One of the great heroes of the Iraq War, Staff Sergeant David Bellavia captures the brutal action and raw intensity of leading his Third Platoon, Alpha Company, into a lethally choreographed kill zone: the booby-trapped, explosive-laden houses of Fallujah's militant insurgents. Bringing to searing life the terrifying intimacy of hand-to-hand infantry combat, this stunning war memoir features an indelibly drawn cast of characters, not all of whom would make it out of the city alive, as well as chilling accounts of Bellavia's singular courage: Entering one house alone, he used every weapon at his disposal in the fight of his life against America's most implacable enemy.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 1. "As infantrymen, our entire existence is a series of tests: Are you man enough? Are you tough enough?...Can you pull the trigger? Can you kill? Can you survive?" How does the constant pressure -- of having to kill or risk being killed -- impose itself on the the infantrymen profiled in House to House? When Staff Sergeant David Bellavia writes of having to "surrender to the insanity" in the opening moments of combat, how literally does he mean it? What personality type or types does this profession seem to attract, and why? 2. Discuss how the soldiers use humor in even the most dangers of situations. To what extent is their humor a means of concealing their anxiety, or compensating for the work they do in the field? How does it enable them to perform more confidently in combat? To what extent does Bellavia's decision to share these humorous exchanges help to dramatize the very real and terrifying predicaments these soldiers face in wartime? 3. "Sergeant Major Faulkenburg is our father figure. He's the man I have most wanted to impress. I have wanted, and needed, to believe he was proud of me and what I've done with my squad." How does Bellavia's reaction to the unconfirmed news of Steve Faulkenberg's death reveal his respect and love? How does this "first angel" in the battle of Fallujah motivate Bellavia and others to pursue their enemies with even greater ruthlessness? Why does the atmosphere of military combat seem to enable more emotional and personal connections between coworkers than most typical workplaces? 4. Staff Sergeant Bellavia's descriptions of the Marine Corps and the Iraqi Intervention Force reveal some of his and his colleagues' frustrations in coordinating an attack with forces that don't approach combat situations in the same manner as the Third Brigade. How does including such information in House to House expose aspects of military engagement that tend to get glossed over in "official" accounts of battles in the media and from the government? H ow does the U.S. military's joint efforts with multinational armed forces further complicate the scope of the Iraq mission? 5. "There's a breach between Fitts and me now that didn't used to exist. It is out in the open, and we've both acknowledged it." Staff Sergeant Bellavia and his best friend, Staff Sergeant Colin Fitts, share a wicked sense of humor, a deep understanding of each other's strengths and weaknesses, and an obsession with performing their jobs to the best of their abilities. How does their relationship get tested in the course of House to House? Why does Fitts's experience of being severely wounded in Muqdadiyah change his attitude about his job, and to what extent does it put a strain on his friendship with Bellavia? 6. The military arsenal that the Third Brigade introduces into Fallujah includes an astonishing range of weaponry that would seem capable of destroying any enemy. Yet, repeatedly, Staff Sergeant Bellavia and his men get challenged by insurgents using archaic weapons. Why is the maverick style of battle used by Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah so difficult for the superior American military to overpower? At what moments of engagement are Bellavia and his squad at their most vulnerable, and how do the insurgents capitalize on that vulnerability? 7. "Around us in the chow hall, two worlds collide. Infantrymen suck their dinner-soiled fingers clean while elitist journalists fastidiously wield silverware and dab the corners of their mouths with napkins." Why is Staff Sergeant Bellavia frustrated by the presence of journalists in a war zone? How would you characterize his relationship with the journalist Michael Ware, of Time magazine? How does Bellavia's decision to become a journalist and writer after his departure from the military complicate his feelings toward journalists in combat zones? 8. In Staff Sergeant Bellavia's intense battle with six insurgents in a Fallujah house, he encounters one he dubs "the Boogeyman," with whom he fights the most brutal hand-to-hand combat of his military career. How do Bellavia's descriptions of the interiors of the house and of his combatants enable you to participate as a reader in his experience of combat? How well conceived was Bellavia's plan to return to the house on his own? Why do you think he felt compelled to take on the insurgents without much in the way of support, both in terms of manpower and weaponry? How does his interpretation of the Boogeyman's last gesture reflect his own attitudes about combat, life, and death? 9. "I am a Christian, but my time in Iraq has convinced me that God doesn't want to hear from me anymore. I've done things that even He can never forgive." How would you describe Staff Sergeant Bellavia's struggles as a person of faith? Why might his work as an infantryman force him to call his faith into question on a regular basis? How does Bellavia's hand-to-hand combat in the Fallujah house with a series of insurgents enable him to acknowledge his belief in God more fully? 10. "I'm no longer a soldier. I'm no longer an NCO. I am not part of America's warrior class anymore. What am I?" Why does Bellavia's decision to leave the army and return to civilian life haunt him so profoundly? To what extent does his return to Fallujah in 2006 bring him a feeling of closure on his experience there? What role does survivor guilt play in his ambivalence about leaving the infantry? ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB 1. In House to House, David Bellavia details his involvement with Time magazine journalist Michael Ware, who is embedded with the Third Platoon, Alpha Company, and witnesses as Bellavia and his men experience some the most intense combat of their lives in Fallujah, Iraq. Have you ever wondered how another person might report on the same experiences that David Bellavia does in his book? How would the perspective of a non-soldier change the story? To read Michael Ware's account of that same invasion in his article "Into The Hot Zone," visit: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,782070-1,00.html 2.Hear David speak about his book at Bookvideos.tv: www.davidbellavia.bookvideos.tv 3.Learn more about supporting soliders at home and abroad at: http://www.americasupportsyou.mil/americasupportsyou/index.aspx
Staff Sergeant David Bellavia spent six years in the U.S. Army, including some of the most intense fighting of the Iraq War. He has been awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star for his actions in Iraq, and recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross and Medal of Honor for his actions in Fallujah. In 2005, he received the Conspicuous Service Cross (New York State's highest award for military valor) and was inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame. He is the cofounder of Vets for Freedom, an advocacy organization of veterans concerned about the politicization of media coverage of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. His writing has been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, National Review, The Weekly Standard, and other publications. He lives in western New York.