Wednesday, January 31, 2007

T -5 Days and counting

Minneapolis, Minnesota - With 5 days to go to my departure things are coming together. I'm still waiting on a few last minute packages from FedEx and UPS, and finalizing my packing list, but all in all I'm feeling ready to go.

There are some students that need to clean their room before they can start studying for a test, and my wife has to clean the house before we can leave on a trip. Monday night I got 5 duffel bags of old Army gear down from the attic, and I'm sorting through them looking for gear that might be useful on this trip, and finally throwing away a bunch of stuff that I'll never use again.

My wife is happy that I'm finally getting rid of the junk, and I've found a couple of useful items.

Monday, January 22, 2007

I need a new video camera ASAP

I'm going to be shooting video in Iraq for KSTP channel 5, the Minneapolis ABC affiliate. This is great news for the mission, but it also means that I need to get a new video camera in a hurry. The consumer grade camera that I was going to bring just isn't going to cut it for broadcast quality video...

So I'm in the market for a pro quality minidv camera. Ideally a Panasonic AG-DVC30, because it has cool infrared (night time) shooting capability, but I'll take whatever I can get. A Canon GL2, for instance, would do nicely.

If anybody has a suitable camera that they would like to loan or rent to the cause I would love to hear about it (obviously if I break it I'll buy it). I'll probably end up buying one, but it wasn't exactly in the budget...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Leading from the front (SGT Wosika, the rest of the story)

One of the things that has always differentiated the US military from many others in the world is that our officers and NCO's lead from the front and by example. SGT James Wosika Jr, whose funeral is today in St Paul is another fine example of the this ethic.

The media accounts of his death that have been published so far, have simple said that SGT Wosika was killed by an IED while on foot patrol in Fallujah, and that no other soldiers were injured. Those details made me curious. IED's usually don't injure just one soldier, and I wondered what really happened...

I'm know proud to publish some more of the details of what really happen (emphasis mine) from SGT Wosika's company commander, CPT Chip Rankin (reposted from a private forum with permission):

Army Sgt. James M. Wosika, Jr., 24, of St. Paul, Minn. Sgt. Woskia was assigned to the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry, Crookston, Minn. Died Jan. 9 in Fallujah, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit while on combat patrol.

I wanted to take a moment to inform everyone that is part of the wrestling community back home about one of the Best wrestlers to ever come out of Minnesota. As I read the forum we all like to point out who won the most matches or won the most titles. Rarely do we think about the majority of wrestlers that work there butts off and never see there names on these lists. In fact, this last week a former Minnesota Wrestler was killed in Iraq that most people don't remember, but let me tell you that Jim Wosika tops nearly everyone I know when it comes to what is most important when remembering great wrestlers. On Tuesday, January 9th a brave leader told the guys in his squad to get behind some cover as he checked out a potentially dangerous situation, an explosion occurred and Jimmy was killed instantly... His actions that day without question saved the lives of 8 other Soldiers, his fellow brothers. Jim did this without hesistation and knowing Jimmy he would do it again.

Jim Wosika wrestled for Jim Paddock at Highland Park. Trust me I was informed everyday how much tougher AAA schools were than AA schools and just how Highland Park would kick Litchfield's butt anyday of the week. We have some wall mats that we threw down in a tent over here in Iraq and we would meet on Monday nights after a day full of combat patrols do some grappling.. He loved the sport of wrestling and he represented the very best of what the sport of wrestling teaches all of us.. Discipline, Teamwork and Sacrifice were just a few of the qualities that James Wosika lived by everyday here in Iraq... He may not have won the most matches or the most titles, but he will go down as one of the finest wrestlers I have ever had the honor of knowing...

Wrestlers, coaches, parents and fans please keep Jim Wosika and his family in your thoughts and prayers throughout the rest of the season. Think about it all, the wins and losses and more importantly the lessons that wrestling teaches us, because in the end it won't matter how many matches you won or loss when faced with the challenges like one that faced SSG Jim Wosika that Tuesday afternoon, when he knew the price he might be asked to pay and went ahead without hesistation because it knew it was the right thing to do because of the valuable lessons he learned from the sport of wrestling.

CPT Chip Rankin
Commander B Co 2-136
Camp Fallujah, Iraq
Litchfield Wrestling Coach

Thursday, January 18, 2007

SGT James Wosika Jr Visitation

An honor guard of Patriot Guard volunteers lines the entrance to visitation for SGT James Wosika Jr at Highland Park Senior High School in St Paul Minnesota.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

SGT James Wosika Jr. funeral details

Here are the details of the funeral arrangements for SGT James Wosika Jr. of Bravo Company 2/136 (from the St Paul Pioneer Press):

"The funeral for James M. Wosika Jr., the Minnesota National Guard soldier killed in Iraq earlier this month, will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at the Cathedral of St. Paul. Burial will follow at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

Visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Highland Park Senior High School.

Wosika, a 24-year-old native of St. Paul's West End neighborhood and a 2000 graduate of Highland Park, was killed Jan. 9 by a bomb while on foot patrol in Fallujah. No other soldiers were injured in the blast."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Questions from another friend: Logistics

"If you're still taking questions, I'd like to know more about the logistics of the trip. How do you fly out, who 'manages' you while you're there, how do you plan on moving around the country, do you have security planned... things like that. Meat and potatoes stuff. "

Here's an overview of my itinerary:
  1. Northwest Airlines: Minneapolis, Amsterdam, Kuwait City
  2. Meet SSG Bravo (not his real name), a tall white guy with a short haircut wearing civilian clothes at Starbucks in the Kuwait Airport (I'm not making this up).
  3. He'll take care of clearing me through Kuwait and putting me on a C-130 to Baghdad.
  4. Once I land in Baghdad, I sign up for the "Rhino Ride" into the Green Zone.
  5. Deal with paper work at the Combined Press Information Center (CPIC) in the Green Zone.
  6. Catch a helicopter to Al Assad Air Base (a big hub), and then catch the next helicopter to Fallujah.
  7. Three days before my plane is due to leave Kuwait, I catch another helicopter to Al Assad. From Al Assad it's a direct flight via C-130 to Kuwait.
  8. Catch a bus to the Kuwaiti International Airport.
  9. Prepare to drink my first beer in weeks.
The itinerary above is paraphrased from an email from CPT Mark Lappegaard of the 1/34 Brigade Combat Team, Public Affairs Office. Mark has been my primary contact in Iraq while we were working out the details to really make this trip happen.

Physical Security:

I will be wearing comparable body armor to the troops I am embedded with, and I will never be "outside the wire" on my own, or traveling in unarmored vehicles. If I visit any Iraqi civilians it will be in the company of a bunch of Bravo company soldiers loaded for bear. I'm not worried about security...

Who manages me, do I have a "minder"?

Short answer no. There is no official filter or censor of the photos I take, or the stories I write. I'll have a satellite phone and satellite internet access 24x7, and it's my responsibility to follow the rules. At a basic level these rules are pretty common sense:
  • Don't report details that might damage operational security, such as operations currently in progress, or the exact locations and numbers of American troops.
  • Don't release personal or casualty information without approval. Particularly bad examples would be publishing the name of an injured soldier before their family has been notified, or publishing that an unnamed soldier from a specific unit has been killed in action prior to the family being contacting (you can image the stress of every family in the unit waiting to find out if it was their soldier).
I'll be work directly with the local commander as I go to make sure I'm staying inside the lines, but ultimately it's "on me".

Friday, January 12, 2007

CNN dropped in on the Minnesota National Guard today

Here is an entertaining post from a soldier who works in 1st Brigade HQ back here in Minnesota about CNN dropping in on them this morning.

Today in Iraq

Since I'm not there yet, here is post from another independent journalist and blogger, Bill Ardilino, who is currently embedded with the Marines in Fallugah. At the moment it seems there is a surge in embedded blog coverage of American forces in Iraq too. There are three independent journalists that I am aware of currently embedded: Bill Andrilino, Micheal Yon, Michele Malkin. This is a serious improvement over the average of <1 over the past 4 months that I've been paying attention.

I've swapped a few emails recently with Bill, and he is hoping to still be in Fallugah when I get there. If he can get somebody to pay him to stay (read: mainstream media paying to pick up his coverage).

Comment policy

I appreciate comments from anyone interested in the Iraq war and my mission, and I welcome spirited discussion. But please keep your remarks civil. If you have a personal message for me please email it or call me (my email and phone are in the "About Me" section in right hand nav bar).

I've turned on comment moderation for anonymous comments. You can still make an anonymous comment, but it won't appear on the site until I approve it.

I reserve the right to delete comments at any time.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

An interesting request from a friend

"I would especially appreciate it if you would as completely as feasible articulate your impressions of the entire situation prior to going and then do it again after your trip. I want to know how the direct experience alters and informs your views. I think if you wait til you get back the experiment will be flawed."

