When the Tempest Gathers: From Mogadishu to the Fight Against ISIS, A Marine Special Operations Commander at War
Colonel Andrew Milburn, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired). Havertown, PA: Casemate Publishers, 2020. 313 pp. $32.95.
Reviewed by Colonel Eric Reid, U.S. Marine Corps
The course of Colonel Andrew Milburn’s career providentially placed him amid some of the most consequential events of our 21st-century conflicts and afforded him exceptional personal perspective. When the Tempest Gathers weaves together salient episodes from Milburn’s 30-plus years of service in a reflective, deeply personal recounting. The text provides a crisp, clear, and fast-paced integration of battlefield recollections, humor, and introspection, in which the author is neither self-aggrandizing nor self-pitying. After a period of youthful wanderlust as a British law school student hitchhiking across Iran and Pakistan, Milburn enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as a private and rose to the rank of colonel. His undergraduate education in philosophy and graduate training in law likely contributed to the uncommon humility and self-awareness evident in his writing.
The text consists of sequenced personal accounts of Milburn’s experiences—in essence, When the Tempest Gathers is a chain of war stories that emphasize consistent themes that build throughout the book. Every anecdote has a purpose. The reader sees Milburn mature through his experiences as a young lieutenant, then as a planner and staff officer, as an advisor to Iraqi and Afghan security forces, and finally as a multinational special operations task force commander. His story—and his telling of that story—provides excellent insight into the United States’ post-9/11 campaigns.
When the Tempest Gathers provides three noteworthy contributions to the literature of modern war. First and foremost, it is honest. Milburn does not romanticize conflict; he tells of war as it is. He is forthright about the atavistic realities, pervasive confusion, and morally bruising human consequences for civilians and warriors alike. His writing demonstrates an innate grasp of the complexities and contradictions of human behavior in combat. He is candid about the psychological burden of the accumulated battlefield memories that haunt us and of the inevitable regrets regarding family members neglected in pursuit of an adventurous military career.
Second, Milburn’s reflections provide insights into the cultural isolation and social disorientation felt by those who repeatedly deploy to disregarded wars and return to an apathetic society. He struggles to reconcile the incommunicable realities of ground combat overseas with the seemingly trivial concerns of a disengaged public at home. In so doing, Milburn illuminates a real civil-military social dislocation between a very small professional military constantly at war and the mass of U.S. citizenry living blissfully at peace.
Milburn’s third great contribution is his ability to reflect on and relate his different concerns, motives, and perspectives at each officer rank. This book provides a progression of perspectives from second lieutenant through colonel. This breadth of understanding grows at each rank as he matures and as his scope of responsibilities expands.
When the Tempest Gathers is a valuable addition to war memoir literature and well worth reading. There are numerous useful lessons packed into this extraordinarily insightful and accessible book. It is ideally suited as a professional military educational resource for Marine, Army, and special operations noncommissioned officers and officers, as well as any American seeking a better understanding of the toll our post-9/11 wars have taken on the all-volunteer force.
Colonel Reid is a career Marine infantry officer. He graduated with distinction from the U.S. Naval Academy with an honors degree in history.
Randy Brown and Steve Leonard, eds. Johnston, IA: Middle West Press LLC, 2019. 225 pp. Index. $19.99.
Reviewed by Midshipman First Class Regan Kibby, U.S. Navy
Why We Write is a Military Writers Guild anthology of essays by 61 authors on the act of writing in or about the military, conflict, or war. The writing in this anthology is good, and the shortness of the individual pieces (all just a few pages) allows for intriguing and attention-grabbing reads. Some works are stronger than others, but that is a difference of good to great, not bad to good.
In an anthology, editors have to toe the line between uneven and monotonous. On one side of this dichotomy is the challenge of stringing together disparate writing styles and topics without the work reading as a choppy hodgepodge. On the other side is organizing the topics to avoid the sort of repetition sure to make readers drop the work partway through.
Randy Brown and Steve Leonard, both board members of the Military Writers Guild, take on the task of editing this ambitious project. They rise to the first challenge of avoiding unevenness by smartly and simply organizing the anthology into four parts: “Calls to Action, Calls to Arms,” “War Stories,” “Building Bridges & Platforms,” and “The Arts of War & Writing.”
