This post is dedicated to a reader who’s in for a long day. He says my blog posts make him laugh and think at the same time, so I hope this cheers him up and comforts him at the same time.
So with that said…
I never used to care much about the military.
I was a supremely unathletic girl growing up in the suburbs of north Texas. I liked stay ing inside and reading during recess. I liked glitter and unicorns. I liked writing more than I liked playing sports. So the idea of people torturing themselves on purpose and learning how to shoot guns disinterested me.
I probably should have cared more. My maternal grandfather was an officer in the Philippine Air Force. He signed up to fight in WWII when he was just 14 years old. My paternal grandfather was an officer of the Philippine Army, and he survived the Bataan Death March. My family has a storied military past, and I was raised to respect it. But I never gave the military much thought.
Then I came here. I was lured by the promise of a government reporting position, only to learn after moving that I would also have to be a military affairs reporter. All of a sudden, I could no longer afford not to care about the Army. It was my responsibility to give a shit about our uniformed personnel.
What I didn’t expect was that it would be so easy to care.
In my short tenure as the military affairs reporter, I’ve shed my armor of apathy and developed a deep, abiding appreciation and respect for the Army. I’ve met families and friends of people who risked it all. I’ve heard tales of valor, bravery and courage that I never believed was possible. I’ve been in the presence of some of the Army’s most brilliant leaders. I’ve listened to speeches that made me laugh and cry at the same time.
This past week was a celebration of the local Army division’s anniversary, and one of the command sergeant majors decided to hang up his fatigues after a 37-year-long career. CIA Director and retired general David Petraeus came for the ceremony to speak about his dear friend and how proud he was to have served with him.
I cried during the ceremony. And so did nearly everyone in the audience.
I no longer don’t care. I care a lot.
Which is why I want to embed.
For those of you who don’t know, units of the U.S. Army takes journalists with them when they deploy. It’s a way for the media to see how the United States is fighting the war while also protecting the civilian journalists. They call it embedding. Three units of the division here have begun deploying to Afghanistan, and I hope to go with them by the beginning of next year.
I haven’t even gotten approval from our publisher yet, and I don’t know if I will. Even if I do, I know it will be a long and difficult process because everyone knows bureaucracies are pains in the ass. But I’m excited for the stories I’ll be able to tell, the things I’ll get to see and the people I’ll get to meet.
However, the problem with embedding is it’s almost treated like a curse word among journalists. Some of the sharpest, most brilliant minds in my industry look upon the practice with disdain. They say it’s nothing but a way for the Army to perpetuate its propaganda machine. They say the Army is using the media to portray only the stories they want told. They say not much real war reporting can be done using a U.S. soldier as your shield.
That all may be true. I wouldn’t know. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to be a war correspondent. I want to be a military reporter. I am a military reporter.
The truth of the matter is I work for a community newspaper. We write and report stories that are meaningful to the community. Our community just happens to have a disproportionate amount of soldiers. And if a large percentage of the population in our community spends nine months out of the year getting shot at overseas, then it’s worth a look.
I don’t want to write about Middle East politics, because quite frankly I don’t know a thing about them. And I’m sure there are a lot of Afghanis who have amazing stories just waiting to be told by some intrepid, fearless reporter who works for a national paper of record, not a community paper.
Afghanistan is not my community and the Afghan population is not a part my coverage area.
The Army is my community, and the soldiers living in Afghanistan is a part of my coverage area. And there are stories to be told overseas, stories that a great deal of children, wives, mothers and fathers care a lot about and have a stake in.
I hope that makes sense.