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A soldier's 'True Story'- John Crawford's eye-witness accounts of American foot soldiers in Iraq
Tallahassee Democrat ^ | Sep. 04, 2005 | Mark Hinson

Posted on 09/17/2005 6:45:52 AM PDT by Former Military Chick

One of John Crawford's least favorite assignments when he was a soldier in Baghdad was standing guard at a gas station where shortages and long lines kept everyone on edge.

"We were all sitting in the most oil-rich country in the world, and even when people could get gas, it was overpriced fuel trucked in by Halliburton from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia," Crawford writes in his terse, gritty, new memoir, "The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq" (Riverhead Books, $23.95). The book jumped to No. 12 last week on the New York Times best-sellers list for nonfiction.

"The whole thing (at the gas station) was a joke," Crawford writes, "but it directly affected our lives on a minute-by-minute basis."

One night, Crawford and Stephen Mitchell, who were both students at Florida State University in 2002 when their Florida National Guard unit was sent packing to fight in Iraq, were bored out of their skulls during a 10-hour vigil at the gas pumps. Mitchell persuaded Crawford to take a joy ride on an abandoned, ancient, rusty motorcycle that had a sidecar.

"He said it would be just like Indiana Jones," Crawford, 27, said recently over a light beer and a late lunch. "He talked me into it. You'll do anything to break the boredom."

The two took off down the unlit street into the darkness. Then they realized the brakes did not work. They were stuck on a runaway motorcycle tearing through the night in one of the most dangerous places on Earth.

"The Americans act like kids, basically," Crawford said. "And the Iraqi people thought of us as big children."

Yeah, but they're big kids with really big guns.

"The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell" is packed with eye-witness accounts of the follies, fears, frustrations, bitterness and gutsy triumphs of American foot soldiers on the ground in the Iraqi war. Crawford's tell-all, rawly honest memoir has also stirred up a lot of national media attention for the polite and rather serious-minded small-town boy from Palatka.

In August, Crawford was interviewed live on Comedy Central's Emmy Award-winning "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, who couldn't stop raving about the book. National Public Radio's Terry Gross devoted a "Fresh Air" program to him. The New York Times editorial department gave Crawford half a page in a recent Sunday edition to write an article about his return to the States.

"Um, I'm doing an interview with Wisconsin Radio in a few minutes, and then I'm supposed to fly to Washington to do 'Hardball,' but I'm waiting to see what happens with the hurricane (Katrina)," Crawford said during a recent phone conversation. "My life is really kind of surreal right now."

Military history

Crawford hails from a family with a long history of military service, going back as far as the Civil War. His father flew a chopper for Special Operations in Vietnam, and Crawford grew up hearing war stories from those days.

"I think there's been a Crawford fighting in every major war America has ever been involved in," he said. "I'm sort of like the character Lt. Dan in 'Forrest Gump' whose grandfathers and great-grandfathers kept getting shot in wars."

After he graduated from high school in 1996, Crawford immediately joined the famed 101st Airborne. He spent time in Panama and was stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky.

When he finished service with the Airborne in 1999, at the seasoned age of 21, he headed straight to Tallahassee and enrolled in classes at Tallahassee Community College. Crawford, who read "The Iliad" at 10 just for fun, was ready for a formal education.

"I signed out of the Airborne at midnight and was in class (at TCC) the next morning," he said.

Ironically, for a guy with a bestseller on the New York Times list, he struggled to make a C in his freshman composition class at TCC.

"I was off spinning these raunchy fiction stories with dialogue, and that's not really what my professor wanted," Crawford said. "About halfway through the semester, I caught on to what she wanted. I had to play catch-up just to get a C. I was happy to get that C."

The experienced soldier signed up with the Florida National Guard because he figured it would be an easy way to pay for tuition at FSU, where he transferred and selected anthropology as his major.

Heck, Crawford figured, after surviving Airborne, how hard could it be playing weekend warrior?

Honeymoon in Baghdad

In the fall of 2002, Crawford got married and took a honeymoon cruise over Christmas break. Aboard ship, the day after Christmas, he went to check his semester grades from FSU via e-mail.

