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Is it simply too dangerous for our journalists to continue being there? (1 March 2004)

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  • Jim Galasyn
    Iraq Front News Subscribe: IraqFrontNews-subscribe@yahoogroups.com 1 March 2004 News roundup by Jim Galasyn ... In this issue: a.. Large explosion heard in
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2004
      Iraq Front News
      1 March 2004
      News roundup by Jim Galasyn

      In this issue:

       ~ Bring Them Home ~
      Large explosion heard in Baghdad
      From correspondents in Baghdad, Iraq
      A LARGE explosion has been heard in central Baghdad and appeared to have come from the vicinity of the headquarters of the U.S. occupation authority.
      A Black Hawk helicopter circled over the the green zone, the US compound that includes Saddam Hussein's former Republican Palace which serves as headquarters of the US-led coalition, shortly after the explosion.

      There were no immediate details on the cause of the blast. top

      Jordanian soldier in Iraq wounded in drive-by shooting

      AMMAN: A Jordanian soldier working at Jordan's military hospital in Iraq's flashpoint western town of Fallujah was wounded as attackers opened fire from two cars Sunday, the government spokeswoman here said.
      Sergeant Sedki Suleiman al-Zaarir was "hit by gunfire from two Iraqi civilian vehicles on the road between Fallujah and Baghdad", Asma Khodr said.
      "The sergeant was wounded and taken to the Jordanian hospital," she added, stressing the man's life was not in danger.
      Fallujah, 60 kilometres (38 miles) from Baghdad, lies in the so-called Sunni triangle where US troops have come under persistent attacks by insurgents since Saddam Hussein's regime fell last April. top

      Pentagon Alerts Four Major National Guard Units to Prepare for Duty in Iraq
      By Robert Burns The Associated Press
      Published: Mar 1, 2004

      WASHINGTON (AP) - Four major Army National Guard units have been placed on alert for possible deployment to Iraq late this year or in early 2005 as part of a larger force rotation, officials said Monday.

      The units are the 42nd Infantry Division headquarters from the New York National Guard, the 256th Infantry Brigade from Louisiana, the 116th Cavalry Brigade from Idaho and Oregon, and the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment from Tennessee, according to several officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
      The alert notifications were expected to be publicly announced later Monday at the Pentagon.
      The exact number of Guard members who would be mobilized is unclear; the number could change depending on the security situation in Iraq during the course of this year, but they likely would total several thousand or more.
      The four units have not been formally mobilized; those orders likely would come in several weeks.
      The alerts were issued well in advance in order to give the Guard members adequate time to prepare for the likelihood of being mobilized and sent to Iraq for 12-month tours. Many Guardsmen and some members of Congress complained that earlier mobilizations for Iraq came with little advance notice.
      The Pentagon is relying heavily upon Guard and Reserve troops in Iraq. Three Guard brigades - from Arkansas, North Carolina and Washington state - are part of the current troop rotation, which is in midcourse. They will spend a full year in Iraq, to be replaced by the newly alerted Guard units, if the Pentagon's current projection of troop requirements remains steady.
      The troop rotation now under way is substituting about 110,000 active duty and Guard troops for the approximately 130,000 who have been in Iraq for a full year. The subsequent rotation, which is scheduled to take place roughly one year from now, is likely to involve about 100,000 more troops.
      The active-duty units tapped for the 2005 rotation have not been publicly identified. top

      18,000 National Guard Troops Face Likely Iraq Duty   
      WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Defense Department said on Monday it was alerting around 18,000 part-time National Guard troops from New York, Louisiana, Idaho and Tennessee for a likely call to active duty in Iraq  late this year or early in 2005.
      The advance notification for rotation duty was being given to provide predictability and planning time for families of the part-time troops with civilian jobs, who would have to serve for a full year in Iraq, the Pentagon said.
      The U.S. military has been stretched by conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, with nearly 183,000 part-time U.S. National Guard members and military reservists already on active duty in the United States and around the globe.
      The Pentagon said that units being notified for likely calls to active duty were the 42nd Infantry Division Headquarters from New York, the 256th Separate Infantry Brigade from Louisiana, the 116th Separate Armored Brigade from Idaho and the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment from Tennessee. top

      For Reporters in Iraq, Security Gets Personal
      By Howard Kurtz
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Monday, March 1, 2004; Page A11

