Saturday, December 09, 2006

 

Free Speech Unspoken

Several months ago now, I was invited to contribute a piece to be taped for the FreeSpeech segment on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. This invitation had resulted from a contact within Simon & Schuster, the publisher of the MILBLOG Anthology, The Blog of War, to which I contributed.

As many of those who contributed segments were to find out, the ninety or so second FreeSpeech segments became more advocacy than opinion. Ratings for Katie’s new vehicle slid within the first week on air, and the FreeSpeech segments withstood a fair amount of criticism from audiences, as well as internal news staff, who objected to a precious 90 seconds of airtime of a 24 minute news program given over to amateurs.

As part of an effort to revive the moribund Couric Evening News, CBS has reduced the FreeSpeech segment to a minimalist once every week or two appearance, and limited the segments to those that can be “hooked” to some current event or news. Producers explain that already taped segments – such as mine -- will almost certainly never air. At least I had the consolation of seeing Wade Zirkle of Vets for Freedom make it on air.

Ah, my potential 90 seconds of fame evaporates before I can even enjoy it.

The process by which this piece was written and edited, and how it transformed in the process of taping, is an interesting story in and of itself.

Before I explain, please let me say up front that any editorial changes were made in the interest of time and the demands of on air television, and moreover, were made with my consent. I had a great time working with all the CBS producers, and the largest amount of edits were done in a fashion I can only describe as collaborative, between the Senior Producer and I. Having never participated in such an effort, I was very impressed with his ability to discern the heart of the piece, capture what he described as its “ambivalence,” heighten it’s emotional power, and yet preserve the essential character of the piece, all while chopping out nearly a minute of elapsed time, to meet the 90 second requirement. (And even with that, we thought we might be 10 seconds too long.)

When I arrived at CBS News studios to tape the segment, we had to cut an additional 15 seconds or so, and again, it was a collaborative effort. They had me run through the piece about ten times against a black backdrop, then again another dozen times or so across the street in the newsroom of cbsnews.com.

Mrs. Manly accompanied me to New York, and we thoroughly enjoyed the visit to the City, and even squeezed in a quick visit to our favorite restaurant in Chinatown for some Peking Duck. While at CBS, Mrs. Manly filled in as hair stylist, makeup consultant, and even on-screen copy editor when we needed to recreate the on-air edits of the piece in the teleprompter software when we switched locations. She watched me run through the piece some two dozen times, and insists that I’m a natural. Just like her – she probably could have gotten both of us jobs that day, if that’s what we were about.

For the enjoyment of loyal readers, I wanted to share all three versions of the piece. If you’d like, you can let me know which you prefer in comments. I think this whole exercise underscores my belief that bloggers need good editors more than anything. Okay, just me. But still.

ORIGINAL TEXT AS SUBMITTED

I mobilized with the 642 Military Intelligence Battalion, 42nd Infantry Division, New York Army National Guard, trained for 8 months, and served 10 months in Tikrit, Iraq. We returned home in November 2005, and left nobody behind. That’s a part of the story.

I’m asked all the time if I saw any combat. I answer, it depends what you mean.

We convoyed 600 miles from Kuwait to our forward operating base (or FOB). We traveled mostly at night; in daylight surrounded by an alien, all brown landscape. Smoke, flares, and at times a heavy silt in the air. Rumors of war, but little else. Little sleep.

We experienced mortars, rockets, and vehicle born improvised explosive devices (or VBIEDs), sporadic and largely ineffective. A mortar landed in our motor pool the morning of our arrival, and missed us by 30 minutes. A barrage on the dining facility parking lot at noontime injured several; one stray mortar landed in a designated smoking area, gravely injuring a Navy Sailor attached to our unit.

Sometimes it was funny, crazy, absurd. The VBIED in town, close enough to break windows and drop a rough rain of car parts, caused our Supply Sergeant to dash out of the shower sans towel. Other booms and blasts brought us – recklessly but with great confidence – onto the roof or into the street to see where the blast was. Speculate on what, where, and against whom. On or off the FOB?

Our headquarters ran over 100 convoys. Some tense moments in town or on the highway, but again, no injuries or accidents.

We all had missions. A few involved danger, some frustrating, some desperately dull. Dull is good, we say, boring is good. Every single one was important. We all watched as the Iraqis had two successful, safe elections. We saw the joy, the purple fingers.

Still, some soldiers grew disgusted that there wasn’t any “action.” Some breezed through their deployments. Some soldiers seemed to develop difficulties with the start and stop, on and off again vigilance, even the simple after-effects of basic, low level stress.

