Growing Up in the Forever War


By Jerad W. Alexander

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“Riveting and morally complex, Volunteers is not only an insider’s account of war. It takes you inside the increasingly closed culture that creates our warriors.” Elliot Ackerman, author of the National Book Award finalist Dark at the Crossing

As a child, Jerad Alexander lay in bed listening to the fighter jets take off outside his window and was desperate to be airborne. As a teenager at an American base in Japan, he immersed himself in war games, war movies, and pulpy novels about Vietnam. Obsessed with all things military, he grew up playing with guns, joined the Civil Air Patrol for the uniform, and reveled in the closed and safe life “inside the castle,” within the embrace of the armed forces, the only world he knew or could imagine. Most of all, he dreamed of enlisting—like his mother, father, stepfather, and grandfather before him—and playing his part in the Great American War Story.

He joined the US Marines straight out of high school, eager for action. Once in Iraq, however, he came to realize he was fighting a lost cause, enmeshed in the ongoing War on Terror that was really just a fruitless display of American might. The myths of war, the stories of violence and masculinity and heroism, the legacy of his family—everything Alexander had planned his life around—was a mirage.

Alternating scenes from childhood with skirmishes in the Iraqi desert, this original, searing, and propulsive memoir introduces a powerful new voice in the literature of war. Jerad W. Alexander—not some elite warrior, but a simple volunteer—delivers a passionate and timely reckoning with the troubled and cyclical truths of the American war machine.



Little I'd ever teach a son, but hitting,
Shooting, war, hunting, all the arts of hurting.
Well, that's what I learnt,—that, and making money.

—Wilfred Owen, "A Terre"

OSCAR MIKE! The Marines are on the move! We are the Devil Dogs, the Leathernecks, the Shock Troops, and the Hard Chargers—all born-to-kill members of the Suck, the Green Weenie, the Rod & Gun Club, the Hard Corps, Our Corps, the United States Marine Corps. We are modern-era Visigoths with a bigger budget and better armor—Vikings of the Western world complete with healthcare and heavy artillery. The Marine Corps is like a high school gym class, with guns, and we flash down the highway in western Iraq like a full-court press, rumbling with the menace of our V8 diesels in a long, roaring column of dusty armor spiked with machine guns and automatic grenade launchers, littered with radios, hunting knives, and cans of high-octane energy drinks. Crosses dangle from our necks and the nylon bands that wrap our helmets have been marked with our blood types—A+, O+, AB+— in permanent black ink, like sigils for the apothecaries. Snuff and cigarettes sit in our pockets like manna.

We can run a hard line back to Seattle and San Diego, the Bronx, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, all the rotting hamlets in central Oklahoma and Nebraska and the Deep South. We've earned GEDs and public school diplomas; we've pulled prison time in underfed community colleges and worked off lazy academic hangovers in bloated party schools. We went to class and sat bored through canned lessons on the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny. We waved the flag. We pledged our allegiance and so here we are. Maybe we loved you once. We are your friends, your brothers, and your sons. We are your fathers and your uncles. We are your husbands and ex-lovers and cheap one-night stands. We hate the Marine Corps, though sometimes we love it too. Oorah!

A large water tower dominates the wasteland like the fat king of a trash-hewn kingdom. It is the last day of summer and the lieutenant orders the column of seven Humvees into a laager behind a long berm south of a dusty town tucked into a bend of the Euphrates. We stop and open the Humvee doors. Flies emerge from the dirt beneath us and weave through our cigarette smoke. Rumors breathe into our binoculars and into our thoughts from beyond the berm—tales of fundamentalism, of stonings and beatings and martyrdom, the fodder of cable news, everything that has become the image of our enemy. I know as I sit here that soon we will have to go into all the towns and cities that carpet the banks of the river like moss and fight and kill all the things that scare us and anger us to make it safe for you thousands of miles away. Better over there than on Main Street, someone has said, and so here we are. And I am here, too, in 2005, a US Marine. I have come to Iraq like we all have come: on the back of a million war stories of the past American century, carried forward on the promise of vengeance and the belief in our own exceptionalism. We are Marines and we are Americans and our mythology is the sun we orbit. Oorah!