      Michael Holmes was in a Chevy Suburban headed toward Baghdad late last month when the first armor-piercing bullet blasted through the seat between him and his cameraman.
      "I saw this guy in an Opel car standing in the sunroof and firing what appeared to be an AK-47," the CNN correspondent recalled. "It was a terrifying experience."
      As gunfire rained down on the six staffers in a two-car caravan, the network's security guard shouted "Down! Down!," thrust half his body out the passenger window and began returning fire. Two of CNN's Iraqi employees, a driver and producer, were killed, and cameraman Scott McWhinnie was grazed in the head, but the guard hired by the network enabled the rest to escape.
      "The guy's a hero," Holmes said. "I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that if he hadn't returned fire, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
      As violence continues to plague postwar Iraq, American journalists there say they have never been more nervous about their safety. Since major combat operations ended in April, six deaths and a number of injuries and close calls among news staffers have prompted a soul-searching debate over whether they, or their bodyguards, should carry guns.
      The latest incident took place Saturday, when a gunman with an AK-47 opened fire on a Fox News convoy led by Geraldo Rivera near Mosul. A driver in the lead vehicle, which contained the network's security guards, was grazed on his left arm by a bullet that shattered the window. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have just been attacked!" Rivera said as the camera rolled.
      Rivera later showed viewers the holes in his armor-plated Toyota Land Cruiser: "I was seated here in the back seat. This was the one that had my name on it. Thank God there is bulletproofing inside."
      There is a long tradition in the news business that journalists, like Red Cross workers, should be seen as unaligned observers with no weapons or agenda. That tradition is being sorely tested, journalists say, in Iraq, where insurgents routinely target Americans in shootings and bombings in an effort to undermine the occupying force.
      In past conflicts, from World War II to Vietnam to the U.S. invasion of Iraq last year, most journalists did not carry guns -- in part because most of them traveled with and were protected by American troops. But the dangers of postwar Iraq are so random and so pervasive that questions about security have become life-and-death decisions.
      In interviews with staff members at nearly a dozen news organizations, none said they approved of reporters and photographers carrying guns. But there are periodic debates about such matters as whether to use armored vehicles, which are more conspicuous even though unmarked, or conventional cars.
      The major television networks, which must move crew members and their equipment to cover stories, have signed with expensive security firms that provide squadrons of armed guards.
      Correspondent Jim Avila met with such guards, from the London-based firm Centurion, when he checked into the small hotel on a busy Baghdad street that NBC was using last fall. They told him the building was too exposed and they were trying to find a safer locale.
      Unwilling to wait, Avila moved to a more secluded hotel around the corner. Four days later, he was awakened by a bomb blast and rushed to the building he had recently vacated.
      "It was chaos," Avila recalled. "There were people stumbling around, there was dust and smoke." Finding an NBC sound man injured and a hotel staffer dead, Avila felt lucky -- and grateful for the warning from Centurion.
      "They have their own intelligence," said David Verdi, NBC's executive director for news. "They're wired to local Iraqis, to the Iraqi police, to the U.S. military, and they do their own reconnaissance on the roads. We do not travel without our security firm escorting us."
      For CBS, a British-Australian firm called Pilgrims proved crucial in recent weeks when an Iraqi threw an explosive device at a two-car CBS convoy that blew up an unrelated car in the middle. The guards returned fire while ordering the cars to speed away from the situation, said Marci McGinnis, CBS's vice president for news.
      "They're not flashy lunatics who say, 'Don't touch my people or I'll blow your head off,' " McGinnis said. "It's crazy to be in this situation and not have protection for your people." Without Pilgrims, she said, "I don't think I could sleep at night."
      But the networks draw the line at arming staff members. "We're journalists -- we're not gunslingers," said Chuck Lustig, ABC's director of foreign news. "We don't send people to target ranges to practice shooting. Our preference is to have security people who can watch over us, but we shouldn't be doing that ourselves."
      The debate flared several weeks ago when the Wall Street Journal reported that Dexter Filkins, a New York Times correspondent in Iraq, was traveling with a gun. Soon afterward, Associate Managing Editor William Schmidt issued a memo saying that Times staffers "must never carry a weapon, openly or concealed. . . . The carrying of a weapon, for whatever reason, jeopardizes a journalist's status as a neutral."
      A Times spokeswoman and Filkins declined to comment. The issue has been a raw one at the Los Angeles Times since correspondents Chris Kraul, Tracy Wilkinson and Ann Simmons were injured, along with five Iraqi employees, in a New Year's Eve bombing at Baghdad's Nabil restaurant that killed five people. Kraul remains in danger of losing an eye.
      Wilkinson, who was pulling up in a car near the suicide bomber's vehicle when it struck the building, suffered deep cuts on her face and hands when her windshield collapsed. She had been pursuing a story about how Iraqis celebrate New Year's.
      Reporting in Iraq "can be exhausting," Wilkinson said. "It wears people out more quickly than in other places" and is "100 times" as stressful as her four years covering Israel.
      But Wilkinson never wanted gun-wielding guards: "You can't argue your neutrality if you're armed. You're seen as, if not a combatant, a person who's more of a target than you already are."
      Marjorie Miller, the paper's foreign editor, said the staff recently moved to a new house in a "less conspicuous neighborhood."
      "We have security guards outside our house," Miller said. "Our Iraqi drivers would like to carry guns because it is part of the culture there and they would feel more secure. The correspondents don't want to do it. We don't think it's good for journalism."
      But CNN's Holmes, an Australian-born journalist who has had other brushes with gunfire, said: "I don't get that argument. These guys were looking for people easy to kill. It's very personal when the bullets are coming into your car."
      At the Journal, where memories of reporter Daniel Pearl's 2002 kidnapping and murder in Pakistan have not faded, armed guards protect the paper's Baghdad offices but do not travel with reporters. The paper is also buying armored cars and giving its drivers courses in evasive driving.
      "The real nut of the problem is that there are clearly some people out there who are trying to hunt you down," said Bill Spindle, the Journal's Middle East editor. But he said his Iraq reporters don't want to travel with bodyguards because "you end up being held up by your own security half the time. They start to realize they can get money out of you a lot faster by blackmailing you."
      At a meeting in Baghdad earlier this month, attended by 40 correspondents and bureau chiefs from more than a dozen Western news outlets, there was stunned silence as Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran described the previous night's bombing of the home of a translator employed by the newspaper.
      The bomb was accompanied by a written message threatening anyone who cooperates with Americans. The translator was not injured in the attack, which shattered his gate and the front part of his house, but it prompted Post journalists to move to a new base of operations.
      "Was this the start of something broader against journalists, or was this an isolated incident?" Chandrasekaran, the paper's bureau chief, said from Baghdad. "We don't know." But he added that Iraqi insurgents "probably think getting publicity for the bad acts they commit is a good thing."
      Phil Bennett, The Post's assistant managing editor for foreign news, said the paper is "conducting a total review of our deployment in Iraq" and that if necessary, "we would consider withdrawing our people. I consider it all the time. That's an option."
      He added: "Carrying weapons deprives you of your status as a noncombatant, and that's an essential part of being a journalist in a war zone. Arming yourself, or creating a bunker mentality or an actual bunker, affects your reporting." The Post used armed guards for its Baghdad residence but not to accompany reporters in the field, Bennett said.
      Safety is a constant topic of discussion. Several news organizations have asked the U.S. civilian authority for copies of the daily security updates provided to Western contractors, but the request has not been granted. Others have tried putting curtains in the back of their cars to hide the identities of those inside.
      "It's a very dangerous place," said Eason Jordan, CNN executive vice president. "It's more dangerous for people who appear to be Westerners and most dangerous for television people, because they cannot operate in as low a profile way as print journalists."
      Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the hiring of armed guards can "jeopardize the perception" of journalists as "neutral observers." At a conference in Budapest last fall, she said, European journalists, who generally avoid guns, accused American news organizations of endangering them all by employing armed security in Iraq.
      "It's a very hot issue right now," Cooper said. "If you hire armed guards and they get into a gun battle and kill some civilians, how is that going to feel? Is that justifiable? The fundamental question is: Is it simply too dangerous for our journalists to continue being there?"
      Avila, who recently left NBC, has reservations about roaming Iraq with armed guards in tow. "I was not comfortable with it," he said. "I don't think bad guys should think we are armed. If they think we're armed, maybe they're going to shoot first. But it's dangerous either way." top
      Howard Kurtz hosts CNN's weekly media program.

