Military Book Reviews

Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital

Rule Number Two: Lessons I learned in a Combat Hospital by Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft (Back Bay Books, May 22, 2012, 272 pages)

When Lieutenant Commander Heidi Kraft’s twin son and daughter were fifteen months old, she was deployed to Iraq. A clinical psychologist in the US Navy, Kraft’s job was to uncover the wounds of war that a surgeon would never see. She put away thoughts of her children back home, acclimated to the sound of incoming rockets, and learned how to listen to the most traumatic stories a war zone has to offer.

One of the toughest lessons of her deployment was perfectly articulated by the TV show M*A*S*H: “There are two rules of war. Rule number one is that young men die. Rule number two is that doctors can’t change rule number one.” Some Marines, Kraft realized, and even some of their doctors, would be damaged by war in ways she could not repair. And sometimes, people were repaired in ways she never expected.

Rule Number Two is a powerful firsthand account of providing comfort amidst the chaos of war and of what it takes to endure.


Dr Heidi Squier Kraft is the author of Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital. This book shows an honest view of an operating environment in the initial stage of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM with the marines and sailors who served alongside her and the patients she helped triage and treat. Dr. Kraft transfers from a Navy Medical Center practicing medicine in a calm and controlled environment to a chaotic combat atmosphere. Staying flexible, engaged, and always mission ready is key. This is applicable not only to military members, but to anyone who desires to be ready for any and everything. 

Dr. Kraft was assigned to a Combat Stress Platoon (CSP), Alpha Surgical Company, 1st Force Service Support Group (Medical Logistics Group). This recollection of a seven-month deployment to Iraq begins with the calm tones of a pager humming the notes of, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2. Dr. Kraft shows a rarely seen side of warfare and the effect it has on soldiers as they fight among their deployed family. Men dying in the next room bring even the highest ranking leaders to the edge of sanity by their screams. The author displays how combat can build bonds within moments of meeting each other and will last through dust storms, mortar attacks, and mass casualties. Whether it is in combat, garrison, or the civilian sector, the need to generate, grow, and maintain these relationships is essential for a healthy life. Creating a support system allows you to have safety in your darkest times as you support others while they walk through their own personal hell. 

Key Takeaways

Communication is key. Her father, a retired submariner, would keep in touch with Dr. Kraft daily via email. This ensured she knew how her family was doing back in the states, but provided an opportunity for her father to impart wisdom and support to her during this long deployment. Through the hardest times, keeping in touch is one of the most important ways to cope. 

In any leadership scenario, the lack of clear and concise communication can lead to misunderstandings. From a humid surgical suite dense with blood and screams of the wounded, to executive level business meetings discussing the management of millions of dollars, communication must be loud, confident in execution, and clear in its message. 

Strong Relationships are necessary for a healthy life. Dr. Kraft maintained her membership to the insane early morning workout club with Bill, scraped blood off of Karen’s boots, and wrote letters to her husband Mike. The furnace of war forged and refined these relationships.

Confidence and knowledge in your expertise are necessary for any professional or military mind. Decisions when triaging during a Mass Casualty (MASCAL) scenario, determining whether to remove a young marine from a combat zone because of suicidal ideations, or execution of a particular business deal, come down to the confidence and knowledge a person has. Confidence is also necessary in our day-to-day lives. We must stay focused and hone talents to ensure a constant state of readiness.

Routines provide stability. Establishing daily, weekly, or even yearly routines provides peace and consistency in one’s life or environment. It is something someone can rely on providing a haven during the darkest of times. 

Events presented in this book provide a poignant and raw look into conflict and will deliver a systemic shock to the reader. Vibrant descriptions help paint a bloody picture of this courageous doctor’s journey in the war-torn Middle East. The first rule in warfare is that good men die; the second rule is that not even “Doc” can change the first rule.

Jacob Rego is an Active-Duty Navy Corpsman currently serving with an Infantry Regiment in Camp Lejeune, NC. He has been in the service for approximately 5 years, previously serving at Health Clinic Bangor, WA. Jacob aspires to complete his education after separation from the Navy, focusing on Emergency Management.

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