I sit and wait in the heat of the afternoon and listen to the radio pop with interrogatives and updates and situation reports from other units waiting for the war. Our objective is to fight. The lieutenant has been ordered by Rebel Six, our leader, to bring his platoon of Humvees and machine guns, and men with dreams of sex and college and home, to this berm and wait for the enemy to shoot at us so we can shoot back.

Big trucks loaded with furniture flee south down the nearby highway and east toward the big urban areas of Fallujah and Ramadi and Baghdad and Beyond. Orange-and-white taxis and crumbling import sedans course away steadily, helmed by nervous drivers with graven faces. Their wives ignore us; children fog the windows as they press their noses to the glass.

The driver of our Humvee, a corporal from Florida named Taylor, counts the dead on the fly strip he has hung from the turret. He taunts them like an avatar of middle school posturing—"No, you're dead. It's over." The machine-gun turret clicks as the gunner, an ex–college football player named Kozlowski, shifts his weight from one boot to the next and back again. His big black machine gun is clean and ready with a long belt of brass shells and bullets tipped with green paint and joined together with black links. The radioman, a new guy named Watson, ruminates with a wad of Copenhagen behind his lip. He listens to the handsets and stares into a daydream, with his helmet propping the door and his boot dangling from the cabin. After a while, the lieutenant, a big man with a red face wrapped with sunglasses like a state policeman, saunters off across the wasteland to another vehicle like a jolly hulk of government-sanctioned malevolence. The radioman sits in the lieutenant's seat and I sit in the radioman's seat to get out of the sun that beams into my side of the truck.

The presence of American military power around me is indomitable and impressive. I can feel it shouldering itself with the heavy weight of its own history, showcasing its muscularity. There are two and a half centuries of war-fighting experience packed into the space between the satellites in orbit and the soles of my boots as they cushion my feet against the hard floor of the truck. My armored vest is the most recent iteration of the flak jacket that saw its first American use in the skies above Japan and Germany and then while fighting communists in Korea. The Kevlar helmet that mashes the hair on my head and keeps shrapnel and even small-caliber bullets from puncturing my skull is the modern progression of the Stahlhelm worn by German stormtroopers during World War I and the M1 helmet worn by GIs during World War II. The Humvee is an extension of the World War II Willys MB, which once ferried commanders and troops in small numbers. The amphibious assault vehicles that will transport us into cities are the great-grandchild of the amphibious tractors that landed Marines on the black beaches of Iwo Jima. Every Marine helicopter that flits overhead is the direct descendant of the birds that choppered troops into and ferried mangled casualties away from the jungles and rice paddies throughout South Vietnam. There are even obscure apocrypha that suggest some of the older transport helicopters still have patches covering forty-year-old bullet holes left by the Viet Cong. Everywhere I look there are artifacts of the vast American empire generating its own hubris. "We're the best gunslingers on the planet," goes the general vibe. "Look how big we are. Look how strong we are. Look at alllll this firepower. Shoot at it, shoot at us. We dare you."

And so they do. It has never ceased.

The speakers in the minarets deep inside the town begin to crackle. A muezzin breathes through the static the first ghostly hums of the adhan with a soulful "allahu akbar." He transitions into the late-afternoon salat while other muezzins in the small villages across the river pick up their own calls to prayer. Soon the length of the Euphrates is full of haunting echoes, from here to the Syrian border and certainly beyond. The calls to prayer last a few minutes. Then they finish and leave us with the flies and the hard clicks of the turret and the fleeing caravan. The radios chirp with quiet missives back to Headquarters. I sit in the Humvee and feel alone, the unwanted guest from a crumbling empire.

