Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Appearing on Alamanac this Friday (Twin Cities Public Television)

John Camp and I will be appearing on Almanac, the weekly public television news program this Friday at 7pm. This is a LIVE show, and we're being asked to talk about our Iraq experiences in general... I'm not quite sure where the program will go, but it's an interesting forum to have a slightly more indepth conversation about what we saw.

Almanac runs on TPT channel 2 in the Twin Cities metro area, and it also runs on WDSE channel 8, the Duluth public television station (I'm not sure about any other Minnesota outstate public television stations).

Monday, January 21, 2008

Micheal Yon article in the New York Times

The New York Times has a nice article profiling Michael Yon on the front page of the business section today:

Blogger Michael Yon and CSM Mellinger the sergeant major of all US forces in Iraq. (Photographed in Fallujah in February 2007.)

If you aren't already familiar with his work, Michael Yon is the quintessential Iraq blogger. He has spent years of his life embedded in Iraq, at his own expense, and has generated some amazing reporting. I would definitely credit him with inspiring me to start going to Iraq.

Over the past year it has been a pleasure to get to know him over email, and also spend a little time with him in person in Fallujah last year.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Do you feel like a winner?

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS (in route home from Iraq) - Last February I was in Fallujah at the start of the surge, and when I asked soldiers if they thought we were winning the war they almost universally rolled their eyes, and gave me some version of "Yea, right" for being dumb enough to even be asking the question.

The soldiers I embedded with in Fallujah were justifiably proud of local accomplishments they had made, but violence was generally on an upward spiral across the rest of the country, and their buddies were getting wounded or killed with increasing regularity.

Ten months later I toured the Air Force Theater Hospital in Balad with with COL Storm, the hospital commander, and he shared some amazing statistics with me. In March 2007, right after I left Fallujah the number of combat wounded American soldiers receiving initial treatment at the hospital hit an all time high of 179. By December 2007 that number had dropped to 80. And the trend line was in steady decline.

By contrast the number of combat wounded Iraqi Police (IP) and Iraqi Army (IA) soldiers being admitted to the hospital was on an up trend. The positive interpretation being that the IA and IP were finally really getting into the fight.

When I toured the hospital a majority of the patients were Iraqi children who had been injured by IED's, and wounded Iraqi insurgents, each with their own armed American guard. The only American patients I could find to talk to were there for non-combat injuries or illness.

The medivac crews I flew with also commented on the fact that things were slowing down, and that a much higher percentage of the missions they were flying were to pick injured Iraqis. I spent an entire day with them, and they only flew one mission, to pickup an injured IP soldier.

Now when I talk to soldiers there is definitely a new sense of optimism that was non-existent just 10 months ago. Nobody thinks the war will be over soon, but most people are coming to believe that it's winnable.

One of the most striking signs of progress to me is the number of Iraqis that wave at our helicopters as we fly over.

Tons of new pictures uploaded

I'm sitting in Kuwait at the Crown Plaza hotel waiting for my flight to Amsterdam, and I have great Internet access for the first time in two weeks, and I've uploaded a bunch of photos.

You can check them all out here:

Note: You can order prints or digital downloads of almost all my Iraq photos. Feel free to email me at if you have questions about ordering photos, or if you would like to order large prints.

Photo essay: Baghdad mission with Alpha 2-147

On Monday, January 14th 2008 I flew a routine "Baghdad shuffle" mission with two Minnesota National Guard Blackhawk crews from Alpha Company 2-147th Assault Helicopter Battalion. We carried a collection of Marine Corps and Air Force generals between Camp Liberty and the Green Zone, and back again several hours later, after a meeting was over presumably.

Crew chief SSG Michelle Smith watches the engines start at the beginning of the mission.

(click the image above to see the rest of the photo essay)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Photo essay: The helicopter fuelers of Echo 2-147

Here is a photo essay following SGT Benjamin Jury of Ewa Beach, Oahu, Hawaii and SPC James Enright of Woodbury, Minnesota as they refuel Minnesota National Guard Blackhawk helicopters as well as Apache attack helicopters from other units in Balad, Iraq.

SGT Benjamin Jury of Ewa Beach, Oahu, Hawaii fuels a Blackhawk helicopter.

(click the image above to see the rest of the photos in this series)

Medevac! Medevac! Medevac!

