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America's Soft Power Secret Weapon in the Iraq War Was a Young Army Captain Named Travis Patriquin

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This past weekend we not only reflected on the sacrifice of our servicemen and women who have died in combat, we also celebrated their heroism.

In the past ten years, our country has lost over 6,000 troops to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over 4,400 have been lost in Iraq alone. These men and women are our family and friends, sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers. Simply put, they are our blood and treasure. There is a unique story behind each who sacrificed their lives in our nation's defense but few get told in such detail.

I had the chance to get an early read on a truly inspirational story about an American soldier who epitomized our country's values. The book, A Soldier's Dream: Captain Travis Patriquin and the Awakening of Iraq, highlights the efforts of one soldier whose dream helped capture the momentum of the Sunni "Awakening" in Iraq in 2006.

We should all remember back in 2006 that the question was not whether we could win any sort of victory in Iraq, but how fast we would lose. The turnaround, although imperfect, now has our forces on a trajectory to complete its mission and return home within the foreseeable future. Most of the credit seems to have been given to the "Surge" strategy that was prosecuted by General David Petraeus. However, as this new book outlines in specific detail, the momentum was generated long before additional "Surge" troops entered Iraq in 2007.

The author, William Doyle, begins to bring closure to the Iraq War in telling Travis' story. It is a story of American victory by use of a combination of military and diplomatic resources. Doyle steers clear of the debate about whether we should have gone into Iraq. Rather, he focuses on the turnaround narrative from Travis' perspective which is largely apolitical. There is a clear indication that Captain Patriquin had dissatisfaction with the Bush Administration's handling of the war, but he apparently saw the moral justification of fighting al Qaeda. Furthermore, Doyle focuses on the "soft power" applied in negotiations between American forces and Sunni Sheiks in forming an alliance to kick al Qaeda out of Iraq. This narrative in the story should be evaluated in understanding how we ought to employ U.S. military and diplomatic resources in the Middle East today.

Captain Travis Patriquin was an extraordinary officer and has been described as "America's T.E. Lawrence."

Captain Patriquin had served as an enlisted soldier in Special Forces before becoming a commissioned officer. He had the ability to speak Arabic and possessed empathy that crossed cultural boundaries. Travis simply had an ability to charm almost anyone he came in contact with. Captain Patriquin hated bureaucracy and creating staff reports along with PowerPoint presentations. But his ability to craft a simple set of guidelines in PowerPoint generated one of the most famous presentations of the entire war -- How to Win the War in Al Anbar.

It does not spoil the story knowing that Travis Patriquin died carrying out his mission to see his dream fulfilled. There are some intriguing battle stories, but it is Travis' courage to believe in the Iraqis that makes this such an inspirational story.

What you learn about Travis in this book is that he appreciated an overlap in basic values with Iraqis -- love for family, loyalty to country, and devotion to faith. On faith, Travis was open-minded of other religious views -- he didn't impose his own. By showing respect to Iraqi customs, along with drinking numerous cups of tea and smoking cigarettes, Patriquin built respect among the Sheiks in Ramadi, and in the process, helped turn around what was a rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq. Travis died on December 6, 2006. Iraqis declared him a martyr and later named a police station in his honor. This honor is unparalleled by any other soldier who has served in Iraq.

This book will forever have a special place in my collection because I knew Travis Patriquin.

Patriquin stood behind me in formation for 16 weeks during the Infantry Officer Basic Course (IOBC) in 2000 as we prepared for Ranger School. He was a battle buddy on patrols and I'd affirm the optimism he exuded in the face of what he called the "Suck" -- Cold, Wet, Hunger and Fatigue. I cried when I learned of his death to an Improvised Explosive Device. But as I read this book, I cheered as I learned the details of his accomplishments.

In addition to being a great warrior, Travis Patriquin was also a husband and proud father. His dream was that Ramadi would one day be peaceful and prosperous enough so that he could one day show his children the work he had done to rebuild the war torn city. Travis wanted to make his family proud of this progress.

A Soldier's Dream: Captain Travis Patriquin and the Awakening of Iraq will be released on June 7th.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ryan McDermott.