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Book Review: Memoirs of an Outlaw:Life in the Sandbox

Memoirs of an Outlaw: Life in the Sandbox

But then reality kicked back in, and I remembered I was a Marine. We never got the nice stuff.”

Memoirs of an Outlaw: Life in the Sandbox by Robert M. Tanner III is a collection of stories about Tanner’s time as a Marine in Delta Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. The Marine Corps took Tanner to Europe and the Middle East before honorably discharging him. He has since earned his MBA and is now a business systems analyst for the Veteran’s Administration.

The thing about Marines is we are great story tellers and we have some of the most amazing real life characters to draw upon. Recently, after almost twenty years, I caught up with a buddy from the Marines I served with. We met up in a local bar and closed the place down still reminiscing about people, places, and events from almost two decades ago. When I was offered a copy of Outlaw, it took me a few minutes to determine that it wasn’t a biker book (outlaw), it was a story about Iraq (Sandbox). I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was written by a fellow Marine, and the book did not disappoint.

Tanner volunteered for the Marines and found himself in processing at Parris Island on September 11th, 2001. That event set the tone for his enlistment. He joined under an “open contract”, a euphemism for being assigned as infantry, truck driver, or cook. Tanner got infantry, and his adventure began. As a Marine I will give Tanner credit, no matter what happens, he does not complain, and somehow he seems to have the smoothest deployment in Marine Corps history.

Delta Company used LAV-25 (Light Armored Vehicle) armed with 25mm chain gun on a rotating turret, which sit on top of an 8 wheeled platform. It makes a impressive vehicle ; the locals called it the eight wheeled destroyer. It is a crew operated vehicle which carries four infantry scouts, of which Tanner was one. These vehicles are also amphibious which is probably how they ended up in the middle of the desert – there is quite a bit of this type of logic in the Marine Corps.

Tanner does something most writers do not do in writing about combat. He concentrates on the Marines and the human equation in the war. What happens outside of the missions is developed more than the missions themselves. The friendship and team building play an important role as well as off-duty activities; simple things, that civilians take for granted, become important to the Marines. Things like the traditional letters, smokes, and any food that does not come out of a pouch or chow hall; to the more modern, like calling home on a satellite phone, the internet, or hooking music up to the LAVs all become important. Fallujah, however, is a very dangerous place and that danger has its cost. The Marines that lost their lives in Iraq are a very important part of the book.

Tanner writes an excellent account of his time in Iraq. He does not present the rough, tough, gung ho Marine that is associated with war, nor does he condemn or question the war like Born on the Fourth of July. He delivers a very human and very professional account of his time in the Marines. His writing is clear, familiar and almost seems as if he is sitting across from you telling his stories over a beer. The writing is smooth, flowing, and keeps the readers’ interest. When military terms are used in the book, they are well explained so that someone unfamiliar with the military can easily follow along. Outlaw is highly recommended for anyone interested in Iraq, and more importantly, it is an informal look at today’s Marines doing what they do best. Outstanding book Marine, Semper Fi. Five Stars.

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Book Review: Buck, A Memoir

Buck by M.K. Asante

Buck: A Memoir by MK Asante is a young man’s account of growing up in the inner-city. Asante has an impressive educational background including The University of London, Lafayette College, and UCLA School of Theater Film and Television. He has written four books and has been in or directed three movies. He has accumulated many awards including the key to my adopted city of Dallas, Texas. Currently, Asante is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Film at Morgan State University.

I will be the first to admit that I do not like Hip-Hop. I do not like hearing base thumping from a car a half mile away.* I don’t understand the culture…until I read this book. I grew up on the east side of Cleveland in the l960s and 1970s. I could identify with much of what Asante was experienced. There was the lower class, white not black, the city was extremely segregated and we all kept to our side. There was drugs and violence, too. Cleveland’s education system was, and still is, in ruins. There were kids you didn’t hang around with and places you just didn’t go. And there was music. Previously, I would never had made the connection to what I listened to and what Asante listened to. The sound is different but the message is, surprisingly, much the same.

Reading the book, I kept thinking this is the 21st Century version of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders or That Was Then, This is Now, except it is all real. Buck (Asante) has a rough life and loses most of those around him. He, like many others, did not see a way out through the established system. Looking outside the systems he sees hope, in criminal activity. However, it is a chain of events that puts his life on a different path; it’s not religion or some miracle, but smart and practical thinking.

The book is punctuated with hip-hop lyrics: “At exactly which point do you start to realize that life without knowledge is death in disguise?” K.O.S.. Other lyrics are more graphic and violent, but in them are message of repression, unity, and fighting for your rights. It is what I heard growing up,but to totally different music. Although twenty years his senior, Asante thought me to rethink what I know about hip-hop and its message. I understand it now; Thank you. It is rare to find a book that changes your opinions.

Buck is an outstanding memoir of culture, life, death, and redemption. The message is universal no matter what your race. In what most claim to be a fair and free society, many do not experience it. Many are locked into a cycle of poverty; some stay in poverty, some turn to crime, some to drugs , and luckily, a very few escape to remind the rest of us that there are major problems in society that go ignored. — Don’t live in that neighborhood, Don’t live in that school district, don’t even drive through that area…just pretend it does not exist. Asante, made it out and reminds us that we have a long way to go before fair or even a fair chance exists for all. A must read book.

*I do now understand there is a difference between rap and hip-hop.

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