I went on a Medevac flight on Tuesday, with an active duty Medevac unit from Fort Cambell Kentucky. The Medevac pad is on the opposite side of the airfield from 2-147th AHB, and we just asked if we could hang out for the day, and go on some missions, and the Medevac company commander graciously made us right at home.

I didn't shoot very many photos, or any useful video on the one flight I was able to go on. I was pretty much stuck in my center seat without a lot of visibility, but it was an amazing experience that will definitely stick with me.

This photo of a flight medic racing to his helicopter on a razor scooter is one of my favorite images of this trip to Iraq.

Here is the choronology of my medevac mission:

I had just taken my first few bites of lunch with SSG Anthony Cox and SGT Carmen Catalioti the flight medic and crew chief of the medivac helicopter that I had been assigned to for the day when the big voice started blairing "Medevac! Medevac! Medevac!"

0:00 SSG Cox and SGT Catolioti push back their chairs and run for the door of the little chow hall behind the Medivac operation center. One of the other pilots asks if we want him to save our food... I don't think anybody answers.

1:00 I'm in the ready room frantically grabbing my video camera, body armor, and camera bag.

1:30 I'm outside the ready room looking for SSG Cox and SGT Catolioti. I see them sprinting to the aircraft half way down the flight line. Somebody says, "You better run!"

2:30 I'm on the helicopter, totally winded after running 100 meters carrying my body armor and camera gear. The rotors are starting to turn.

7:15 We are airborne! We take off very fast and are probably at less than 100 feet off the ground as we cross the wire of the base perimeter fence.

9:30 I'm listening on the headset. The pilot says we are headed to Samara (40 kilometer north along the Tigris river). We're less than 10 minutes out.

12:00 I'm in the trail aircraft, and I hear our pilot tell the lead aircraft to "Watch those power lines!" We're flying lower and faster than any helicopter ride I've ever been on. The TRQ LED display reads 90+%, and our airspeed never drops below 150 knots.

17:15 We're on the ground outside the wire at a Forward Operating Base (FOB) on the outskirts of Samara. No patient in sight. There is a brief discussion of whether or not we are at the right place.

19:00 An ambulance appears carrying an injured Iraqi Police officer. He has gunshot wounds to both thighs.

25:00 The patient is on board the lead aircraft.

27:00 Airborne again. We make several banking turns so steep that the rotors are almost perpendicular to the ground.

28:00 We are low and fast over downtown Samara.

34:00 Pilot, "We just went right over a flock of birds. I wonder how they like us flying over the top of them?"

37:00 My aircraft "07" is cleared by Balad control direct to the FARP (fuel point).

39:00 Crossing the Tigris river.

39:50 We hear over the radio that the lead aircraft "05" is on the ground at the "cas pad" (the helipad at the Air Force Theater Hospital).

41:20 "07" is on the ground at the FARP for a "hot" refuel with the engines running.

46:00 Full fuel.

47:15 Airborne. Cleared direct to the Medevac parking area. We go over the top of an F-16 sitting in the middle of the runway surrounded by emergency vehicles. Our pilots speculate that he has probably blown an engine.

50:10 Wheels down at the Medevac parking area.

55:00 Crew unloading personal weapons, "weapons green!"

55:45 Rotors stopped.

57:00 Pilot CW3 Tory Koselke comments that he has more "boots untied" flight hours in Iraq than "boots tied" flight hours. As he gets out of the aircraft and ties his desert combat boots. He was sleeping with his boots off when the alarm sounded, and he dashed to the aircraft without stopping to tie them.

Medevac pilot CW3 Tory Koselke, from Fort Cambell Kentucky ties his boots AFTER completing a Medevac mission in Balad, Iraq.

There is a very real sense that EVERY second counts. As one soldier tells me, "We go from 0 to 90 in 0 seconds when the alarm sounds!"

Commentary: The "garrisonification" of Iraq

PAX TERMINAL, BALAD, IRAQ - After almost four years operating out of a collection of tents, the Air Force Theater Hospital in Balad, Iraq recently moved into a new permanent facility that feels like a small regional hospital in the US. The floors shine, the light is bright, and the expansive nurses stations could be straight off the set of ER.

The nurses station of the intensive care ward at the new Balad Hospital.

