Tuesday, August 21, 2007


A Little Exaggeration?

Sarah at Trying to Grok links to a Newsweek/MSNBC article on a soldier’s homecoming. Sarah picks up on a highly suspect factual statement (Fabulism ala Beauchamp) hidden in the reunion piece. But I found something else that seemed a bit exaggerated, too.

Allison Samuels writes of her 24 year old cousin returning from a tour in Iraq, her family’s anxieties in her absence, and relief with her safe return home. Here’s how she introduces us to her ordeal – not her cousin’s, but Samuels:

For our family, the months of living on edge began in June 2006, when Alexia Cain was given orders to ship to Iraq. She’d enlisted in the Army months before, frustrated by the lagging job market after graduating from college. For the three years prior to that, images of fresh-faced soldiers heading off to war had been a constant on my bedroom television set. Many of the faces that flashed on the screen somehow seemed familiar in that “I-know-I’ve-seen-you-somewhere-before” way, and I prayed that those I may have known—-or didn’t—would have a safe journey there and a safe return home in mind, body and spirit.

Far be it from me to challenge the objects and particulars of a military family member’s anxieties about their loved one in combat. But as a National Guard soldier rather advanced in years myself, who deployed to Iraq with the NY Army National Guard, I know from first hand experience that many of our soldiers in Iraq are not “fresh-faced” by any means. Our average age was about 38, and while anti-war agitators and other partisans like to talk about “our boys and girls” serving in Iraq, that’s a caricature that’s not very accurate.

Be that as it may, I watched a lot of television footage on Iraq –less while I was actually mobilized and deployed – but still a fair amount. I saw many more of the “less than stereotypic” soldiers in many of these reports. I got to think that reporters often went out of their way to get footage of the overweight, and over-aged. Again, I don’t want to throw down a gauntlet or anything, but I think Samuels created that imagery for the purposes of her article.

Note too the implication that Samuels cousin joined the Army because she couldn’t get a (safer) job in the “lagging job market.” I’m kind of curious about the existence of such a job market, especially for a college graduate in a big city metropolitan area. In this article, Samuels plays correspondent on in what has the flavor of a diary entry or essay, rather than a news feature, so perhaps no need to fact check. I wonder if Samuels cousin would explain her choice to serve as out of “frustration” with her employment prospects. Just curious.

Samuels goes on to explain how difficult her cousin’s service was the family, and what happened when grim reality fell upon them:

As a family, we all knew Alexia could be sent to the war-torn region at any time, but we also prayed that some miracle would happen to change her fate and that of so many others. It just had to. But it didn’t. Our family had never sent anyone to war before, and so the ordeal of the next several months was completely alien. Some mornings I would eagerly turn on CNN as soon as I opened my eyes, to watch the latest news on the war. Other mornings I couldn’t bring myself to listen to one more word. Though NEWSWEEK regularly features articles on the war, I bypassed them in search of lighter fare. It was as if by not seeing the images, I could hold fast to my fantasy that all was right in the world and Alexia was safe and sound at her home in Atlanta, still dreaming her adolescent dreams of marrying Kobe Bryant.

Reality was, of course, much more grim. There were images of soldiers with lost limbs learning to walk again on prosthetics. I’d read reports of some female soldiers allegedly being raped by Iraqi insurgents—some 50 to 75 rapes, according to The New York Times. Alexia assured us that several male soldiers had volunteered to walk her home after she stood post at night. But that reassurance still couldn’t erase the images of assaults, bombs and corpses.

Sarah questioned this very remarkable assertion that some 50-75 female soldiers in Iraq have been raped by Iraqi insurgents. If such a report has actually appeared in print, it would be far from remarkable that it would have appeared in the NY Times. On Page One. In screaming, Pearl Harbor sized headlines.

That would be if any such report actually appeared. To my knowledge, none has.

She may have been thinking of this much publicized article, which explored female Iraqi veterans with PTSD, or who were victims of sexual harassment, rape, or assault. This is the Times piece on “The Women’s War,” which featured an account of a woman who claimed to be victimized while in Iraq, when in fact she never served there. Not that that diminishes the horror of what otherwise remains a very disturbing piece of reporting.

But that’s rather different from what’s conveyed by Samuels here, that she recalls a NY Times article that reported “female soldiers allegedly being raped by Iraqi insurgents – some 50 to 75 rapes.” It seems a gratuitous reference, or simply an error. Female soldiers do need to be especially vigilant to the threat of assault, but from host nation and third party nationals on base, as well as their fellow soldiers, and less from insurgents off the FOB.

In our unit, soldiers of both sexes were instructed to NEVER travel alone, day or night, but of course we were at our most insistent with our female personnel. Rape and sexual assault is a serious problem, in the military as in civilian life, and the military trains, maintains and tries to enforce a zero tolerance policy. In the final days of mobilization training, we were asked to spend valuable training time training on sexual assault prevention: the risks, ways to prevent or avoid, reporting, and command responsibilities. Bottom line, we needed to do everything we could to make sure our fellow soldiers wouldn’t be victims. We would lay down our lives for each other in combat, why would we tolerate harassment or a sexual assault that harmed a fellow soldier?

(H/T Andi at MILBLOGS)

(Cross-posted at MILBLOGS

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