84 pages • 2 hours read
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Sunrise Over Fallujah is a Young Adult novel by award-winning author Walter Dean Myers. The novel details the experiences of an eighteen-year-old man from Harlem, Robin “Birdy” Perry, who enlists in the U.S. Army and is stationed in Iraq during the early stages of the Iraq War in 2003. The narrative delves into Birdy’s reasoning behind joining, his experiences while serving, and his post-deployment views on his initial reasons for joining and his previous speculations about war.
Throughout the story, Birdy writes letters to his Uncle Richie who happened to serve in the Vietnam War when he was around Birdy’s age. As Birdy explains to Uncle Richie in the first of these letters, his reasoning behind joining the army was that, after experiencing 9/11 as a teenager, he felt completely helpless. Birdy wanted to do something useful to help his country and to feel that he was making a difference in people’s lives. And so Birdy joined the army against his father’s wishes and after training, finds himself stationed in Iraq. Birdy is assigned to the Civil Affairs unit, the unit responsible for interfacing with the civilian population and acting as mediators between the army and the Iraqi people. The Civil Affairs unit is instrumental in carrying out the fourth and final phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the goal of which is rebuild Iraq and install a democracy by winning the hearts and minds of noncombatants.
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Birdy’s unit engages with the local population on a number of missions that are aimed at placing a human face on the Iraq war. For instance, when civilians have been injured or killed, or when negotiations between the army and tribal leaders are needed, Birdy’s unit is called upon to assist and/or escort officers from other units—such as the PSYOP teams that works on figuring out what the enemy is thinking—with gathering information, transporting supplies and prisoners or keeping the peace. For some soldiers in his unit, however, it sometimes seems that the Civil Affairs unit is simply called upon to clean up the messes that the army infantry makes.
Though it was rumored that the unit wouldn’t be involved in combat situations, Birdy soon finds himself in a number of hot zones and life-threatening situations. Afraid of the death that he sees all around him and psychologically weary of combat Birdy and his unit still feel that, even though they’re not in the infantry or out on the front lines, they are indeed making a difference in the war. Making a difference, after all, is why Birdy decided to join the army.
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As Birdy’s unit proves that it’s effective and essential to the army and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the unit is given more and more missions that place the unit increasingly at risk. One such mission is to assist Special Operations (Special Ops) forces in securing detonators for deadly improvised explosive devices, or IEDS that kill American and Coalition forces daily. Given the people skills of the Civil Affairs unit, Birdy’s squad is picked to help with the negotiations.
The squad is ambushed just after finishing the mission, and Birdy experiences a set of heartbreaking losses. These losses, including an injury he sustains from the ambush, lead Birdy to question the very reasons he decided to join the army. More importantly, perhaps, these losses cause Birdy to question the reasons behind the fighting—what gains, if any, are being made from the endless death and destruction. He also questions where God could possibly be hiding with all of death and misery taking place and whether or not he will be able to cope with what he has seen and experienced in Iraq when he returns to America.
By Walter Dean Myers