Last year when I flew through Balad air base, the passenger terminal was a pleasant but obviously temporary plywood building. Ten months later the shiny new passenger terminal, where I wait for my flight to Kuwait, would be the envy of some some third-tier US feeder airports. Soldiers watch several networks on 50" plasma TV's as they wait for their flights, and while there is still a pallet of Meals Ready to Eat (MRE's) in the corner, it's a short drive to Taco Bell, Burger King, or Subway.

Most soldiers live two to a room in comfortable prefabricated steel buildings that have heat and air conditioning with clean bathrooms and showers a short walk away outside. This reporter was provided with a single room with a shared bathroom in a new block of two story prefabricated apartment buildings. Soldiers with administrative jobs are working out of comfortable offices that feel fairly comparable to what they might expect at a base in the US.

Two story prefabricated apartments surrounded by blast walls.

As I leave Iraq for the second time in less than a year on a C130 headed for Kuwait I'm contemplating what, if anything, I've learned from this experience. Are there any conclusions I can draw about the course of the war, or the future of the US involvement in Iraq, or the future of the Iraqi people?

At the highest levels of our government there is no official vision for how long we will be in Iraq. But the facts on the ground in Iraq seem to show that individual agencies and local commanders have drawn their own conclusions and are planning for the US military presence to last indefinitely.

When asked how long they think the US presence might last, individual junior officers and soldiers I spoke to in Iraq and Kuwait speculated that we might be there for 10 to 20 years, or more... This mentality is resulting in a marked transformation on major bases in Iraq from the feeling of a combat zone, to the feeling of a state side garrison.

Soldiers shake their heads at the proliferation of new rules that seem to appear daily about things like speed limits, dress codes, and other minutia that seems out of place in a war, but would be typical of a major military base in the US. The recent rule in Balad that was most reviled by almost everyone I talked to was the outright ban on male soldiers entering female soldier quarters and vice versa for any reason.

I think the US involvement in Iraq can be compared to a complex ecosystem with thousands of organisms all working somewhat competitively on their own private agendas. The key point about a complex ecosystem is that there is no single commander who is really in control. The ecosystem is self perpetuating, and the momentum of organic growth drives major changes despite a lack of strategic direction.

There is a definite sense that for support soldiers in genuinely non-combatant roles that a tour in Iraq is becoming more like an unaccompanied tour in Korea than a typical combat tour in Iraq just a few years ago.

And so while presidential candidates posture and the house and senate pass resolutions and periodically make empty political threats to cut funding for the war, the Army and other federal agencies in Iraq, in the absence of clear executive leadership, are making individual decisions on the ground that presume a permanent US presence.

Note: It is critical to understand that I am speaking about conditions on major bases in Iraq, which are markedly different from the conditions that tens of thousands of combat soldiers, who put themselves in harms way on a daily basis, are living in on small Forward Operating Bases (FOB's) spread throughout Iraq.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Watch video on the the KSTP website

KSTP has setup an Iraq page with links to all the stories they are producing with the video I am sending from Iraq.

Check it out here:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sadr City mission photo essay

This photo essay tells the story of a typical mission day in Iraq for the 2-147th Assault Helicopter Battalion of the Minnesota National Guard. The mission includes a highly unusual landing at an Iraqi Police station in the heart of the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad.

The complete collection includes 50 photos, but due to bandwidth limitations it may take a few days to get them all uploaded. And there is also some "spirited debate" going on between me and the S-2 (Intelligence) section and various Public Affairs Officers over whether or not some of my pictures can be released to the public...

(Click the image above to like to the rest of the photos.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

First snow in Baghdad in recent history.

LSA ANACONDA, BAGHDAD, IRAQ - On Friday morning Minnesota National Guard soldiers here woke up to an unexpected taste of home. The first recorded snow fell in central Iraq in recent memory, various news organizations reported that it hasn't snowed in Baghdad in 60-100 years.

Here in Balad the 2-147th Assault Helicopter Battalion's Blackhawk helicopters were covered with a layer of snow. Many soldiers accused this reporter of bringing the weather with me from Minnesota, but most said they were happy to get a little taste of the winter they are missing back home.

CPT Andrea Ourada, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot, from the Minnesota National Guard enjoying the surprise snowfall in Balad, Iraq.

A "routine" helicopter ride in Iraq

LSA ANACONDA, BALAD, IRAQ - You can feel the little thump through your feet on the metal floor as the flares fire from dispensers on the back of the Blackhawk helicopter. As the bright stars streak past your window, and the pilot begins to take evasive action you realize that there is nothing "routine" about a low altitude daylight helicopter ride over Iraq.

