/ Published February 26, 2014
In the Gray Area by Lt Col Seth Folsom, USMC, is an informative, insightful, and timely memoir of his experience as a military advisor to the Iraqi army in 2008. He references his personal journal to bluntly and candidly recount the numerous frustrations and occasional triumphs that a growing number of military members can relate to: trying to train members of a vastly different culture to function as a Western-style military.
The work has dark overtones as the advisors of Military Transition Team (MiTT) 0733, the “Outlanders,” struggled daily with their Iraqi counterparts. Folsom recalls the difficulties of dealing with the corruption and occasional incompetence of the newly reconstituted Iraqi army and its leadership in particular. As the Outlanders’ commander, he explores his personal fears and exasperation that the Iraqi military would never be able to operate without direct US support. The dark sense of humor that the Marines developed to cope with the situation is conveyed throughout the book and helps the reader understand what it is like to train members of a vastly different culture in the difficulties not only of fighting a war but also of training, equipping, and maintaining a military. In the end, Folsom asks difficult questions about whether his team’s and other MiTT teams’ sacrifices were worthwhile. He concludes that the answers may not be the ones the US military desires, but they provide an honest analysis of the situation from someone who was there.
This memoir does not break new ground in military history, but the author’s story offers a meaningful examination of a little-considered aspect of warfare. The number of military advisors is growing in every service, and—as with past conflicts—their stories are seldom told or understood by the general public or even history buffs. This work will appeal to anyone trying to understand the US military’s attempts to build competent forces in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. Anyone who has served as a military advisor or even worked with foreign forces will also appreciate Folsom’s work and chuckle at his team’s experiences and frustrations.
Perhaps the greatest praise for In the Gray Area comes from my recommendation that any Air Force or other military member preparing to deploy as a military advisor should read it. Although no two cultures or experiences will ever be the same, Folsom’s stories will help prepare someone for the myriad difficulties an advisor will encounter.
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."