This provides a solid and fairly unique look at an Iraq combat hospital at the near-height of 2007's 'surge,' with violence at a peak. Author Dave Hnida did a short (but very busy) tour as an Army reserve surgeon.
It was actually his second tour, and his descriptions of his 2004 seemed pretty intense. Made me want more stories about that time. But, a good editor makes sure the writer stays on point, which this book does.
The best parts of this narrative deal with the intense and busy days in the surgical hospital. While it wasn't non-stop treatment, it was close. The doctors worked on Iraqis and US soldiers, so there were always patients - including insurgent fighters whose treatments provide Hnida an occasional moral dillema - but professional treatment always wins out.
It told me a story I didn't know, or didn't think much about - what happens to the soldiers after their injuries on the battlefield. It was often brutal, and while I don't know if 'rewarding' is the right word, these doctors could see the results of their effort, up close and very personal. The stress, speed and quick decisions the men and women must make on a constant basis are amazing.
My preference in memoirs is to see the good and bad (or at least less positive) sides of everyone. Hnida mostly shows slightly more one-dimensional portrayals. His friends are all heroic and selfless, the young medics are all salt-of-the-earth, and the 'villains' are administrators and occasionally those rear-echelon soldiers. They are either totally good or totally bad. I like to see more shades of grey, or at least less of putting people on a pedestal.
But, the value of the story is the behind-the-scenes look at the other part of the battlefield - where men and women go for help when the battle doesn't go their way.
I was embedded as a freelance journalist near Tikrit at the same time Hnida describes. An 82nd Airborne soldier whose sad death he describes was part of the larger unit I was embedded with, though I never met the man. I did know the name, though, and it's always strange having even a slight personal connection with these kinds of memoirs. Everything in Iraq always seems to connect.