They are your neighbor and the person who delivers your mail. They teach your children and build your homes. Every day you see them but do not notice them, that is not until they are needed. Only when disasters strike, whether it be natural or man made do they become something quite different, something more than a fellow citizen. Throughout our nation's history they have been called many things; the militia, the home guard, the National Guard. But regardless of their title they have always been unique, something more than ordinary people. Their willingness to be both a good citizen in peace and a warrior when called upon make them soldiers.The nature of the mission, to man a security zone that separates the nation of Israel from the newly created Palestinian state present him and the Guardsmen of Company A with a unique set of problems few are able to predict. Together the professional officer and the citizen soldiers he leads must find a way to navigate their way toward an uncertain future in a troubled land. Part of that future involves dealing with those who are determined to use the arrival of the Americans to further their own political and personal goals. One of these men is Hammed Kamel, a microbiologist who seizes upon the introduction of American forces in a place some still call the Holy Lands as an opportunity to strike a telling blow against the two nations who have oppressed his people, the Palestinians for decades. Together with a crops of like minded men, Kamel sets in motion a train of events that places the citizen soldiers of Bedlow, Virginia and their community on the other side of the world in jeopardy. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
Coyle (More Than Courage) chills with a sometimes clumsily written but disturbingly plausible story about a Virginia National Guard unit facing the threat of biological weapons in a security zone between Israelis and a new Palestinian state. Coyle narrates from numerous perspectives, including that of Guard members--postmen, volunteer firefighters--from tiny Bedlow, Va., and the military officers commanding their unit. In the Middle East, Coyle also enters the minds of Syed Amama, a young Palestinian suicide bomber who miraculously survived a successful mission, and Hammed Kamel, a microbiologist determined to rid the new state of its American and Israeli scourge. Chapters about the American deployment are heartfelt but boilerplate, as husbands leave pregnant wives and Coyle describes in excessive detail the heroic patriotism of the military men and the complexities of the U.S. military situation. But a series of taut chapters in which the Americans come face to face with another suicide bomber raises the tension and the stakes, and the stirring climax describes a dangerous raid on Kamel's weapons lab after Amama manages to infect some of the guardsmen with a deadly biological agent. The revolving-character door may leave readers dizzy by the time they reach the climax, but for those who don't mind a heavy hand and a bit of excess patriotism, this is a solid read.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.
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February 28, 2005
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Excerpt from They Are Soldiers by Harold Coyle
For the Israeli soldiers belonging to Isaac Mofaz's squad, the drudgery and monotonous repetition that manning a checkpoint entailed often proved to be nothing short of maddening. It was far worse than normal guard duty. With the exception of casting a leery eye upon the odd character who lingered too long in close proximity to one's post, an armed sentinel standing watch had little to do. Checkpoints were a different matter all together. From the moment one assumed his tour until the next relief showed up, a soldier at a checkpoint had to be on his toes as he dealt with endless lines of impatient and sullen civilians anxious to get on with their daily chores.
The company to which Mofaz's squad belonged was responsible for a stretch of road in the West Bank that lay between an ancient Palestinian town and a refugee camp. In an effort to block the flow of arms and explosives between the two a wide antivehicle ditch had been dug right in the middle of the road forcing anyone who desired to go from one site to the other to do so on foot. While militarily sound, the obstacle came to be hated by both sides. To the residents of the refugee camp who relied upon the shops and marketplace in the town and the businessmen in the town who depended upon the cheap labor that came from the camp, the antivehicle ditch was more than an inconvenience. It was an open wound, another painful reminder that they were little more than victims of an age-old conflict that defied all logic and resolution. For the soldiers charged with manning the checkpoint at the footbridge that straddled the ditch, it meant dealing with people who made little effort to conceal their seething contempt and hatred for them.
Mofaz and the men in his squad had no sympathy for the Palestinians. To a man each and every one of them knew someone who had suffered the loss of a friend or family member to a terrorist attack. Mofaz himself was an uncle to a girl who had lost both legs before she was even old enough to walk on them. It was the memories of such horrors that spurred him and his squad to carry out their dreary and irksome duties with a greater degree of vigor and thoroughness than circumstances called for.