What he got instead was an invitation from Uncle Sam. It was one he couldn't turn down. He and his fellow Florida National Guard members would soon be conducting apartment raids and other deadly business in Baghdad's urban war.

The tour of duty was supposed to last three months. It dragged on for more than a year.

"I was planning to enroll in a master's program at FSU, instead I took a vacation to Iraq," former machine-gunner Crawford said.

The ancient city turned out to be a hellhole - and that's not even including having to deal with the sweltering heat while wearing 100 pounds of combat gear or the threat of being blown to pieces by car bombs.

"Baghdad stinks," Crawford said. "There's constant water in the street. There's no one to pick up the trash, so it all piles up outside. ... All the American toilet paper was clogging the Baghdad sewer system. It wasn't built to take it, so there's backed-up water everywhere and kids playing in it. Baghdad is just a dirty place."

Confusion was another constant. The American soldiers didn't speak Arabic. The locals existed on rumors or no information about what was going on. The electrical brown-outs were unpopular, and the Iraqis blamed the Americans for not restoring power.

"They said Saddam had the electricity in Baghdad back on two months after the first Iraq War," Crawford said. "It'd been two years after the start of the war when I was there, and the greatest nation on Earth couldn't even keep the lights on. It's understandable they're upset."

During his downtime, Crawford borrowed a buddy's laptop computer and began writing vignettes and stories about what he was seeing during the occupation. An embedded journalist from The Nation noticed him typing and struck up a conversation. That chat later led to Crawford getting an agent and landing a book deal with Riverhead Books, which is part of the mega-sized Penguin Group publishing house. But first he had to make it back to Florida after his year of living dangerously.

To sleep at night, while the sniper fire popped and bombs exploded outside his window, Crawford began eating Valium pills like candy. By the time he did get home to Tallahassee in 2004, he realized he had become addicted to the drug. He kicked it cold turkey on the bathroom floor.

Readjusting to civilian life was tricky.

"It's like being at a party and going into the bathroom for 15 months.," Crawford said. "When you come back everything has changed. What happened to the party? All the people that were there at the party have moved on. They're not having the same conversations as they did when you left. Everything has changed."

The extended tour also put a strain on his marriage. It's the one subject he wouldn't talk about and would only say "it's private."

Meanwhile, Crawford had a book to finish.

"I had written a few chapters in Iraq and had sent them off," he said. "I came back and, sort of, you know, got drunk for a couple of months. Then one day you wake up, and you realize you've got a little under three months to write a book. You've got to pay back the advance if you don't finish it. I figured I was in pretty rough shape. So I actually just sat down and set out a schedule. Every day I had to write so many pages. That's how I did it."

Iraq as a bar fight

"This book is brilliant," avid reader Berry Bowman said when he telephoned the Democrat unprompted with no other reason than to rave about "The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell."

"This guy is the real deal," Bowman said. "He gives it to you straight. He has a style. He's direct. He's not didactic. He tells you the way it is without having a political agenda. Anyone who wants to know what's really going on in Iraq should read this book."

Crawford said the reaction has been positive from his National Guard buddies who are featured prominently in the book. "When they heard I was writing a book, they all wanted to know if I was writing a 'super liberal' book," Crawford said. "The ones I've talked to so far said they liked what I wrote."

"I had the privilege of serving with Spc. Crawford in Iraq," D.G. Rosenthal wrote in a review of "Last True Story" he posted on www.amazon. com. "His book tells it exactly like it was, with no holds barred. It covers everything from our supply inadequacies, to command mismanagements, to the reality of the war that the media never took the time to cover. Crawford is a natural author, an expert at weaving an engaging story that grips the reader firmly and swiftly."

As far as Crawford's personal feelings about the ongoing war in Iraq, he put it best when he was on "Fresh Air" with Gross by saying:

"I liken it to getting in a bar fight. Occasionally, you know, you get drunk and you get in a fight because you think some guy's eyeballing you in the bar. And you wake up in the morning, and you say, 'Wow, that guy didn't deserve that at all.' But the morning is the time for regret. If you do it in the middle of the fight, then you still wake up feeling bad, but you got beat up, too."

