Factual · Powerful · Original · Iconoclastic
On Wednesday, April 5, I depart for Iraq to become an embedded reporter with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, returning April 26. My sponsoring publication will be the Weekly Standard, but I will be paying all expenses. My station will be Ramadi, in the largest Sunni province called Al Anbar. It will be just down the block, so to speak, from my last duty station of Fallujah.
I will initially be with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division (Army). After that I will be sent to "the Military Transitions Teams who live with, train and mentor the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)." Generally they are led on patrols by two Americans.
I have chosen Ramadi because, while Baghdad gets all the attention since it's large and reporters congregate there because they can safely retreat to their Green Zone bars and hotels in the evening, Ramadi is actually the "hottest" spot in the country. It's the headquarters of Al Queda in Iraq and a way-station for foreign terrorists coming in from Syria. After the Battle of Fallujah, many of the survivors fled to Ramadi. I was scheduled to be embedded there part of the time on my last trip but got bumped by Ollie North and his crew.
If it sounds perverse to go to the most dangerous part of the country, that's the whole idea. That's where I'm most likely to see action or, conversely, at least be working with soldiers who have seen and will see action. That's where the news is; not behind walls and wire in Baghdad or in Shiite or Kurdish areas.
As to working with the ISF, again that's the most dangerous duty an embed can have not only because even the best ISF don't fight as well as Americans but because - to a great extent for that very reason - they're most likely to be attacked. It's what Bob Woodruff was doing when he suffered his misfortune. But while his luck was bad, his thinking was good. The future of this war is in the hands of the ISF.
It is an unfortunate fact that safety and getting the story are inversely related. Even the cliched advice I constantly get to "Keep your head down" can hardly apply when you're going as not just a journalist but a photographer. You can even fire weapons with your face in the dirt, but you cannot take photos.
All that said, I have been in physical training for this since January and am in the best shape I've been since my last foray. The part of my colon that ruptured last time and ended my trip has been removed and what's left is healthier than most people my age.
As to my reasons, it's not a mid-life crisis or I would've stayed home and bought a Corvette. In life, perception is often more important than reality. That is all the more true for war and especially for guerrilla wars. No success on the battlefield can overcome a negative perception conveyed by the media. Recently, the Washington Post's media critic asked: "Have the media declared war on the war?" The answer he provided was yes. The most serious dissent he got was from a Newsweek columnist who insisted the media had been against the war all along.
Regardless of whether it was right to invade, I believe we must win or be dealt a terrible setback in the war on terror. I also don't believe the media have the right to decide who wins and loses our wars. I have the training and the writing ability to make my little contribution to getting the truth out about our success (or failure) over there and I will use it.