The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars

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9780141039268: The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars

Hailed as a classic of war writing in the U.K., The Junior Officers' Reading Club is a revelatory first-hand account of a young enlistee's profound coming of age. Attempting to stave off the tedium and pressures of army life in the Iraqi desert by losing themselves in the dusty paperbacks on the transit-camp bookshelves, Hennessey and a handful of his pals from military academy form the Junior Officers' Reading Club. By the time he reaches Afghanistan and the rest of the club are scattered across the Middle East, they are no longer cheerfully overconfident young recruits, hungering for action and glory. Hennessey captures how boys grow into men amid the frenetic, sometimes exhilarating violence, frequent boredom, and almost overwhelming responsibilities that frame a soldier's experience and the way we fight today.

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About the Author:

Patrick Hennessey was born in 1982 and joined the army in January 2004. On operational tours to Iraq in 2006 and Afghanistan in 2007, he became the army's youngest captain and was commended for gallantry. Patrick is currently studying law and hopes to specialize in conflict and international humanitarian law.

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We had founded the Junior Officers’ Reading Club in the heat of the southern Iraqi desert. Marlow and me, the smart-alec Oxford boys, with surfer dude Harrison and the attached Coldstream Guards. Basking in boxers on improvised sun-loungers, we snatched quick half-hour escapes from the oppressive heat and boredom routine— caught our breath among the books, wallowing after patrols and riding the adrenaline come-down. Convened behind the junior officers’ tent, the ‘Crows’ Nest’, flaunting non-regulation under- wear in a gesture of defiance to the quartermasters, we might have thought we were the Army’s Bright Young Things, but we weren’t the first and we won’t be the last.

The club was a product of a newly busy Army, a post-9/11 Army of graduates and wise-arse Thatcherite kids up to their elbows in the Middle East who would do more and see more in five years than our fathers and uncles had packed into twenty-two on manoeuvres in Germany and rioting in Ulster. ‘Too Cool for School’ was what we’d been called by the smarmy gunner colonel on a course down in Warminster, congratulating through gritted teeth the boys who’d picked up gallantry awards, too old now to win the spurs he never got the chance to while he was getting drunk on the Rhine and flying his desk.

But in a way he was right: what did we know just because we’d had a few scraps in the desert? The bitter, loggy major who sat next to him had probably been to the Gulf back in ’91, when we were still learning to read; probably been patronized himself when he was a crow by returning Falklands vets who in turn had been instructed by grizzly old-timers sporting proud racks of World War Two medals, chests weighed down by Northwest Europe and Northern Desert Stars, which told of something greater than we could comprehend, the stuff of history imagined in black and white when no one was any- one without a Military Cross. Our grandfathers were heroes, whatever that meant, and they had taught the legends who charged up Mount Tumbledown in the Falklands and had returned to teach us.

We who didn’t believe them.

We who had scoffed as we crawled up and down Welsh hills and pretended to scream as we stabbed sandbags on the bayonet assault course. We tried to resurrect the club at the start of our Afghan tour, lounging on canvas chairs on the gravel behind the tin huts of Camp Shorabak. Same sort of base, same sort of desert, just a few thousand miles the other side of Iran. By the end of the first month it was obvious that there would be no club. Each of us, wherever we were and if we could at all, would be reading alone. We went into battle in bandanas and shades with Penguin Clas- sics in our webbing, sketch pads in our daysacks and iPods on the radio, thinking we knew better than what had gone before.

In the end we did and, of course, we didn’t.

________________________________________

Out in Helmand we were going to prove ourselves.

This was our moment, our X Factor—winning, one perfect fucking moment; we finally had a war. From university through a year of training at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, from Sandhurst to the Balkans, from the Balkans to Iraq, and now from Iraq to Afghanistan, it felt as though our whole military lives had been building up to the challenge that Afghanistan presented.

The only problem was we were bored.

We landed in Kandahar with high hopes. The whole battalion, 600 men, mustard keen to get stuck into the unfamiliar and exciting task of working alongside the Afghan National Army (ANA) for seven months. A task which promised as much action and fulfilment as the last few years had failed to deliver. Of course, there was nothing exciting about arriving in an airfield in the middle of the night, but the taste of Mountain Dew the next morning was the taste of expeditionary warfare.

