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Thank You for Your Service

David Finkel




Trade Paperback

272 Pages


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The wars of the past decade have been covered by brave and talented reporters, but none has reckoned with the psychology of these wars as intimately as the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Finkel. For The Good Soldiers, his bestselling account from the front lines of Baghdad, Finkel embedded with the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion during the infamous "surge," a grueling fifteen-month tour that changed them all forever. In Finkel's hands, readers can feel what these young men were experiencing, and his harrowing story instantly became a classic in the literature of modern war.

In Thank You for Your Service, Finkel has done something even more extraordinary. Once again, he has embedded with some of the men of the 2-16—but this time he has done it at home, here in the States, after their deployments have ended. He is with them in their most intimate, painful, and hopeful moments as they try to recover, and in doing so, he creates an indelible, essential portrait of what life after war is like—not just for these soldiers, but for their wives, widows, children, and friends, and for the professionals who are truly trying, and to a great degree failing, to undo the damage that has been done.

The story Finkel tells is mesmerizing, impossible to put down. With his unparalleled ability to report a story, he climbs into the hearts and minds of those he writes about. Thank You for Your Service is an act of understanding, and it offers a more complete picture than we have ever had of these two essential questions: When we ask young men and women to go to war, what are we asking of them? And when they return, what are we thanking them for?


Praise for Thank You for Your Service

"Together with its masterful prequel The Good Soldiers, [Thank You for Your Service] measures the wages of the war in Iraq—the wages of war, period—as well as anything I've read . . . [Finkel] atones for our scant attention by paying meticulous heed. And he reminds us that it's not just the warriors who suffer; it's the family members who muddle on without them or who struggle to put them back together . . . I mention Finkel and his books not just because they're so gorgeously written, but because they fill in crucial gaps for the many Americans who have opinions about Syria but no firsthand experience of war. The way that we can best thank our good soldiers for their service is to keep in mind, whenever contemplating the next military engagement, the ravages of the last one."—Frank Bruni, The New York Times

"Finkel examines the human detritus left in the wake of fraudulent promises and collapsed illusions . . . [He] looks at those victimized by egregious military malpractice . . . A post-industrial, high-tech, information-age approach to waging war supposedly offered a template for assured victory. Iraq and Afghanistan have shredded such pretensions. Although some high-ranking military and civilian officials found ways to cash in, far larger numbers of ordinary soldiers (and their families) suffered, many of them grievously. In painful, intimate and at times almost voyeuristic detail, Finkel tells their story. More specifically, [he] attends to what he calls the 'after war.' His concern is with the soldiers who return from the war zone bearing wounds—and with the loved ones on whom those wounds also become imprinted. Above all, he is concerned with wounds that may not be fully visible: the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury and related conditions that affect roughly a half-million younger veterans. Make that a half-million and counting. To translate this disturbing statistic into flesh and blood, Finkel checks in on some of the soldiers featured in his previous book [The Good Soldiers]. What he finds is anger, anxiety, shame, depression, guilt, sleeplessness, self-abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and suicidal tendencies, sometimes acted on, sometimes not. Shouting matches, crying jags and bizarre behavior along with guns and two-pack-a-day smoking habits abound, but not much in the way of useful therapy . . . An institution designed to dole out death and destruction possesses little inherent aptitude for dealing with severe psychological or emotional distress. Why should we be surprised? Testifying to that lack of aptitude, the number of soldiers taking their lives has reached epidemic proportions. In Washington, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army's second most senior officer, made it his personal mission to stem this epidemic. Here was a problem that was going to get sustained, four-star attention. Yet Finkel's characterization of the general's ensuing campaign illustrates the difficulty the Army faces in grappling with the problems of the 'after war' . . . Chiarelli retired in 2012, having come nowhere close to accomplishing his self-assigned mission. Credit him for wanting to do the right thing. But as Finkel makes abundantly clear, between intentions and outcomes a yawning gap exists."—Andrew J. Bacevich, professor at Boston University and author of Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country

"I'm urging everyone I know to give Thank You for Your Service just a few pages, a few minutes out of their busy lives. The families honored in this urgent, important book will take it from there."—Katherine Boo, National Book Award-winning author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers

"Thank You for Your Service is one of the best and truest books I have ever read. David Finkel cuts through all the spin, the excuses, the blowhard politics and mind-deadening metrics to discover the cost of war for the soldiers who fight it and the families they come home to. This extraordinary book will piss you off and break your heart. It will shame you and lift you up. It will bend your mind to the reality of an American war that is now well into its second decade." —Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, winner of the National Book Critics' Circle Award and finalist for the National Book Award

