When I first came across this title in The New York Times Book Review, I didn’t immediately feel drawn to reading it. The review made it clear that this was a disturbing account of the hurdles our military personnel face when they return from war – specifically Iraq and Afghanistan – with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. David Finkel is the author of The Good Soldier, the chronicle of one platoon’s deployment to Iraq. It doesn’t pull any punches in reporting of what, specifically, we ask of our military. Certain this new book would be disturbing, I moved on to other reviews.
The thing is, I couldn’t get Thank You for Your Service out of my mind.
It didn’t help that positive reviews kept showing up in other publications – nor that the title, Thank You for Your Service , serves to underscore the sincere, but unhelpful, gratitude we extend to those soldiers most of us rarely encounter in person. I began to feel that I owed it to them to find out just what they, and their loved ones, face when they return. I bought the book.
Finkel centers his account around Sgt. Adam Schumann. Schumann is a verified hero, has served three tours to Iraq, and is regarded as “one of the best soldiers of the battalion.” The book chronicles not only Schumann’s struggles with his return to his wife, family, and country, but that of others who live with the aftermath of deployment: the widow of a soldier that Schumann tried, unsuccessfully, to save; Schumann’s own wife, who must cope with her husband’s PTSD; another young soldier working his way through the labyrinth of military bureaucracy in an attempt to get the help he needs. It also shows the efforts of Army vice chief of staff, Peter Chiarelli, who works to understand what drives the highest post-service suicide rate the country has ever seen. Last year the number of deaths due to suicide by active-duty personnel was greater than the number of combat deaths.
I can’t say that I “enjoyed” this sad indictment of a country that is failing those who so desperately need – and deserve – our help. I can say I came away from this book with a new appreciation of the ongoing sacrifices that our military and their families make. Regardless of what any of us may think about US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no question that these men and women see it as their duty to protect their homes and country. Many have paid a terrible price for doing that duty.
Finkel doesn’t wrap this book up with pat answers or panaceas. In the end we feel that the men and women we meet will continue to struggle to regain their lives, and we root for their success. Their willingness to share their experiences with Finkel – and through Finkel, with the rest of us – shows just how bravely they still serve their country. We need to ensure that we can find ways to serve them.
You might start by reading Thank You for Your Service.