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“How come they never put health warnings on Army recruitment ads? Warning: Enlistment in the United States Army may lead to traumatic and post-traumatic stress, brain injury, inability to function in normal society, loss of limbs, loss of life, suicide.” Jake. –Price of Duty
Price of Duty
by Todd Strasser
Jake Liddell is a war hero. During a fierce firefight, Jake risked his life to save his comrades. Now, the military is considering awarding him a Silver Star—a huge honor for any soldier. Jake, injured and confused, returns home. His military family is proud of his service and sacrifice, but Jake is beginning to question everything his family brought him up to believe.
The memory of war haunts him. As he recovers from his physical wounds, he wonders what direction his life will take. His famous grandfather wants Jake to return to the battlefield to fight again. Others want him to speak out against the military system. Jake was raised to believe that fighting for one’s country was a moral obligation, but that was before he saw the horrors of war and the death of his friends. Will Jake decide to return to the battlefield or will he fight to get out of the military?
Jake’s story makes it clear that war is nothing like the movies or like playing Call of Duty. Instead, war is brutal, bloody, and deadly. “There’s no heavy metal soundtrack when you’re in a firefight. The terror is real. The pain is real. Death is real.” Price of Duty does not glamorize war, but instead paints a bloody picture of the physical and emotional wounds that soldiers face. Jake’s story shows the gruesome decisions soldiers have to make in order to survive and the hardships that come afterward.
Jake knows someone has to fight in order to protect America’s freedom, but he is conflicted because the cost of war is so high. His experiences have made him realize that “There is no glory in war. There is no honor in killing. No matter where they send you to fight, innocent people will die.” Even though the cost of war is high, Jake believes that “for all the things that are wrong with the military, we still need and depend on it to protect us.”
Price of Duty explores the tragedy of war as well as the idea of an all-volunteer Army. Even though no one is forced to join, many feel the military recruits children through the ROTC program. “We’ve just changed the method of conscription. We let economic forces compel minorities and have-nots to gamble their bodies and lives for a slim shot at a better financial future.”
Jake’s story is engaging from the very first page. As Jake struggles with his time in the war, the reader will feel the devastation of soldiers making life and death decisions. The events in the story are described in vivid detail and may shock some readers. Price of Duty will definitely stay with readers for a long time. Anyone who is thinking about joining the military should read Price of Duty. It accurately portrays a soldier’s sacrifice and shows the complexity of military service—the honor, the death, the sacrifice, and in the end, the reason why some choose to join.
- Jake’s ex-girlfriend, Erin Rose, began dating an older boy. The two “got serious really fast. By the time he enlisted after graduation, Erin Rose (then going into tenth grade) was pregnant.”
- When Jake and his girlfriend park in a secluded place, he wonders if his girlfriend is thinking about another man. He wonders if she had parked in the same place with someone else.
- Jake flashes back to his time in Iraq. An IED hit the Humvee Jake was in. When the soldiers exit the vehicle, the enemy shoots at them. Jake is injured by shrapnel. As he crawls out of the Humvee, he hears “intense machine gun and small arms fire bashing my eardrums. Supersonic lead bees whizzing past. . . The hot air stinks of gasoline and sulfur. A fusillade of bullets rip into the ground, spraying grains of dirt into my face and mixing with the blood in my eyes.” Jake can hear his friend screaming “somewhere to my right, where a lot of enemy fire is coming from.”
- After a suicide bomber hit a Humvee and “blew the guys inside to smithereens,” Jake’s squad had to go “find the pieces. All of them. He wasn’t talking about the pieces of the Humvee.” Jake and his partner puked. As they were gathering the body parts, Jake found a detached hand.
- During a firefight, Jake can’t reach his injured friend. Jake throws “a flashbang over the wall, then jumps up and hustle[s] thorough the closest opening. The pain from my wound slows me down, but I’m totally juiced on adrenaline. . .” Jake shoots two men and then, “something smacks into me from behind and knocks me flat on my face. It felt like a sledgehammer. . . Whap! A round slams into the ground inches from my head, kicking dirt into my eyes.”
- During the battle, Jake has to “toss a smoke grenade around the corner. Instantly there’s rifle fire and rounds slam into the wall near me. . .” When Jake shoots his M-16, “there’s a grunt and a thud. . . I head up the stairs, stepping over the body of a dead sniper. . .” As the firefight continues, Jake wonders how to get to his wounded friend.
- During a firefight, Jake breaks into a house where shots are coming from. “Inside, a woman screams. . .” Jake discovers that the shooter is “a scrawny kid. Can’t be more than twelve. . . I grab [the rifle] by the forestock and rip it out of his hands. The kid cowers. . . strangely, he’s not looking at me. Instead, he’s staring across the room.” The boy’s father is “soaked with blood” and dying. Jake goes to the window and “I plug the one closest to me, but the other has time to get off two shots. The next thing I know, I’m hurtling backward. The SOB got me.” Jake is injured. When a medic finds Jake, the medic “shoots me full of morphine and dresses my wound with QuickClot, bandage, and tape.”
- While soldiers cover him, Jake runs to his friend, Skitballs. “His anxious eyes are open, a little glassy. A bubble of blood slowly forms in one nostril, then pops. He’s lying in this open sewer, enveloped in the stink of human waste, the mush around him reddened by his blood.” Skitball dies from his wounds.
- Jake’s unit is sweeping for landmines when one goes off. “We all flinched, then looked around. A ball of black smoke rose from the next gulley over. ‘Ahh! Ahh! Ahh!’ came the screams…Morpiss’s anguished cries were like shock waves. They blew through you, tearing you up inside…” Morpiss survives but loses both legs and an arm.
- Insurgents attack the base. “Ka-boom! The explosion was so big and close that the shock waves knocked a few guys out of their beds.” The soldiers go outside and “bullets whizzed and pocked into the walls. Men shouted.” Jake and another man, Brad, need to get to the guard tower. Jake “felt my scrotum contract. Even with suppressive fire, we’d be running right under the insurgents’ noses. . . I followed Brad, running as fast as my legs would carry me, praying I wouldn’t get hit. Lead whizzed past us and kicked up dirt around our feet.” Jake and Brad throw grenades into the guard tower and then went up. “The scene inside the tower was gruesome. Mangled bodies, blood, parts of bodies. The acrid stink of smoke.”
- During an attack on the base, three children shoot at the soldiers. “They were skinny, all knees and elbows, not even old enough to have whiskers.” None of the soldiers want to shoot them, but “when we still didn’t return fire, the other two jumped to their feet and started towards us again.” A soldier finally shoots the kids, but their death is not described.
- One of the soldiers, Brad, writes a suicide note. “I was going crazy at home. You knew because you walked into the bathroom and I was sitting there with a gun in my mouth. You have no idea how many times I did that when you didn’t walk it…I’m looking at my rifle right now and wondering for the millionth time what hot brass tastes like.” Later in the story, Brad locks himself in the “crapper.” Jake tries to talk to him. “When the gunshot came, a couple of guys jumped. I felt like the bullet had gone through me, too. Someone ran to get a cutting tool. I sat in the hot, dusty sunlight and sobbed.”
- While on guard duty, a woman approaches the base. When she refuses to stop, a solider kills her. The woman drops a bundle. When the soldier goes to investigate, they find she was carrying a burned baby that needed medical help.
Drugs and Alcohol
- When Jake returns home, he takes anti-anxiety meds. When he sees a crowd of people, he gets anxious and explains, “…even with the pills, I’m still wound tight like a spring.”
- After being in the warzone for months, “more than a few guys were taking pills for sleeplessness, loose bowels, and anxiety.”
- When he gets back home, Jake goes to a party where beer, tequila, and spiced rum are served.
- When a soldier’s girlfriend broke up with him, he “sobbed, wiping his eyes and nose on his sleeve.” To calm down, “he washed down a couple of pills because there was no hooch allowed.”
- Jake and his sister eat a meal with their grandfather. His sister orders “a Long Island iced tea. I have a Patrón on the rocks with a lime wedge. We may be underage, and the General may be a straight arrow, but the one exception is the rule of booze. Real men and women drink.”
- Some of the soldiers are given pills for night terrors. When Jake was in the hospital, “I tried to stop taking them, but my nightly yelling woke the other patients on the ward. So I started again.”
- After a soldier steps on a landmine, he is given morphine for the pain.
- The army gives soldiers sleeping pills. “The Army provides soldiers with a selection. The short-term variety gets you about four hours of shut-eye. The medium-term pill is good for six. And then there’s Sleeping Beauty, a twelve-hour sleep-like-a-baby dose that leaves you feeling the next morning like you’ve been raised from the dead.” Jake discusses the addictive qualities of the pills. “Pretty soon guys had so many meds inside them that they couldn’t think straight, couldn’t feel straight. So what did the docs do? Gave them anti-depressants and anti-psychotics to stop all of the other meds from driving them crazy. After a while, guys were taking seven or eight different pills a day. With no one monitoring them.”
- To deal with the stress of a parade, a veteran filled his water bottle “from a flask.”
- When having dinner with his grandfather, Jake thinks, “I’m a tequila man, but in the General’s company, it’s the rule of bourbon. The only choice you have is which brand. . .”
- Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, bastards, bitch, crap, crapper, damn, hell, and pissed.
- Goddamn is used two times. After Jake returns home, his father asks Jake if he’s okay. Before Jake can reply, his grandfather answers, “Of course he’s okay, he’s a goddamn war hero.”
- When a soldier is injured, he screams, “Oh Lord, Jake!”
- While eating in the mess hall, the soldiers hear a “clang!” One of Jake’s friends was “going fucking nuts, ranting like a madman and smashing a metal tray against the edge of the table.”
- Jake wakes up sweaty from a bad dream and “there’s that split-second fear that I’ve pissed myself in my sleep. But it’s never urine. It’s always sweat.”
- Oh my god is used several times.
- Someone tells Jake, “Don’t play dumb white cracker with me. . .”
- To get the attention of enemy soldiers, Jake yells, “Hey douchebags.”
- Jake is shot in the back, but is uninjured. He thinks, “Thank Almighty God and ceramic body armor.”
- When soldiers have to leave the FOB, “we knew it might be the last time. We all had good luck charms. Some soldiers smoked, some joked, some dipped and spat, and some got on their knees and prayed.”
- Jake thinks the army recruiters lie in order to get people to join the army. Instead of being like a party, “You go in, make a couple of friends, and then pray you’ll all make it out alive.”