'Thank You for Your Service' follows Iraq warriors home

"Thank You for Your Service" by David Finkel

"Thank You for Your Service" by David Finkel (FSG, October 2013) (Credit: Handout)

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THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, by David Finkel. Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 256 pp., $26.

To his 2006 Pulitzer Prize, Washington Post writer David Finkel last year added a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant. In between, he reported and wrote a brilliant book about the Iraq War called "The Good Soldiers."

A sad, bitter, eloquent chronicle of 12 months embedded with soldiers in "a sorry, bomb-filled" Baghdad neighborhood called Kamaliyah, it now has an equally fine sequel in "Thank You for Your Service."

Finkel follows some of the troops from the 2-16 Infantry Battalion home to the United States, where relatives, therapists and Washington can barely cope with these warriors' wounds, many of them psychological. Their deployment exposed them to frequent explosive devices designed to maim and kill or leave the brain damaged by shock waves and terror.

"And yet day after day they would go out anyway, which eventually came to be what the war was about," Finkel writes. "Not winning. Not losing. Nothing so grand. Just trying until it was time to go home and discovering that life after the war turned on trying again."

One soldier takes 43 pills a day for pain, anxiety, depression and nightmares. These might include Zoloft, Trazodone, Lunesta, Abilify, Concerta (and you might recognize them from TV ads with lists of lousy side effects).

In a rare light moment, a therapist asks if the soldier is taking Concerta, for attention deficit and memory. " 'Yes,' " he says sheepishly. 'I forgot to bring it.' "

Finkel seems to have embedded with a few families, given the depth and detail of his writing. Adam Schumann is 28 as the book starts, a veteran of three tours who returns mentally broken from the third to a wife and two children. Schumann's battle against bureaucracy, varieties of therapy, financial pressures and family demands is summed up simply: "Out of one war into another."

Finkel also reveals the burdens and pain borne by the soldiers' wives, who endure months and years of moods, threats, violence and seemingly pointless therapy. Schumann's wife can't believe she has to hold the family together in Kansas while Adam flies off for months to "a beautiful, tranquil residential environment in the Napa Valley."

It's a place called the Pathway Home, and for Schumann, it seems to work. It's unclear for how long, but I took heart, in a book that often tore mineto pieces, from the last of Finkel's generally bleak black-and-white photos.

Beneath a photo of a small frame house and a small front lawn sits the caption "Home." It's what soldiers dream of until the nightmares deploy, and it's where the Schumanns are headed, to try again to win the other war.

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