Roll Hard is a new graphic novel by Robert Young Pelton and artist Billy Tucci about when Pelton was a journalist accompanying Blackwater security contractors on missions in Baghdad, Iraq in 2004.
It is a phenomenal book. I rarely read graphic novels and I cannot remember when I last read any book cover to cover until I read Roll Hard. I’m not exaggerating when I say it really is so good that you won’t want to put it down.
I haven’t written a book review on this blog before, so I’d like to first address why I’m writing this one. First, Roll Hard really is good enough to warrant me writing a book review. Second, Roll Hard provides a very good insight into both the world of military contracting and the risks involved in conflict journalism. Third, Robert Young Pelton is not only my colleague, but someone who has given me very useful advice during our conversations over the past couple of years.
As a teenager I read Pelton’s bestselling book The World’s Most Dangerous Places, a highly entertaining guide with a sense of humor to which the book owes much of its success. Nearly two decades later I never imagined that I’d be having conversations with Pelton seeking his career advice and discussing with him many of the challenges and struggles in my work.
He’s smart, honest, generous with his time, and one of the most experienced experts on working on conflict zones. And importantly, Robert Young Pelton is also one of the very few individuals I know of whose career is in any way similar to my own.
So when he sent me Roll Hard to review I didn’t wait long before giving it a read.
Roll Hard offers an incredible look behind at the curtain at the extraordinary and controversial world of military contracting, which is covered in detail in Pelton’s book Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror.
Roll Hard tells the story of the Mamba Team, a team of heavily armed misfits with a hard-earned reputation for getting the job done in Iraq. Pelton went on missions with them in Baghdad as a journalist in 2004 during the Iraq War, and the bulk of the book is a combination of an edge-of-your-seat account of missions along “RPG Alley” (Route Irish, which ran from Baghdad International Airport to the Green Zone). In 2004 it was the deadliest stretch of road in the world and under frequent attack by insurgents using suicide bombers, snipers, IEDs, and of course, RPGs.
Robert Young Pelton rode along in one of the Mamba Team’s MK2 Mamba Armored Troop Transport vehicles on RPG Alley, and his writing, combined with famed illustrator Billy Tucci’s incredible illustrations (the best I’ve seen in a graphic novel), really capture the mixture of anxiety, adrenaline, and uncertainty in the Mamba Team’s missions.
Robert Young Pelton in the crosshairs of an insurgent sniper in “Roll Hard”
As they face explosions and sniper’s bullets, and the unnerving reality of not being sure which civilians around them are actually insurgents trying to kill them, you really feel like you’re in a Mamba with Pelton and the team.
Next Pelton takes to the skies, climbing into a MH-6 Little Bird with the Night Stalkers air support contractors and zipping around Baghdad “fast, low and erratic” to avoid enemy fire. It sounds like something out of Hollywood, but it was real and Pelton captures it masterfully in Roll Hard.
As important as his captivating account of front line missions, however, is the insight Pelton provides into who the men of the Mamba Team were and why they were willing to assume such risk to their lives for a paycheck. The result is an incredible behind-the-scenes view of Blackwater and military contracting.
Roll Hard ends with the story of what happened to some of the Mamba Team in 2005 and 2006, after Pelton’s 2004 experiences with them. You’ll have to read Roll Hard to find out.
Roll Hard is available in print and e-book from AdventuristMedia.com.
Robert Young Pelton is currently fundraising for a mission to track down the Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony. Learn more and donate to support the mission at ExpeditionKony.com.
Read Robert Young Pelton’s article about Matthew VanDyke in Dangerous Magazine: “Matt VanDyke: Filmmaker/Fighter”