“Calls to Action, Calls to Arms” includes pieces that speak to the general importance of writing. “War Stories” tells personal stories of military service and of writing success within that environment. “Building Bridges & Platforms” reads as a how-to guide for the world of military writing and publishing. “The Arts of War & Writing” discusses a wider range of genres, from poetry to short fiction.
The four-part organization provides a fast and easy reference for readers. When it comes to the second challenge of avoiding monotony and repetition, however, some sections rise to it better than others.
The weakest, though by no means weak, section for this point is the first—“Calls to Action, Calls to Arms.” This section covers different topics, but in the end they all convey the same message: Writing is important for legacy and connection. A true message, but with a lack of strong personal stories to break up the repetition, these essays fall flatter than the others.
The strongest section is the fourth. It ranges from opinion to first-person narrative and even includes a fictional short story. Within these forms are manifold topics, from a poet learning to separate his experiences in war from his personal identity, to the value of rejection letters. “The Arts of War & Writing” is a strong finish to a strong book, and will reassure readers that they have not wasted their time when reaching the last page.
Whether looking to read about how Max Brooks wrote World War Z, learn some tips and tricks on breaking into military writing, or get a history lesson on William Sims or T. E. Lawrence, this anthology has something valuable to offer. More than that, however, the voices of these authors carry a message of connection that transcends barriers.
By reading the words of others, we are afforded windows into their thoughts, minds, and, if we are lucky, souls. The greatest strength of this anthology is in having 61 of those windows lined up, waiting for us to look inside.
Midshipman Kibby is a double major in English and history at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. He will graduate in May 2020.
Peter Caddick-Adams. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. 1,025 pp. Maps. Notes. Photos. Index. $34.95.
Reviewed by John Prados
Since 6 June 1944, the D-Day invasion of France has been endlessly studied, reviewed, debated, and profiled in books, articles, papers, seminars, and courses. The year 2019 marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and it was no exception. In fact, there were a number of fresh looks at the events of 6 June. As coverage of the invasion broadens and deepens, it has become difficult to follow the evolving historical knowledge. That’s where Peter Caddick-Adams comes in—and readers are lucky to have him.
A former British Army officer, military academy lecturer, and experienced historian, Caddick-Adams (Snow and Steel: The Battle of the Bulge 1944–45) has a good eye for detail, great energy for following sources, and is not loathe to tackle old shibboleths or critique previous histories. Cornelius Ryan, Forrest Pogue, and Chester Wilmot are just some of the historians he takes on. The performance of the “Rupert” dummies and the accuracy of charges against the air transport pilots are just a couple of the issues he explores. The author includes a good chapter on race relations among the armies. There are nice photos, a useful glossary, and detailed orders of battle for both sides. The result is both lively and informative.
The Normandy invasion as an historical subject is unusual in that an extensive period of (very evident) preparations preceded the action. (All battles are prepared, but the run up to Operation Overlord is distinctive for its sense that victory or defeat depended entirely on the antecedents—and the prevalence of that sense on both sides.) D-Day histories must choose how to present the preparatory phase versus the combat action. Sand & Steel gives equal time to both—more than 400 pages to each. Questions of leadership, relationships with General Bernard L. Montgomery, the invasion frontage, the number of divisions, the use of airborne troops—all have their day between these covers. On the Germans’ thorny issue of command of the Panzer troops, Caddick-Adams takes the view that Hitler made a bureaucratic (not strategic) choice, apportioning some divisions to Rommel, some to a new command in southern France, and leaving some under Panzer Group West, while requiring his own approval for their movement.
For all the pages of narrative, however, some subjects are shortchanged. One of them is the “transportation plan”— the strategy for the employment of air power in the final months or weeks before D-Day. Some of the air commanders advocated smashing the French railway network as a mechanism for slowing the movement of German reinforcements to the invasion zone. Certain operations analysts and their military allies argued instead for destroying road and rail bridges, at much less expenditure of air effort—and with equal impact—and preserving the rail net for Allied use as the armies advanced into the interior. This was a major strategic debate with enormous consequences—the book itself notes the logistics planners allocated more than 1.5 million man-days of labor for reconstruction, anticipated importing railway equipment to replace what had been destroyed, and provided 11,700 tons of engineer equipment, 15,000 tons of asphalt, and 112,000 tons of bridging components just for this purpose. The author notes in passing that the British government had cabinet meetings on the transportation plan. Yet, apart from a statement to the effect of “bringing together many headstrong characters”—probably a reference to Solly Zuckerman—the narrative leaves out the rationales, particulars, and evolution of the debate. It also leaves out the close integration between this strategy and the sabotage orders issued to the French Resistance.