"Finkel delivers one of the most morally responsible works of journalism to emerge from the post 9/11 era. To call this moving rendering of the costs of war a continuation of the author's first book, The Good Soldiers, would be misleading. While Finkel does focus on the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion following their actions in Iraq, the breadth and depth of his portraits of the men and women scarred by the 21st century's conflicts are startling. In a series of interconnected stories, Finkel follows a handful of soldiers and their spouses through the painful, sometimes-fatal process of reintegration into American society. The author gives a cleareyed, frightening portrayal of precisely what it is like to suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury and what it is like to have the specter of suicide whispering into your ear every day. Finkel's emotional touchstone is Sgt. Adam Schumann, a genuine American hero who returned from Iraq without a physical scratch on him—but whose three tours of duty may have broken him for good. Schumann's condition, compounded by financial stress, drove a deep wedge between the wounded soldier and his wife, who has struggled to understand why her husband returned a changed man. Finkel also follows the widow of a soldier Schumann tried to save, an American Samoan vet whose TBI threatens to derail his life, and a suicidal comrade unable to overcome his condition, among others. Fighting on the front lines of this conflict are a compassionate case worker, a U.S. Army general who makes it his last mission to halt the waves of suicides, and the director of a transition center whose war should have ended long ago. The truly astonishing aspect of Finkel's work is that he remains completely absent from his reportage; he is still embedded. A real war story with a jarring but critical message for the American people."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Finkel stays with the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion, whom he shadowed in The Good Soldiers, who return home to Ft. Riley, Kansas. Plagued with a litany of physical and psychological wounds labeled with such deceptively benign acronyms as PTSD and TBI, these soldiers are still fighting the good fight every day. Only this time, the war takes place within themselves, on the streets of their hometown, in their homes, and in the personnel offices of every employer who can't give them, or won't let them keep, a job. The collateral damage, to use military jargon, is also significant: wives whose anger levels exceed their husbands'; widows unable to accept their fate, who go to unhealthy lengths to keep memories alive. Although the new 'war recovery' push in military healthcare has become a billion-dollar industry, military suicides have overtaken those by civilians for the first time in history. It is impossible not to be moved, outraged, and saddened by these stories, and Finkel's deeply personal brand of narrative journalism is both heart-breaking and gut-wrenching in its unflinching honesty. When it comes to caring for the nearly 500,000 mentally wounded veterans of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is a case of a mission most definitely not accomplished."—Carol Haggas, Booklist (starred review)

"[Finkel] spent a total of eight months embedded in eastern Iraq with the young infantrymen of the 2-16 as their battalion fought desperately to survive and to make Bush's troop surge a success. In 2009's The Good Soldiers (one of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of the Year), he chronicled their harrowing day-to-day experiences—as their trust in the Iraqi people eroded, their nerves and comrades were shot, and IED after IED exploded. In this incredibly moving sequel, Finkel reconnects with some of the men of the 2-16—now home on American soil—and brings their struggles powerfully to life. These soldiers have names and daughters and bad habits and hopes, and though they have left the war in Iraq, the Iraq War has not left them. Now the battle consists of readjusting to civilian and family life, and bearing the often unbearable weight of their demons. Some have physical injuries, and all suffer from crippling PTSD. And as if navigating their own mental and emotional labyrinths weren't enough of a challenge, they must also make sense of the Dickensian bureaucracy that is the Department of Veterans Affairs. Told in crisp, unsentimental prose and supplemented with excerpts from soldiers' diaries, medical reports, e-mails, and text messages, their stories give new meaning to the costs of service—and to giving thanks."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt


Two years later: Adam drops the baby.
The baby, who is four days old, is his son, and there is a moment as he is falling that this house he has come home to seems like the most peaceful place in the world. Outside is the cold...

Read the full excerpt



  • Thank You For Your Service - Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to an excerpt from the audio book edition of Thank You For Your Service.

  • The Leonard Lopate Show, Interview with David Finkel

    Soldiers at War and at Home



  • David Finkel

  • David Finkel is a journalist and author who since 2007 has been documenting the effects of war on the human psyche. His most recent book, the critically acclaimed Thank You For Your Service, chronicles the challenges faced by American soldiers and their families in war's aftermath. It is the recipient of the Carla Cohen Literary Prize for non-fiction and a finalist for the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award in non-fiction, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest, and the New York Public Library's Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. His previous book, The Good Soldiers, a bestselling account of a U.S. infantry battalion during the Iraq War "surge," won multiple awards and was named a top ten book of the year by the New York Times. An editor and writer for The Washington Post, Finkel has reported from Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe, and across the United States, and has covered wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Among his honors are a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 and a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant in 2012. He lives in the Washington, D.C. area.

  • David Finkel © Lucian Perkins
    David Finkel




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