The Bush administration clearly has a legitimate beef when officials complain that encouraging news from Iraq is ignored by the media in favor of stories about scandal and setbacks. After a month of all Abu Ghraib, in all its illustrated details, all the time, I imagined the Pentagon might gratefully welcome some attention to the courageous dedicated soldiers who do represent the tens of thousands serving honorably in Iraq. Until my recent frustrating experience when I tried to tell a few of those stories. While the Marine Corps makes certain that its Marines receive the credit and admiration they’ve justly earned, I found that the Army effectively camouflages its combat heroes.
As a career Army wife (and mother and daughter) I have a first loyalty, and a longstanding crush on the Marines. I intended to highlight exemplary members of both services. Had it been up to the Army, “The Soldiers You Never Hear About” would have been a mistakenly titled account of courageous Marines in action. I recognize that the Army is a really big organization, but there’s no excuse for the lack of interest I encountered when I attempted to bring some attention to those in its ranks who so richly deserve it.
Colonel George Rynedance, in the Pentagon’s office of public affairs, initially talked to me about identifying some of the services’ decorated heroes. He explained that each service had to be contacted separately. In three phone calls, I had the medal citations I was looking for from the Marines on my fax machine. I talked to a Marine captain at Quantico and a Lieutenant at Camp Pendleton. They both followed up to make sure I had everything I needed. The performance of these young officers is not merely the result of a smooth, disciplined public-affairs operation. It seems to me that their interest and responsiveness reflects the Corps’s ethos of Marines taking care of fellow Marines.
When I called the Department of Army, I was referred to its “awards branch.” There I was told that no information about soldiers’ medal exploits was available. The “awards” office had no information on the first Distinguished Services Crosses awarded since the Vietnam War. It was recommended that I call the individual duty stations of individual decorated soldiers. At Fort Bragg, I was told that I would have to be able to identify a decorated soldier by name before a citation detailing his actions could be tracked down. The public-affairs office appeared unaware of any recent award ceremonies for service in Iraq. My updates to Col. Rynedance on the dead-ends I was encountering were met with a detached response.
Perhaps a team of researchers from 60 Minutes could have found Army officers as determined as those Marines to see that their soldiers receive the credit they deserve. But, 60 Minutes isn’t interested in telling stories of heroism and self-sacrifice in Iraq, and as far as I can tell neither is the Army. I was unable to find anyone in the Army much interested in my modest project.
Soldiers obviously deserve better than the current disjointed system that inhibits widespread public recognition of their bravery. Couldn’t the Army War College be a repository for the official citations, stories, and press releases about the soldiers who have earned the service’s highest awards?
Next time the Pentagon complains that good stories aren’t being told, it might be because the military isn’t telling them.