War is the central theme of Grunt. It's also the topic of the book, the profession of many characters Roach interviews, and the setting or backdrop of a great many tragedies. Roach approaches war as a civilian, thinking less about the tactics of identifying and eliminating targets and more about the means by which the American military keeps soldiers safe and alive. War is figured not necessarily as a heroic battlefield but as a dangerous situation where the threat does not always come from a foreign power or enemy. Most of the scientists and researchers Roach meets in the course of the book are in some way combatting the negative effects of war. Their goal is not necessarily to make a war winnable but to make it survivable for the soldiers. This approach humanizes war, giving the reader a window into the lives of soldiers. War, it turns out, is nothing like what we imagine.

Medicine is an umbrella theme in Grunt, incorporating smaller themes such as disease, injury, and survival, to name a few. Military medical research is some of the most cutting-edge research in the field of medicine—particularly as it pertains to trauma care. Field medics are trained to respond in stressful, adrenaline-inducing scenarios that ER doctors would never face in a hospital. They train on Cut Suits designed to bleed like human flesh and learn how to treat wounds that only appear in battle. Military doctors also face the challenge of trying to keep up with the new injuries caused by new types of weapons and warfare. Methods used by doctors in the Vietnam War or even the Gulf War are obsolete now, in the age of IEDs. Researchers must devise new treatment methods for the spinal, gastrointestinal, and cerebral injuries suffered by soldiers. Perhaps the most innovative and remarkable of these procedures is the genital...

(The entire section is 631 words.)