Boston native Piers Platt joined the Army in 2002 and spent four years on active duty, including a year-long deployment to Iraq in 2004 as a tank and scout platoon leader with B Troop, 1st Squadron, 4th United States Cavalry Regiment — the “Quarterhorse.” He led over 200 combat patrols in the Sunni Triangle and was named the Squadron Officer of the Year.
Platt has published several short stories since 2013, and in January of 2014, released From the Arquebus to the Breechloader: How Firearms Transformed Early Infantry Tactics, a reference book focusing on the evolution of firearms throughout history. Platt’s most recent book, Combat and Other Shenanigans: Tales of the Absurd from a Deployment to Iraq, is the wry, action-packed and poignant story of his year in Iraq.
When he’s not spending time with his wife and daughter, Platt works as a marketing strategy consultant in New York City.
I had a pretty privileged, sheltered life growing up — which I’m grateful for — but that’s partly why I joined the Army. I wanted to challenge myself outside of that safe world and find out what I was made of. I also felt a sense of responsibility to serve my country — call it patriotic duty. I think I was also looking for a little bit of adventure and excitement — you get to play with some pretty cool toys in the Army.
What was the experience of climbing into a tank for the first time like?
A little bit daunting — you immediately get the sense that this machine is immensely powerful, and was not designed with your comfort in mind. And our training hammers home that tanks can be very dangerous to their crew, if you’re not careful — you can be maimed or killed just by sitting/standing in the wrong spot in a tank during training. But once you’ve fired the main gun and felt how smooth the ride is even in rough terrain, you can’t help loving them.
What authors have influenced you over the course of your life?
It’s hard to choose! I think Robert Heinlein and Tom Clancy both played a big role in my decision to join the military. In terms of writing historical non-fiction, I admire John Keegan for his ability to simplify the complexity of war into books that are both fascinating and educational. And Tim O’Brien, Michael Herr, and Philip Caputo are all Vietnam veterans who put their experiences down in stories and memoirs that helped the American public realize the soldiers fighting a war are not the same as the politicians who sent them there… we recent veterans owe them an enormous debt.
What made you decide to write about your experiences in Iraq?
It started out as a bit of a cathartic exercise — trying to grapple with a lot of the anger and frustration I felt during that time. So the first draft was pretty bitter! In short, I felt like we were just treading water, catching the occasional bad guy, but not really making noticeable progress on training the Iraqi Army or securing the country. My wife helped me realize that there were plenty of angry war memoirs out there, and so I reworked it heavily to just focus on the lighter side of war — the ridiculous pranks we pulled and the absurd situations that can only happen in a combat zone. I also wanted to honor the men I served with, to show their amazing professionalism and courage… as much as that’s possible in a humorous book!
In your book, you describe a few “Private jokes” (pranks that were played on inexperienced soldiers). Were you the victim of any pranks during your time in the Army? If so, what was the best one? If not, how did you manage to avoid being a target?
Oh yeah, I was a target, too — officers are not exempt! There are a couple stories about pranks pulled on me in my book, I think my favorite is when my gunner hid my field cap in our tank’s gun tube during training, so that I unknowingly blasted it to smithereens when I tried to shoot one of our targets. Later on my platoon duct-taped me to the gun tube for about an hour, for fun. Well, it was fun for them :-)
What do you miss most about your time in the Army?
I don’t miss early morning physical training! I do miss the field training (marksmanship, tank gunnery, etc.), which was always a lot of fun. Mostly I miss the camaraderie… you just can’t form those kinds of bonds outside of the military.
In your opinion, is Iraq — and the Middle East as a whole — a better place now than it was in 2003?
Yes, Iraq is definitely a better place now than it was in 2003. But is America? I don’t believe invading Iraq improved our nation’s security at all, and I don’t believe that improving Iraq’s situation was worth the cost we paid for it in American lives, not to mention the price the Iraqi population has paid.
Politically and/or socially, do you feel like the United States is on the right track?
Politics? This is our first date, Candace! I’m a libertarian who leans left on social issues, and right on fiscal issues and foreign policy. That’s a long way of saying I don’t feel either the Democrats or the Republicans really represent my interests, but most politicians in Washington seem to be more concerned with their own interests than serving the American people right now, anyway.
What’s the best war movie ever made?
I’m going to break from tradition here and say Gallipoli, instead of Platoon or Saving Private Ryan. Gallipoli is one of Mel Gibson’s first movies, before he was famous — an absolutely heartrending story of the ANZAC landings in Turkey during WWI. Honorable mention to the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers and Generation Kill, which are just phenomenally well-made, gripping, and accurate portrayals of war.
What’s wrong with the Red Sox this season?
Yeesh… that ten game skid was ugly, and I still have no idea why they signed Stephen Drew again. But we turned it around with sweeps of the Rays and Braves, so as usual, they’ve found a way to keep me hopeful before likely disappointing me! I can’t complain though — I never thought I’d see one World Series championship in my lifetime, much less three.
What are you working on next?
A science fiction trilogy… still in the early stages yet, so I don’t want to reveal much!