A hollow metallic thunk sounds out in the distance. Did I hear it? Maybe not. But Taylor and Kozlowski stiffen, tense, as if plugged into a low-grade current.

"You hear that?" Taylor asks.

The air flutters.

The first mortar round strikes with a roar. The wasteland becomes a kaleidoscope of milliseconds that shoves the outside world into the periphery. Everything is now. Kozlowski drops into the turret and sits on the gunner's strap. Taylor curses. Watson simply shuts his door, as if closing it against some unneighborly annoyance. Another round strikes, its sound erupting from beneath the ground in a flash of thick smoke and dust. Its concussion rolls through my chest, a sensation that is both remarkable and terrifying. How long have I wondered what that feels like? As I begin to close the door, I notice the lieutenant sprinting across the dirt.

"Get to the other side!"

I clamber out of the Humvee as the lieutenant reaches the door. I sprint around the tailgate. My armored vest flops wide open. WHOOOOM—another round roars and rattles my teeth. I begin to giggle. I climb into the Humvee and slam the door. Over the radio, the lieutenant orders his platoon to move out.

A wretched feeling passes through me. What if a shell lands on us? Right through the turret? A single mortar round that flies from the tube with a hard metallic pop, one that arcs high and fast and lucky? What if it comes down like a hole-in-one shot? All that rubber and plastic and bulletproof glass and electronics, all that flesh and blood, my flesh and blood and dreams, eviscerated and plastered across the inside of the Humvee like a wartime Jackson Pollock horror. I want to scream, "Move this thing!" But I don't. I am a US Marine. I am too scared.

The platoon folds into a column as the sun drops to the western hills. The dirt takes on an ashen quality, but the sky ignites with fiery orange hues.

The mortar rounds drift away as we trundle toward the shadow of the big water tower, but they are replaced with something else. I hear it over the rumbling engine—a crackling menace, a string of fast pops. Someone is shooting at us. Their bullets pass overhead. Now I know what that feels like too.

"That came from the water tower," the lieutenant says. He orders the column to circle. He orders us to fire with a tuned rage.

"Pepper the shit out of it."

The platoon hesitates at first. The gunners have done this before, but not at people. The first shot gives permission for a second, then a third, fourth, a fifth, all rolling and growing until booms and bangs rattle over the top of one another. There is no lull in the firing and each gun sounds out with its own unique pitch. The SAWs clatter like drum rolls. The M240s thump like Toms. The big .50-calibers hammer out thumb-sized nightmares with hearty bass drum crashes. Each trigger pull is timed to a silent terrible phrase taught to prevent the barrels from overheating: "Die, motherfucker. Die!" The bursts are synchronized with the gun next to it so that there are no gaps between them. Together they roar with an orchestral harmony.

Kozlowski fires long, fine strings. The bursts rip down the barrel and into the smoke and dust that has erupted around the base of the water tower. Brass casings and black links rain down from the guts of the machine gun, clattering onto the metal floor around the gunner's feet. The smoke from burnt propellant drifts into the cabin. The deep red of the sun's last light glows through the smudged windshield. It mixes with the smoke and turns the inside of our Humvee into a death-metal tomb. The little demons on our shoulder whisper to us through the clatter of the machine gun and we bellow our love of death and battle, the chemicals running through us, the hell of this place, and the culmination of our collective want, our desire, to be here, to see this, to stamp this inside us: this moment we see battle for the first time on the last day of summer. So go back to your classrooms and your shit jobs. Go pick up the mouth breathers from day care. Go back to your squabbles and bickering and petty tantrums. Go pick up your fast-food dinners and watch your reality TV. We'll be here, doing this, doing this weird little savagery called war. We are no longer a part of your world. Perhaps we never were. Listen to the machine guns. Listen to them kill. Listen to the howls of our battlefield climax as we scream "Get some!" like every war-movie cliché we've ever heard.