Yet those first March days of 2007, sitting on the boardwalk, acclimatizing outside the Korean takeaway, watching the many multinational uniforms amble towards the ‘shops’ for souvenir carpets, we had to pinch ourselves to remember this was a war zone. The indeterminate South African accents of the military contractors mixed with the subcontinental singsong of the shit- jobs men jumping in and out of the ancient jingly wagons which rolled haphazardly past millions and millions of dollars’ worth of hardware while the Canadians played hockey on the improvised pitch, and I was bored. As bored as I’d been when I decided to join the Army, as bored as I’d been on public duties, guarding royal palaces while friends were guarding convoys in Iraq, as bored as I’d been once we got to Iraq and found ourselves fighting the Senior Major more than Saddam. Stone-throwing, chain-smoking, soldier-purging bored.

Waiting for the onward staging to Camp Bastion, it was pretty easy to forget that Kandahar was already in the middle of nowhere. A shipping-container city where big swaggering joint headquarters with lots of flags sat side by side with puny National Support Element tents and the luxury of the semipermanent pods of the KBR contractors, who were the real power in places like this. All right, the Taliban weren’t in the wire, but surely Kandahar was at least dangerous enough not to have a bunch of Canadians playing roller-hockey in the middle of its airfield.

Bored of the coffee shop at one end of the complex, we hopped on an ancient creaky bus, drove past the local market, where no doubt the Taliban’s info gathering went on each Saturday as the RAF Regiment juicers bartered for fake DVDs, and hit another café 500 metres down the road. A sign by the bin, overflowing with empty venti coffee cups, announced that here six years ago the Taliban had fought their last stand. A worrying thought occurred: surely we weren’t late again?

From Kandahar we decanted into Hercules transport aircraft for the jerky flight down to Camp Bastion, the tented sprawl in the middle of the ‘Desert of Death’ that was the main British base in Helmand. There we conducted our reception staging and onward integration package under an oppressive and drizzling cloud. The mandatory and in equal measures dull and hilarious set of introduc tory briefs and exercises completed by all British soldiers entering an operational theatre was as vague as ever. All anyone wanted to know was: were we going to be shooting people? and: would we get in trouble if we did? The answers, to everyone’s relief, were ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

________________________________________

After days which seemed like weeks we arrived at Camp Shorabak, the ANA sister camp next door to Bastion. This would be our home base for the next seven months. The photos ‘the Box’—the broad- shouldered commander of the Inkerman Company—had taken on his recce had shown a horizon that symbolized everything Op Herrick (the umbrella name given to ongoing UK operations in Afghanistan) was going to be that previous tours hadn’t been. The view shuffling at night to the loos down in Iraq had been depress ingly eloquent—the burning fires of the Shaibah refinery and silhouetted pipelines told you all you needed to know about that war. The Hindu Kush, on the other hand, was the symbol of the great adventure, the danger and hardship that we hadn’t endured last year. But a bubble of brown and grey cloud blocked out the sky the week we arrived, and we couldn’t bloody see it.

To add insult to injury, it rained. At least in Iraq it had never rained.

The Marines we were taking over from didn’t care. They were going home and had lost too many guys too close to the end of their gritty, six-month winter tour. Patience sapped by working with the Afghans we still hadn’t met, they shamelessly crammed into the gym to work on their going-home bodies, laughing when we asked them questions about what it was like ‘out there’.

We were trying to get to grips with the theory of our task. A normal infantry battalion, the basic building block of any army, works in threes. The basic fighting unit in the British Army is an eight-man ‘section’ (sub-divided into two four-man ‘fire teams’). There are three sections in a platoon—each platoon headed up by

a young whippersnapper lieutenant or second-lieutenant and a wiser, grizzlier platoon sergeant—and three platoons in a company— each company led by a more experienced major and an even wiser and grizzlier company sergeant major. These three ‘rifle compa- nies’ are the basic elements of a battalion, supported by a fourth company of specialized platoons (support company) and a large headquarters company which provides the logistic and planning support in the rear echelons. A tried and tested system forming up a happy family of nearly 700 fighting men, a system which we knew and trusted and which worked.

A system which, for the purposes of our job in Afghanistan, had been thrown out of the window. We were to be an Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (an OMLT), the set-up of which was simple, but bore no relation to anything we’d ever done before.

Gone was the familiar comfort of the formations a...