The flares job is to decoy heat seeking anti-aircraft missiles away from the helicopter. The flares are launched automagically when the computer thinks it detects a missile, and at the time I have no way of knowing if there is a real missile, or if this is a false positive. Has one of the door gunners has actually seen a missile? It's obvious we're not in Kansas anymore...

"How often do your helicopters take ground fire?", I ask Captain Andrea Ourada, a Blackhawk pilot with the Minnesota National Guard's 2-147 Assault Helicopter Battalion.

"Almost everyday", she replies matter of factly.

"And how often do they hit you?"

"Less than once a month. They aren't very good shots." She says with a grin.

Flying north from Baghdad on my first ride in a Minnesota National Guard helicopter I'm surprised by how low we fly. I can see farmers herding sheep and cattle, I can see children playing in their yards, and I am surprised by the number of Iraqis that wave at the helicopters!

On this ride John and I are just regular passengers because we haven't had a chance to meet any of the Minnesota soldiers yet. We just ran out to the running helicopter at Washington LZ in the Green Zone, and threw our bags onboard... not time for chit chat. On future flights we'll be wearing headsets so that we can hear what the crew is saying, and ask questions when they aren't too busy.

Late in the ride I see a group of US military vehicles parked along a road near a fire that appears to have started on the shoulder of the road, and spread to the ditch. I have no way to know for sure, but to my inexperienced eye it certainly looks like an IED explosion has caused a fire. I can only hope that it was a controlled detonation (meaning that the IED was detected and then destroyed by soldiers before it could do any harm).

As we hop out of the running helicopter on the taxi way in Balad, one of the pilots gives me a cheery smile and a thumbs up. Just another normal day at the office for him.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

First video feed on the way

As I type this, satellite dishes in Iraq and Minneapolis are lining up with the Galaxy 11 satellite to relay video shot by me on the flight line in Balad Iraq with Minnesota National Guard helicopter crews and mechanics this morning to dinner tables in Minnesota this evening. I expect that it will be running on the 4:30pm and 6:00pm news on KSTP Channel 5, and then should be availible on their website later this evening.

It's pretty amazing to interview a soldier here in Iraq, and say "Oh, by the way call you family, and tell them to watch the news TONIGHT!"

The ability to do this without a crew of people and a truck load of equipement is made possible by a military system called DVIDS, which is installed at many military bases around the world, and is being provided to us free of charge (well not really free... it's your tax dollars at work... but it's a great opportunity for us to be able to take advantage of this asset).

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Reporters Notebook: Who is covering the war in Iraq

COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER, BAGHDAD, IRAQ - The last time I was in Baghdad I ran into John McChesney from NPR on my first day here, and then I spent a few days in Fallujah with Tom Bowman the NPR Pentagon corespondent. And this morning I ran into Cory Flintoff from NPR in the hall at CPIC.

"So what's the big deal about running into three reporters from NPR?", you are probably saying, "There must be a ton of reporters in Iraq right?"

Well, no there aren't. The number of news organizations that are willing to make the investment to actually produce original front line coverage of the war is pretty small. That's part of what motivated me to start doing this in the first place: how few other journalists were actually here in Iraq doing original reporting in the field (not just going to press briefings in the Green Zone).

Since I'm at the CPIC in the Green Zone this morning, which is the central press office for the military in Iraq, I asked one of the public affairs officers here for some details on how many journalists are currently embedded with the US military in Iraq, and here are some facts.

As of this morning there were 15 journalists embedded in Iraq, John and I will make it 17.

Here is the breakdown of the organizations these journalists represent:

5 x Americans from mainstream media organizations: Time, Newsweek, FOX News, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times

4 x Various nationalities representing news/photo agencies: UPI, AP, Agence France Press, & World Picture Network

1 x American civilian working for an official military publication

2 x Italians with mainstream media organizations in Italy

3 x Americans apparently working on books or other longterm research projects

Noticeably absent: CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, The Washington Post. Also noticeably absent: there are no local or regional news organizations. What we are doing, providing hometown coverage of the Minnesota National Guard is fairly unusual.