My impressions are already changing as I go through the process of getting ready to go. I've been talking to people about the project for almost two months, and corresponding for several weeks with a few of the soldiers in Iraq that I will be working with.

Here are some of my impressions and assumptions prior to departure:
  • It seems that the level of animosity towards Americans in general, and the military in particular, in Iraq precludes a successful unilateral solution. Or stated more simply: It seems like most people in Iraq hate us, and it's too late to change that.
  • My impression, as a poorly informed outside observer, is that the US military is playing "wack-a-mole". Basically, running around endlessly smacking the enemy in one place while they pop up somewhere else. It doesn't seem like there are nearly enough troops to really pacify the country militarily. If that were even possible...
  • Without exception every official communication I've had with the Army has been supportive and pleasant. I get the strong sense that military people in general feel that they have a message that they want to get out to the public, and that the American public (myself included) doesn't really understand what is going on.
  • The picture I have of the Iraqi government, police, and military from the media is one of complete incompetence and corruption. Obviously this is broad generalization, but my current opinion of official "democratic" Iraqi organizations is very poor.
  • My gut feel is that the right military strategy would be to pull American troops out of urban areas, and let the Iraqi government have them, for better or worse. While we focus on securing borders, transportation corridors, and critical infrastructure. And meanwhile work diplomatically to involve other Muslim countries in creating viable solutions that lead to a stable Iraqi government (democratic or not).
I hope that some of these impressions turn out to be incorrect, but that's the current perspective I have today based on the information I have.

UPDATE: A reader has pointed out that the correct spelling of "Whac-A-Mole". See:

125 days

According to Forbes Magazine: "a brigade of National Guard soldiers from Minnesota will have its yearlong tour in Iraq extended by 125 days, to July"

No surprise, but a month longer than I predicted yesterday.

Another sad day

Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Minneapolis, MN

Yesterday was another sad day for the Minnesota Army National Guard family and Bravo company in particular. SGT James M. Wosika Jr. was killed in action in Fallugah by an IED while on foot patrol. SGT Wosika was the seventh soldier from the Minnesota members of the 1st Brigade Combat Team to die in Iraq. He was also the third soldier to die from Bravo company 2/136 in less than a month.

Bravo company is just a small piece of the whole Minnesota deployment. They are a few hundred soldiers out of 2,600 Minnesota National Guard soldiers in Iraq, but they have suffered three of the seven deaths on this one year deployment.

Bravo company is going to be "my" unit while I'm in Iraq. I'll be focussed pretty much exclusively on this small group of Minnesota soldiers who have been paying a terrible price in the past few weeks. I've been planning for about a month to go to Bravo company specifically, and yesterday's news definitely struck me in a very personal way that it wouldn't have just a few short weeks ago.

My hope is that over the next month of reporting I can effect this change in your perception of these soldiers as well, and make the war more personal for you. This isn't somebody else's war, and these aren't somebody else's friends and neighbors, they are are ours.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What motivated me to do this?

A complete analysis of all my motivations to undertake this venture would be fairly complex, but it's easy to trace the spark that started the fire: On November 16th Michael Yon posted a great article on his Michael Yon: Online Magazine, regarding the state of media coverage of the war in Iraq. He highlighted the lack of embedded journalists covering the war, and the difficulty of getting embedded as a independent or freelance journalist.

The fact in his article that really caught my attention was that at one point in September there were only nine journalists embedded with American forces in Iraq, of that number four were reporting for Stars & Stripe and Armed Forces Network (official military publications), two were reporting for the foreign press, one was doing research, and only two were potentially reporting for the US media. No wonder I can't ever find any real news about the war!

There is nothing like having somebody tell me something I'm interested in is to hard to get me motivated to make it happen! On November 17th I made my first official inquiry with the military, and on January 6th my embed was officially approved. Time seemed to drag through the process, but in retrospect it was just about light speed considering some of the hurdles.

Although I feel the coverage or the war in Iraq from the perspective of American troops in the field is seriously lacking there are some bright lights out there:

Michael Yon is in back in Iraq, and planning to spend most of 2007 in country covering the war. If you only have time to read one site, his is the one. To get an introduction to Michael's work read this post.

Badgers Forward is the blog of an Army Captain currently commanding an engineer company in Iraq. It's a great window into the war from the perspective of a currently serving officer.

Earlier in the war there were quite a few great military blogs, but the number has dwindled significantly due to negative pressure from the command structure. The military is definitely still trying to figure out how to deal with the realities of controlling the flow of information in an internet age were soldiers on the front lines have laptops and wifi.

What will a "surge" mean for the Minnesota National Guard in Iraq?

Tonight President Bush is expected to announce an immediate "surge" in the number of American soldiers in Iraq by at least 20,000. Unfortunately there aren't 20,000 uncommitted soldiers available to head to Iraq at the drop of a hat. That means to accomplish this surge, troops that are currently scheduled to rotate home are probably going to have their tours extended so that the troops that were supposed to replace them can be redeployed to wherever forces are going to be increased (primarily Baghdad it sounds like).

My prediction is that the 2,600 members of the Minnesota Army National Guard currently scheduled to return from Iraq in March are going to have their tours extended by 90+ days. Expect the announcement in the next week.

You heard it here first.

Surprising reactions to my mission

As friends and co-workers at my day job start to become aware of what I'm doing, I'm getting the expected range of reactions, but not always from the expected people. Here are the three main types of reactions:

1. Strong negative response: You are totally nuts! What are you thinking? Don't do it.

2. Reserved curiosity: I want to know more, but I'm not going to express any opinions to your face.

3. Enthusiastic support: That is so cool! I want to go too!

So here is the interesting part: The strongest negative responses have come from people I think of as adventurous (international travelers and "devil may care" party people). The strongest positive responses have come from people that I would described as cautious and put together (good dressers who I think of as very responsible).

UPDATE: As the sample size gets larger my initial observations are breaking down. It really seems pretty random who is supportive, and who isn't. I continue to be surprised by the responses I'm getting, positive and negative.

Note: There is definitely NOT a clear liberal vs. conservative divide on people's opinions with regard to my mission.

My Journalism Standards and Style

I thought it would make sense to write a series of posts about my views (see the my previous My Politics post) and the standards I will be holding myself to while writing about and shooting photos in Iraq.


You can trust that any photos that I post from Iraq will be "as shot" images of real events. This means that photos will not be altered in Photoshop, and that I have not created or altered the scenes being photographed in any way.

Exceptions to this would be obviously posed portraits, and still life photo illustrations of objects which have been arrange by me for composition purposes.

Writing style (commentary vs. news reporting):

In general when it comes to writing I would describe myself as more of a commentator at heart, than a reporter. I have feelings and opinions, I'm inclined to express them, and I hope that my perspective helps inform your opinions.

On this trip to Iraq I will be doing some of each: factual news reporting, and commentary on the events of the day with my experiences and opinions included. If I'm including my opinion it will be clearly noted, and I will speak in the first person. If an article doesn't include a first person account of myself, you can assume that I'm making every effort to give an unbiased account of events as I observed them.

My writing style:

I've never been a big fan of pesky details like grammar and punctuation. I never graduated from high school, largely because I failed English. I welcome you editorial corrections, just add a comment to the offending post (we're all a team here). Thanks!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

My politics, and why you should "support the troops"

Many of my friends and neighbors are Birkenstock wearing, vegetarian, llama farming, pro choice, hemp wearing, tie died, politically active liberals who think that the war in Iraq is fundamentally evil. Some of them also feel that my current mission is by association inherently pro war and pro Bush administration.

I live in the heart of the Minnesota 5th congressional district which just elected Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of congress. Personally, I don't think it matters at all whether Keith is Muslim or a Martian, but it seems to have become a bit of a polarizing issue nationally, and so it seems relevant to mention so that you understand the environment I live in. Personally, I'm just counting on him to do his best to work to come up with practical solutions to the difficult problems of our day.

I have another (smaller) group of friends who proudly put out lonely Republican lawn signs in our staunchly Democratic city. They are proud to have voted for the president, and probably would be happy to do it again if it weren't for term limits. They still believe that the war in Iraq was the right thing to do, and the phrase "stay the course" resonates with them. They see what I'm doing as "patriotic".

Personally, I like to describe myself as an independent and a moderate, which is actually a fairly popular affiliation here in Minnesota, the state that elected Jesse Ventura governor. Before you all start to feel stereotyped: I'm sure many of you fit in this category as well, you just don't tend to speak up about your views.

