Gawker Book Club: Jim Frederick, Author of Black HeartsS

The new book Black Hearts details the ill-fated 2005 deployment of one platoon of soldiers in Iraq, which descended into brutality and war crime. Author Jim Frederick is here to answer your questions in the comments.

Frederick, an assistant managing editor at Time magazine, made the cover of the NYT book review last month with Black Hearts. From the book's synopsis:

This is the story of a small group of soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division's fabled 502nd Infantry Regiment-a unit known as "the Black Heart Brigade." Deployed in late 2005 to Iraq's so-called Triangle of Death, a veritable meat grinder just south of Baghdad, the Black Hearts found themselves in arguably the country's most dangerous location at its most dangerous time.

Hit by near-daily mortars, gunfire, and roadside bomb attacks, suffering from a particularly heavy death toll, and enduring a chronic breakdown in leadership, members of one Black Heart platoon - 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion - descended, over their year-long tour of duty, into a tailspin of poor discipline, substance abuse, and brutality. Four 1st Platoon soldiers would perpetrate one of the most heinous war crimes U.S. forces have committed during the Iraq War - the rape of a fourteen-year-old Iraqi girl and the cold-blooded execution of her and her family. Three other 1st Platoon soldiers would be overrun at a remote outpost - one killed immediately and two taken from the scene, their mutilated corpses found days later booby-trapped with explosives.

Gawker Book Club: Jim Frederick, Author of Black Hearts

Below, an excerpt from Black Hearts. Jim Frederick will be answering your questions in the comments for about an hour starting now, so ask away.

After the memorial, a general asked 1-502nd's executive officer Major Wintrich, "Where are you getting your replacement lieutenants?"

Wintrich told him, "We aren't. We don't have any infantry lieutenants sitting on their hands saying, ‘Put me in, Coach.'"

Actually, there was one sitting on the bench up at Camp Striker: 23 year-old Lieutenant Paul Fisher. And soon after that memorial, he started as Bravo Company's 2nd Platoon leader. Fisher entered the Army on an officer candidate contract in February 2004. Basic Training, Officer Candidate School, Infantry Officer Basic Course, Airborne School, and Ranger School kept him in training until August 2005, when he got to Ft. Campbell. He arrived just as the brigade was making its last push toward deployment. He was excited to get a platoon and "live the dream," as infantry officers in on-the-ground leadership positions like to say. Then he received his assignment: in the Brigade Public Affairs Office. He was not happy. "So my first job as a lieutenant who did absolutely everything correctly, all the right schools, everything to a T? I got fucked."

He spent two-and-a-half months up at Striker with Brigade Headquarters, and he was frustrated. "I was living on this little Ft. Campbell in the desert," he said, "where I could not have felt safer than in my own bed at home." The sound of gunfire in the distance especially irritated him because that's where he should be. The idleness of his job drove him crazy. Among his tasks was delivering the morning newspapers to brigade senior command. Desperate, he started pulling guard at the front desk of the headquarters checking IDs-ordinarily an enlisted man's job-hoping someone from an infantry unit would notice his lieutenant's bar and his Ranger Tab. It worked. Lieutenant Colonel Rob Haycock, commander of 2-502nd passed him one day and asked him what the hell he was doing there, and told him to come work for him. Fisher was ready to head down to 2nd Battalion, but on the 29th of December, he got the word: 1st Battalion needed him more. He was going to Yusufiyah. "You're going down to the Wild West," one of the brigade staff officers told him.

Fisher caught a convoy down to Mahmudiyah carrying a ridiculous amount of equipment: two foot lockers of stuff in addition to his rucksack. "Little did I know what a brigade puke I had turned into," he says. "I didn't even know how soft I had become." He had a quick briefing with Lieutenant Colonel Kunk and Major Salome.

"You need to get your shit together, lieutenant," they told him, "because you're about to go where things are life or death. It ain't DVD-night every night around here, so get your head screwed on straight and you might be okay." He caught another convoy to Yusufiyah about an hour later.

Halfway to Yusufiyah, Fisher's Humvee triggered a tripwire IED setting off three 120 mm rounds strung together. The entire truck was lifted off the ground, and it landed with a thud. He heard screaming and checked himself. He was unhurt. Sitting in the rear left seat, he could tell the guy next to him, the gunner, and the driver were all wounded. He got out and started trying to treat the driver. The driver had a two inch hole missing from his leg that was gushing blood, soaking Fisher's uniform as he tried to stanch the bleeding. Other members of the convoy took over, started applying tourniquets, and managed to save all of the injured soldiers' lives. The three other occupants of the Humvee were evacuated back to the US. Fisher stood in disbelief at what he had just witnessed. Just hours earlier he was naively ensconced up at Striker and now he had narrowly escaped death his first time on the road.

Once all the blast debris was cleaned up, the convoy completed its journey to Yusufiyah. Fisher headed to the TOC. He thought it odd to find Captain Goodwin asleep in the middle of the headquarters. First Sergeant Laskoski gave him the 30-second tour, introduced him around, and pointed him towards his platoon sergeant, Sergeant First Class Jeremy Gebhardt, and told him to introduce himself.

At no time did anyone at Yusufiyah seem to find it strange or feel the need to mention to Fisher that his uniform was covered with fresh, wet blood. "So I can only conclude that this is completely normal, to get blown up out there like this," he said. "I was freaked."

He met Gebhardt and they had coffee while Gebhardt tried to bring Fisher up to speed. There was a midnight mission heading out soon, but Gebhardt suggested Fisher skip this one, grab some shut-eye, and get ready for tomorrow. Fisher noticed that 2nd Platoon's area had a wall where soldiers marked down each time they got hit by an IED or a mortar. They were running out of room for their hash marks and they had only been there three months.

Reprinted from Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent into Madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death. Copyright © 2010 by Jim Frederick. Published by Harmony Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

[Coincidentally, Jim is doing a reading at 7:00 tonight at The Half King Bar on 23rd St. Stop by! The book's Facebook page is here.]