      U.S. Military Drills Troops in Iraq   
      Mon Mar 1, 1:44 AM ET 
      By PAUL GARWOOD, Associated Press Writer
      TIKRIT, Iraq - With only weeks before thousands of war-weary American soldiers return home, the U.S. military is reminding them to stay focused on Iraq's lingering threats while preparing them for reintegration with their families and communities.
      Recognizing the anxieties facing soldiers wanting to return to their loved ones, military commanders have been drilling their forces to keep concentrated on their daily missions in order to prevent any casualties occurring so late into their year-long deployments.
      At the same time, many soldiers are facing difficulties of a different kind on the home front, from relationship dramas to financial woes, realities that the military is also trying to counter by sitting soldiers down to compulsory briefings on how to acclimatize to their home environments after spending the past year in a war zone.
      Recognizing that the hardships of war, anxieties about their return home and an inability to readjust into American society can be a deadly mixture, the military has embarked on an awareness offensive to keep troops' minds focussed.
      The chaplain of the Tikrit-based 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, Capt. Xuan Tran, 42, said Sunday that in June-July 2002, five American soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., returned from duties and either killed their wives, children or themselves.
      "We want to have our soldiers avoid that," he told The Associated Press between one of several counseling sessions he delivered to soldiers in Tikrit.
      After returning to the United States, soldiers will also undergo about a week of counseling to help them settle back into ordinary American life.
      "When soldiers get home they are tired, stressed and exhausted," Tran said. "If they don't have the ability to resolve conflicts peacefully they will use force or weapons. Over here they can use force every day to handle situations and that is they only thing they know.
      "If some don't know how to resolve conflicts peacefully, they will kill their wives, children and themselves and we want to avoid that."
      Tran said unfaithfulness from spouses, relationship separation and financial difficulties were the hardest things returning soldiers could be expected to face, and it was such potentialities that he said the military was trying to deal with before the troops leave Iraq.
      Lt. Col. Steve Russell, the 1st Battalion's commander, said for many soldiers, Iraq was their first combat deployment, and, therefore, its experiences have affected them in various ways.
      "For most of these young men, this is the longest they have been away from home and the first time they have experienced wartime service," Russell said. "Now, the men are excited about going home but they also understand that they can't let anything prevent them from getting there."
      Doing so looks like it won't be too hard.
      Many soldiers interviewed here say they will be doing whatever it takes to stay safe with so little time left in Iraq.
      "After spending all this time here, it would be terrible to have something happen to stop me from making it over the finishing line," said Staff Sgt. Temu Gibson, 33, of Fort Hood, Texas, where the 4th Infantry Division is based.
      Gibson, who like most of the thousands of soldiers based in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit has been in Iraq for about a year, said he was virtually counting down the minutes until he returned home in early- to mid-March.
      "Going home is all I think about."
      But he said there was one doubt he had about his departure.
      "That drive to Kuwait from Tikrit is the only concern for me," he said. The insurgents' "usual methods of attack are mere cowardice, where they use IEDs. (improvised explosive devices) and RPGs (rocket propelled grenades). They don't confront us face-to-face." top

      British troops slam poor planning by officers in Iraq war: press report
      Sun Feb 29, 6:01 AM ET 