Lastly, there are currently no independent bloggers embedded in Iraq. There is a small cadre of independent bloggers (such as Michael Yon and Bill Roggio) who have been going to great lengths often at personal expense to provide excellent independent coverage of the military in Iraq, but none of them are here at the moment.

It is important to point out that there are other journalists from US news organizations here in the Green Zone, providing permanent bureau coverage of events here as reported by the military, but that's a lot different from the sort of embedded reporting we are doing from the field.

There are also numerous brave Iraqi journalists out on the streets working (and dying) for US news organizations. To date 207 journalists have been killed covering the war in Iraq, and all most all of them have been Iraqi. By contrast only 2 journalists have died while embedded with the US military in Iraq since the start of the war (one of them from natural causes).

Reporters Notebook: Transportation pain, and the massive scale of the war effort in Iraq

CAMP STRYKER, BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, IRAQ - Days aren't a meaningful measure of time while traveling in Iraq. The schedule of movement and sleep is totally random, and entirely unrelated to the Earth's rotation and orbit around the Sun. I have been traveling for just about exactly 72 hours since leaving my home in Minneapolis and in that time I've attempted to sleep on 3 airplanes, assorted chairs, a couch, a top bunk in a GP Medium Army tent in Kuwait, and most recently a cot in a different Army tent in Iraq.

Last "night" I got up at 8:00pm local time to go pickup my passport from being "stamped out" of the country by Kuwaiti customs in preparation for departing for Iraq. I spent the next 8 hours wandering back and forth between the internet cafe and the passenger (PAX) terminal, as we waited through the night on standby for a series of flights from Kuwait to Iraq that came a went without us. Finally, at 4:00am John got manifested on the last seat on an embassy flight to Baghdad International Airport (BIAP), and an hour later I got on the next flight out call sign "Chrome 30".

The flight to Baghdad was uneventful, but there were a few interesting characters on the aircraft. Two Colonels sitting next to me had a conversation about procurement issues that they probably wouldn't have chosen have if they had taken the time to realize they were sitting next to a reporter. A female civilian contractor sitting across from us was wearing designer jeans and suede boots with 4 inch platform heels, not exactly combat boots. And then there was a large teddy bear that came out of a soldiers rucksack as soon as we boarded the aircraft and was clutched nervously for the duration of the flight.

At 12:15pm in Baghdad we got listed on a helicopter flight from BIAP to the Greenzone, which is the next stop on our complicated itinerary to get from Minneapolis to Balad, and the Minnesota National Guard soldiers we are coming here to visit. Unfortunately, at the last minute I got pulled off the helicopter after a Colonel convinced the ground crew that he should have higher priority for the scarce seats. On the one hand I recognize that my mission here is (probably rightly so) relatively low on the priority scale for the military. But it was still frustrating to get bumped off the last available flight of the day, and potentially loose 24 hours of news gathering time from our already short trip.

The one positive aspect of getting bumped off the helicopter flight was that it meant that we have 12 hours of downtime at Camp Stryker while we wait for the Rhino, an armored bus that will take us to the Greenzone sometime in the wee hours of the morning. We found a couple of cots in an empty tent, and got the first 4 or 5 hours of good quality sleep we've had since leaving Minnesota. But that sleep was interrupted as we were awakened early by the desert evening cold at 7pm, and decided to go looking for some warm food.

The chow hall (aka the DEFAC) at Camp Stryker is the largest I've ever eaten at in my years serving in the military, and now covering the military as a journalist. Hundreds of tables fill a brightly light cavernous building that is literally almost the size of a football field. The sheer size of this room, and the number of soldiers that must eat here each day is the best visual indicator I can share of the raw size of the logistical effort to support the war here.

The size and complexity of the US presence in Iraq is staggering, and everywhere I go I am struck my the massive amount of labor and material that has gone into building US bases here. I would be curious to know how the cost of construction of US installations in Iraq compares to the amount we have spent on civilian reconstruction efforts.

Reporters Notebook: Killing time in Kuwait

NAMELESS AIRBASE, KUWAIT - KLM flight 459 from Amsterdam descends into a thick brown haze as we approach Kuwait City International Airport (KCIA in military parlance). We are arriving in Kuwait in a sand storm, and as we get closer to the ground it gets darker and darker.

