Book Review: Caught Up in the Storm: The 101st Military Intelligence Battalion in Desert Storm
Paul Robinson sits down and cracks open Pete Ferrari's book about the 101st Military Intelligence Battalion in Iraq during Desert Storm.
Here is something unusual for all you modern warfare enthusiasts. Pete Ferrari, the author, was a member of the 101st Military Intelligence (MI) Battalion during the first Gulf War – Operation Desert Shield/Storm. What makes this different from other (more mainstream perhaps) modern war memoirs is that this isn’t a “blood n guts” tale of daring do or an Olympian view of the battlefield from the highest levels of strategic command. This is the story of the backroom boys, those that grease the cogs of the war machine, the shaft of the spear if you will.
The author was in the HQ Company of 101st MI and was responsible for fixing the electronic warfare systems used by the front end of the battalion; in his owns words “To a civilian, I would say that while I was in the army I worked as an Electronic Tech”. For those in the know his Military Occupational Speciality was 33T. The 101st MI was nothing to do with the 101st “Screaming Eagles” Airborne Division but was attached to the First Infantry Division. Mr Ferrari was just about time served with the army when Iraq invaded Kuwait and the next thing he found himself on a plane to Saudi Arabia for an unplanned foreign excursion!
The author’s aim in this book is a simple one; to document his and his colleagues experience over the period of the first Gulf War. And a classic soldiers tale it is – long periods of monotony, unsavoury living conditions and (despite being a non front line part of his unit) moments of terror combined with the occasional surreal episode that is funny in retrospect but because it involved people with guns could have gone horribly wrong at the time. An excellent example of the latter is where Mr Ferrari’s unit dismounts and is ordered to advance on an Iraqi bunker line with some small support from a British armoured vehicle while the officer at one end of the skirmish line and the sergeant at the other shout out contradictory orders!
Mr Ferrari’s writing style is raw and descriptive and he weaves into the narrative quotes from his superiors and contemporaries to give a rounded picture of his unit’s experience. Mr Ferrari supports his text with (colour) photographs he took himself. I loved these; typical “tourist” type shots of a behind the line unit – the guys and girls digging in, doing their jobs, horsing around, shots of burnt out enemy equipment and coming home. Very gritty and very real. Also there are a number of hand drawn maps from the time supplied by one of the author’s colleagues and such contemporary documents are always worthy of study whenever you happen across them.
You need some knowledge of the basics of the Desert Storm element of the campaign as the author keeps his narrative very tightly focused around what he saw and experienced. And as is typical of many soldiers in such big and fast moving campaigns, they had little knowledge of the big picture. But I suspect you would not be picking this book up if you knew nothing of the conflict!
So what you get is in many ways a story of the military “everyman”. And it will be one familiar to stores clerks, cooks, drivers and technicians in army’s the world over. And that made this a difficult book to review. There are no Condition Red assaults on Taliban compounds or sweeping manoeuvres of Panzer Corps across the Russian Steppes, no beating off of Kamikaze attacks on Carriers in the Pacific. Just soldiers moving from place to place, fixing kit and occasionally goofing around! But for me that is what makes this book so great – this in reality is what modern warfare is about. It is not boring but neither is it sabres flashing or guns blazing. It is real life in the military and one worth exploring.
Available now in paperback from Amazon US normal price $29.00 (ISBN 9781461059912). Note this book does not, at the time of review, seem to be available from Amazon’s UK store
Paul Robinson, Staff Writer