Literary Agent

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

A senior CIA intelligence analyst and author of a new book on the military history of Iran started developing his research skills in Carroll County schools and his desire to serve while growing up in the Pipers Gap community.


Steven R. Ward, 51, lived in the Oakland community, played sandlot football at the YMCA in Galax, joined the Boy Scouts and read a lot.

"I guess I was fortunate my parents always encouraged us to read," he said.

As a Virginian growing up during the bicentennial of the Civil War, he became interested in accounts of the famed Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Ward's Scots-Irish background and his fascination with military history helped spark his interest in joining the armed forces. Ward studied at West Point and served his country in the U.S. Army.

Besides his parents, Ralph and Clara Ward, he credits two community members in particular who encouraged the development of his mind and his sense of civic duty.

As a Boy Scout, Ward worked with Oakland United Methodist Church Pastor Marvin Howard. He remembers Howard as a very youth-oriented minister who preached about doing things that matter for the community.

The other was his 12th grade English teacher, Mava Vass. Ward described her as an excellent and tough teacher who prepared him to do research at the college level.

He still remembers how she taught her students to draw a line down the center of their paper. They were to take class notes on one side and write comments on the other while studying later.

Ward used this method of note-taking well into his college career.

After graduating West Point, Ward entered military service in 1980 as an armor officer and tank platoon leader and in five years was company executive officer.

His impending marriage to Martha Ann Sisson, originally of Hillsville, as she finished up law school necessitated a career change. Both felt they could get jobs in Northern Virginia, so they moved there.

Ward happened to come across an ad for the CIA. At the time, the CIA needed people with military backgrounds to work on Mideast issues.

This was about the time of the Iran-Iraq War, and when Ward got the position he wrote about that regional conflict.

His knowledge and expertise in the Mideast and Persian Gulf region expanded as he helped with the analysis during the first war in the Gulf in the early 1990s and the ongoing war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ward has watched the strained relations between the United States and Iran for years.

"I joined the CIA to serve my country, and Iran and its neighbors have been at the center of U.S. national security interests throughout my agency career," Ward said.

As a potential military opponent, Ward came to the conclusion that Westerners need to have a better understanding of Iran, its history and its military, with an eye toward what kind of threat the country may pose.

From the vantage point of assignments on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the problems that occurred there, he wanted to "preempt" the same difficulties that existed in the engagements with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

So, he wrote "Immortal: A Military History of Iran and Its Armed Forces" to provide a context.

The title "Immortal" refers to a royal guard of 10,000 men established by Persian Emperor Xerxes in the 5th Century B.C. It is thought they were called immortals because any personnel losses were immediately replaced, giving the impression of invincibility.

(They're the seemingly endless wave of Persian warriors marching on Greece and fought by the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, as portrayed in the film “300.”)

What the modern military of Iran lacks in funding and current technology, it makes up for it by using "clever tactics and the exploitation of Iran's imposing geography," Ward found.

It reminds him of a quote from a Russian officer made during the Qajar dynasty of the 19th Century:

"Persia can be conquered with a single company without firing a shot; with a battalion it would be more difficult; with a whole regiment it would be impossible for the entire force would perish of hunger.”

Ward wrote the book with academics and analysts in mind, but he feels it would be beneficial for the general public to understand Iran's past, as well.

Still, he doubts it will become a bestseller.

"Short of there being a war with Iran, I don't think it will be on anybody's top 10 lists," Ward noted.

However, for those interested in the topics of energy and national security, military history or past dealings between the U.S. and Iran, this book could be enlightening.

"I think it's important for people to understand the way things are in that part of the world," Ward said. "It's so easy for a lot of people you see on TV to paint a portrait of Iran as just evil."

Georgetown University Press published the 384-page book, available in hardcover. For information or to order, go to press.georgetown.edu.


"Immortal is a superbly written and researched work. Steven Ward has delivered a critically important contribution to understanding the Persian military. This is a must-read for those who want to understand Iranian military thinking, heritage and capability."

— Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired), former Commander, U.S. Central Command

"Far too often, Americans ignore history and leave military history to a narrow range of experts. The choice of peace or war in dealing with Iran, however, is far too important to make without an understanding of Iran's military history and how its forces have evolved. Steven R. Ward's Immortal provides essential background to making that choice."

— Anthony H. Cordesman, Burke Chair in Strategy, Center for Strategic and International Studies

"Before we rush headlong into another Middle Eastern quagmire, it is critical for Americans to develop a greater appreciation for Iran's military history and capability. Steven Ward's Immortal thus comes at a critical moment, when its subject — the military development of Iran — is one of the most important issues confronting our nation. There are few Westerners who possess Ward's experience and understanding of the Iranian armed forces, and he has done us all a great service by placing his wealth of knowledge at our disposal."

— Kenneth M. Pollack, author of The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America