We are supposed to meet Captain Richardson and Sergeant Guffey from the US 3rd Army Public Affairs Office's Kuwait Media Relations Team at the Starbucks outside baggage claim. When we arrive at Starbucks we can't find them and I spend 15 minutes walking around the arrivals area looking for them. There are quite a few obvious Americans waiting to meet arriving military personal and civilian contractors in-route to Iraq, but none of them know the soldiers I'm looking for.

After an hour I strike up a conversation with an American in civilian clothes who has been sitting in Starbucks holding up a sign that says "GIRAFFE" in block letters since before we arrived. He doesn't know CPT Richardson or SGT Guffey, but he's heard that the military has closed the roads because of the sand storm. He lets me use his cell phone to call SGT Guffey. It turns out that our ride is on the way, despite the driving conditions and they should be here shortly.

We have an extra passenger on the van ride out into the desert. SSG "Andy" Dillon, from Fayettville North Carolina, is visiting in Kuwait for a few days from her regular duty assignment running the golf course at the Baghdad International Airport (known here as BIAP). With time to kill waiting for a flight "home" to Baghdad she decided it would be "fun" to take a three hour van ride through a sandstorm to get a real cup of Starbucks coffee.

When we finally arrive at the base CPT Richardson briefs us on what we'll be going through over the next few days as we make our way north to Baghdad, and then on to Balad, our final destination where well be joining the Minnesota National Guard unit we are here to cover. We turn in our passports to get stamped out of the country by Kuwaiti customs (a 24 hour process that will delay our hoped for departure time by about a day). And we get our names on the endless list for a flight to BIAP.

At 8:00pm we get assigned a bunk for the night, and CPT Richardson turns us loose for the evening to try to get some sleep. But the time zone here is 9 hours ahead of Minnesota and our bodies are convinced that it's 11:00am, and so I take John on a walking tour of our temporary home in the desert (I was here several times last year, and so I know my way around).

We walk down dark gravel "streets" through a sea of tents toward a bright oasis of light ahead. The "food court" has a McDonalds, a Pizza Hut, and a KFC. The street lights provide an other worldly light in the remnants of the day's sand storm, and the free standing McDonalds golden arches sign with arabic script is incongruous out here standing above the tents and trailers that make up this temporary city in the middle of the Kuwaiti desert.

There are only a few people waiting outside the walk up windows at McDonalds, which is really a couple of temporary steel buildings with picnic tables spread outside on the sand. The scene reminds me of the Edward Hopper painting of a few lonely people sitting in a late night dinner ( It's a different world, but the color pallet and the emotion are the same.

At 3:00am John can't sleep, and he reports that there almost a hundred people in line at McDonalds. War is a 24 hour a day business, and groups of soldiers pass through this little city in the desert at all hours of the day and night.

Note: Out of deference to political and security sensitivities with our hosts the Kuwaiti government we are not authorized to report on details of where we are in Kuwait or details of the American military presence here.

Monday, January 7, 2008

What's your defining story?

I heard a funny story here in Kuwait yesterday about a soldier hitting a camel a couple months ago while driving the same van that came to pick us up at the airport yesterday, and they had pictures to prove it.

Part of the followup to the story was the idea that everybody has one defining story that their friends tell about them (especially when they want to embarrass them). And so the idea was that this story had replaced the drivers old story as "the" defining story, and now she was actually happy about it because she hated the old story...

Which got me to wondering what my defining story is? What's yours? Care to comment?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

WTIP radio call-in schedule

Here is the tentative schedule for radio call-ins to WTIP radio that I will be doing from Iraq over the next few weeks:

9:45am on the following days:

Thursday, Jan. 10

Monday, Jan. 14

Wednesday, Jan 16


1. If you are not in the WTIP listening area you can listen online at

2. This schedule is TENTATIVE pending my availability. If it turns out that I'm going to be out on a mission at any of those times we'll attempt to reschedule.

Safe arrival in Kuwait

NAMELESS AIRBASE, KUWAIT - We have safely arrived in Kuwait. Out of deference to political and security sensitivities with out hosts the Kuwaiti government we are not authorized to report on very many details of where we are or what else goes on here. But I can tell you that we are stuck here waiting for 24 hours for our passports to be processed so that we can leave Kuwait, and continue on our way to Iraq.

The faces have changed as the soldiers I met here in Kuwait last year have all returned home and been replaced by fresh faces, but everything else about Kuwait and the process of in-processing and traveling on to Iraq is pretty much the same... You can read this post from last year to get a flavor for what it is like.

