Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital starts with a letter from the author, former Lieutenant Commander Heidi Kraft, to her twins, Brian and Megan. In it, Kraft explains why she had to leave her own children, then only fifteen months old, and go far away to “take care of someone else’s.” While intended for her children, the short letter also lets the reader know that this is going to be a different kind of war story. Given that this book is written by a former clinical psychologist sent to Iraq to tend to the mental health needs of the Marines on the front lines, this isn’t surprising.
That said, there is no mistaking that this story takes place in a combat zone. From camel spiders and mortar attacks to blackout conditions and grotesque injuries, the war is present on each page. By focusing largely on the impacts of that environment, namely the physical, mental, and emotional strains, Kraft brings a poignancy to the reality of war in a way that the adrenaline of a firefight scene can’t.
One of the most famous threads in this story, and one you may already be aware of, is the story of Cpl Jason Dunham. But, again, what you get is not Dunham’s history or his Medal of Honor winning heroism. Instead, you get a very gut-wrenching view of Dunham immediately after he is injured and the impact he had on those around him, including Kraft.
There are so many other incidents in this story that stand out, like the “Karen’s Boots” chapter, the young Marine on his third Purple Heart, and the crash of the storage unit that leads to the counselor becoming the counseled, to name just a few. One that keeps coming back to me, though, involves the reality of Mortuary Affairs. The surprise about how those individuals are chosen and what they experienced will, I’m sure, stick with you as well.
Not everything in a war zone is sad, though, and Kraft knows this. In addition to the sadness and the strain, she tells stories of friendship and humor, love and tedium and fun. And she does so with a vulnerability and an honesty that perhaps only an individual sent into the middle of death and destruction with a mission to heal can.
While I have liked most of the books I have reviewed for the blog, I have generally had no problem putting them down mid-story and picking them up later. Not so for Rule Number Two. I couldn’t put it down; I didn’t want to put it down. Truthfully, the only thing I didn’t like about the book was the font used in the letters from home section. And even I, picky person that I am, realize how minor (not to mention subjective) that complaint is.
You can find your copy of Rule Number Two at any of the usual places. When you pick it up, be sure to look at who the publisher is, as the author is donating 10% of all royalties from Little, Brown and Company versions of the book to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. You can find out more about the book and the author here.
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