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August 13, 2020

Review of Always a Soldier by Rob Smith

Always a Soldier” by Rob Smith has one of the best tag lines in publishing history.

“Service, Sacrifice, and Coming Out as America’s Favorite Black, Gay Republican”

Clickbait?

Transparent attempt at personal branding?

Blatant marketing ploy?

Sure, all of those.

But also accurate.

Okay, it’s not as if I did a poll or anything, but I imagine Smith’s claim is valid in part because while I can think of quite a few gay Republicans, and quite a few black Republicans, thinking of a gay, black, Republican leaves me thinking of, well, Rob Smith.

He OWNS the demo.

When you purchase Always a soldier, you are essentially getting two very different books in one.

Fortunately, both are excellent in their own way.

The first three quarters or so is a stunningly honest recounting of his life as an awkward overweight teen struggling with his sexuality and the challenges of a broken home. He joins the United States army, infantry, when he was still just 17.

Part gay coming-of-age story, part eyewitness recounting of what it’s really like to be in the army, particularly during a war (he served in Iraq), makes it fascinating for those of us personally unfamiliar with either, and yet Smith makes it entirely relatable. 

That would be the “service and sacrifice” part.

The last quarter of the book is the “coming out as America’s favorite black, gay Republican” part. Here he notes how he was at first your typical progressive, pursuing many issues, such as ending the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that was in effect when he was in the army (and a position he still supports) and then slowly becoming disenchanted with many of the positions he was expected to hold as a gay black man.

While the first part was very somber, almost melancholy (I got the Audible version and you can hear it in his voice), the second part is all confidence and bravado; it’s the Rob Smith you know from his television appearances, and serves as a triumph of sorts given the many challenges of his early life.

Smith is upfront about the two very different stories. He notes that a lot of people who would never consider reading about the life of a young gay man will pick this book up for the red meat he feeds them in the second part. He makes note of the responsibility that suggests.

He delivers on all counts. The book is authentic throughout. No punch is pulled, whether he’s describing what he thought of his fellow soldiers (good and bad both) to his personal encounters with both racism and homophobia (sometimes combined), to his early relationships with men (both romantic and and sexual), to his dressing down of the “LGBTQ cult” to discussing how illegal immigration hurts lower income blacks to how it was more difficult in many ways coming out as a Republican than coming out as gay.

But in the end, Rob Smith’s story isn’t just a story about a gay man or a story about the military or a story about a political transformation. For all that, it’s an old-fashioned American story in which perseverance triumphs over hardship.

Let's have more of that.

J.

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August 13, 2020 at 05:57 PM in Books | Permalink

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