Book "Marathon War" Leadership In Combat In Afghanistan
By Major General Jeffrey Schloesser (US Army retired)
Word Count: ~112,000
# of illustrations: maps x3; photos ~ 10.
ETA on MS: Ready for Submission, pending photos. DOD review completed.
War is the most brutal of human endeavors, and I have experienced enough war to know to take cover when politicians and poets and armchair warriors speak extravagantly of patriotism and national honor.
And so begins Major General Jeff Schloesser’s memoir of fifteen months commanding more than twenty thousand troops in the remote, often forgotten Hindu Kush mountains of Eastern Afghanistan, bringing to life the challenges and responsibilities of strategic leadership in one of our nation’s least understood, and most foreign of wars. Packed with refreshingly honest and often startlingly intimate views of national, international, and military leaders, including himself, the book serves as a “how to” primer for those seeking to lead military, business, and other complex organizations when chaos and uncertainty rule the day.
Even war weary readers are sure to embrace the release of this book: timed just a few months after Washington Post journalist Craig Whitlock’s front page expose-series accusing senior American officials of misleading the American public – and by direct association Major General Schloesser, from whom Whitlock uses carefully snipped video of to press his case – and months before the release of a documentary series by Spielberg’s Amblin Television on the same subject.
From the first chapter until the end of the book, reader’s join Schloesser in the daily grind of warfare fought in the most forbidding of terrain, with sometimes uncertain or untested allies, Afghan corruption and Pakistani bet hedging, and the mounting casualties of war – day by day – which erode, and bring into question Schloesser’s most profoundly-held convictions and beliefs. Among several battles, Schloesser takes readers deep into the battle of Wanat, where nine U.S. soldiers are killed in a fierce, up-close fight to prevent a new operating base from being overrun, which requires Schloesser to make tactical decisions that have dramatic strategic impact, and lead him to doubts: Can this war even be won? If so, what will it take? He concludes he must ask for more troops, at a time when the U.S. is deep into an Iraq War surge, and Afghanistan is an afterthought. He must “bet his stars.”
Along the way, reader’s are given rare insight and reflection into the thoughts of critical national decision-makers including President George W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, then Senator Barack Obama, and numerous foreign leaders including Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Key military leaders including then Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, then Central Command Commanding General David Petreaus, then Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey (later the Chairman himself), and International Security Force Commander General David McKiernan all play roles in the book, among many others, including General Mark Milley, current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and General James McConville, the current Army Chief of Staff. Analyzing the leadership of these and others far more junior, Schloesser ultimately concludes that successful leadership in combat is best based on competence, courage, and character. A long-time long distance runner, he compares his fifteen months to a marathon race, in which detailed preparation and training and firm mental discipline are the difference between quitting and finishing. And after nineteen years and counting, the Afghanistan War is truly a marathon for America and its allies.
"Major General Jeff Schloesser has written a gripping account of his fifteen months commanding the 101st Airborne Division during the toughest days of America's long war in Afghanistan. Schloesser eloquently and candidly writes about being a senior commander at war, making decisions that likely will result in soldiers wounded and killed while simultaneously dealing with the political challenges of dealing with higher headquarters and senior echelons of the American, Afghan and Pakistani governments. 'Marathon War' is compelling and honest, telling the story of men and leaders in battle, the 'filth and gore,' the camaraderie, and the impact of soldiers' absence on the families left behind -- including his own. Jeff Schloesser was a great commander. This book makes clear why.”
Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense 2006-2011
“A deeply personal, powerfully insightful, and sometimes disturbingly candid account of command in combat by one of his generation’s most thoughtful warrior-leaders. Jeff Schloesser captures the frustrating complexity of Afghanistan and the challenge of fighting America’s longest war brilliantly. A must read for those who want to understand leadership in the toughest of environments.”
General Stanley A. McChrystal
Commanding General, International Security Force (ISAF) and Commander, US Forces-Afghanistan, 2009-2010
"If you truly want to understand the nature of wartime leadership; the heartache, the elation, the fear, the sense of frustration and the great pride of leading America's men and women in combat, then you must read Jeff Schloesser's Marathon War. No one tells the story better."
Admiral Bill McRaven
Former Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command.
"I studied generalship under Jeff Schloesser for a year in Afghanistan. Marathon War brings it all back a decade later. Not only the names, the places, and the events, but also the lessons I learned from this thoughtful, determined, and caring leader. Jeff will show you the challenges and responsibilities of leading coalition counter-insurgency operations on the other side of the world, and you’ll leave with a better understanding of our longest war and the human toll it took on the extraordinary men and women who fought it.
Marathon War transported me straight back to the year I spent learning to be a general officer from Major General Jeff Schloesser and his 101st Airborne team in Afghanistan. Jeff artfully recounts the story of people, places, and events to explore the challenges, complications, and responsibilities of leading counter insurgency operations on the other side of the world. You’ll leave with a better understanding of both the choices and decisions that shaped our longest war and the human toll it took on the extraordinary men and women who fought it…and are still processing it."
General Mike Holmes
Former Commander, Air Combat Command, USAF (ret.)
"Marathon War is a dramatic account by a unique leader. General Jeff Schloesser led our effort to develop the nation’s first war plan for the global war on terror (GWOT). Incorporating all elements of national power it was debated by the cabinet and approved personally by President George W. Bush. He then put on his cleats, jumped on the field, and executed it for fifteen hard and bloody months in Afghanistan.
This book focuses on leadership at the tip of the spear. It is a fascinating and moving account of implementing grand strategy at the tactical level on the ground where death and destruction are constant companions. It is must reading for those who labor in either vineyard as well as a solid reminder for all that character is the sine qua non of effective leadership."
Hon. John Scott Redd, VADM U.S. Navy (Ret).
Former Director, National Counterterrorism Center
"A lot has been written about Afghanistan, but Jeff Schloesser’s Marathon War offers something different. The very personal reflections of a most thoughtful senior commander help us better understand the strategic context and consequences of America’s longest war, but also offers insights into the incredible stories, tragic and heroic, of those involved. Jeff reminds us that, while politicians make the big decisions about war, it is soldiers and their families who bear the brunt of those decisions."
General Carter F. Ham, U.S. Army retired
President and CEO of the Association of the United States Army
Former Commanding General, United States Africa Command
"There have been several books written about leadership, and specifically leadership in combat, but Jeff Schloesser’s “Marathon War” is an absolute must read to understand senior level command in war. It tells the riveting story of commanding for 15 months in Regional Command-East, the most lethal region of Afghanistan. It masterfully provides the rich detail and insight into the trials and tribulations of how a senior leader must assimilate volumes of information, calculate risk to mission and risk to force and ultimately make decisions that put men and women into harms way. Despite having a dedicated staff and other subordinate commanders to provide their insight, their assessment of the intelligence, despite innovations in technology and superior equipment, the ultimate decision rests with the commander. Jeff provides an intimate account of the “the interpersonal struggles” that senior leaders are challenged with in the most complex situations. Leaders in any profession who choose to be relevant need to read this account."
John F. Campbell, General, US Army, (Retired)
Former Army Vice Chief of Staff and former Commander US and NATO Forces in Afghanistan