For now, in addition to making the rounds on radio and TV chat shows, Crawford is speaking on college campuses around the country.

Oh, yeah, he's also working on finishing that longtime-coming degree from FSU - if only he can stay out of a war this time.

------------------------------------------

THE BOOK: "The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq," published in August.

The Author: John Crawford, a 27-year-old former National Guard specialist. He participated in the March 2003 invasion and patrolled Baghdad until February 2004.The Plot: A chronicle of daily life in occupied Iraq.Behind the Scenes: Coming from a military family, Mr. Crawford joined the Regular Army. He transferred to the Florida National Guard, where he expected to be a "weekend warrior."Worst Moment: Feeling he would be in Iraq forever, fighting with Vietnam-era weapons.Take on the War: Mr. Crawford thinks the current situation is a mess but says the U.S. has to finish what it started.


TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: bookstore; iraq; kayak; military
I will have to read it and discuss with beloved if in fact this book is on the level, I only saw it because it was reviewed in the WSJ (in the military early bird news), and having read it there located another article to post on FR giving an overview of the book.

This is what the publisher says:

Publishers say these soldier memoirs complement books penned by journalists about the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. "They put you further inside the soldier's head and tell you what it's like to shoot at somebody, what it's like to be shot at, and how they got there," says Ivan Held, president of G.P. Putnam's Sons. "These books take you into Iraq and give you a first-hand look."

1 posted on 09/17/2005 6:45:54 AM PDT by Former Military Chick
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To: Former Military Chick
In August, Crawford was interviewed live on Comedy Central's Emmy Award-winning "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, who couldn't stop raving about the book. National Public Radio's Terry Gross devoted a "Fresh Air" program to him. The New York Times editorial department gave Crawford half a page in a recent Sunday edition to write an article about his return to the States.

That's all I need to know. I won't be reading it.

2 posted on 09/17/2005 6:51:41 AM PDT by Hildy
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To: Former Military Chick

"All the American toilet paper was clogging the Baghdad sewer system"

Now I've heard it all. Evil America and its toilet paper. Oh the humanity...


3 posted on 09/17/2005 6:57:30 AM PDT by dinok
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To: Hildy

Exactly,
If this were anything but another variation of Bush bashing, Jon Stewart nor Terry Gross would give him the time of day.


4 posted on 09/17/2005 7:09:20 AM PDT by Cindy_Cin
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To: All

I dont know how he got promised a 3 months assignment, plus common sense wouldve told him he would be there longer that. Every soldier knows this. I expected to be there more than a year but fortunately I was able to leave at a year. I really didnt want to go with a job unfinished...having to return to the same old schiite. I dont know where the iraqis got their fuel but I read several INTSUMs where we had troops at the gas stations because the iraqis were price gouging. we would take over a station and give it away for free. Yes it is a shame about fuel shortages and electricity. Sadam had electricity on faster because he would kill his problem makers. we just holler at them.


5 posted on 09/17/2005 7:13:00 AM PDT by Kewlhand`tek (What the hell was that? I hope it was outgoing!)
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To: Former Military Chick

They'll publish anything, anything at all, that makes military life look crappy.

I just checked on Amazon and it's down to number 440.


6 posted on 09/17/2005 7:14:46 AM PDT by squarebarb
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To: dinok
No - it's true!!!!
The Baghdad sewer system(s) were made for a society that does not imitate western sanitation standards.

Typical Iraqi plumbing was unvented, as we know it here at home. Most of the buildings stank to high heavens in proximity to the bathrooms in some of the buildings.
When the wind blew a particular way on a 125 degree day - you get the idea.

When we arrived (Americans), our prodigious use of toilet paper quickly overtaxed outdated pumps and piping. Our contracts specified "western style" plumbing in all new projects & rebuilds.
As for the sewage, SST's (Sh*t trucks) were always lined up to dispose of their contents down the storm drains, just up slope from (you guessed it)- the Tigris River.
Needless to say, we all kept our Hepatitis shots up to date.

