From Baghdad, With Love Camille Mumm Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman with Melinda Roth Composition 117
The Lyons Press, 2006
Am I a gutless wimp?
Have I just embarrassed the entire US Marine Corps?
Do I care? (p. 97)
The first lines of this story grabs my attention right away and throws me into the middle of a military patrol where the Lava Dogs, the author’s unit, is questioning what kind of weapon is making the strange clicking noise. As they consider what horrible death they might face in the next seconds they find a puppy wandering around the war desolated city of Fallujah. Soon he gets the name Lava and is adopted by the unit, mainly Colonel Kopelman.
The problem with Lava is that not only are the Marines not allowed to keep pets, but Lava is a drain on the men’s resources. He eats their food, destroys equipment, and needs to be vaccinated. Lava is not the only focus of this book, which is set up in a diary like fashion, it also includes a lot of day-to-day activities of the the Lava Dogs and provides more background about the Iraq War. It always comes back to Lava though, and as the book progresses it is easy to get a sense for how Kopelman’s affection grows for him. Another interesting aspect that Kopelman points out it how the Marines change their demeanor when they are around Lava. The battle-hardened military men turn into baby-talking pushovers that let Lava destroy anything he wants for the simple fact that he is cute.
As the story progresses the problem of keeping Lava around gets more and more serious. Kopelman repeatedly recites General Order 1-A, the banning of pets or mascots for service members. Kopelman starts searching for ways to get Lava to the United States before one of the higher officers reprimands him and kills Lava. He takes to the internet to find that many service members have attempted to do this same thing. He starts to get his hopes up when he is contacted by Jon Van Zante, who offers to help get Lava out of Iraq. They next chapters are more about Kopelman’s time in Iraq, Lava’s antics, and the increasingly demanding process of getting Lava cleared to get out.
Eventually Lava is taken into the city of Baghdad by the journalist Anne Garrels. It is a challenge even to get in and out of Baghdad at this point, let alone with a whiny puppy. When she leaves with Lava Kopelman gets very anxious and is constantly checking his email to here back. When he hears about a series of attacks and casualties in the city he is more nervous. That’s where the quotation comes from; it’s Kopelman’s response to finally hearing back from Anne.
This story is incredibly vivid, everything comes to life and puts the reader right in the action. The emotions Kopelman tells about are raw and real. Up to this point in the book, there has yet to be a spot that lacks suspense. When I picked this book I kind of saw it coming, there are never books or movies, fictional or non about a service member and their dog that doesn’t pull at the audience's heartstrings. The quotation I used on the last page for this blog and ended it almost perfectly. It shows Kopelman’s loyalty as a person, as well as his affection for Lava.This book could appeal to almost any audience, there are a few parts that are a bit gruesome, the battle scene descriptions, so a really young crowd might not be the best. The language is easy to understand and not filled with a lot of technical military words like some other military nonfiction can get. I can’t wait to see where this book is going to go and hope in the end that Colonel Kopelman gets to come home to Lava safely.