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Book Review: On Assimilation by Leo Jenkins

Leo Jenkins has cut his teeth as an early pioneer in the Post-9/11 writing community. He has a cluster of books that chronicle his time as a medic in the famed 75th Ranger Battalion, which saw tremendous amounts of action in the early stages of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“On Assimilation” was originally published in 2014, among his other works, “Lest We Forget,” “First Train out of Denver,” and “Violence of Action.” Recently, the book was stripped down to its bare essence by Leo, rebuilt, and republished by Dead Reckoning Collective.

This was my first time sitting down with Leo’s prose. I have long been a fan of his poetry and have never met a writer that couldn’t handle both forms of authorship, I trusted he would tell an engaging story.

He did just that. This book is very easy to digest. I don’t consider myself a fast reader, but I felt that I could have squashed this entire book in a few days. Given the subject of reintegrating combat veterans into our society, I had to take my time with it, allowing the messages and stories to ferment in my mind.

Leo does a remarkable job, making his unique, individual experience much more relative than I would have anticipated. Like an expert rifleman, he strips his separation from the military down to its most minor pieces, allowing the reader to examine them as he delivers commentary on their significance.

This book has very few “So there we were…” stories. Any mentions of gunfights or stacking bodies are directly analyzed against how those events impacted Leo long after they occurred. He contrasts these experiences against himself while sometimes offering further commentary on the larger social picture.

What I loved most about this book was how it explored the many points of contention our warriors returning home from conflict in the early 2000s had to face. From employment and education woes to an inhospitable VA healthcare system. In the fifteen or so years that Leo has returned, many of these issues have been modified, thanks to the loud voice of warriors like Leo.

Still, he is not afraid to point out the more irreparable systems of conflict: a disconnected government, war hawks, and misinformed public. I knew that when I put this book down, it was designed to inform, and I greatly respect Leo and the publishers for allowing that to be the message.

This is a monumental piece of literature regarding our current generation of veterans. I mentioned to my social worker that I was reading the book, and a few weeks later, he told me how much he enjoyed it. This only seemed to confirm that On Assimilation should be mandatory reading for anyone working closely alongside Post-9/11 veterans in a healthcare setting. Leo does a masterful job encompassing the story of the millions of us that served during America’s longest war.

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