The intelligence story is the weakest element of this book. Caddick-Adams has a good chapter on intelligence and deception (chapter 16), in which we learn the Germans knew more about Allied arrangements than was thought. The author does good research on German communications intelligence and has Nazi spy chief Walter Schellenberg sending a warning up the SS chain of command. He writes of George Patton’s fake army and its role in deception plans and of the Nazi threat to the Resistance. In other passages we learn that this or that Resistance network produced reports on German coastal defenses. But there is no coherent coverage of the Special Operations Executive or Office of Strategic Services (or Free French intelligence either) and their efforts to prepare the battlefield. In 400 pages of preparations for D-Day there should have been room for that story.
Nor, for that matter, is there any mention of the double-agents Garbo, Tricycle, or Brutus, who fed the Germans the intelligence on Patton’s fake army, or of the German spy Cicero, the first to tell Berlin the meaning of “Overlord.” Five hundred pages later there is a “Postscript” that devotes a dozen of its pages to the double- and triple-agent stories, the XX Committee, and the deception, but it spends several of them arguing that the Operation Bodyguard deception made little or no difference to the buildup of German resistance in Normandy. This treatment has the feel of something slapped on as an afterthought. But since the action in the book stops the night of 6 June, the author never has to test that argument in a campaign narrative.
Much more satisfying is Caddick-Adams’ account of invasion day. He starts from west to east, with the paratroop landings, Utah Beach, the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach (four chapters there, on both sides of the Ranger action), four chapters on the British, the Commandos, and the French, and one on the Canadians at Juno. The combat action is everything a reader could wish for. This is a fine package, but it could have been a definitive one.
Mr. Prados is a senior fellow of the National Security Archive in Washington, DC. He is author of more than 30 books, including Normandy Crucible (Penguin Random House).
Vice Admiral Cutler Dawson, U.S. Navy (Ret.), with Taylor Baldwin Kiland. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2019. 132 pp. $21.56.
Reviewed by Rear Admiral Paul Becker, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Cutler Dawson is a retired Navy surface warfare vice admiral and was CEO of Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU) from 2004 to 2019. His succinct, high-impact book is neatly organized into crisp chapters that provide actionable takeaways by linking sea stories with comparable business anecdotes designed to improve individual and organizational performance.
Dawson’s leadership credentials are impeccable: In uniform he commanded three ships, a carrier strike group, and the Second Fleet. His bona fides as corporate CEO are just as impressive: quadrupling the assets, tripling the membership, and turning NFCU into the nation’s largest credit union, with awards for trust, customer service, and a consistent ranking by Fortune as one of the nation’s best places to work. The reason for this success, according to Dawson, is the application of leadership lessons learned in the Navy that apply to the corporate sector.
At the core of Dawson’s leadership philosophy is valuing people above all else. He connects NFCU’s tagline, “Members Are Our Mission,” with emphasis on NFCU workers in the following way: “Some leaders put customers first. I put our employees first. It’s simple: take good care of your employees and they will take good care of your customers [members].” In this philosophy, Admiral Dawson has a kindred spirit in British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, who also puts employees before clients in his Virgin brand businesses.
Eleven themed chapters match sea stories and naval history with business applications that have resulted in NFCU’s amazing growth in productivity and profit. Several examples include, “Go to the Deckplates” (where managers receive perspective directly from employees), “Be the Captain of Your Ship” (encourage initiative, delegate authority), and “Take a Lesson from John Paul Jones” (prudent risk-taking). Each chapter closes with a highlighted “Foot Stomper” takeaway box to emphasis key learning points.
The lessons in Dawson’s book are authentic, easily readable, and delivered with an emphasis on ethical behavior and “doing the right thing.” It’s a useful reference for any business leader, with particular appeal to veterans considering a management position in the private sector. There’s clearly more to NFCU’s sustained superior performance than just its award-winning culture: keen market analysis, profit-and-loss expertise, strategic planning, and talent management. But make no mistake, Admiral Dawson effectively foot stomps that leadership and valuing an organization’s people are the foundation for success.
Rear Admiral Becker has been an NFCU member for 41 years. He is a former Director of Intelligence (J2) for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In 2016, the naval intelligence community honored him by establishing a “Teamwork, Tone, Tenacity” leadership award in his honor.