I light a cigarette and pass up cans of ammunition. With the smoke and the cigarette and the red haze and the harsh noise of the machine guns, I am the picture of every GI my childhood eyes have ever seen.

The lieutenant orders all the guns to cease. Maybe we have won. Maybe not. We have no tally. Nevertheless, the party ends and the mood inside the Humvee deflates. Most of the guns stop within seconds, but like the last kid out of the pool, one petulant gunner rattles off an extra burst.

After a moment, the lieutenant orders the column to circle back onto the road and head south a few hundred meters before turning off onto a small piece of high ground and circling into another laager. Night comes. He calls the battalion mortars to drop flares, and within a few minutes great balls of magnesium fire drift above the water tower, casting it in sickly orange light. He learns from headquarters that a big flying gunship is on its way to pound the town with its cannons—the price for its sins. We stand in the darkness and retell the story of the battle like kids recounting the scenes from their favorite action movies, only today we are the stars. Someone says we've earned our Combat Action Ribbons today and we beam.

The lieutenant walks off by himself out on a knoll and watches the flares leave their long, wispy trails of smoke over the tower. I walk up beside him.

"I'll tell you something, Sergeant Alexander," he says softly, "but don't tell anyone." In the sky above, the first throb of the big gunships' four engines sound out over the wide desert. Soon high-explosive shells the size of footballs will fry the streets.

"I love this shit," he says. "I really do." We watch the flares.

That night, I stand guard in the turret of the Humvee. Taylor, Kozlowski, and Watson pull out poncho liners and tuck into a shallow depression next to the truck. The lieutenant dozes in his seat inside the cabin. I rest against the black machine gun with my face coated in dried sweat and smoke. The radio handsets hiss with soft static and quiet interrogatives. The gunship drones in the starlit sky above. It cracks off shells with deep thumps that erupt with showers of metal and sparks in broad arcs.

I light a cigarette and feel the dirt in my boots and under my fingernails. I exhale and watch the night and feel like the luckiest man on the planet and that nothing after can ever feel the same. The shells from American airpower, the kingbolt of my history, blast the earth behind the low hills. Their sparks and shrapnel glitter in a fine, wide plume. Just look at them. Ooo-fucking-rah!


I remember the sound of fighter jets idling in the cool Utah morning before sunrise. I was only six, but when I think about them now, a room filled with details of that era opens, which I can recall with a strange clarity—the echoing rattle of my stepdad's Harley Sportster coming down the hot street in the afternoon or Black Sabbath playing from the tall cabinet speakers in the living room on the Fourth of July. But there are gray areas at the edges, too, like old photos in last-century library books, the memories tied together by episodes and sidebars—all flawed and based on feeling. Love is a feeling I remember. Love and awe. A love of war stories and soldiers, of fighter jets and machine guns and uniforms, a love of history and fantasy. A love of America. A love and awe of flawed and dangerous things.

I remember that the whistling jet turbines on the far end of the flight line had awoken me again. I could hear them through the walls of our quadplex between Valiant and Magnolia Streets. The air force called our neighborhood Area C, but sometimes my mom and stepdad and all our neighbors would call it Afterburner Alley. They said it with mild pride. They also said it with an eye roll.

At idle, the F-16 Fighting Falcon blew a harsh, gassy note, a cross between a hiss and a sharp whistle. Its idle was so loud I could hear it while I played on the jungle gym during first-grade recess at the elementary school three miles away. Sometimes I could hear it even farther in the distance, as if it were propelled by some jet-fueled wind. After the Fighting Falcons took off, pictures on the walls needed to be straightened. The sound of fighter jets was the background racket in our house throughout nearly my entire childhood. There were many mornings, mornings like this one, when I was awakened by a dozen jets taking off, one after the next or in pairs, producing a roar so thick I buried my head under the pillow and cursed the stupid US Air Force and its stupid fighter jets.