I like to think that my views are nuanced, well reasoned, and insightful. I would have to say that I have a foot in both camps. On the one hand I strongly disagreed with the decision to go to war in Iraq, but I also agree with the Iraq doctrine attributed to Colin Powell which says "You break it, you own it.", and I would definitely oppose a sudden unilateral withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

The decision to go to war in Iraq is history, and now for better or worse we own the place, and it's our responsibility to fix it. Currently we have given that job to 130,000 American soldiers. For the moment I'm going to ignore the question of whether or not the current policy is valid or working, and just focus on the fact that we as a country have asked 130,000 American men and women to do unthinkable tasks at extreme personal cost on our behalf.

These soldiers are solving OUR problem. As American citizens, like it or not, we have responsibility for the outcome in Iraq. If your child broke the neighbors window would you take responsibility as a parent, and make sure it got fixed? I hope so. And from my perspective we as Americans have a similar responsibility to fix Iraq.

This responsibility is two fold in my opinion: 1) We vote for elected officials who are going to be responsible for make decisions on how to fix it, and then we have to opportunity to lobby them and let them now our personal views on the problem. 2) We need to give ALL possible support to the men and woman who are currently on the ground working to fix the problem every day in Iraq. They are doing a tough job on our behalf, and they deserve our best.

I can't predict what will happen next with regard to Iraq policy, but it seems fairly likely that there will be American soldiers in harms way in Iraq for years to come. They are there on the behalf of all American citizens, whether you agree with the policy or not. Regardless of whether you support the policy or not, you can still support the skills, character, and dedication of our soldiers in the field. They didn't ask to go there, they just volunteered to give their all to do whatever their country asks of them.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Press Release: Independent Photojournalist visiting Minnesota troops in Iraq at his own expense


Eric Bowen is a Minneapolis based photojournalist, who will be traveling to Iraq for two weeks in February 2007 to cover Minnesota Army National Guard soldiers deployed in the Fallujah area. Eric is a former Minnesota Army National Guard soldier who's personal mission is to highlight the Minnesota Guard role in the Iraq War, and provide more hometown coverage of Guard soldiers.

Eric will be embedded with Bravo Company 2/136 which is part of the Minnesota headquartered 34th Infantry Division. Eric will riding along on combat patrols to photograph soldiers in action, as well as photographing soldiers day to day life on base at Camp Fallujah.

Eric is undertaking this trip at his own expense out of a personal interest in the Minnesota Army National Guard, and a desire to provide independent citizen journalist coverage of the war in Iraq. Eric would welcome financial participation from additional media organizations, and outright donations from individuals interested in supporting this sort of in-depth personal coverage of our troops.

Eric is officially affiliated with the Crookston Daily Times on this mission, and will be highlighting Crookston area soldiers. However, Eric is also planning to file photos and stories with other interested Minnesota news organizations.

Eric will be writing a daily column for the two week duration of this trip, in addition to daily news photos, and producing a number of feature stories and photo essays. Please contact Eric if you are interested in being included in this coverage, or would like more information about his mission.

UPDATE: Eric is now also affiliated with KSTP Channel 5 Eyewitness News, and will be supplying a daily video feed that will appear on KSTP, and possibly other Minnesota ABC stations.

Mission dates: February 5 -21

Eric Bowen
612.868.9492 cell
775.415.0076 fax
011-8816-4144-4676 satellite phone in Iraq (the leading 011 only applies if you are dialing from the US)

Friday, January 5, 2007

Iraq update: We're almost there

I've "gone dark" over the past month, waiting for solid news, but I'm sure my (two) readers are dying for an update, so here are a few more details:

It's looks like I'll be departing Minneapolis on February 6th and returning on February 20th. With travel time and bureaucracy this means about one week of actual embed time in the field.

I will be embedding with Bravo Company 2/136 Infantry, part or the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 34th "Red Bull" Division (Minnesota Army National Guard). This unit is based in Crookston and Thief River Falls, Minnesota, and I am official credentialed as a journalist for the Crookston Daily Times. I will also be filing with a variety of other local newspapers and a couple of military magazines.

At this point I have all my paperwork filed with the Combined Press Information Center (CPIC) in Iraq, and I'm waiting for my orders to get cut... hopefully I'll be 100% confirmed in the next several days...

Day by Day, by Chris Muir (updated daily)

Chris Muir is the cartoonist that I met in Kuwait. He spent two weeks in Iraq at the same time I was there in February 2007, and so thought it would relevant to showcase his work on my site. Here is a link to Chris' humorous travelogue of this Iraq trip: