Author(s): Dick Couch
Published by Three Rivers Press on 01/01/2007
Genres: General Military History, History, Military History
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An unprecedented view of Green Beret training, drawn from the year Dick Couch spent at Special Forces training facilities with the Army’s most elite soldiers.
In combating terror, America can no longer depend on its conventional military superiority and the use of sophisticated technology. More than ever, we need men like those of the Army Special Forces–the legendary Green Berets.
Following the experiences of one class of soldiers as they endure this physically and mentally exhausting ordeal, Couch spells out in fascinating detail the demanding selection process and grueling field exercises, the high-level technical training and intensive language courses, and the simulated battle problems that test everything from how well SF candidates gather operational intelligence to their skills at negotiating with volatile, often hostile, local leaders. Chosen Soldierpaints a vivid portrait of an elite group, and a process that forges America’s smartest, most versatile, and most valuable fighting force.
Review by Travis Starnes
While I usually read more conflict oriented military history focusing on particular wars there is an interesting sub-genre that focuses on the building and structure of the military. Books in this sub-genre are more history and cultural study hybrid that true history. For me Chosen Soldier is one of the highlights of the genre.
This book takes that sub-genre and makes it even more focused, and is all the better because of that. Dick Couch’s choice, with the exception of the first chapter, of focusing solely on the training of Green Berets rather than on the whole history of the outfit as a whole really lets him go into details that broader texts miss.
As a former SEAL Couch defiantly knows about Special Forces and is able to translate that into really detailed and clear explanation of what these men go through. He gives enough background detail of the people he is interacting with to be interesting without giving us page after page of soldiers that come and go through the training, a trap some history books fall into. This focus on the training with a brief overview of the men involved is more important when discussing Special Forces as so many men fall out of the training. Couch gives a good amount of anecdotal details about the candidates to make you feel connected to them without having to go into great detail about each man.
Couch does give the reader clear rundowns of conversations men had amongst each other and with him, but only the parts that are applicable to the section of training he is focused on in that chapter. While we meet many of the soldiers in training the only character that totally explored is the training itself.
The pace of the book is also noteworthy. A poorly written history book can be a little tough to read. Having to record so much information and so many facts can leave a book a little dry if the author does not have the ability to keep an interesting narrative going throughout. Couch has mastered this narrative version of history writing and Chosen Soldier has a very easy to read flow.
The readability of the book is further helped by the decisions Couch made in structuring the book. We get each step of training and the various specialties without the Special Forces broken out into individual sections to allow a narrow focus while you read.
A particularly interesting part of the book is the final section where he describes the events of Robin Sage, the Special Forces final mock field action to test candidate’s readiness before they leave training. The depth to which the training cadre goes to for the soldiers is pretty amazing and I was impressed with every step of the final lesson.
There are a few problems with Couch’s writing however. Because he has broken the specialist training into its own sections there are times when he goes into detail about the same event nearly verbatim in multiple chapters. This doesn’t happen to often but when it does it can be distracting. He also seems to have lost some objectivity when writing this book. He is himself a character in his own books and recounts his side of interactions with soldiers as much as their interactions among each other. Doing this a few times might have its charms but he pushes this a little too far and his imposing himself in the story happens a little too much for my liking.
None of this detracts from the book. Chosen Soldier is a well-paced, informative read that anyone with interest in the military should pick up.