Reporter's Notebook: What qualifies a story as "news" (a little insight into how the media really works)

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS (In transit to Iraq) - As an independent journalist, and newcomer to the news media one of the many interesting things I've been learning over the past year is how it all actually works. Just like any other industry it's all a bit messier and more unsophisticated on the inside than you might imagine as an outsider looking at the polished public product (you don't want to see the sausage being made).

Case in point the mini blizzard of media coverage of John Camp and myself on Friday by half a dozen media organizations. Here is a little chronology and behind the scenes insight into what really happened.

On Thursday a reporter from the St Paul Pioneer press interviewed John about our trip. At the time the assumption was that the story would run sometime next week after we had actually arrived in Iraq. Also on Thursday a reporter at MinnPost gave John and I a set of written questions to respond to before we left for Iraq intended as material for a story that would run on Monday to introduce our Iraq coverage.

Apparently Thursday was a slow news day and the Pioneer Press decided to run the story early ( appeared on the Pioneer Press website at 6:51pm on the 3rd, and ran in the morning paper on the 4th). By 9:00am I'd gotten several emails and calls from people, "Did you see the Pioneer Press?"

This is the point where the sausage factory comes into action. Was the fact that John Camp and I were leaving for Iraq really news worthy enough for half the mainstream media outlets in the Twin Cities to all cover it on the same day in advance of us actually doing anything? Probably not, but as soon as one of them ran it everybody else started jumping on board... not wanting to be late to the party.

At 10:00am WCCO posted the AP syndicated Pioneer Press story on their website:

At 10:30am somebody from KSTP called and asked I could stop by for a quick on camera interview for a story that they had just decided to run on the 6:00pm news in response to the Pioneer Press story.

At 10:56am KSTP posted the AP story on their site with some updated photos:

At 12:40pm Editor & Publisher magazine posted the AP story on their website:

At 2:55pm MinnPost.Com published the story that it had been intending to run on Monday:

At 4:15pm WCCO radio called and asked if I could do a phone interview, and if I could ask John to call them also (which I did). I don't have confirmation as to when or if these interviews actually ran. I somebody reading this heard them I would be curious to hear about it.

At 4:30pm the Minnesota National Guard website posted the AP story on their website:

At 6:00pm KSTP ran a 70 second story on the evening news including video footage that I shot last year in Iraq, and a sound bite from my interview earlier in the day (watch the video here:

At 7:00pm somebody from the Star Tribune left John a voice mail asking to do an interview. He was busy getting ready to leave, and didn't return their call.

There's nothing terrible about any of this, but it does give some insight into how much of our daily news diet at most news organizations is directly influenced by the stories that other news organizations are running vs. being original reporting.

UPDATE: 6.Jan.08

NAMELESS AIRBASE KUWAIT - The Sunday edition of Stars & Stripes, the military newspaper, ran the AP story, and so everybody we talk to here in Kuwait already seems to know who we are...

Friday, January 4, 2008

Heading back to Iraq tomorrow

I am returning to Iraq on January 5th, 2008 for a two week photojournalism project.

About the trip
I will be spending two weeks in Balad, Iraq as an embedded photojournalist with 2/147 Assault Helicopter Battalion (AHB) of the Minnesota National Guard.

This year I have a Pulitzer Prize winning writer joining me on the trip. John Camp is a former US Army journalist, former St Paul Pioneer Press reporter, and best selling novelist (writing as John Sandford).

We are looking forward to flying on combat missions in Blackhawk helicopters, and telling the stories of the Minnesotans flying them.

Media Outlets
John and I are sponsored by MinnPost.Com, a non-profit news organization focused on Minnesota news. Stories and photography from our trip will be appearing daily on the MinnPost.Com website from Jan 7-18.

I will also be providing video to KSTP Channel 5, the Minneapolis ABC affiliate. I expect that my reporting will be appearing on several weeknights between January 9-16. Reports may appear on the 5pm and/or 10pm news. You can check my personal Iraq website for updates on the broadcast schedule.

I am also expecting to do several live radio call-in spots on WTIP the Northshore public radio station based in Grand Marais, Minnesota. If you are outside the WTIP listening area you can still listen to on the WTIP website. Again, check my personal Iraq website for broadcast schedule.

Press Coverage
The St Paul Pioneer Press ran a short piece about our trip this morning:

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: