In the Company of Soldiers A Chronicle of Combat

Rick Atkinson

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

352 Pages



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For soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division, the road to Baghdad began with a midnight flight out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in late February 2003. For Rick Atkinson, who would spend nearly two months covering the division for The Washington Post, the war in Iraq provided a unique opportunity to observe today's U.S. Army in combat. Now, in this extraordinary account of his odyssey with the 101st, Atkinson presents an intimate, wry, and revealing portrait of the soldiers who fight the expeditionary conflicts that have become the hallmark of our age.

Granted complete access to the commanders and troops of the 101st, Atkinson saw their war from the preparations in Kuwait through the occupation of Baghdad. He sat in on the daily briefings as the division's attack were planned, and then watched from the front lines as the battles were fought. As the war unfolded, he witnesses the division's struggles to overcome a murderous attack by one of its own soldiers, a disastrous Apache helicopter raid, and fierce resistance from guerrilla diehards in Najaf, Karbala, and Hilla. Throughout, Atkinson saw that no matter how much the military stressed "stand off" killing power—the ability to inflict great damage from a relatively safe distance—the Army's success ultimately depended on the courage of soldiers who engage the enemy directly.

At the center of Atkinson's drama stands the compelling figure of Major General David H. Petraeus, described by one comrade as "the most competitive man on the planet." Atkinson spent much of his time in Iraq at Petraeus's elbow, where he had an unobstructed view of the stresses, anxieties, and large joys of commanding 17,000 soldiers in combat. Atkinson observes Petraeus wrestle with innumerable tactical conundrums; he sees him teach, goad, and lead his troops and subordinate commanders in several intense battles. All around Petraeus, we watch the men and women of a storied division grapple with the challenges of waging war in an unspeakably harsh environment. But even as the military wins an overwhelming victory, we also see portents 26of the battles that would haunt the occupation in the long months ahead.

With the eye of a master storyteller, the premier military historian of his generation puts us on the battlefield and inside the U.S. Army. In the Company of Soldiers is a dramatic, utterly fresh view of the modern American soldier in action.


Praise for In the Company of Soldiers

"An admirable tale . . . An intimate look inside an army at war . . . An engaging and accurate view of life on the ground during the Iraq war."—James Janega, Chicago Tribune

"Atkinson's deep knowledge of the U.S. Military, combined with his reporting skills and fluid writing style, have yielded [this] superb book about the fall of Iraq."—Steve Weinberg, The Denver Post

"A fine book . . . You'd expect [that] In the Company of Soldiers would be the most intimate, vivid, and well-informed account yet published of those major combat operations that President Bush declared at an end on May 1, 2004. And it is . . . On the field of battle where more than 770 journalists were 'embedded,' Atkinson stood apart as one of the very rare war correspondents who are also fine military historians."—Christopher Dickey, The New York Times Book Review

"A beautifully written and memorable account of combat from the top down and bottom up as the 101st Airborne commanders and front-line grunts battle their way to Baghdad . . . A must read."—Tom Brokaw

"A fascinating first-hand account [that] brings to life the lot of the common soldier."—The Economist

"[A] brilliant account of the actual war."—Robert D. Novak, The Washington Post

"An exceptional achievement, one as strong as [the author's] Pulitzer Prize-winning An Army at Dawn. With a skill rarely seen in the genre of military narratives, Atkinson tells a compelling story about the war and the modern American military that fought it."—The Indianapolis Star

"A balanced but unflinching look at the mechanics, politics, and intellectual rigors of modern warfare."—Nashville Scene

"A revealing tale of modern warfare told through the eyes of the privates and generals, living and dead."—Louisville Courier-Journal

"Wars come at a human cost to both the victors and the vanquished, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Atkinson loses no time reminding readers that, all technological advances aside, warfare is still brutal and deadly for those at the tip of the spear. As an embedded journalist in the Iraqi headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division from February 2003 until the declared end of major combat operations in April, Atkinson became closest to Maj. Gen. David Petraeus. From this vantage point, he was able to watch the operation unfold and closely observe the development of senior combat leaders in the crucible of battle. While Atkinson asserts that the 'war's predicate was phony'—which thus 'cheapened the sacrifices of the dead and living alike'—he argues that it is imperative not to 'conflate the warriors with the war.' He found the warrior leaders of the 101st 'uncommonly excellent' and relates their great endurance, flexibility, resourcefulness, and abiding concern for the welfare of their soldiers throughout all the challenges and hardships of the campaign. This fluid battle narrative will hold wide appeal and is recommended for all public libraries."—Library Journal

"A Pulitzer-winning Washington Post correspondent and military historian gives the best account yet to come out of the Iraq War, chronicling the unit in which the author was embedded, the 101st Airborne, or Screaming Eagles, and particularly its headquarters . . . The son of an army officer and thoroughly up-to-date on the modern American army, the author pays an eloquent and incisive tribute to how the men and women of the 101st won their part of the war in Iraq, in a manner that bears comparison to his Pulitzer-winning WWII volume, An Army at Dawn. Superb writing and balance make this the account to beat."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A superbly written account of the recent unpleasantness in Mesopotamia. Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post writer Atkinson saw combat early on in Gulf War II as an embedded journalist with the 101st Airborne. He enjoyed unusually close access to the division's commander, Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, a tough 'warfighter' who, Atkinson writes, 'kept me at his elbow in Iraq virtually all day, every day, allowing me to feel the anxieties and the perturbations, the small satisfactions and the large joys of commanding 17,000 soldiers under fire.' Much of Atkinson's account has a commander's-eye, synoptic view of the 2003 Iraq campaign, and it resounds with extraordinary statistics and facts that presumably were not available to the average grunt: for instance, that the Iraqi army was 'poorly trained [and] excessively led: an army of half a million included 11,000 generals and 14,000 colonels. (The U.S. Army, roughly the same size, had 307 generals and 3,500 colonels.)' . . . Atkinson's memoir is engaging on many levels; for civilians, it provides a crash course in military culture, while veterans will appreciate some of the eternal verities of that culture's illogic. Whereas American soldiers were not allowed to have alcohol in the theater, for instance, Czech soldiers merrily stowed case after case of beer in their bivouac . . . Atkinson shows the soldiers of the 101st and their comrades nothing but respect, even as he expresses misgivings for the mission: 'They were better than the cause they served.' Sure to be textbook reading at the Pentagon, but deserving of the widest audience."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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Read an Excerpt

From In the Company of Soldiers:

We turned around. Najaf was pacified, at least for today. Back at the middle school where No Slack had its battalion command post, Hodges told Petraeus that he had declared Ali's shrine to be a demilitarized zone, "so there's no military presence west of Highway 9." He also had issued edicts outlawing revenge killings, but allowing the looting of Baath Party or Fedayeen properties. "You see guys walking down the street with desks, office chairs, lights, curtains," Hodges said, and I wondered whether authorized pilfering was a slippery slope toward anarch
Read the full excerpt


  • Rick Atkinson

  • Rick Atkinson was a staff writer and senior editor at The Washington Post for more than twenty years. He is the bestselling author of The Day of Battle, An Army at Dawn, In the Company of Soldiers, and Crusade. His many awards include the Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing and Pulitzer Prizes for journalism and history. He lives in Washington, D.C.
  • Rick Atkinson Photo © Sigrid Estrada
    Rick Atkinson


    Rick Atkinson

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