      LONDON (AFP) - Thousands of British soldiers have complained that they suffered equipment shortages during the war in Iraq last year because of poor planning by senior officers, a newspaper said.
      A confidential report to be delivered to army chiefs next month states that many soldiers were "frustrated that they were not properly equipped", the Sunday Telegraph said.
      The military report added that the failure to get the right equipment to soldiers led to "significant morale and leadership issues".
      The report would also disclose that many soldiers believed that too much "government spin", or media manipulation, supporting the need for war was passed down the chain of command in the build-up to the US-led conflict launched last March, according to the Sunday Telegraph.
      The weekly said that one example of planning failures involved the death of Sergeant Steve Roberts, a British soldier who was killed by gunfire after he was ordered to hand over his body armour to an infantryman.
      Last week, an unnamed soldier who fought in the Iraq war told Britain's independent Channel Four television channel that he was sent into battle with just five bullets.
      British troops have also complained of shortages of clothing, boots, weapons and chemical warfare equipment.
      One senior officer told the Sunday Telegraph: "The report identifies a perception, at a junior level, that there has been a breach of trust between soldiers and officers."
      The unnamed officer added: "The war in Iraq was a military success but that was because, for the most part, the Iraqis didn't put up a fight.
      "If they had, we would have had serious problems because of the kit shortages. That fact hasn't been lost on the troops -- they aren't stupid." top

      The Casualty: An American soldier comes home from Iraq
      by DAN BAUM
      Issue of 2004-03-08
      Posted 2004-03-01

