Winner of the 2021 IndieReader Discovery Award for Memoir
Finalist in the 2021 National Indie Excellence Awards for New Nonfiction
Finalist in the 2021 Book Excellence Awards for Memoir
As an only child isolated within a troubled family, F. Scott Service found solace in fantasy and imagination, until a fateful day led to the discovery of his father’s Korean War field jacket hidden in a closet. What began as innocent emulation and approval, eventually spiraled into the calamitous loss of everything he had built as an adult. Faced with a grievous divorce, post-traumatic stress, homelessness, substance abuse, and the failure of everything he had willed himself to believe was truth, one night communing with a loaded pistol became the mechanism for self-clarity. From that darkest time, only elemental deconstruction and reconstruction of identity would allow him to forge a reclamation with his true, original self.
Visceral, with breathtaking candor, Playing Soldier powerfully captures the unlearning of expectation, the celebration of individuality, and the nourishing of self-acceptance once buried by cultural stamps of approval and societal convention. Braided with humor, courage, fear, despair, and hope, his unflinching, evocative story of passage into adulthood, the Iraq War, and beyond, speaks to anyone who has confronted adversity from without and grappled for their dreams from within.
Service dishes up brutal honesty about how, during his active duty in Iraq, his disillusionment with the military and its mission festered. His luminous, illustrative prose (“A lush garden of fear. An empty desert of courage”) paints vivid word-pictures: readers will feel the grit of the Iraqi sand, the unrelenting heat of the sun, and the constant fear of imminent death. They’ll taste the contraband booze and relive the devastating moment when Service’s wife lambasts him with divorce papers.
The most terrifying content — when Service ends up with his gun in his mouth, intent on pulling the trigger— will be triggering for some readers. However, Service’s account stands as a crystal-clear example of the mindset many returning soldiers experience. Playing Soldier offers a stark reminder of the urgency of mental health awareness and treatment— particularly for veterans with PTSD. Any returning veteran will glimpse themselves on every page, and Service’s insights will minister to those who have loved ones facing similar struggles.
Takeaway: This candid and moving memoir cuts through often-romanticized ideas of military life with its consideration of the true meaning of service.
Great for fans of: Ron Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July, James Webb’s Fields of Fire, John “Chick” Donohue and J.T. Molloy’s The Greatest Beer Run Ever.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
"Playing Soldier is a raw and masterfully written memoir by F. Scott Service. The book is dedicated to the personal experience of war. The author starts with the motivation that may lead someone to participate, takes us through a fragment of war, and ending his tale with the aftermath.
Our journey along Scott starts at the very beginning with his childhood. He was raised in a loving home, but not a perfect home. An only child, he finds refuge from daily life in fiction and play. One day he finds the old field jacket of his father which sparks a new narrative for him, playing soldier. Dressed up in his father’s jacket and armed with a BB gun, he shares the battlefield with the neighborhood kids. School fails to hold Scott’s attention; he would rather continue to explore the many worlds of fiction. He was dreaming of becoming a literary world-builder himself but was repeatedly pulled toward more practical career alternatives.
The next stage of his life slowly ushers in and Scott marries his college sweetheart, Rita with whom he raises Spazzy, their beloved cat. Hand in hand they were slowly building their future together. But the sparkly surface blinds Scott from a dark truth that lurks in the corner of his consciousness as there is no substance to this projection of life together. The I became lost in us, or just in her. So, when offered the chance to join the National Guard, Scott, with his wife’s blessing, decides to follow his inner child’s call to adventure. The military still has an almost magical hold on him; it is shrouded in romanticism and thrill. What is more, the recruiter also flaunts the perspective of good pay and better employment opportunities.
But what starts as playing soldier during his training soon spirals into an unrecognizable ouster reality on the edge of existence, as Scott is dropped off in the Iraq war. This is not the military service from his childhood games, nor the image that was blooming in his imagination ever since. It is something beyond scope and reason. War morphs into a black sun that slowly burns away his sense of reality and self. And as Rita decides to file for divorce, Scott’s life from before becomes just another collateral of war.
Disillusioned by war, Scott tries to break his ties with the military and rebuild a new life. But the shadow cast by combat seems unwilling to let him go. The expected social reintegration is severely impeded by an ugly divorce, an existential crisis, and PTSD. The temptation of the final escape triggers a light in Scott and a new journey begins.