It really had nothing to do with whether you got shot at, or rode through an IED, or witnessed first hand a mortar or rocket strike. It had most to do with what was inside of you, what made you tick, how you coped, how you pushed both the crazy mundane, and the hopped up combat rush out of your mind, just to do the next necessary thing.

It turned out the same for our spouses, and children. They feared the worst, pushed it out of their minds as hard as possible. Longed for the phone call or email through the week. Relieved when off the phone, because contact somehow made it difficult. Saw the changes, at home, with their Soldier, in themselves. More courage and strength than many of us managed, away.

Because war really does bring a man or woman to a point of clarity, and maybe refinement, as in the way precious metals are refined by fire, the “refiner’s fire,” as scripture reminds us.

The average soldier returning from Vietnam felt abandoned by his country and shunned by his fellow citizens. Many felt deep guilt that they survived while buddies didn’t make it out alive. Today’s veterans are often overwhelmed by the support and encouragement of our fellow citizens, family, neighbors, friends and co-workers.

“I’m no hero,” most of us say. “I never saw any action,” or even, “I never really thought I was in any danger.” Boredom and tedium, and more American style services and amenities than any prior generation of soldiers could dare to imagine. For most, but obviously not all. Like a lottery in reverse, where only the very unlucky lost.

The rest of us won, I guess. Of course. But there’s always a price, always a missing piece. What you do with that missing piece, how you fill that emptiness, makes all the difference. For me, it’s my faith in God, and the Rock of my Salvation, Jesus. For many, it’s faith in America, in our principles and ideals. Good or bad, whatever the result, the country called, and we responded. We served.

Like they say, some gave all. All gave some. Missing pieces.

Home can’t ever feel like Iraq, thank God, but home doesn’t feel like home anymore, either.

FINAL TEXT AS EDITED PRE-TAPING

I’m a veteran of Iraq.

I’m asked all the time if I saw any combat. I answer, it depends what you mean.

We saw mortars and rockets. Two mortar attacks (out of a hundred or more) caused injuries. We ran past improvised explosive devices (or IEDs), but we were lucky, no injuries even from those that went off. Booms and blasts grew familiar, though remote.

Some jobs involved danger, some desperately dull. Boring was good. We watched as the Iraqis had three successful, safe elections. We saw the joy, the purple fingers, freedom.

Some soldiers grew disgusted there wasn’t any “action.” Some breezed through their deployments. Some developed difficulties with the on and off again vigilance, and after-effects of constant, low level stress.

It had nothing to do with whether you got shot at, or rode through an IED, or witnessed a mortar or rocket strike. It had most to do with what was inside, how you coped, how you pushed both the crazy mundane, and the hopped up combat rush out of your mind, just to do the next necessary thing.

It turned out the same for our spouses and children. They feared the worst, pushed it out of their minds. They longed for the phone call or email, were relieved when off the phone, because contact made it more difficult. They saw the changes in their Soldier, in themselves. More courage and strength than many of us managed.

The average soldier returning from Vietnam felt abandoned by country and shunned by fellow citizens. Today, we’re overwhelmed by the support of our family, neighbors, and friends. “I’m no hero,” most of us say. “I never saw any action.” Boredom and tedium. For most, but obviously not all. Like a lottery in reverse, where only the very unlucky lost.

The rest of us won…I guess.

FINAL VERSION AS TAPED

I’m asked all the time if I saw any combat. I answer, it depends what you mean.

We saw mortars and rockets. Ran into improvised explosive devices (or IEDs), but no injuries even from those that went off. Booms and blasts grew familiar, though remote.

Some jobs involved danger, some desperately dull. Boring was good. We watched as the Iraqis had three successful, safe elections. We saw the joy, the purple fingers, freedom.

Some soldiers grew disgusted there wasn’t any “action.” Some breezed through their deployments. Some developed difficulties with the on and off again vigilance, and after-effects of constant, low level stress.

It had nothing to do with whether you got shot at. It had most to do with how you coped, how you pushed both the crazy mundane, and the hopped up combat rush out of your mind, just to do the next necessary thing.

It turned out the same for our spouses and children. They feared the worst, pushed it out of their minds. Longed for the phone call or email. Relieved when off the phone, because contact made it more difficult. Saw the changes in their Soldier, in themselves.

The average soldier returning from Vietnam felt abandoned by country and shunned by fellow citizens. Today, we’re overwhelmed by the support of our family, neighbors, and friends. “I’m no hero,” most of us say. “I never saw any action.” For most, but obviously not all. Like a lottery in reverse, where only the very unlucky lost.

The rest of us won, I guess.

Labels: ,




Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]