This morning, I decided to try to watch them.

I had tried before and failed. The apartment in the quadplex where we lived was built sometime after World War II. I had moved carelessly before, and the tired planks of the hardwood floor had creaked under my feet. Then I'd heard the door to my parents' bedroom open and managed to dart under the covers just in time for my door to open with the hazy visage of my mom's or stepdad's face aiming at me. They were light sleepers. "Get your butt back in bed," they'd say.

I learned the trouble spots in the floor after being discovered a time or two. The trick was to push against the floor just enough to make the wood bend without complaining and move to the next spot only once the wood beneath me felt comfortable. I slid from beneath the covers and sat up slowly. I pressed one bare foot onto the floor. Not a sound. I pressed the next foot.

After a few minutes, I reached my large bedroom window and stared between the slats of the white blinds. On the far side of the playground and beyond the double layer of chain-link fence, soft blue lights edged the concrete flight line like gemstones lit from the inside by ancient starlight. Aircraft hangars and maintenance buildings glowed with yellow bulbs on the far side. A work truck flitted between them on some lonely predawn business. I knew that soon the sun would crest the tall ridges behind me and cast the airfield in a cool, arid blue, but before that, the jet fighters would roar into the sky.

I couldn't see them when it began. Afterburner Alley sat on the south end of the two-and-a-half-mile-long runway, less than a thousand feet from where the jets took off and landed every day. I already knew they almost always taxied to the north end of the runway from their ramp positions near the center of the base.

After a moment, the first pilot pressed his throttle forward and the air roared as the turbine came to life with a rage of noise. The window glass began to rattle lightly.

The first Falcon didn't come into view until it was just lifting from the flight line, about midway. Its landing gear was retracting into its guts, the curved doors closing behind them. The long blue-and-white vortex of the afterburner flame marked its momentum as the floor quivered beneath my bare feet and the windowsill trembled under my fingers. The sound reverbed inside me. I jammed my fingers into my ears, but I watched anyway.

Look at it! Look at the way it knifes through the sky, the way it moves as if gravity means nothing, as if its power is bigger than Earth and the physics that bind us to it. The rising sunlight sparkled against the Falcon's polished canopy. Its satin gray two-tone paint punctuated the smooth, aggressive curves of its nose and upper fuselage. The hard angles of its wings and tail breathed the fine precision of its intractable mathematics. Watching it fly was the guitar solo of some rock-'n'-roll power ballad my stepdad blasted on his stereo—a flagrant totem of sex, youth, masculinity, and general righteous power, the hubris of a Cold War eighties America mixed with the tuned ghosts of old World War II glories. Look at it! Look how grown up it is!

My bedroom door opened behind me. It was too late to dart into bed. My stepdad stood in the doorway. I don't know if it was me or the fighter jets that had awoken him. It didn't matter.

"Get your butt back in bed," he said.

I was six years old. By the time the Falcons finished taking off, my ears rang. I didn't mind so much anymore.

•  •  •

The air base sat on a plateau wedged between Interstates 15 and 84, with the city of Ogden to the north and the communities of Clearfield, Riverdale, Roy, Sunset, and Layton lining its western border. Farther west, out past the Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island: a desert wasteland. The mountains of the Wasatch Range loomed to the east. When the new Fighting Falcons landed in the fall of 1980, the valley up to near the mountaintops was cascaded in brilliant golden hues of autumn and marked by the twin golf-ball-like radar domes perched on Francis Peak. Soon after, the mountains would be buried under blankets of thick snow that reached to the lake. While the main part of the base and the airfield were flat, much of the landscape around the military neighborhoods had been terraced out of the hillside. I always assumed the air base had been named for the mountains and the slopes instead of a long-dead test pilot. No one really called it by its official name: Hill Air Force Base. Everyone just called it Hill and we treated it like an American castle. Inside it, my stepdad fixed the Fighting Falcons when they were broken.