This routine never varied. Over time the faces of the people coming and going assumed a sameness that dulled the senses, made the long hours longer, and engendered an air of indifference within the Israelis when dealing with the Palestinians who had no choice but to endure whatever treatment the soldiers were in the mood to serve up. Civilian foot traffic coming from the refugee camp wishing to cross the bridge queued up along the road behind a white "call forward" line painted on the pavement thirty meters away from where the checkpoint was located at midspan. The actual checkpoint itself was a sandbag bunker. Standing a little over three meters high, it had assumed an air of permanence, just like the Israeli soldiers who occupied it. At the base of the bunker a trio of soldiers inspected all ID cards and searched every parcel, package, and bag carried by each and every Palestinian going from the refugee camp to the town.
The procedure was the same regardless of age or gender. While one Israeli soldier took the ID card being offered by the Palestinian and compared the photo on it to the face, a second patted the civilian down and riffled through any bags or packages they might be carrying. The third member of this party stood with his back against the sandbag wall of the bunker, cradling his weapon in his arms with the thumb of his right hand resting on the weapon's safety as he watched both his comrades and the Palestinian before them. Within the sandbag bunker two more members of the duty squad provided backup for the soldiers who were in continuous contact with the Palestinians. This was where Sergeant Isaac Mofaz normally stood his watch. When standing on the firing step within the bunker he could look out over the heads of his own men and see what was going on at the checkpoint as well as beyond the call forward line. If something happened, which never had during any of his tours of duty here, there was a radio within the emplacement that he could use to call for assistance that would come in the form of a platoon-sized ready reaction force located in a fortified compound little more than five kilometers away. Until that help arrived Mofaz's squad would be on its own.
This by no means meant that they were helpless. On the contrary, Mofaz's squad was armed to the teeth. In addition to their own individual weapons there was a 7.62 mm machine gun mounted on the parapet. From there it had a clear field of fire that swept an area well beyond the call forward line. At the foot of the bridge on the near side of the ditch facing the town was the squad's armored personnel carrier or APC. Like their comrades in the bunker on the bridge the driver and a junior NCO stood ready with their American built M-113 armored personnel carrier throughout the entire tour of duty watching over a second trio of soldiers as they checked IDs and searched packages of the Palestinians approaching the bridge from that direction. To provide covering fire for them the two soldiers manning the APC relied upon the M-2 Heavy Barrels .50-caliber machine gun mounted on their vehicle. In addition to laying down suppressive fire using a weapon capable of spewing out slugs measuring half an inch in width at a rate of up to 450 per minute, the crew of the M-113 also had to be ready to rush forward onto the narrow bridge itself if the situation really got out of hand and it proved necessary to retrieve their comrades.
Day in, day out, the Israelis were there, executing their assigned duties while bearing up as best they could under the blistering afternoon sun or bitter cold of night. Like the demeanor of the people passing back and forth over the bridge, their presence assumed an irritating sameness that was almost painful to endure. As noisome as these mindless and routine duties were for the Israeli soldiers who performed them, in the eyes of some they paled in comparison to what the people who had to pass through the checkpoint suffered. They were the ones who experienced the degradation of being hassled and harassed in this manner on a daily basis by soldiers as they tried to go about their business in the town or return to their homes in the refugee camp. Few of the residents of the camp had a refrigerator that could hold more than a day or two's perishables. This meant that someone in every family living there had to cross the bridge that separated them from the marketplace in the town almost on a daily basis. One very vocal resident compared the experience of living like this to trying to breathe with an Israeli boot planted squarely on their throats.
Heaped upon inconvenience was humiliation. To the Palestinians the checkpoint was more than another nuisance imposed upon them by a people they saw as an enemy. It was a physical reminder that they were little more than hostages within their own homeland. To them the soldiers were an alien presence in their midst, a harsh reminder that they had no control over their own lives or futures.
All of this contributed to the atmosphere that was both tense and volatile. The Israeli soldiers didn't want to be in the West Bank and the Palestinians didn't want them there. As so often happens when a situation such as this exists there were some who were eager to do more than simply bemoan their fate. And just as there always seemed to be men and women ready and willing to take action, there were those ready to provide them with the means of doing so.
One such man was Syed Amama. It hadn't taken much to convince the young Palestinian student to act. Like most of his young companions he could recite without hesitation a litany of grievances that had become little more than a fixture of the rhetoric that passed for political discourse between Muslims and Jews. He could lay out in detail the chronology of events that led to the current sad state of affairs and explain why all blame belonged to the Jews.
Just as the driving force behind the willingness of Mofaz and his men kept them at their duty, Syed's uncompromising hatred of the Jews sprang from the sort of truth that no one outside the region dared to admit. It was simply the way things were. Syed was a Palestinian. From birth he had been taught to hate the Jews. Throughout his childhood the notion that they were evil incarnate was hammered home to him and his compatriots every time the Israelis launched a foray into the Palestinian areas of the West Bank to bulldoze the homes of suspected terrorists. The lingering stench of death that freely mixed with the pungent odor of diesel fumes thrown off by Israeli tanks created a terrible resolve within Syed and others like him that could only be assuaged by the total eradication of his hereditary foe. Though his education had prepared him for entry into a university in Egypt, the circumstances of his people lured him to follow another path, one that promised to be a more violent, far less enlightened future, and incredibly short. Rather than becoming a teacher, a well-spring of knowledge, Syed had chosen martyrdom.
The path to this glorious end was easily found. In Syed's case, it led him to the doorstep of a shadowy organization known as the Palestinian Liberation Army. Like the al-Aqsa Brigade, Hezbollah, and Hamas, the PLA had but one goal: the destruction of Israel. And like its sister organizations, its main weapon was terror. The PLA cell or squad that Syed became a part of was made up entirely of impatient young men such as himself, Palestinians who saw themselves as patriots. To a man they believed they had both a political mandate and a sacred duty to use direct action to liberate their land and redress the wrongs that the Jews had visited upon their people. That this action might entail his own death as well as those of other Palestinians who did not share his ardent convictions did not matter to Syed. After suffering under the daily humiliations that the Israelis inflicted upon his people, Syed had come to view such a death as a form of liberation. "Is it not better," he queried friends and family alike without telling them of his secret life, "to live one day as a lion than one hundred years as a sheep?"
Convinced of the righteousness of his cause and his ability to view his assignment with the same cold analytical technique he used to solve math problems, the young Palestinian was surprisingly calm as he stood in the queue behind the call forward line. One by one he watched his fellow citizens advance when the Israeli inspecting the ID cards beckoned to them. Syed didn't feel any need to cast a leery eye behind him where a pair of his companions lay in wait with a Russian-made RPK-74 machine gun. Ironically this weapon was a relic of another ideological conflict that had once commanded the same unquestioning dedication to diametrically opposed views of the nature of things that the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict demanded of its participants. This cynical little twist was not lost on any of the half-dozen Palestinians who were part of this action. Syed had no trouble picturing the smiles on the faces of his two companions as they watched and waited to open fire with the gun they had named "Justice."
The idea that they might fail to strike a telling blow never entered Syed's mind. They were after all but half of the equation. On the opposite side of the footbridge was another trio of equally determined young Palestinians waiting to mimic every action Syed and the pair with the machine gun were about to play out. Though he hoped that he would have the privilege of striking first, it did not matter. In the end the results would be the same. Israelis would die, Palestinians would be revenged, and the teachings of the Koran would be met.
One by one the people waiting made their way to the sandbag bunker where the Israelis stood, doing little to hide their boredom as they checked ID cards and searched bundles. It wasn't until there were but two people left between Syed and the Israeli that he began to brace himself for the attack. It had been decided that his companions manning the machine gun would break their concealment and open fire when there was still one person between Syed and the call forward line. The response of the unsuspecting and wholly innocent person in front of Syed would be a natural reaction to the sudden mayhem that would break out as soon as gunfire erupted. This, it was hoped, would draw any attention away from the foot traffic as the Israelis scattered in search of cover and sized up the situation before they began to exchange fire with the Palestinian machine-gun emplacement. If nothing else, the unwilling Palestinian would provide Syed with a shield that he could hide behind as he prepared to dash forward with his bundle of explosives.