      When people talk about the Army being good for a certain kind of young man, it’s boys like Michael Cain they have in mind. Tall and lean, with a sweet smile and doll’s eyes, Michael spent his high-school years searching fitfully for the disciplined achiever within him. His home, a converted schoolhouse that his parents rented amid the dairy pastures and cornfields outside Berlin, Wisconsin, was a loving if unruly place, noisy with two little sisters and cluttered with the winter coats, boots, and other items it takes to keep a family going in the rural Midwest. Michael’s mother, Charlene, a sturdy woman with a broad, pretty face, earned most of the family income as a clerk in a Winnebago County mental-health clinic, forty-five minutes away. His father, Kenneth, a heavyset former machinist disabled by back pain, kept llamas in the back yard as a hobby. Michael loafed through school in his early teens, playing sousaphone in the marching band and clowning around in class. He liked to watch professional wrestling on TV. In his junior year, though, he found himself thinking that Berlin, population fifty-three hundred, looked small. Envisioning a career in computers, he bore down on his schoolwork and got decent grades, but then he seemed to lose interest in the prospect of going to college.
      Graduation, in 1999, marooned him. Having no clear idea what to do, Michael took a job stocking shelves at Wal-Mart. Within months, the thrill of adulthood had faded to a dreary routine of unpacking boxes under fluorescent lights and, after hours, gazing into the PlayStation 2 upstairs in his bedroom. In May of 2000, Michael drove forty minutes to an Army recruiting station in the Oshkosh City Center shopping mall and got the paperwork to sign up for a four-year hitch. Charlene first heard of her son’s plans when he came home that night and asked for his birth certificate.
      Charlene thought the military would be too tough for her easygoing son. “You hate having people tell you what to do,” she told him. Though Michael was nineteen and parental consent wasn’t required, the recruiter drove out to the Cains’ house to sit at the kitchen table among the canned goods and wrestling magazines and show her on his laptop the range of Army opportunities. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Charlene kept asking Michael as the recruiter, in crisp dress greens, sat stiffly between them. The laptop glowed with images of men flying helicopters and driving tanks. Less than a week later, Michael Cain was at the induction center in Milwaukee with a gym bag in his hand.
      To Charlene’s amazement, Michael thrived under military discipline. The unity of purpose, the clarity of authority, and the hard physical work all gave him hope of becoming the man he wanted to be—serious, competent, respected. His biggest gripe in calls home was that other soldiers were insufficiently respectful to the drill sergeant—a complaint that left his mother speechless. His score on the Army entrance exam wasn’t high enough to get him into electronics, but it qualified him to be an “eighty-eight mike”—a truck driver. For Private Cain, barrelling along in a thirty-eight-thousand-pound transport at highway speeds was more fun than arranging displays of toaster ovens. He twice wrote to his recruiter, describing how he was getting his “ass kicked” so hard he’d lost twenty-eight pounds, but also to thank him for helping him “fulfill a life long dream, being an american soldier!!!” After basic, he was sent to Vicenza, Italy, and spent two years driving trucks and taking parachute training in order to get his jump wings. The Army worked its traditional alchemy. Michael rose smoothly to the rank of specialist and was sent to Fort Hood, Texas. He met an attractive woman named Leslie Lantz, who worked at a Denny’s restaurant in the nearby town of Killeen, and they began seeing each other. On April 1st of last year, Cain departed for Kuwait, and left in her care his most precious possession—a new Dodge Ram pickup.
      Two decorations hold particular fascination for soldiers who are shipping out. The Combat Infantryman Badge, or C.I.B., is awarded for spending at least sixty days under fire. The Purple Heart goes to soldiers wounded by enemy action. Together, they mean that a soldier has experienced the essence of warfare. What soldiers want when they envision the Purple Heart is to get shot, patched up, and returned to their platoons in one piece. When Cain left for Iraq, he knew he’d get his C.I.B. But he also boasted to his mother that he’d win a Purple Heart.
      Assigned to the 299th Engineer Battalion in Tikrit, Cain took command of a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck—or “hemmit”—a monstrous land schooner that rides on eight four-foot-tall tires and hauls everything from gasoline to tampons. The battalion was comfortably billeted in an unfinished palace that had belonged to one of Saddam Hussein’s brothers-in-law, with rows of Army cots spread out under soaring arches. Twice a day, Cain and Specialist Keisha Duff, a twenty-seven-year-old eighty-eight mike from Humboldt, Tennessee, drove rations and water to soldiers camped two miles south on the four-lane road the Army calls Highway One. Cain impressed his company commander, Captain James Blain, as a particularly enthusiastic soldier, always ready to grab an M249 machine gun and volunteer for dangerous missions. Cain, the Captain wrote me, “was ready to rock and roll,” and was in the process of being promoted to sergeant. The unit never had quite enough water. But for that—and for having to wear a sixteen-pound flak vest, web gear laden with ammunition, and a four-pound Kevlar helmet in the hundred-plus heat—Cain considered Tikrit easy duty, with plenty of time to watch movies and play video games. He liked hanging around the battalion aid station, a tent with a couple of gurneys, swapping CDs and DVDs with Private First Class George Blohm and Private First Class Jeremy Brown, a pair of “ninety-one whiskeys”—medics.
      August 10th was a Sunday. At 9:40 a.m., Duff took the wheel of the hemmit and Cain the shotgun seat. A Humvee mounted with an M249 led the hemmit out of the palace compound, and another fell in behind. The vehicles lumbered up the short gravel road to Highway One. A hemmit’s cab extends several feet ahead of the front tires, and Cain recalls it swinging out over the blacktop of the highway as the truck made its turn. It is his last memory of Iraq.
      Medics Brown and Blohm were sitting in the aid station when their master sergeant ran in to report a possible casualty out on the highway. Medics no longer wear big red crosses on their helmets; during the Second World War, they suffered high losses because they were easy to pick off. Nowadays they look and dress like other soldiers, down to the weaponry, and address each other as “soldier-medic,” with the emphasis on “soldier.” Their primary mission is that of any warrior, which, as the Soldier’s Creed puts it, is to “engage and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.” Often the first thing a medic will do for a wounded soldier is shoot back, in order to protect him. Brown grabbed a rifle and a thirty-pound aid bag, Blohm took a stretcher, and together they raced toward a greasy cloud of smoke rising up from the highway.
