The Guerrilla Factory – Book Review
Members of the military (past and present) are well acquainted with the war story motif. In very basic terms, it is a “there I was” moment in which a person describes an event in which that person took an active role or observed. There is certainly an art to writing the war story. Some who make the attempt struggle to convey their message and never really succeed in describing the moment. Others have the ability to make readers imagine they are literally there as events are unfolding.
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One who holds this captivating talent is Tony Schwalm. His abilities shine in his excellent book, The Guerrilla Factory: The Making of Special Forces Officers, The Green Berets. The book is part personal memoir and part insights into the Special Operations community, a combination readers will find as entertaining as it is informative.
The memoir portion of The Guerrilla Factory focuses on Schwalm’s twenty-year army career, a career that can be labeled “atypical.” He began his service as an armor officer and commanded a tank company during Desert Storm. After much soul-searching, he decided as a senior captain to apply for the Special Forces Qualification Course (he had graduated from the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course several years earlier). Schwalm graduated from this intense, physically and mentally demanding, six-month course and served as a Special Forces Officer for the rest of his career.
Schwalm’s book is organized into three essentially distinct parts. First, he discusses his army service prior to attending the Q-Force. The second and largest portion of the volume is a highly descriptive discussion of his attendance at the Q-Force. Finally, Schwalm addresses some of the assignments he was a part of as an Army Special Forces Officer. These included deployments to Haiti (Operation Uphold Democracy) and Trinidad and Tobago, his time spent as a commander at the Q-Course and his role in support of operations following September 11th.
Schwalm seamlessly blends these parts and their associated war stories through his impressive writing ability. His informal writing style, filled with humor, brutal honesty, and augmented with dashes of sarcasm throughout, is perfect for this book. It makes The Guerrilla Factory one of the more engaging books I have read in quite some time. It is certainly one of the books you don’t want to put down until complete.
Schwalm manages to educate his readers on many areas related to Special Operations and Army Special Forces, blending in teaching points throughout the book in a way readers will find easy to understand. Among the topics he addresses are the differences in conventional and unconventional mindsets, the various missions of Special Forces, and the distinction between units in Army Special Forces (commandos versus guerillas, as he terms them). I had not anticipated this discussion, but it certainly adds value to the book.
The Guerrilla Factory is one of those select works that will appeal to a wide array of readers. For those relatively uninitiated with the world of Special Forces, this will provide an excellent primer. For those military history readers who are seeking a book that is somewhat off the beaten path, this is a worthy selection. Finally, for those who simply enjoy a good war story, Tony Schwalm will demonstrate he has few peers.
About the Author:
Rick Baillergeon is a retired U.S. Army Infantry officer. Since his retirement, he has served as a faculty member at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is also co-author of the popular Armchair General Web series “Tactics 101.”