Playing Soldier is a deeply reflexive take on one’s own life and life in general. F. Scott Service skillfully draws in the readers through a series of intimate confessions and gets them hooked on a sweet melancholic note that rings throughout the pages of the book. The effortless and elevated literary language in the book can hook anyone, regardless of his or her interest in the topic of war. After all, this is a memoir dedicated to the human condition at its rawest, walking the line between life and death." - Timea Barabas
"Playing Soldier is an Iraq War veteran's memoir of his experiences in the war and their effects on his life as a veteran, the bad and the worse. F. Scott Service grew up in a fantasy world of books and role-playing to escape the turmoil of his emotionally distant father and his unstable mother, who drowned her sorrows with glasses of wine. Like many kids, he only had a vague idea of what he wanted to do as a grownup, but he liked the idea of being a soldier, and he even played war games with his friends, all bearing BB guns. As an adult, Service settled in Montana, where he went to college, got married and settled into a steady job while enlisting in the National Guard after a recruiting sergeant sweet-talked him into the benefits of military service. Everything was going his way. Until his Guard unit got called to duty in Iraq.
Playing Soldier is a gripping memoir of life, war, loss, and recovery. Service writes in a linear fashion of disconnected recollections from the past. He recalls his mother’s doting love, the severe punishment he received for shoplifting, and his clueless high-school guidance counselor. He then explains how all of that, in addition to his romanticization of his father’s military service in Korea, his love for Tintin cartoons and Star Wars movies, and the war games he used to play with his friends—one of which resulting in a BB pellet cutting his friend’s cheek—shaped him into the young man he was when he thought he’d found a sense of worth in becoming a Guardsman. His formative experiences vividly illustrate how an individual is imperfectly shaped, but his memories of war brutally show how that imperfect shape is smashed to smithereens.
What’s particularly telling about Playing Soldier is that Service’s most terrifying experiences are not as a combatant, but as a veteran; Service’s account of his time in Iraq are vague blobs of scenes and vignettes, but his memories of combat—the sound of mines exploding, the whirr of the planes, constant gunfire—are much more defined and much more harrowing. It’s the memory of Iraq that brings Service to his knees as he tries to pick up the pieces of his life, his wife having divorced him and many of his friends unable to help. He has trouble holding on to a job, he lives for awhile in a friend‘s garage, and he has angry conversations with himself in his mind, delivered in italicized print. He perceives people’s verbal gratitude for his service as more insulting than complimentary. Service describes the inner conflict welling up within him with expertly conveyed fear and horror, culminating in an admission that he wouldn’t give a dying comrade in Iraq a few moments of his time to listen when the comrade asked to talk to him. Having let him die without reciprocating him, Service reveals himself and his vulnerabilities at his most heartbreaking moment. Service closes by addressing an old high-school classmate in the second person as he seeks to find peace. He ends with a promise to begin something—this memoir—and readers are all the better for it, with its first-hand experience of the horrors of war.
Playing Soldier is a must-read for anyone hoping to at least come close to understanding the shell-shock victims of military madness. Playing Soldier is a gripping memoir of life, war, loss, and recovery that effectively conveys the fear and horror of a shell-shocked veteran who had once romanticized the idea of being a soldier." - Steven Maginnis
"This memoir is strikingly profound. If you have any question as to what PTSD is to a vet, this book will explain that to you. Scott's father served and it was almost inevitable he would too. The tried and true - get a nice bonus, education and 'they don't call you up'. If one thing can come from this, it is this... if you join any part of the US Army, expect you are going to be sent overseas into a war zone. You will be, so don't be so naive as to think you won't.
As I read this Playing Soldier, I kept wondering how to define this brilliant work. I call this poetry from the wounded soul of a soldier. This isn't a poetry book, but it is almost poetic how Scott expresses the torments that wrack his very existence.
Reading this work took my mind to the experiences of the US 10th Mtn. Division. Being almost the only mountain division in the US Army, they got to deploy longer and more often than anyone else in the ‘oughts. The feeling Scott had of how he was owned lock, stock, and soul is 100% accurate. The modern war is done so cleanly. 95% or more get to go to the beach while the 5% are facing death 24/7.
The biggest shame is how it seems easy to send young men and women to war but it's very hard to treat them decently when they come home. Playing Soldier is a must-read for every American citizen. If you have served, you need to read this book. If a relative or friend has served, you need to read this book. If you have never served, you need to read this book. The debt America owes to those who went and never came home is as big as the one owed to those who did come home.
A powerful book that may define the experiences of a modern soldier struck with PTSD."
My Rating: 5 stars
"As time goes on and people move from the innocence of childhood into adulthood, one of the most important lessons a person can learn during this time is that of self-acceptance. Of learning who they are and coming to terms with that rather than trying to change for other people. As Jamie Lee Curtis once said, “I think happiness comes from self-acceptance. We all try different things, and we find some comfortable sense of who we are. We look at our parents and learn and grow and move on. We change.”
In author F. Scott Service’s Playing Soldier, the author takes readers on a personal journey through his life, from his early years as a child with his parents to his time in the Iraq War and beyond. The author showcases the unexpected paths people find themselves on in life and how one goes from living life for themselves to living life for others. From the years as a child spent with parents who weren’t close and finding his father’s Korean War Journal, to joining the military to help further his career only to find himself fighting the war on terrorism, to the powerful effect war has on soldiers physically and mentally and the struggles which stem from coming home from that war, this book explores it all.
