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Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Groundby Robert D Kaplan
Synopses & Reviews
In this extraordinary book, Robert D. Kaplan lets readers experience up close the American military worldwide in the air, at sea, and on the ground: flying in a B-2 bomber, living on a nuclear submarine, and traveling with a Stryker brigade on missions around the world. Provided unprecedented access, Kaplan moves from destroyers off the coast of Indonesia to submarines in the central Pacific, from simulated Iraqi training grounds in Alaska to technology bases in Las Vegas, from army and marine land forces in the heart of the Sahara Desert, to air bases in Guam and Thailand and beyond.
Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts provides not only a riveting ground-level portrait of the Global War on Terrorism on several continents, but also a gritty firsthand account of how U.S. soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen are protecting sea-lanes, providing disaster relief, contending with the military rise of China, fighting the war in Iraq, and crafting contingency plans for war with North Korea and Iran.
Expanding on Kaplans acclaimed Imperial Grunts, the first volume of his exploration of the American military, which “offers the reader an enlightened way to understand what is happening in the world” (San Francisco Chronicle), Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts shifts focus to the Pacific, where emerging Asian powers present vexing diplomatic and strategic challenges to U.S. influence. In this volume, Kaplan completes his analysis of army Special Forces and the marines, while also taking readers into the heart of the myriad tribal cultures of the air force, surface and subsurface navies, and the regular armys Stryker
brigades. Kaplan goes deep into their highly technical and exotic worlds, and he tells this story through the words and perspectives of the enlisted personnel and junior officers themselves–men and women who, as he writes, have “had their national identities as Americans engraved in sharp bas-relief.”
This provocative and illuminating book, like Imperial Grunts before it, not only conveys the vast scope of Americas military commitments, which rarely make it into the news, but also shows us astonishing and vital operations right as they unfold–from the point of view of the troops themselves.
"'Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts' is the second book from Robert D. Kaplan documenting his ongoing odyssey crisscrossing the globe with the U.S. military. Over the course of the two years covered in its pages, Kaplan embeds with more than a dozen units drawn from all four services, including a Marine platoon training local troops in Niger, a Special Forces A-team working with its Algerian counterparts... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) and a nuclear attack submarine crossing the Pacific. As the far-flung locales suggest, this book continues the theme of its predecessor, 'Imperial Grunts,' which is that 'small footprint' forces, such as Special Forces A-teams and Marine training teams, offer an economical way of building and retaining allies, gaining intelligence and avoiding nasty surprises. The military has always undervalued its foreign area officers and Special Forces teams, whose successes come more slowly and are harder to quantify than those of conventional units conducting bombing raids or infantry-on-infantry battles. But by investing in small, culturally sensitive and linguistically skilled teams to send to the farthest reaches of America's de facto empire, the United States can minimize the number of times it is forced to send much larger forces into combat, according to Kaplan. It is a strong argument, and he makes it well, lacing his narrative with keen observations. Describing a typically austere mission by a handful of Special Forces soldiers to Araouane, a sand-blown spot on the edge of the Sahara, Kaplan notes that 'you could cover most of Africa with A-teams in places like Araouane for the price of only one F-22 fighter jet, for which it was easier to get funding.' Events in the Philippines offer the most dramatic example of what can be achieved with the low-key approach Kaplan advocates. There a U.S. advisory effort built around a small special operations task force has helped the Philippine military make major gains against Islamist guerrillas. Kaplan is one of the few writers to have identified the U.S. role there for what it represents. 'The Philippines, perhaps more than any other place in the world since 9/11, was a success for the American military,' he writes. The importance of this success cannot be understated. Not only does it let the world know that Islamist insurgencies can be beaten back with U.S. help, but it speaks to the value of Special Forces as advisers, rather than as the direct-action killing machines into which they are in danger of morphing. Kaplan is at his best when he highlights the vital yet unsung role of troops like these. But some chapters, particularly those describing his sojourns with the Navy and the Air Force, come across as little more than paeans to the awesomeness of the U.S. military and its magnificent flying and sailing machines, with a brief overview of the theater in which they are deployed. Unlike 'Imperial Grunts,' in which Kaplan was not shy about expressing prescriptive views, this work is almost devoid of critical analysis. In Kaplan's world, it seems, almost every part of the military in which he's embedded automatically becomes an 'elite.' The attack sub crewmen are 'a true elite' and 'the most driven men I have ever known,' the Marine Corps is 'a small elite organization,' the Navy officer corps is 'the Ivy League with uniforms and a strong NASCAR following,' the Air Force's A-10 pilots represent 'a Special Forces culture fitted to the air,' and so on. Some of this hyperbole is forgivable. It is hard to spend much time with U.S. troops without feeling that the average soldier, sailor, airman or Marine is a smarter, braver, fitter, friendlier, more honest and generally more decent person than the average civilian. But Kaplan's tone veers dangerously close to cheerleading. There is nary a word of criticism for anyone in uniform. No flag officers are called to account for dubious decisions. Every weapons system Kaplan is exposed to, from the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle to the B-2 bomber to the nuclear attack sub, is described in press-release terms. ('No instrument of warfare was as integral to espionage as the submarine,' Kaplan writes.) In the 1990s, the peripatetic Kaplan wrote the richly detailed travel narratives that American soldiers read to educate themselves about the exotic locations to which they might deploy. His 'Balkan Ghosts' was all-but-required for every Army officer headed for Bosnia. But a few years ago, he changed tack and decided to write about the troops themselves. Both are worthwhile pursuits, but on the basis of this offering, the former represented a greater value to the nation. Sean D. Naylor is a senior writer at the Army Times Publishing Company and the author of 'Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda.'" Reviewed by Sean D. Naylor, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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In this extraordinary book, Kaplan allows readers to experience the worldwide American military at sea, in the air, and on land. Throughout, Kaplan conveys not only the vast scope of the militarys commitments, but also how these operations appear to the troops themselves.
About the Author
Robert D. Kaplan is a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly and the author of eleven previous books on foreign affairs and travel, which have been translated into many languages. These books include Imperial Grunts, Balkan Ghosts, Warrior Politics, and The Coming Anarchy. He is the Class of 1960 Distinguished Visiting Professor in National Security at the United States Naval Academy.
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