Eads, Kelly and Morgan, Retired Colonel Daniel, Black Hearts and Painted Guns, A Battalion’s Journey Into Iraq’s Triangle Of Death, Philadelphia and Oxford: Casemate, 2023
Black Hearts and Painted Guns, A Battalion’s Journey Into Iraq’s Triangle Of Death was written by two soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division Kelly Eads and Daniel Morgan. Both of them relished combat so that’s what most of the book is about. There are also interludes about training. The most striking part however is the conclusion when the troops came home and found it hard to adjust to civilian life.
Most of the book consists of Eads and Morgan describing their deployment to Baghdad and Babil provinces which are adjacent to each other during two tours of duty from 2005-2006 and 2007-2008. There are short bursts of combat, but most of the story is committed to the arduous task of going on patrol where the unit had to walk down the same routes again and again looking for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Soldiers would get hit over and over. It seemed like a maddening process because there was no sense of progress and there were plenty of casualties.
The authors mentioned that they wanted to try to win over locals but that’s given short shrift in the text. During the first tour for instance there’s only one paragraph which said the unit built schools and helped secure the 2005 elections. Otherwise, interactions with Iraqis which proved to be just as important as killing the enemy are few and far between.
The part of Black Hearts and Painted Guns that stands out the most isn’t the tours, but after the war was over for the two soldiers. Eads came back home and fell into depression and drinking which caused problems with his wife. Morgan went on four tours of duty that included Afghanistan and he found himself more alienated from his family each time he came home. Some of their friends committed suicide. Eads found a therapist that finally helped him and he eventually graduated from a police academy and become a peace officer that helped fill a void he felt after leaving the army. Post-traumatic stress and other ailments hit many soldiers but it’s not written about enough. It’s therefore a welcomed inclusion in this book because the war for many Americans didn’t end when they returned to the United States.
Black Hearts and Painted Guns is a very short read. The sections on Iraq are not that remarkable because while there were gun battles most of the time was spent going on monotonous yet deadly patrols. The ending is really why you should read Eads and Morgan’s work because it shows the costs of long and multiple deployments.
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