      They could see at once that the hemmit had hit a mine; the enormous right front wheel was gone and the cab was crumpled. Blood, shiny oil, and bright-green engine coolant made a mess on the tarmac. Soldiers had ringed the scene and were pointing their rifles into the desert; mine strikes are frequently overtures to ambush. Keisha Duff had been thrown clear of the driver’s seat and was being rolled onto a stretcher. Jagged chunks of the cab were embedded in her arm, and she had a bad burn under her flak jacket. Screams echoed from the hemmit’s twisted cab; Blohm glanced inside. “Oh, shit,” he remembers thinking. “It’s my friend.” In addition to having to duck and return fire while administering aid, combat medics, unlike their civilian counterparts, often find themselves wrist-deep in the hot ruined flesh of their best friends.
      Cain’s right leg was a mangled slab of splintered bone and stringy red muscles; Blohm knew it couldn’t be saved. Both knees were visibly dislocated. The left thigh was twisted at a bad angle, indicating a broken femur, and the leg appeared both seared and flayed. Cain was shrieking in agony and panic. Brown, the senior medic on the scene, climbed up into the cab with him.
      The clock was running fast on what medics call “the golden hour”—the first sixty minutes after injury, when timely treatment can determine whether a soldier lives or dies. As recently as the Persian Gulf War, in 1991, the most highly trained medics were held behind the front lines at battalion aid stations. Front-line combat medics had neither the training nor the equipment, for example, to insert an airway tube into a patient’s throat. And, while they carried I.V. bags of plasma, they knew little of medication beyond morphine. Modern desert warfare involves such swift travel, though, that soldiers in a forty-m.p.h. Bradley fighting vehicle can quickly move beyond the reach of an aid station. And, in the kind of “asymmetric warfare” the Army finds itself conducting in Iraq, there are no “lines” anymore. In the nineteen-eighties, the Army Medical Command decided that every soldier would carry his or her own wound dressing; today, it is a big cotton pad that can absorb about half a litre of blood. Each thirteen-soldier squad has at least one “combat lifesaver,” a soldier with additional first-aid training who carries tourniquets, extra dressings, and maybe a few I.V. bags. Field soldier-medics like Brown and Blohm get the same level of training that used to be reserved for rear-echelon sergeant-medics—sixteen weeks of advanced first aid, drug mathematics, and training in invasive procedures like airway and nasal-gastric tubes and urinary catheters. One medic is usually assigned to every twenty-five-to-thirty-man combat platoon.
      Brown resisted the impulse to move straight to the glaring red wounds, and instead snapped into protocols. Doing his best to ignore Cain’s shrieking, he did an ABC check on his friend—airway, breathing, and circulation. Then he, Blohm, and two other medics lifted Cain out of the shattered cab and laid him on a litter. Cain wasn’t in danger of bleeding to death; the bubbly, malodorous burns caused by the blast had cauterized his arteries. Though the pain was obviously horrible, Brown gave Cain no morphine, because he knew that he would be heading for immediate surgery and wanted him lucid enough to sign surgical-consent papers.
      Soldiers speak to each other in a stream of acronyms and abbreviations that are incomprehensible to civilians but essential when shouting complex information over the din of battle. After the ABC check, Brown and Blohm ran through dcap-BTLS—an inventory of deformities, contusions, abrasions, punctures/penetrations, burns, tenderness, lacerations, and swelling. Then they palpated Cain’s body in a limb-by-limb tic, or a search for tenderness, instability, and crepitation (bone grinding on bone). They did a CCT, checking for color, condition, and temperature of Cain’s skin; and a PMS—pulse, motor, and sensory—check. They found no circulation in the right leg and a weak and inconsistent—“thready”—pulse in the left.
      Cain was writhing and crying, and as Blohm and Brown worked they tried to calm him with stock assurances—“You’ll be fine,” “Everything’s O.K.”—and jokes about attractive women soldiers in the battalion. When they finished checking vital signs, they turned to Cain’s obvious injuries, wrapping what Blohm called the “mush” of the right leg in bandages, splinting both legs. Supporting their friend’s head, they rolled him on his side and discovered that his left buttock was half torn off, the flesh laced with rough bits of the truck cab.
      An M113 personnel carrier-cum-ambulance—a steel box on tracks— rumbled up. The medics loaded Cain aboard, and started an I.V. of lactated Ringer’s, an electrolyte solution. An Army chaplain slipped in beside Cain. With Blohm holding the I.V. bag and Brown driving, they sped for a landing zone where a Black Hawk helicopter was waiting to take Cain to the 28th Combat Support Hospital—the modern-day equivalent of a mash unit—in Baghdad. Thirty-four minutes had elapsed since the mine blast. Blohm was twenty-three years old. Brown, the senior medic, was twenty-four. Cain was twenty-two.
      When an American soldier dies in Iraq, newspapers publish the name. When a soldier is wounded, the incident, if reported at all, is usually an aside. Names are rarely given. The wounding of Michael Cain wasn’t newsworthy; a search of wire-service and Times stories for August 11th and 12th turns up little mention of the attack; the Associated Press reported that “four American soldiers were wounded in guerrilla attacks, including two at the Baghdad University complex and two others in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit. One U.S. soldier died of heat stroke and another was found dead in his living quarters on Sunday, the military said.” The day after Cain and Duff were injured, the Times reported that Americans were suffering Iraq-war “news burnout.”
      The Defense Department publishes an online tally of American servicemen killed and wounded in Iraq, updating it every few days. As of February 25th, four hundred and forty-nine had been killed and two thousand four hundred and twenty wounded by hostile fire. The ratio of wounded soldiers to killed is higher in this war (a little more than five to one) than in the Second World War and Vietnam, probably because of body armor and advances in battlefield medicine. (In the Second World War, the ratio was a little more than two to one; by the time of Korea, it had risen to three to one, where it remained until last spring.)
      By most American soldiers’ accounts, the Iraqis are lousy shots. In any case, they know that the Americans are wearing body armor. Rather than trying to pierce shielded torsos with bullets, the Iraqis increasingly rely on blowing off the Americans’ unprotected arms and legs with explosives: car bombs, mines, rocket-propelled grenades, and “improvised explosive devices,” which are often old artillery shells that have been buried and then detonated from a distance by some kind of cheap commercial electronic device—a garage-door opener, say, or the joystick of a ten-dollar radio-controlled toy car. As of January 9th, sixty-six service people—almost all of them Army soldiers—had suffered amputation of a hand, a foot, an arm, or a leg. Of those, ten had lost more than one limb.
