KathyHare.com 

A Journalist's Archive

Fobbit
David Abrams
Reviewed by Kathy Hare

          War is hardly a laughing matter. Yet for those involved humor can be an essential part of survival, and who better to provide it than the bureaucrats at Forward Operation Bases.  “Fobbit” is a novel based on David Abrams’ own experiences as part of a public affairs team in Iraq. Oh sure, he changed the names to protect the guilty, but the “cover-your-ass” situations he describes scream true. You will laugh out loud at the downright bureaucratic foolishness that occurred in Iraq; and you might just cry for the very same reason.
          It’s true in all wars, there are two types of soldiers. The grunts, who do the actual fighting, and the behind-the-scenes support staff. In Iraq the paper shufflers, known as Fobbits to their brothers in arms, order supplies, sort mail, plan strategies, write press releases, and record casualties. Abrams’ Fobbits support the “Seventh Armored Division, headquartered in FOB Triumph, one of Saddam Hussein’s former marbled palaces.”
          The Army attempts to recreate a slice of life back home by building a Burger King, Starbucks, gym, and movie theater on the base. Regular combatants relax there in between missions; beyond the comforts of the compound they face improvised explosive devices, snipers, and suicide bombers. But not the Fobbits, their days are spent in relative comfort, ensconced behind barbed wire and concrete barriers, where air conditioners hum inside their plushy decorated offices and sleeping quarters. They look forward to taco Wednesdays, all-you-can-eat seafood Fridays, and the chance of procuring a little action from one of the female soldiers on staff. Unfortunately, even the Fobbits can’t escape the occasional mortar shells that are lobbed into the headquarters. Even so, their odds of making it through their tour of duty in one piece are much greater than those forced to venture outside the heavily fortified compound.
          Abrams delivers his story from the point of view of five different main characters with a few minor players thrown into the mix. Four of them have one thing in common, they would all love to be anywhere other than Iraq. The fifth longs to be a war hero, which makes him a lethal weapon to the men forced to follow his orders.
          Staff Sgt. Chance Gooding is the “poster child for the stay-back-stay-safe soldier.” Venturing a guess, I think Abrams and Gooding have a lot in common. His job is that of a spin master. Within no time he becomes jaded as he takes “Significant Activities Reports,” descriptions of death and mayhem, and turns them into palatable and patriotic press releases for the audience back home. But readers receive Gooding’s true feelings about the war via his daily diary entries.
          Lt. Col. Harkleroad is Gooding’s commanding officer. He hovers over Gooding’s shoulder anxiously editing each press release over and over until little of the truth remains. His mission is to ensure the reports maintain the illusion that America is winning the war - along with the hearts and souls of the Iraqi people. Abrams’ portrayal of Harkleroad equals one pathetic specimen of an officer. His rotund body strains the buttons on his uniform, while self doubt and stress fuel perpetual nose bleeds anytime he must report to the commanding general. In the evenings, he retreats to his quarters where he composes letters to his mother touting his heroic war deeds. You will roar with laughter when comparing Harkleroad’s actual achievements to the lies he writes to impress her and her Wednesday night bible study group.
          Abrams introduces readers to Lt. Col. Vic Duret, Capt. Abe Shrinkle, and Sgt. Lumley in a Bagdad street scene. A suicide bomber has just rammed a white Opel into an M1 tank filled with soldiers. This scene depicts what the boots on the ground faced daily in Iraq, clearly separating the warriors from the Fobbits. Shrinkle’s inability to act decisively has put the tank crew in further danger. Duret, the only sensible combat officer in this novel, knows such situations are best controlled by those who don’t spend their days studying Power-Point presentations. He turns to Lumley, who neutralizes the threat. Here Abrams expresses his opinion about the futility of such wars through Lumley’s viewpoint. “When it came right down to it, Lumley and his men were just playing that old carnival game Whac-A-Mole. Smack down one terrorist with the rubber mallet and right away another one pops up.”
          As the war progresses, Shrinkle, who longs to be loved by his men, makes one combat error after another. Duret battles splitting headaches, while attempting to concentrate on his job, only to be overwhelmed by sexual images of his wife. Harkleroad’s embellishments grow more outrageous with each letter home. Lumley does everything in his power to protect his men, including shielding them from the useless officers assigned to his troop. And Gooding keeps turning out sanitized press releases until…
          Only a master wordsmith can use humor to convey the absurdities that occur during  war without diminishing the seriousness of the situation. David Abrams joins Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller in a small club of authors who pulled it off. Read “Fobbit.” War will always be hell, but sometimes you’ve just got to laugh at the insanity.
P.S. If you’re looking for a Father’s Day book, I highly recommend “Fobbit.”

First published in The New Falcon Herald
Article Copyright © 2013 Bluestack Consulting, Inc.
All Rights Reserved