Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Books: "The Unit" By Adam Gamal


The Unit: My Life Fighting Terrorists As One Of America's Most Secret Military Operatives

By Adam Gamal, with Kelly Kennedy

St. Martin's Press; hardcover, 384 pages, with 16-page color photo insert; $32.00; available today, Tuesday, February 20th

Adam Gamal served in the most elite units in the United States Army, and he made over a dozen deployments before he retired in 2016. His awards include the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, and the Legion of Merit, and he is currently an international consultant for a security organization. Adam Gamal is a pseudonym created to keep the author's family and himself safe from harm. 

Kelly Kennedy served as a soldier in Desert Storm an Mogadishu, Somalia. She has written for USA Today, the New York Times, and Army Times, and is the managing editor of The War Horse, a nonprofit newsroom that is dedicated to coverage of veterans and military issues. She is the author of They Fought for Each Other: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Hardest Hit Unit In Iraq.

Gamal was one of the only Muslim Arab Americans to serve inside "The Unit," as the Department of Defense asked the publisher to refer to it. Within the U.S. military, there is a team so secretive that not only is the name of this unit classified, but the members of it are like ghosts to the military personnel in the country, to the point even Veterans Affairs doesn't even have them listed.

In the new engrossing book, The Unit, Gamal has written an intense story about immigration, service, and sacrifice while being part of a highly-trained team that is responsible for preventing dozens of terrorist attacked in the United States and around the world.

Before coming to the U.S., Gamal's life in Egypt was one filled with strife, as the Muslim Brotherhood laid waste to a once-free country. When he arrived here, he didn't speak English, was 5'1", 112 pounds, and certainly far from what would expect a soldier to be. The love he had for his new country meant it wouldn't be long before he enlisted in the U.S. Army, as he felt a calling to serve a nation that gave him freedom.

Gamal's first deployment was to Bosnia, then he was part of the search for Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and he worked in Africa to fight against the very same Muslim Brotherhood that terrorized his community in Egypt when he was a child. One mission he writes intensely about was being in a cat-and-mouse game tracking down terrorist Aden Hashi Ayro, the head of the Hizb al-Shabab, or youth wing of the Islamic Courts Union, who it was believed led missions in Somalia.

One thing Gamal focuses on with great detail is how diverse the armed forces are, as he was often mistaken for being Hispanic. He tells stories of other military members who were from a Middle Eastern background that could pass for being Latino, which was valuable in hunting down bad guys because they could blend in with those communities. This gave the U.S. an advantage in gathering intelligence needed to nab terrorists. 

Gamal strongly feels that immigrants would make extraordinary soldiers. In addition, women and people of color do things differently, and meld different views, strategies, and thought processes when engaging enemies. This is crucial and often overlooked, especially when future wars will look far different than they did in the 20th century. 

In this excerpt, Gamal writes of his first impressions of America: "When I landed in the United States at the age of twenty on a shiny day in July 1991, I felt as if I could breathe for the first time.

In Egypt, where I was born, I did not have the freedom to breathe deeply, dream big, or jump high. As I grew, Egypt recovered - from a coup that had taken place four decades prior but still affected our daily life. To live in Egypt was to search constantly for a sense of self, to the extent that the late President Anwar Sadat called his book In Search of Identity. Most Egyptians are not fully Arabs, not fully Africans, and not fully Mediterranean. The military coup of 1952 deprived Egyptians of being just Egyptian. That affected many young men and women, me included.

But on the day I landed in the land of the free, home of the brave, I filled my lungs with clean, crisp air and made a mental note: This is my chosen home. I will never go back.

A year later, I watched a young Bill Clinton debate a wartime president, George H.W. Bush, whom I admired greatly. I could barely order breakfast, let alone follow the logic of a debate, but I did understand I was watching democracy in action: Americans not afraid to talk about how they would make their country better, even in the presence of a sitting leader. That debate made me all the more determined to be an American, as well as to serve in the military.

Nearly thirty years later, I see a different America. I see an America unwilling to open its arms to welcome newcomers. As an immigrant, I served in the military for more than twenty years. I fought, I bled, and I almost died to make sure others would have the same opportunities I had - and, if I did it right, even more opportunities. From the snow of Bosnia to the deserts of Iraq, from the hills of Yemen to the mountains of Africa, I fought in every war since 1995. I deployed more than fourteen times to make sure all Americans feel safe and are also treated fairly and equally. We Americans believe everyone has a right to food, shelter, safety, and a sense of belonging - even the pursuit of happiness. But now, many great Americans lack that sense of belonging because of their religion, their national origin, or the color of their skin. I know that's not America. Most Americans are kind, welcoming, and helpful - take it from an immigrant who couldn't find his way out of a New York Train station on his first day here.

So let me tell you a story: It's a story of action and adventure, of sorrow and loss, of love and citizenship, of pride and acceptance. It's a story of a battle against an enemy that began in my youth and continues even now - with ideas about a way forward for my new nation. It's a story of building the American Dream, and always, it is a story of hope...

I am not writing this book for fame or money but rather to tell the story of some of America's finest - the unsung heroes Americans should know about. Heroes come in all colors and shapes, as well as with differing religious beliefs and traditions - including Islam and Judaism. Most Americans expect military heroes to look like Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, but I am here to prove some true soldiers look nothing like that."

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