His name was Alan and he was tall and lean with a trim mustache. He wore jeans, sometimes with a big belt buckle and Harley-Davidson T-shirts. He owned a Harley Sportster and a long-barreled .44 Magnum revolver, similar to what Clint Eastwood had in the Dirty Harry films he loved, and he carried a folding knife in his pocket. He was from a mobile home up a dirt road in north Georgia and his dad was an air force veteran, first of the China-Burma-India Campaign of World War II and then Vietnam. Alan was in the air force, too, a noncommissioned officer, a career man. He rocked out to Ozzy and Boston and Van Halen and Hank Williams Jr. on the big Pioneer stereo he had bought while stationed in Okinawa. He drove a green-and-white Ford truck with a V8 motor. He was gruff but liked cats, kind and playful but hated lying and when people chewed with their mouths open.

Alan was capable of generating laughter so deep my face and stomach would be sore for hours. He was a prankster who would poke out a finger and say, "Pull it," and when I did, he'd fart. Sometimes on weekends, if he woke first, he'd move one of the large Pioneer cabinet speakers outside my bedroom. Then he would quietly open the door and press play on the stereo and ignite my Saturday morning with the hard reverb of Metallica's "Master of Puppets" at eighty decibels. One morning, I awoke to him vacuuming my room. After I refused to move, he lifted the big iron Kirby from the floor and held it a foot above my head until I was properly awake. During the snowy winters, he parked his cold-averse Harley in the back of the dining room and we'd wake up to the revving motor while he let the exhaust blow out of the sliding back door.

He loved that Harley and therefore so did I. It had chrome pipes and a black gas tank with sportster written in burgundy down the side. He'd tuck a wad of Copenhagen behind his lip before heading out to wash his bike; the back pocket of his jeans was worn out in a small circle where the can pressed against the denim. He snapped, "Why do you like candy?" when I asked him why he used it. One afternoon, I asked him about it again. Sick of my pestering, he pulled out the can, opened the shiny lid, and offered me a small pinch. "Put it behind your lip," he said. I did as he said, but the bitter tobacco exploded across my mouth, and instead of spitting it out, I swallowed. The nicotine roared through me and I was nauseated and dizzy for hours, lying on the cold edge of the curb of the nearby parking lot while he finished washing his motorcycle.

He loved my mother dearly too. Once, not long after I met him, my mother, who was also in the air force, deployed to Norway for a few weeks of training. One night, he stood in the living room and listened to his stereo with a Budweiser in hand. At one point, he howled with some inner torment and I ran into my bedroom to hide. He came in after me and hovered over me as I lay on my bed. I could see his red face above me and I could see he was in tears. He was young and in love and he missed his wife. The next morning, when it was time for him to go to work, he sat me on the backseat of his Harley and told me to hold on tight. He cranked the loud, clattering motor, and with my small hands clinging to his olive-drab uniform, he roared down the dark road and delivered me the short distance to the day care center where I'd spend the day until he got off work and picked me up. I thought he was the coolest person in the world, and when he said, "I love you, son," I'd reply, "I love you, Dad," and when I did, I meant it.

Alan's Harley tolled the end of the workday. He'd pull into the carport and kill the motor and come into the house hero tall, dressed in camouflage utilities heavily starched, pressed, and preened with cuticle scissors until all the seams and buttons were free of any little threads that might have come loose. His boots were hard black with a semigloss shine, and if it was warm, his sleeves were precisely folded under his four dark blue staff sergeant stripes. After he kissed my mother, he hauled back to the bedroom and changed into a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, then lowered his frame into the brown La-Z-Boy in the living room. He let the leg rest jerk his bare feet into the air and he drank a beer while my younger sister played on the living room floor. I sat nearby, either on the couch or on the lounger across from the recliner and tried not to bother him. He wanted to unplug in front of the television for a while after a long workday. But it was tough sometimes for me. He worked around the thing I loved. He answered my silly questions as best as he could with the bored tenor of a worker who is too close to the thing that amazes outsiders, especially a boy.

