7Up Diplomacy

November 5, 2009

My days in Iraq are somewhat unpredictable.  In fact, I think it’s a good day if there are new surprises and challenges.  I am fortunate to work in a command climate that embraces media and values the role of reporters in telling the story of the American Soldier.

Recently, we embedded a reporter from McClatchy News for about a week.  Like all embeds–particularly the ones who spend all their time in Baghdad or the U.S.–my goal is to get them a good dose of what Soldiers experience day-to-day.  This runs the gamut from garrison to tactical operations.

So I arranged to take the McClatchy reporter on a patrol with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment “Steel Tigers” (I like their nickname).  This patrol, like all the patrols we have through Iraqi cities, was conducted with the Iraqi Security Forces.  In this instance, it was a battalion operating under the 40th Iraqi Army Brigade.

It was night…patrol brief was conducted…strapped into 5-point harness in the back of MRAPs..ride out…strain to look out blast proof glass, wishing we could stop in town at a corner were a group of military aged males has assembled for socialization…not to arrest anybody, it’s 2009 not 2003…I wish we could stop and say “Shaaquu Maakauu?”…no stopping though.  Not allowed.  Might not be safe.  Heck, stopping is a silly idea.  I wouldn’t randomly crash a block party in the states.  Dropping in on a gathering in Iraq with a 10′ tall, 60,000 lbs. armored truck, and full-kit probably wouldn’t ingratiate me with the locals.  Silly me.

Fast forward…

…so we end up at an Iraqi Army checkpoint southeast of Nasiriyah.  Walk inside and are met by a proud Iraqi captain.  Iraqis tend to be quite hospitable, regardless of their lot in life.  So he offers us little 500 ML cans of 7UP.

The captain work and sleeps in this trailer most of the time.  Though, like most Iraq Army soldiers he goes on “janzaa” (leave) every few weeks to visit his family.

Sometimes you see the oddest bits of Western culture in Iraq.  The sleeping side of the trailer was dominated by a poster of the   “ideal” suburban home.  I really wanted to say, “Dude, what’s up with the poster?”  But, I couldn’t manage to find the right way to ask, so I passed.  The American dream lives on.

After establishing my legitimacy to bring media–many military people are wary of media–to his checkpoint we had a few minutes of social talk.  Connecting culturally is important when dealing with Iraqi counterparts.  The captain led off the discussion with movies and politics.  He equates the recent uptick in movies with predominately black casts to the Obama presidency.  He likes black movies.  He likes Obama.  Not sure what to make of my phenotype, he asked if I was “Basrawi.”  This has happened to me before.  The majority of the world are people of color, and in Iraq there’s a certain kinship I’ve been met with by many swarthy southern Iraqis.

This captain had served in the Army under Saddam’s regime.  He was based in Amarah in 2003 and decided to bug out after 15 consecutive days of bombing.  According to him, the outcome of OIF would have been different if the Coalition didn’t use so many planes.  I disagree.  Our tanks and artillery would have blasted away the rag-tag Iraqi Army.  At anyrate, this was just simple banter from former enemies who are now allies.  The Iraqi Army will do well to promote this captain.  We went to check out his troops.  They were disciplined, motivated, and vigilant.  A safe ride home and it was mission complete.

I hope to visit this captain again, sometime.  He is a brother-in-arms.

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Should the media cover military funerals

July 10, 2008
Fired ANC Public Affairs office

Fired Arlington National Cemetery Public Affairs officer

Hopefully my 18 month academic lobotomy at Georgetown will ensure that I make sound decisions when I graduate and embrace the media.

Recently the Public Affairs director at Arlington National Cemetery was fired for honoring a fallen Soldier’s family’s request to allow media at their loved ones funeral.  In April, one funeral was reported on by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post.  Today he has a full article about Gina Gray getting the “boot”.

In small towns across America there are monuments to honor our fallen Soldiers.  Remembering those killed in action is a necessary to keep the civilian citizenry engaged in the sacrifice Service members make while they “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic.”

Attending the funeral for Second Lieutenant Lisa N. Bryant at Arlington National Cemetery is an event I will never, ever forget.  I saw a similar event depicted on Army Wives and was touching but not quite the same.  The Soldiers of the Old Guard caissons platoon are among our Army’s finest ambassadors.  Their story and the story of the heroes who make the ultimate sacrifice on battlefields should be told.

I won’t speculate on any families reason to have media at a funeral.  What I do know is we celebrate our fallen heroes all the time.  Just a few weeks ago there many hours of live coverage of Tim Russert’s funeral and; Metro (Washington’s mass transit system) had it’s highest number of passengers during President Reagan’s state funeral.

This is all interesting to me.  There’s a balance between policy and free press.  Here’s an example of conflict between the two.  Most often the military has a hamonius and mutually beneficial relationship with the media.

What’s your opinion?  Have you ever been to a military funeral?