This is an honest, powerful and expertly crafted read. The author perfectly captures the emotional, mental and physical toll war has on soldiers, and the painful part of coming home after enduring so much. The shifting tone between dark humor and haunting truth really pulls the reader into the author’s story, and the book’s lengthy read gives readers a chance to delve into a detail-driven look into the narrative overall that not all memoirs every fully accomplish.
Playing Soldier is the perfect read for those who enjoy memoirs, especially those which involve the life and events of soldiers, those interested in the history of the Iraq War, and the history of military life overall. As a history buff, it was interesting to get a first-hand perspective on the war itself and how it affected those who fought and survived it.
Memorable, truthful and lengthy yet easily engaging, author F. Scott Service’s Playing Soldier is a remarkable memoir that is not to be missed. The way the author showcases the influence that family and society has on us in our youth, from the author’s father and their desire to do great things to embody his family’s legacy of military service, to a simple desire to do good and build a life for himself and his wife, only for his service to become much more involved than he ever intended, and the collapse of his life only to build himself up again, gives readers the sense of a true journey of self-discovery, and eventually self-acceptance." - Tony Espinoza
"Playing Soldier by F. Scott Service is a memoir based on the author’s poignant experiences beginning when he was a child growing up in a troubled household where he finds solace in the power of make-believe to the turbulent episodes of his life as an enlisted soldier deployed to Iraq. One time when he is left at home and he slips into the world of make-believe pretending to be a sleuth on the prowl, he finds his father’s military field jacket—a materialized treasure for a child with a hyperactive imagination. Inspired to be like his father, Tintin, and Captain Haddock, he dreams of becoming part of the army to make his father proud and draw his mother’s attention. This he did in his adult years, but it all fell short of his expectations as it led to the turbulent years of his life as an adult. Everything culminates in a re-assessment of his existence as he stares at a Ruger GP100 offering him deliverance.
An erudite and engaging collection of memories and self-expression of one man’s journey in navigating his way through existential crises. Playing Soldier achieves balance in its factual aspects by delivering a character’s stream of consciousness from early innocence to the later point of his deterioration. You will be impressed by F. Scott Service’s handling of language and the manner in which he brings together his recollections with such vivid attention to detail. He finds therapy and absolution not down the barrel of a pistol, but by writing about the wickedness of reality, the eternal war on terrorism, and how the human heart is stranded in its quest for meaning. For that alone, this book merits your attention." - Vincent Dublado
"A riveting reflection on life, loss, service, and sacrifice, Playing Soldier by F. Scott Service is an original and intense memoir that shakes up one’s assumptions of a soldier’s life before, during, and after a conflict.
The majority of this book takes place during Service’s time in the military and while stationed in Iraq, but notably, most of the action takes place in his mind, in the gritty details of his internal monologue, the dark patterns of his thoughts, and the brutal conversations he has in the solitude of service; a soldier may not be allowed to speak his mind, but an author can. As Service’s story takes him across the country, and the world, the writing runs a violent emotional gauntlet, from blind rage and poisonous resentment to selfless love and powerful moments of peace.
The book easily transcends the war memoir genre, stretching across decades of experience, from seminal childhood moments to harrowing recollections from the front lines in Iraq, all bound up with a visceral web of pain, grief, projection, denial, loneliness, and ultimately clarity. The unexpected candor and vulnerability in the prose is perhaps its most surprising element. Rarely does a memoir feel this raw and immediate, as though some part of the author never left the far-flung places that changed his life forever.
At times, it feels as though the author is writing the book to himself, interrogating his intentions and his beliefs even as he summons them on the page. What this produces is a savagely honest work, unadulterated by too much self-editing or posturing. Challenging subject matters like addiction, violence, and self-destructive behavior are handled with tact, grace, and authenticity, without losing the author’s inimitable attitude.
The author’s writing style is as unique as the narrative itself – he vacillates between stream-of-consciousness memories and tangential riffs on patriotism, philosophy and loyalty, interspersed with completely immersive scenes of basic training and battle, bringing readers deep into his jumbled mind, and into the action. While much of the storytelling is innocent, or seemingly innocuous, the author has a penchant for ending his sections with gut-punches or poetic turns – “A lot of war stories begin with heroes” or “Sitting up straight now. Another world waits below.”
The intimacy with which the author tells his story does make the prose feel like poetry, but there are certain instances where the language could be tweaked to flow more smoothly, and there are some metaphors or convoluted descriptions. There aren’t many typos or obvious errors, but some grammatical inconsistencies are present, and a superficial edit would help smooth over these last rough spots.
All told, however, this is a nontraditional memoir that embraces experimentation in storytelling, making Playing Soldier an unabashedly unique and captivating read." - Self-Publishing Review ★★★★½