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October 29, 2009
Honoring the fallenBy Greyhawk
As the Obama administration debated resource requirements, October became the deadliest month for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since the beginning of the war.
Even before the "record numbers" the president's approval ratings on Afghanistan were in free fall:
In previous polls, Obama received some of his highest ratings in relation to his dealings with Afghanistan, including 63 percent approval in April of his handling of the situation there. In the latest poll, 45 percent approve, down 10 percentage points in the past month alone, and 47 percent disapprove, an increase of 10 points. Nearly a third of those surveyed say they strongly disapprove.How to turn the situation around? Some say more troops, some say change strategy, others say withdraw - but someone in the White House got the bright idea that now would be a good time for a photo op.
A small contingent of reporters and photographers accompanied Mr. Obama to Dover, where he arrived at 12:34 a.m. aboard Marine One. He returned to the South Lawn of the White House at 4:45 a.m.It should have been a "good" day for the project; "This week alone, about two dozen soldiers have died in attacks and accidents." But while the remains of 15 soldiers and three federal agents arrived at Dover while the president was there, only one family elected to participate:
The other families chose not to, officials said, under a new Pentagon policy that lifted an 18-year ban on media covering the return of U.S. service members killed in action if families provide permission.
In the six months since the Obama administration lifted the Dover photo ban "258 families were allowed to choose whether they wanted the media present, 60 percent said yes, according to the military."
But just because families consent to coverage doesn't mean news organizations are always interested. After First Amendment advocates fought for the right to document the arrival of the flag-draped metal caskets, dubbed "transfer cases" by the military, there are often just a handful of journalists on hand. More than a third of all ceremonies open to the media in the first six months were covered only by the Associated Press.
Perhaps better days lie ahead.
Photo of the Day for October 29, 2009. Members of the press pool study inscriptions on ceremonial shovels prior to a Presidential commemorative tree planting on the North Lawn of the White House, Oct. 28, 2009. October 28, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
More - someone ensured no angle on this story was left unexplored in the global coverage of this event.
Under George Bush, who launched the conflict in retaliation for the terrorist 9/11 attacks, news media were barred from observing the return of fallen troops through Dover airbase.
In a pre-dawn chill, he boarded the C-17 cargo plane that transported the remains of one soldier, US Army Sergeant Dale Griffin. An air force chaplain led a prayer on board and Mr Obama then stood at attention at the base of the plane's loading ramp as Sergeant Griffin's family arrived.Still more - a good question from Matt:
If the family of Sergeant Dale Griffin hadn't approved the media to photograph his remains returning to the United States (they were the only family that gave approval), would the President have still made the trip the Dover?A good question for the White House, that is - and I'm certain that's who he's asking, even if it's not answerable. As for the family, they (like so many others) leave me humbled and amazed:
Griffin, who was a part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, joined the Army immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to his mother, Dona Griffin, who was interviewed by the Tribune-Star earlier this month. At the time of that interview, Dona Griffin and husband Gene were leading volunteers at the Terre Haute Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints making about 40 blankets for U.S. servicemen and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Final update - here's video of the event. Nice camera work.
And never say final update: The original press release from the Air Force announced two families had authorized media coverage - but today it was updated to list only one. Here's why:
Bates' name was on an Air Force list released Wednesday of soldiers whose families had authorized media coverage of a soldier's return. It did not list his unit. The family later reversed the decision.
PFC Brian Bates is survived by his wife, 2-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son.
And while others may debate the act, as each of the fallen were "come before Obama" in their turn an AP reporter was clearly impressed by the man at the center of attention:
Next day update: The New York Times has rewritten their story, deleting some of the quotes at the beginning of this post. (Hat tip: Nice Deb)
The wife of Army Pfc. Brian Bates, who died Tuesday in Afghanistan, said she changed her mind and decided against allowing coverage after learning by phone around 11 p.m. EDT Wednesday that Obama would attend.
Posted by Greyhawk / October 29, 2009 8:41 AM | Permalink
On the day of the president's visit to Dover the original press release from the Air Force announced two of 15 military families had authorized media coverage - the day after it was updated to list only one. Here's why:Bates' name was on an Air Force l... Read More
Pres'ent B-rawk, quoted at Blackfive:"First time I saw 10th Mountain Division, you guys were in southern Iraq. When I went back to visit Afghanistan, you guys were the first ones there. I had the great honor of seeing some of you because a comrade of y... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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