with? I became very intrigued about this machine gunner and his tale to tell, so I had to read the book.

I bought the soft cover and I knocked it out in about two nights. There were parts of the book where he described areas in Tal’Afar that I could still see in my mind. And indeed he does have a way with words and captures some of the disparity and duality we often find in combat, such as the breathtaking courtyard with its flowers and trees, occasionally accented by an overhead bullet. There were aspects about redeployment and how you felt, carrying around the things that you do while multitudes of people with little understanding of what you did pat you on the back and give you lots of atta-boy’s. And in a way I was able to connect with part of what Powers had put in the book.  And then again, I was sooo not.

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 My Tal’Afar, as viewed from Al Sarai – our hell on Earth 

The story line I found to be too contrived. The plot felt to me like one of the multitude of poorly done Vietnam movies that came out in the late 70’s where clichéd maniacal sergeants impose their war-lust on young, impressionable recruits, wantonly disregarding the laws of war in a war that law and life had seemingly forgot. Paint in an aura of counterculture and PTSD, plop these characters down in modern uniforms and equipment in Iraq and we have The Yellow Birds painted as “the All Quiet on the Western Front” of the GWOT, and holding Powers almost in a Rudyard Kipling-like esteem.

I am not a hater, and I also am not a famous, accredited, and published author like Kevin Powers. I have a day job. I write to express my inner demons and tortures, as well as try to reflect on my time in Iraq for veterans and non-veterans alike. But I have a little bit of a grudge when it comes to this one, and I will tell you why.

I found out they are making The Yellow Birds into a movie, to debut in 2017.

Now, this is my unit we are talking about here. 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division – OIF III.  The Lancer Brigade.  And we are talking about my town – Tal’Afar. I call it my town because I lost soldiers and friends there, and I spilled blood there. My boots beat those streets and my body and soul took a beating in return – my right hip still hurts from what I can only imagine was one too many doors kicked-in by that right boot. I have absolutely no idea where Powers was or what he did, and the little that I can find on the internet about him doesn’t shed any further light on this topic. But when you want to write about Tal’Afar in 2004 and 2005 – then to have it portrayed as a major motion picture – I insert myself and my concern because I take it personally.

I have concerns that, as a work of historical fiction, viewers following the story line may make some uninformed conclusions about the 25th Infantry Division, as well as those of us who served in Mosul and Tal’Afar with them. Will the film feature Strykers? If so, to the best of my knowledge that would be the first film to feature the Stryker or the Stryker Brigade – another concern of mine, as I and many, many others look back at our time it the Stryker Brigade with honor and pride. Every unit has a tough-nut or problem child or two; some are officers and some are NCOs.  But to marry this fictional story with the battle record of the 25th Infantry Division in OIF III – on the silver screen – makes me very, very unsure about how I feel.

I am inclined to think that I do not like it…

Something eats at me inside when I think about this book, and now this movie.  There are so many good stories that need told about those who served in Tal’Afar and Mosul.  Hell, Bruce Willis was interested in making a movie about 1-24 Infantry’s time in Mosul after they redeployed from OIF III. There have been so many documentaries filmed and accounts written. And when I think about the fictional aspect of The Yellow Birds, and how it now will reach millions via the theaters, I am angry. Sure, I’ll admit it – I’m angry.

I’m not jealous of Powers’ successes or status; I’m not in envy of his body of written works that are popular and selling; I am angry that this story will be told, and that for this one work of fiction there are hundreds of real, true accounts from soldiers who spent their time trolling Tal’Afar’s wadis, roaming its back alleys and mean streets – and yet those accounts might be lost or simply overlooked. There are so many moments, reflections, memories, and emotions associated with our time in Tal’Afar; every single one of them could be a box office film or great book because they have already been written in some soldier’s mind, book-bound in sweat and blood, replayed in the theater in their head, and in their dreams.

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CPT ‘Jimbo’ Hayes, Charger 6, leading his men in combat, after clearing a rooftop

I tend to be critical of most of the movies that are about modern day conflict in Iraq (sometimes Hollywood tries but just gets it so wrong). But I am not even sure I have the capacity to be critical of this work and film because it is too close to my own experiences and time in Iraq.  I am too burned by it to even want to watch it. I was so angry when I finished reading the book that I kept in on my bookshelf to remind me that there were real stories from my unit that needed telling. Which is why I write this blog. And why I am adamant that other should do so, too.

To find out more about The Yellow Birds you can go to Powers site and I’ll even toss him some free advertising (You’re welcome, Kevin…)

The Yellow Birds is a work of fiction by Kevin C. Powers, published by Back Bay Books; all rights, associated trademarks and copyrights due to or within are acknowledged 

About anotherwarriorpoet

Mathew Bocian served as a Captain in the United States Army with the Stryker Brigade and was deployed to Mosul and Tal'Afar in 2004 - 2005, and to Baghdad for The Surge in 2007 - 2008. He left the Army in 2012 and now uses his poetry as a way to heal from the traumas of war, while attempting to express to readers the realities of war. He is the recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and holds a master's from the Graduate School for Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.
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12 Responses to Book-Bound in Sweat and Blood, Replayed in the Theaters in Their Heads

  1. Haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on that part. But I have an observation, which my wife made (why is it that women always notice things first?).