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Book Description Penguin Books Ltd, United Kingdom, 2010. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Patrick Hennessey s The Junior Officers Reading Club is a lucid, witty account of all the horror, boredom and exhilaration of war. Patrick Hennessey is pretty much like any other member of Generation X: he spent the first half of the noughties reading books at university, going out, listening to early-90s house on his iPod and watching war films. He also, as an officer in the Grenadier guards, fought in some of the most violent combat the British army has seen in decades. Telling the story of how a modern soldier is made, from the testosterone-heavy breeding ground of Sandhurst to the nightmare of Iraq and Afghanistan, The Junior Officers Reading Club is already being hailed as a modern classic. Soldiers who can write are as rare as writers who can strip down a machinegun in 40 seconds Christopher Hart, Sunday Times An extraordinary memoir . Hennessey has a reporter s eye for detail and a soldier s nose for bullshit John Shirley, Guardian High tempo, full-on, honest and revealing Patrick Bishop, Evening Standard The most accomplished work of military witness to emerge from British war-fighting since 1945 Boyd Tonkin, Independent Remarkable . conveys vividly what it s like to experience combat Jeremy Paxman, Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year Patrick Hennessey (b. 1982) joined the Army in January 2004, undertaking officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst where he was awarded the Queen s Medal and commissioned into The Grenadier Guards. He served as a Platoon Commander and later Company Operations Officer from the end of 2004 to early 2009 in the Balkans, Africa, South East Asia and the Falkland Islands and on operational tours to Iraq in 2006 and Afghanistan in 2007, where he became the youngest Captain in the Army and was commended for gallantry. Bookseller Inventory # AAZ9780141039268

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Book Description Penguin Books Ltd, United Kingdom, 2010. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Patrick Hennessey s The Junior Officers Reading Club is a lucid, witty account of all the horror, boredom and exhilaration of war. Patrick Hennessey is pretty much like any other member of Generation X: he spent the first half of the noughties reading books at university, going out, listening to early-90s house on his iPod and watching war films. He also, as an officer in the Grenadier guards, fought in some of the most violent combat the British army has seen in decades. Telling the story of how a modern soldier is made, from the testosterone-heavy breeding ground of Sandhurst to the nightmare of Iraq and Afghanistan, The Junior Officers Reading Club is already being hailed as a modern classic. Soldiers who can write are as rare as writers who can strip down a machinegun in 40 seconds Christopher Hart, Sunday Times An extraordinary memoir . Hennessey has a reporter s eye for detail and a soldier s nose for bullshit John Shirley, Guardian High tempo, full-on, honest and revealing Patrick Bishop, Evening Standard The most accomplished work of military witness to emerge from British war-fighting since 1945 Boyd Tonkin, Independent Remarkable . conveys vividly what it s like to experience combat Jeremy Paxman, Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year Patrick Hennessey (b. 1982) joined the Army in January 2004, undertaking officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst where he was awarded the Queen s Medal and commissioned into The Grenadier Guards. He served as a Platoon Commander and later Company Operations Officer from the end of 2004 to early 2009 in the Balkans, Africa, South East Asia and the Falkland Islands and on operational tours to Iraq in 2006 and Afghanistan in 2007, where he became the youngest Captain in the Army and was commended for gallantry. Bookseller Inventory # AAZ9780141039268

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Book Description Penguin Books Ltd. Paperback. Book Condition: new. BRAND NEW, The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars, Patrick Hennessey, Patrick Hennessey's "The Junior Officers' Reading Club" is a lucid, witty account of all the horror, boredom and exhilaration of war. Patrick Hennessey is pretty much like any other member of Generation X: he spent the first half of the noughties reading books at university, going out, listening to early-90s house on his iPod and watching war films. He also, as an officer in the Grenadier guards, fought in some of the most violent combat the British army has seen in decades. Telling the story of how a modern soldier is made, from the testosterone-heavy breeding ground of Sandhurst to the nightmare of Iraq and Afghanistan, "The Junior Officers' Reading Club" is already being hailed as a modern classic. "Soldiers who can write are as rare as writers who can strip down a machinegun in 40 seconds". (Christopher Hart, "Sunday Times"). "An extraordinary memoir.Hennessey has a reporter's eye for detail and a soldier's nose for bullshit". (John Shirley, "Guardian"). "High tempo, full-on, honest and revealing". (Patrick Bishop, "Evening Standard"). "The most accomplished work of military witness to emerge from British war-fighting since 1945". (Boyd Tonkin, "Independent"). "Remarkable .conveys vividly what it's like to experience combat". (Jeremy Paxman, "Daily Telegraph", Books of the Year). Patrick Hennessey (b. 1982) joined the Army in January 2004, undertaking officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst where he was awarded the Queen's Medal and commissioned into The Grenadier Guards. He served as a Platoon Commander and later Company Operations Officer from the end of 2004 to early 2009 in the Balkans, Africa, South East Asia and the Falkland Islands and on operational tours to Iraq in 2006 and Afghanistan in 2007, where he became the youngest Captain in the Army and was commended for gallantry. Bookseller Inventory # B9780141039268

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