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Too many people to list have helped me both to understand national defense over the last dozen years and to work on this project since 2004, so I will apologize in advance for being agonizingly selective.

FIRST, and obviously, I owe a personal debt to each of the servicemembers, former servicemembers, and family members who honored me by sharing their stories. My service to the nation is to tell the nation about theirs.

SECOND, over the years, a few contacts of mine have risen above the level of “source” – and I have had some brilliant sources over the years – to being seminal intellectual influences. I list them with their foremost books, one of the great pleasures of journalism being the ability to pick up the phone and call the author of something you’ve just read. In no particular order:

Margaret Harrell, author of Invisible Women: Junior Enlisted Army Wives (RAND, 2000), who showed me the power of doing an analytically informed oral history of the unusual suspects.

Barry D. Watts, author of Clausewitzian Friction and Future War (National Defense University, 1996), who explained to me the chaotic essence of war, ancient and modern.

Stephen Biddle, author of Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (Princeton University Press, 2006), who taught me the particular essence of modern warfare.

Bruce Gudmundsson, author of Stormtroop Tactics: Innovation in the German Army, 1914-1918 (Praeger, 1995), who taught me when and how modern warfare began.

Jonathan Shay, author of Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (Scribner, 1994), who taught me what war, ancient and modern, does to mind and soul.

THIRD, out of the many great colleagues I have had the pleasure of working with as a reporter, four have become both major contributors to my success and good friends:

Ryan Morris, graphics director for National Journal; a true artist who can turn my eye-numbing reams of data into beautiful clarity worth far more than the proverbial thousand words; and an observant analyst who has pulled patterns out of my own data that I never even saw.                                                                                                                 

James Kitfield, senior national security correspondent at National Journal from the day I arrived until the day I left, almost 13 years later; the only person ever to win the Gerald Ford prize for defense reporting three times; and the most generous senior colleague a young reporter could have ever had.

Patrick Pexton, former deputy editor for National Journal and my own editor for almost my entire time there; a veteran defense reporter himself; wielder of the sharp red pen responsible for my manifold improvement as a writer, and of the precision-guided kick in the pants that got me started on what became the oral history project.

Michael Kelly, former editor-in-chief of both The New Republic and the National Journal; brave, funny, and a superb teacher; my hero; and, as an embedded reporter in 2003, the first person I knew who died in this war.