      Cain was injured by an Italian plastic anti-vehicle mine about the size of a tin of butter cookies. (His friends found pieces of the mine afterward.) It would have been easy for someone to feign a flat tire and bury the device quickly in the soft sand at the point where Highway One and the packed-gravel road to the palace compound meet. Apparently, the hemmit did just what the saboteur was hoping. It cut the corner a hair too sharp and depressed the mine’s detonator.
      Kenneth Cain was at home when the call came from Fort Hood, two days after the blast. Kenneth is stout, with a big white beard that makes him look a little like Santa Claus. He called Charlene at work. The first thing she heard when she picked up the phone was her husband weeping. Then he told her that Michael had been seriously wounded.
      Cain was lying in a coma at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, in western Germany, where all Iraq-war casualties are taken. Doctors had amputated his right leg below the knee. The condition of the left leg was uncertain. Cain also had a smashed jaw, a broken thumb, a broken arm, and a wound on the back of his head. He’d lost a lot of blood. During the Second World War, families were lucky to get a telegram days or weeks after a son or a husband was hurt. In this war, the Army kept the Cains informed hour by hour; a major at Fort Hood called them five times in two days. Charlene was even able to speak by telephone with the doctor who was treating her son; she learned that they were about to try turning off life support, leaving it in place in case Cain didn’t respond. When she called a second time, a nurse told her they’d switched it off and he’d started breathing on his own. The Fort Hood major was working on getting the Cains plane tickets to Germany when they learned that their son was being flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C.
      Cain remembers none of this; other soldiers say that the trip from Landstuhl to Walter Reed is grim. Litters are loaded into the fuselage of an Air Force transport, which is made of aluminum and tends to be chilly. The roar of the engines barely masks the moaning and crying of the wounded. When a soldier dies en route, his body is simply covered with a sheet.
      Walter Reed is a vast campus of red brick buildings in north-central Washington; its centerpiece is the main hospital, a gigantic edifice, which opened in 1977. It’s a surprisingly cheerful building, with wide, airy halls and a determinedly upbeat staff. On August 17th, Cain opened his eyes. Finding himself in a hospital bed, he believed that he must be dreaming. A nurse asked him if he wanted anything. “McDonald’s,” he told her. Then his eyes travelled over the machines and tubes, and he said, “My mom and dad.” As it happened, they’d just arrived.
      Kenneth and Charlene had been flown to Washington at the Army’s expense. They were shown to a room on Ward 57—the orthopedic ward, where amputees go—and found Michael with his head arched back in a high cervical collar. A tube full of “disgusting green fluid,” as Charlene recalls it, ran from his nose. His thumb was in a cast, and a three-inch round scab covered the back of his head; a catheter snaked from under the covers, and an I.V. was attached to his arm. Charlene had to tell her son that his leg was gone. He glanced at the end of the bed, where only one foot tented the blanket, then stared at the ceiling for a long time. When they pulled back the covers, Kenneth and Charlene found that Michael’s right leg ended in a bandaged stump. His left leg looked as though a dog had been chewing on it: long, crosshatched crimson scars ran up its sides and back. An instrument that Charlene called a “cheese grater” had been run over the skin graft, leaving a pattern of holes that allow the skin to expand and to cover the wounded area. A metal contraption that looked like a miniature offshore oil platform rose out of his left hip, and a big square of skin had been peeled from his upper thigh to provide a graft for the stump. Cain sent Kenneth and Charlene down to the gift shop for a disposable camera and had them take photographs of his gruesome injuries. He pasted them into a flowered “Special Memories” album that he has titled “My Accident in Iraq.”
      Outwardly, Michael was still Sergeant Cain, telling his parents he wanted only to go back to the 299th in Iraq. (Keisha Duff did in fact return to active duty in Iraq.) He felt responsible for his men. “War’s war,” he told his mother. “This one was a good thing; it gave people their freedom.” But when Charlene told him that his cousin was thinking of joining the Army, he asked for the phone so he could talk him out of it. “He’s crazy,” Michael said. “I wouldn’t let him go. He could end up like me.”
      A bomb injures in many ways. The shock wave can loosen organs and leave a victim to bleed to death internally, or rake him with shrapnel. Long after the initial wounds are treated, the effects of the bomb continue to plague the victim. In Cain’s case, the blast pulverized dirt, truck metal, engine fluids, and his own clothing, and drove microscopic debris deep into his muscles, macerating the tissue. Each tiny fleck had to be dug out, the pulped flesh cut away, and the wounds cleaned and re-cleaned—a process that took twelve surgeries, over three months. (Had there been any people between him and the mine, their flesh might have been atomized and driven into his, which can cause particularly dangerous infections.)
      Starting the day after he regained consciousness, Cain was in the care of Lieutenant Justin LaFerrier, an Army physical therapist whose bulging muscles, under a tight white coat, make him a walking advertisement for the active life. LaFerrier is in charge of many of the Iraq-war amputees at Walter Reed. While Cain was still undergoing surgeries to clean his wounds, LaFerrier had him wheeled most days to the physical-therapy room on the third floor. It’s the size of a gymnasium, filled with bars, racks, and machines that look like torture instruments from the Middle Ages. An amputee, particularly one who has lost a leg, has to reëstablish his body’s balance, and LaFerrier put Cain through hours of exercises to build up the muscles he’d need to operate crutches and a prosthesis. “Your core is your stable basis of support,” LaFerrier, a Rhode Island native, explained to me. “When you take a step, you don’t think about it. When an amputee does that, he has to first stabilize the residual limb in the socket. You have to train those muscles to do that.” We watched a sweaty, gasping soldier who had lost both legs and one arm inch along the parallel bars in shiny, high-tech prosthetics. “I like to push them to the limit,” LaFerrier said. “They’re young. They’re strong. I want to cause muscle soreness, but not the ‘Ooh, I shouldn’t have done that’ pain. I take them as far as they can tolerate.” The amputees call LaFerrier their “physical terrorist.”