    The other day, I got this incredibly brutal review, which destroyed my book, its characters, and me by the time I was done reading it. I show it to my wife when she notices how bummed I am, and she swats it aside with some logic and facts, stating the guy has clearly never served or met a veteran who’s served. But more than knocking that down and building me up, she says, “But think of this. You mentioned that this guy is clearly a future author, given the vitriol and length he spewed, same as you once were. So if nothing else, your book may have finally pushed this guy over the edge to get serious about his writing.”

    I think she was absolutely right about that. And I think that point of view applies here. I haven’t read his book, but if it irked you enough to do your own writing, then it wasn’t a total waste.

    We need to hear the stories of you and your men. We need to remember their sacrifices. And we both know that more than likely the only way that story is going to get told is by someone like yourself who was actually there.

    So feed off that frustration and keep laying down the words, brother. Plenty of people in the world need to read them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • robakers says:

      Stan,

      Not trying to hijack Mathew’s site but just wanted to say two quick things. I have been so busy with life and holidays, that I haven’t carved out the time to properly comment on your site.
      1. Love the trip down Marine Corp memory lane. I hope there are more than the 5 that you have posted.
      2. My perspective only, any review positive or negative means that you touched a nerve in the reader. The positive reviews mean that you hit the nerve you were aiming for and the negative ones mean that you hit another nerve. Either way, the reviewed was so moved by your work that they had to comment and that is a mission success.
      rob

      Liked by 2 people

      • He’s right Stan – there are always going to be critics and sometimes one with razor-sharp wit can cut right through us. But you do it a lot better than I do, my friend. I think your wife is also right; learn from it, let dude have his (or her) opinion, and realize that you’ve earned the right to know what the hell it is you’re talking about ☺

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the kind words, Rob. And there will definitely be more of that series. Probably 15 or 20. (You can blame this man on this site for the series, btw! lol. Mat was all up in my shit trying to get me to write about some of the stories I shared with him privately. SO, it’s going to happen.)

        Like

    • You’re a good egg, Charlie Brown ☺

      Liked by 1 person

  2. robakers says:

    When I think of my time over there and its place in movies. I think of the movie Green Zone with Matt Damien. About 30 seconds into it, I really dont know how far into the movie it was, they showed a aerial view of BIAP (Baghdad International Airport), it was covered in billowing smoke and fire.

    My wife and I were at the movie just after I had returned form a rotation. She thought it was going to be a Jason Bourne movie.I started laughing when they showed that three second clip and spent the next 30 minutes telling her all the things that were wrong with that since shot. Then I started telling her about the real green zone, I had only heard about it but never experienced it. How the State Dept, Media and Army were partying like rock stars ever night. And then I nit picked the movie to death, constantly talking. I hate when people talk in the movies but it became a mini decompression/ therapy session for me.

    I get everything you wrong and you have every right to to be protective of your story. You earned that right and by what I see here, Kevin Powers has not earned that right.

    Keep smiling,
    rob

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rob, you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head here. I honestly can’t say that Kevin Powers didn’t earn his right to create this story because I honestly have no clue about him or his service at all. But without ruining the overall plot twist or anything, I fear the movie may appear to show that we didn’t care about our Troopers (i.e. You never leave a fallen comrade simply because you don’t like them).

      Maybe I need to reread the book. Maybe I need to care less about it. I dunno – but in my opinion they haven’t made a true, good movie about the conflict in Iraq yet. I thought the Hurt Locker was good right until dude went for a jog and jogged right off the base into the city (that and his EOD vehicle drove around the battle space all by itself- EOD didn’t even like to move with my platoon if I was short one vehicle and was only running 3 and not 4!!).

      My point being if they told a great story about the life of EOD and still got some huge parts wrong, what will our time in Tal’Afar look like if it comes off the 25th looks like a bunch of amateurs, killers, and piss-poor soldiers?

      I just don’t know. It all makes me feel uneasy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Agreed! Hurt Locker was close. ESPECIALLY the scene of him grocery shopping and cleaning out the gutters upon his return to the States. Civilian life can seem so empty and meaningless compared to serving in a top-notch combat unit.

        Like

  3. Just one tiny little thought. You wrote:- “I haven’t had time or energy to post much recently as work has been crazy-busy, and we’re putting in a lot of hours”.

    All work, no play, not good for you matey.
    Take it from one who knows and ignored the same advice I now offer to a friend.

    Like

  4. David Walden says:

    Hey man, the first Nam movie was picked apart by Veterans who served too. I think its part of the cycle, first come the crap artists, then the real guys come along who served, and figure out how to tell that story.

    Like

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