The standing joke was that two types of vehicles never came under fire - taxis and SST's.
7 posted on 09/17/2005 7:21:22 AM PDT by LFOD (Formerly IRAQ - now home.............)
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To: dinok

Agreed - as though Americans were the main users of the sewer in a city of 5 million?

My son is in Iraq now with the CA Guard. Yes, he knew it was for a year. No, he hasn't taken up using drugs. Yes, he thinks things are getting better, but wonders if the Iraqis have what it takes to run a peaceful democracy...and no, he isn't likely to be invited to talk on Hardball, or write a book the NY Times will gush about.

This guy learned his lesson in his writing class - write what the teacher wants if you want a good grade. And the teacher (the MSP) wants what he is delivering...BS!


8 posted on 09/17/2005 7:23:18 AM PDT by Mr Rogers
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To: Former Military Chick
As far as Crawford's personal feelings about the ongoing war in Iraq, he put it best when he was on "Fresh Air" with Gross by saying:

"I liken it to getting in a bar fight. Occasionally, you know, you get drunk and you get in a fight because you think some guy's eyeballing you in the bar. And you wake up in the morning, and you say, 'Wow, that guy didn't deserve that at all.' But the morning is the time for regret. If you do it in the middle of the fight, then you still wake up feeling bad, but you got beat up, too."

So, he thinks Saddam didn't deserve the fight he started and has been itching to be done with. If it was a bar fight we are the bouncers and it was long past time to toss the bum out the door. The problem is, we let too many of his friends hang around to start more trouble.

9 posted on 09/17/2005 7:23:56 AM PDT by eggman (Democrat party - The black hole of liberalism from which no rational thought can escape.)
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To: LFOD

I"m familiar with the discrepancy between US toilet paper and arab toilets - hell, our TURDS are too big for those teeny weenie pipes. That is why TOILETS clog up - not a city's entire sewer system!


10 posted on 09/17/2005 7:25:38 AM PDT by Mr Rogers
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To: Former Military Chick

Yaaawn….

So the old media finally found a Drunk that the Nation propped up with advances to write about how screwed up things are in Iraq. Now they’re parading him around like Cindy Sheehan .


11 posted on 09/17/2005 7:26:28 AM PDT by elfman2 (2 tacos short of a combination plate)
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To: Former Military Chick
...In August, Crawford was interviewed live on Comedy Central's Emmy Award-winning "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, who couldn't stop raving about the book. National Public Radio's Terry Gross devoted a "Fresh Air" program to him. The New York Times editorial department gave Crawford half a page in a recent Sunday edition to write an article about his return to the States....

When did this bunch of LIBERAL a-holes started to enjoy a book about our military? Oh yes, I remember now "Winter Soldier"...
Must be a book that makes our soldiers look like heroes. NOT
12 posted on 09/17/2005 7:34:27 AM PDT by UltraKonservativen (( YOU CAN'T FIX STUPID!!!))
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To: Former Military Chick

The quote about Americans acting like kids and the Iraqis
thinking of them as big kids made me decide to stop reading. More lies, I suspect.


13 posted on 09/17/2005 8:35:32 AM PDT by DCMB (Bless GWB and all our troops)
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To: Hildy
In August, Crawford was interviewed live on Comedy Central's Emmy Award-winning "The Daily Show" . . . National Public Radio's Terry Gross devoted a "Fresh Air" program to him. The New York Times editorial department gave Crawford half a page in a recent Sunday edition to write an article about his return to the States.

That's all I need to know. I won't be reading it.

That was my reaction also. I'll stick with Michael Yon.

14 posted on 09/17/2005 9:22:59 AM PDT by Oatka (Hyphenated-Americans have hyphenated-loyalties -- Victor Davis Hanson)
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To: Mr Rogers

Put 10,000 Westerners into a relatively small geographic area (i.e. Green Zone - now the PC Int'l Zone)& see what happens.


15 posted on 09/17/2005 10:43:32 AM PDT by LFOD (Formerly IRAQ - now home.............)
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