Boys generally aspire to follow the men who fill the role of father, at least to a point. His job, and the job of most of his friends, was to repair and maintain the electronic heads-up display that allows pilots to track their altitude and speed, their heading, the angle of the aircraft, and other data while keeping their eyes on target. It was a job he performed with simple pragmatic professionalism, without passion or interest. Growing up, it seemed strange, sometimes unfathomable to me, that he never took an interest in these things. Passion is often supplanted by the monotony of routine. Maintaining war machines is typically a nine-to-five day job at its core. But like firetrucks and footballs for other kids, and aside from my Star Trek and Star Wars toys, fighter jets quickly became a supposed future that slow-burned in my imagination.


  • “Riveting and morally complex, Volunteers is not only an insider’s account of war. It takes you inside the increasingly closed culture that creates our warriors. In the case of Jerad W. Alexander, that culture has also created a writer of remarkable talent.”
    Elliot Ackerman, author of the National Book Award finalist Dark at the Crossing

    “A beautiful and powerfully affecting portrait of a boyhood in a military family, in which contrasting and ever more complex views of America, of war, and of what it means to be a soldier lead to the decision to join the military and serve in Iraq. In that way, it’s also a portrait of the stories we tell ourselves, and how those stories fare when our children grow up and try to live them.” 
    Phil Klay, author of Redeployment (winner of the National Book Award) and Missionaries

    “With this work, Jerad W. Alexander has staked his claim as one of the most necessary voices while contributing to a necessary and overdue examination of our military culture and what it means to be an American. An absolute triumph.”
    Jared Yates Sexton, author of American Rule: How a Nation Conquered the World but Failed Its People 

    “Alexander offers a well-attuned perspective of the military world and how its expansive influence not only motivates, but also arouses a justification for war itself . . . Alexander’s insights into the myth-building ethos of the military . . . are well articulated, and he ably explores ideals of masculinity, heroism, and camaraderie within the military establishment . . . Alexander vividly captures the foreboding atmosphere of a country under siege and recounts the disturbing incidents he witnessed during his seven-month deployment . . . An absorbing memoir reflecting the realities of serving in the modern-day military.”
    Kirkus Reviews 

    “What sets apart Volunteers from other literary treatments of modern conflict is that it understands war is not a destination but a state of being. 'The war is everywhere,' Jerad W. Alexander writes in this beautiful, dark chronicle of an American life and lineage shaped by empire. This testament to moral and physical courage deserves all the accolades about to come its way and more. Volunteers is exceptional.”
    Matt Gallagher, author of Youngblood and Empire City 

    “A reckoning of American identity, masculinity, and exceptionalism that dissects the U.S. military ethos, while capturing the popular culture that shaped a generation of service members. An eloquent and compelling memoir, written in the language of candor, humor, and grim realism.”
    Dewaine Farria, author of Revolutions of All Colors

    Volunteers is a compelling twofer. In it, Jerad Alexander recounts his coming of age in an environment that glamorized war and his own subsequent encounter with the singularly unglamorous reality of combat. Vivid, intimate, and moving, Volunteers belongs on the very top shelf of ‘forever war’ memoirs.” 
    Andrew Bacevich, author of After the Apocalypse: America's Role in a World Transformed

On Sale
Nov 9, 2021
Page Count
320 pages
Algonquin Books

Jerad W. Alexander

About the Author

Jerad W. Alexander has written for Esquire, Rolling Stone, The Nation, Narratively, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA in Literary Reportage from the New York University Arthur L. Carter School of Journalism. From 1998 to 2006, he served as a U.S. Marine, deploying to the Mediterranean, East Africa, and Iraq. He grew up on military bases, from the east coast of the United States to Japan. He currently lives in New York City, but calls Atlanta home.

Learn more about this author