A forward from one of my retired conservative buddies...
Thur, 21 Jul 2005 09:28:34 -0500
Handing Over the Mic -- Troops talk from Iraq.
By Michael Graham
I just spent a week in Iraq and Kuwait cultivating a skill that I, as a
talk-show host, have found nearly impossible to master: shutting up.
Turns out, it was easier than I thought, at least in Iraq. When you're
listening to a 20-year-old kid from Indiana tell how he earned his
Purple Heart, speechlessness is the natural reaction.
I was there as part of the much-maligned "Truth Tour" organized by Move
America Forward, a conservative group based in California. According to
reports in the mainstream media, I was part of a "propaganda" junket
for by the Pentagon to buy some desperately needed positive coverage of
the unwinnable military quagmire. All I can say is: If this was a
was the worst-run junket in the history of public relations.
My radio station and I had to pay all my expenses, I slept on a bare
a tent in the desert, and at some locations the only available "food"
I use that term under protest) were MREs ? which stands for "Meals
Ready to Eat...assuming you've already eaten both shoes and most of
This alleged "junket" failed in another way, too. The Pentagon didn't
control what went out over the airwaves. Then again, neither did I. I
left it all up to the soldiers.
I traveled about Iraq from Camp Victory at the Baghdad International
Airport to Camp Prosperity on the very edge of the Red Zone, then down
Baghdad Highway to Camp Falcon, and on to the Command Headquarters in
the heart of the city and, eventually, to the deserts of Kuwait and
Arifjan. And everywhere I went, I flipped on my mic, sat back, and let
troops tell their story.
These soldiers weren't stooges from Public Affairs or handpicked flag
wavers foist on me by media handlers. I found some in the mess hall,
working security checkpoints; others sought me out because they have
family living in the D.C. area where my radio show is broadcast. The
fortunate were the soldiers in Humvees stuck with "tourist duty," four
friendly but serious young men who got stuck with a couple of bonehead
radio hosts riding along on patrol.
In all, I spoke to more than 100 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and
with different ranks and different duties at their FOBs (forward
base), and yet they overwhelmingly had the same things to say about the
war in Iraq:
"We believe in the mission."
"We're making progress."
"The Iraqis are making progress, too."
And, perhaps most important of all: "We're going to win."
I expected to hear this sort of positive assessment from General George
Casey, commander of operations in Iraq, when I interviewed him at his
headquarters deep inside the International Zone. When he pointed out
that, one year ago, there was just one standing battalion in the Iraqi
but there are 107 battalions today, he was doing his job of supporting
And I expected it from Lt. General Steve Whitcomb, commanding general
the 3rd Army, as he talked about successfully moving more than one
million gallons of fuel across Iraq every day, despite the best efforts
Generals are supposed to be gung ho. It comes with the pay grade.
But I heard the same, positive assessments from 23-year-old sergeants
from New Iberia, La., and from PFCs from Wisconsin and Alabama. I heard
from Lieutenant Li, whose Humvee had been hit by IEDs so many times
count. I heard it from Airman Truong, who was born in Vietnam and had
recently returned to his native country to marry. Two weeks after "I
Truong was headed back to Kuwait to do his duty for his adopted
Again and again, from "white-collar" soldiers working in the relative
safety of Camp Victory at the Baghdad airport to the "real" soldiers
patrolling Route Irish (a.k.a the "Highway of Death"), I heard that
America and their Iraqi-army allies are winning the war against the
I was told again and again by the soldiers themselves that their (our)
is just, the strategy is working, and the enemy they fight represents
In other words, I heard things seldom heard on CBS or read in the pages
of the New York Times.
It was only a week, and I have my obvious Bush-supporting,
biases, but how much closer can a reporter get to delivering unspun,
bias-free objective reporting than live-mic broadcasting instantly back
the states? No edits or filters or editorial meetings. Just the young
in the hot desert telling what they've seen, what they've heard, and
they now believe based on those experiences.
Isn't it at least significant that not one in 100 thought invading Iraq
a mistake? Was it mere coincidence that a random selection of 100
all believe their mission is worthwhile? Should we detect the hand of
Vast, Right-Wing Conspiracy in the fact that the vast majority of the
troops find the media coverage of the war ignorant, harmful, or both?
I'm proud to say that, for a week, the soldiers had their say. If I
the editor of a major daily newspaper or a national network, I would be
concerned that what they said is so contrary to what I am printing or
But the mainstream media don't need to hear from the soldiers. They
know that the war was a terrible mistake, that the world would be safer
we'd left Saddam in power, and that there is no chance for victory in
Me, I'm not so smart. I like to let the guys on the ground tell their
story. I believe it is completely possible that they know something
that I ? and the New York Times editorial page ? do not.
? Radio-talk host Michael Graham covers southern politics from his home
in Virginia. He is an NRO contributor.
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