      Although Charlene took all her sick days and vacation days and her co-workers donated a hundred hours of theirs, she and Kenneth eventually had to return to Wisconsin. After they left, Cain’s warrior spirit drained away. One day, he refused to go to physical therapy, and when he was wheeled there against his will he was sullen and uncoöperative. Frequent phone calls from his men in Tikrit—another amenity unknown to casualties of earlier wars—would cheer him up for a few minutes, but then he’d start to miss them, and sink lower in spirits. Captain Blain sent his father and wife, both of whom live in the Washington area, to visit. Celebrities passed through, too—Cain met the actor Gary Sinise, who played a Vietnam War amputee in “Forrest Gump,” and the country singer Shania Twain. One day, President Bush sat on the edge of his bed and asked him if he wanted anything. Cain told the President that his men needed water. When Cain spoke to them by phone two days later, they told him that they suddenly had more water than they could possibly use.
      Still, Cain couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d be stuck in a chair and useless the rest of his life. He was withdrawn, and continued to refuse physical therapy. The hospital finally asked Charlene to come back, figuring she could make him work for LaFerrier the way she’d once made him practice the sousaphone. She somehow found a way to take time off. Mothers are often asked to assist in the recovery process at Walter Reed, LaFerrier told me.
      I met Cain in December at Mologne House, a hotel on the Walter Reed campus for visiting families and for soldiers undergoing outpatient treatment, including physical therapy. The Federal style of the two-story lobby, with a gigantic chandelier and a grand staircase, belies the building’s age; Mologne House opened in 1997. It is adamantly a hotel, not a medical facility. Its rooms are indistinguishable from, say, rooms at a Hilton, except that the bathroom cabinets frequently resemble pharmacy shelves, with doxycycline, Ambien, and Percocet nestling among Old Spice and Mega-Men dietary supplements. The Mologne House staff are upbeat and pleasant amid a high percentage of guests who are adjusting to blindness, facial scars, and missing limbs. They differ from the staff of an ordinary hotel only in their mandatory daily inspections of every room, a practice instituted in July as a suicide-prevention measure.
      Cain was sitting on the edge of his unmade bed wearing shorts and a Packers jersey and cap, his naked stump jutting out. Saddam Hussein had been captured the night before and President Bush happened to be speaking on television, but Cain was absorbed by a hockey simulation on his PlayStation 2. He looked terrible—sallow and sunken-eyed, with a two-day stubble. He’d dyed his hair a garish chrome yellow. He kept shifting uncomfortably on his hollowed buttock. Every surface in the room was covered with CDs, model airplanes, hockey magazines, Packers memorabilia, boxes of Frosted Mini-Wheats, and bags of Funyuns. Dirty laundry and candy wrappers were strewn on the floor. Cain’s prosthesis, a white-and-magenta running shoe with a complicated steel-and-plastic ankle joint, rose like a tower from the rubble, a pattern of American flags decorating the calf-size plastic socket that fits his stump. He told me that he had no regrets, and that he would do it again if he could. Would he let his son join the Army? “Fuck no,” he said. “I’d tell him, ‘I’ll beat the shit out of you if you try it.’”
      Cain’s girlfriend, Leslie Lantz, a muscular, dark-eyed beauty, who had arrived from Texas the week before, was flipping through “Portraits of War,” a book of Iraq-war drawings published by Detroit Free Press. Charlene was making a halfhearted attempt to straighten the room. She had been there for three weeks, sleeping in the bed next to the one Cain shared with Leslie. “I knew Mom would come,” Cain said sheepishly. “I quit doing everything, so they had to call her.” I asked how it felt to have his mom in the bed next to his and Leslie’s. He didn’t answer directly. “It’s nice having Mom here,” he said. “But she cries a lot.” He swivelled his gaze back to his hockey game.
      “I’m on antidepressants,” Charlene said. “After this happened with Michael, I couldn’t deal.”
      At Walter Reed, an informal network of gruff Vietnam and Gulf War veterans minister to the blind and the bandaged with great tenderness. Jim Mayer, for example, fought with the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam. Today, at fifty-eight, he runs an executive-training program in the Department of Veterans Affairs, but to the soldiers lying in Ward 57 he’s the Milkshake Man. He arrives three days a week after work with a box of McDonald’s milkshakes, which he offers from bed to bed. I had been at the hospital three days before I realized that his legs are carbon, graphite, and plastic below the knee; he had stepped on a mine near the Cambodian border. One afternoon, he cried “Watch this!” and went skipping down the hall. The amputees couldn’t take their eyes off him.
      “We want to make sure no veteran is ever again treated the way we were when we came home,” Mayer told me. The vets help organize trips to the Smithsonian and the White House and arrange free tickets for the young men to see the Wizards play basketball and the Capitals play hockey. Wounded soldiers who can make the trip are also invited every Friday night to Fran O’Brien’s, a fancy steak house in downtown Washington, where they can load up on thirty-dollar steaks and all the beer they can drink, free of charge. Hal Koster, one of the restaurant’s two owners, served three tours as a gunship crew chief in Vietnam. “It’s an honor,” he told me one Friday before Christmas as he watched more than two dozen young men consume a few thousand dollars’ worth of beef, crab cakes, and tiramisu. “Nobody did this for us.”
      The amputees I met were all eager to talk about their wounds, and welcomed the chance to tell the story. War stories, like Holocaust stories, are all both alike and different, and all improbable; each turns on moments of horror, serendipity, and unimaginable bravery. Sitting next to me at Fran O’Brien’s was Steve Reighard, of Bloomington, Indiana, who was hacking one-handed with a combination knife-fork at a steak the size of a dictionary. “They ambushed us,” he said. “I’m standing there trying to realize what happened and my arm is laying there. I picked it up and fell in the dirt.” Across the table, Robert Acosta, of Santa Ana, California, manipulated a steak knife with his stainless-steel hook. “They threw a hand grenade in my truck,” he said. “I picked it up and, damn, dropped it down between my legs. When I grabbed it again, it blew up in my hand.” At Walter Reed, Phil Bauer, a strapping cavalry scout from upstate New York, had described being on a Chinook helicopter that was shot down on November 2nd, killing fifteen soldiers on their way to a short leave. When he came to, he said, he was pinned atop the open-eyed corpse of a woman soldier to whom he’d just given a piece of gum. His leg was jammed beneath the burning roof of the Chinook, and he had to lie there, without morphine, for two hours while a “jaws of life” apparatus was flown in from Tikrit. “It was like cooking a steak with the cover down,” he said. He lost his right leg below the knee. At the dinner, a soldier named Ed Platt,

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