Military Book Reviews

Fortune Favors Boldness

Fortune Favors Boldness: The Story of Naval Valor During Operation Iraqi Freedom by Dillon A. Fishman (Fortis, 2019, 372 pages)

In recent years, according to Pew Research, public opinion has tilted toward a negative view of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). While opinions remain divided largely along partisan lines about the initial decision to use force, Pew Research also found a majority of Americans think the United States did not achieve its objectives in Iraq. What can become lost in the haze of disagreement is a clear understanding of the military’s achievements in OIF. To that end, Vice Admiral Barry M. Costello wrote Fortune Favors Boldness. The book’s thesis—which the text ultimately supports—is that “naval operations played a pivotal role in creating conditions for the initial success of the land and air campaigns.”

The narrative opens with Admiral Costello serving in the Pentagon’s Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate on 9/11/2001. He summarizes the moment: “September 11 was about a cowardly attack. September 12 was about the beginning of a focused response.” Costello goes on to explain how civilian leaders developed that response, including Secretary of State Colin Powell’s unsuccessful attempt to gain international consensus. It thus introduces readers to the civil-military dynamic, the various elements of national power, and the decision-making process leading to the use of military force, illustrating the enduring complexity and debate surrounding the resort to military action.  

Once the decision was made, Admiral Costello assumed a role at the helm of Cruiser-Destroy Group 1 (CDG-1), which comprised approximately 7,500 sailors and marines. The book helpfully includes illustrations and descriptions of CDG-1’s components, including leaders embarked aboard the aircraft carrier Constellation, along with its air wing and weaponry. Such details provide context for readers unfamiliar with the navy and set the scene for the operations that follow. 

CDG-1’s pre-deployment training was serious and intentional, preparing for combat and sharpening skills that would be tested in battle. Throughout the workup, the force faced challenges such as rescuing a sailor who went overboard, obtaining advanced air qualifications, and completing advanced training at sea. Despite the emphasis on readiness, the environment was not needlessly rigid. For instance, Costello established leadership priorities for sailors and marines to take care of themselves and their families.

Among the myriad challenges of deployment to the Arabian Gulf was what crews in the navy regularly confront: round-the-clock operations. Operating underway requires tenacity and grit. But to mitigate burnout and fatigue, leaders established shifts and created a climate that allowed for down time and decompression such as during meals. Yet a fire aboard the Constellation provided a stark reminder of the unrelenting dangers of life afloat.

A few topics that stand out from CDG-1’s singular operations are: (1) information warfare, (2) aviation, and (3) naval mines. First, Costello explains the importance of information to the navy’s efforts, which in part led him to actively include media representatives aboard ships. In turn, this enabled CDG-1 to disseminate word of its mission and achievements on deployment. Given the growing importance of information to today’s military environment, the explanations and examples from information warfare will resonate with today’s readers. 

Second, throughout the deployment naval air power and marine assets played a critical part in operations. The author describes the exceptional ability of pilots flying at sea and supporting land operations throughout the campaign, which peaked at 326 sorties a day. Despite adverse weather and crippling windstorms, pilots provided night and day strikes, close air support, electronic jamming, and surveillance. The book leaves little doubt that the critical capability CDG-1 and the Constellation brought to bear was its versatile assortment of air assets. 

Costello’s third topic of interest describes vital mine clearing operations to secure a route for humanitarian supplies. The mine warfare team included navy SEALs, explosive ordnance disposal divers, marine reconnaissance divers, unmanned vehicles, and even specially-trained dolphins. The complicated efforts consisted not only of clearing underwater areas, but also of securing vessels, a port, and the adjacent land area of armed resistance. In spite of the challenges, the team swiftly identified and neutralized mines. 

While these three examples of CDG-1’s accomplishments are not exhaustive, they illustrate the breadth of the book’s subject matter. For instance, Costello uses his own eye for detail to curate ethical and legal insights concerning the rules of engagement, civilian casualties, and collateral damage. Moreover, readers will benefit from the four appendices that expand on, and personalize, Costello’s retrospective. The appendices entail a who’s-who highlight of leaders who served with CDG-1 and went on to become recognized leaders in the naval service, along with accolades for several leaders who influenced the admiral. 

One of the book’s unique features is the author’s narration, providing the means for him to advance his own brand of positive leadership. A true memoir, he intersperses lessons, anecdotes, and reflections along the way. Further, as part of the process of writing the book, Costello added material from interviews of leaders involved in the operations, bringing texture and depth to the account. The work also affords the reader the benefit of hindsight from Costello’s later experience as Commander of Third Fleet of the US Navy.

Admiral Costello’s book is a worthy case study of OIF during 2002-2003 from a naval perspective, infused with timeless leadership lessons. It is an ideal read for service members seeking to understand naval planning and operations, glean insights from the fleet, and familiarize themselves with associated terminology and concepts. As a memoir with a leadership focus, it features practical tips that junior officers will want to highlight            . 

Review provided by Dillon A. Fishman

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