View Full Version : Embedded reporter comes away from front lines torn

04-22-03, 09:29 AM
Embedded reporter comes away from front lines torn

By Scott Bernard Nelson, Globe Staff, 4/22/2003

BAGHDAD - A funny thing happened on the way home from Iraq this week: I found myself scoffing at the rear-echelon soldiers for how little they knew about war. About the real war, the one I had experienced, with enemy AK-47 rounds buzzing over your head and the smell of burning flesh and metal filling your nose. About enduring four weeks on the front lines, sleeping in open foxholes you'd dug to avoid shrapnel in the night. About looking terrible, smelling worse, and seeing people die.

Where were the headquarters Johnnies then, I smugly asked myself this week as I walked the former headquarters of the Iraqi secret police, now home to the US Marines' First Division. Probably drinking coffee, eating hot meals, sleeping on cots in canvas tents, and moving arrows around on wall maps.

My line of reasoning was patently ridiculous, of course. The men and women who wear the uniforms are professional soldiers; I'm a professional reporter. And not a particularly brave one, at that. Before the war, I wrote about bank presidents and insurance contracts and mutual funds for The Boston Globe's business section.

Look up Stockholm syndrome in the dictionary, though, and you'll get a pretty good idea about what I was going through in those first hours away from combat. I had lived so closely for so long under such extreme circumstances with the Second Battalion, 11th Marines, fighting their way through Iraq, that I began to think and feel like a Marine.

Therein lies the quandary for the hundreds of ''embedded'' reporters and photographers who covered Gulf War II and the editors who paid them to go. Did we sell our souls as journalists for access to the death and destruction at the front lines?

As part of a first-ever war correspondents' partnership between the Department of Defense and media organizations, we reporters signed contracts limiting what we would say and when we would say it. In return, for the duration of the conflict the Pentagon let us eat, sleep, travel - and sometimes die - with the military forces we covered. (More than a dozen journalists died in combat.)

Over time, it was inevitable that we would begin to view at least some things from the grunt's perspective.

When the battalion I'd been living with drove into an ambush April 6 north of Iraq's capital, I did more than just empathize with the soldiers. I helped them in the battle.

Like the other troops behind us in a convoy of Humvees, seven-ton trucks, and armored reconnaissance vehicles that day, I saw muzzle flashes coming from a window as we passed a squat building about 60 yards away. Several bullets skipped off the road in front of us, but nobody else in my vehicle saw where they were coming from.

I yelled to the first sergeant in the gun turret above my head, telling him which building and which window the gunfire came from. He wasn't sure to where I was referring, so I yelled again, leaning out of the window to point out the location to our right. That's all he needed. He fired nearly 100 rounds out of his .50-caliber heavy machine gun into the building as we rumbled by. The muzzle flashes ended.

We later learned that the gunman inside that building was among four members of Saddam Hussein's fedayeen militia who died in that failed ambush. No Marines were hurt.

The ambush provides the most dramatic, although hardly the only, example of how I came to identify with the Marines over time. Other embedded journalists, including my Globe colleague Brian MacQuarrie and Jules Critten den of the Boston Herald, told similar stories of their time on the front lines. Whether I acted out of self-preservation that day or because of an affinity with the soldiers I was covering hardly matters. The question is whether the coverage I provided during the war was tainted as a result.

I'd like to believe it wasn't. I'd like to believe mine was one of many diverse voices The Boston Globe used to tell the story of this war, and that good editors back home kept everything balanced and in perspective. I'd like to believe that, if nothing else, all of the embedded reporters added something worthwhile to the big-picture stories other journalists were writing from newsrooms, the Pentagon, and the armed forces central command in Qatar.

In the end, it will be for someone else to decide. Big thinkers in both the media and the military will at some point begin to analyze whether the embedding program worked, from their various perspectives.

Like the soldiers who fought on the front lines of this war, I just want to go home at this point to spend time with my family and think about something else for a while. We'll have to leave it to those rear-echelon guys to figure out how and when future wars will be fought - and covered.

This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 4/22/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.



04-22-03, 09:35 AM
The Boston Globe is pretty liberal in it's news coverage. Maybe this guy got a wake up call.

Art Petersn
04-22-03, 09:56 AM
I began to think and feel like a Marine.

A cople of weeks does not make him a Marine even if he felt like one.

04-22-03, 10:35 AM
I feel like a beer, that doesn't make me one though.

04-22-03, 12:11 PM
For a guy who "felt" like a Marine, he sure used the term "soldier" enough!

Lucky for him though, he only had to do this for a few weeks - depending on when yer time in/career started, Marines serve anywhere from 3 - 30 years. Wonder if he'd make that commitment? Also, his time in Iraq may be over, but the soldiers and Marines are still there. Granted, some may be rotating, but not all of 'em and not just yet. Wonder if he'd go "embedded" with the same pay as the Marines he covered?

04-22-03, 12:12 PM
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04-22-03, 12:42 PM
Scott Bernard Nelson was supposedly the embedded with my son's unit. Wont know for sure till I hear word from my son. All of his articles were ok but not the greatest. He wasnt the best pick for an war reporter. Although I will give him this, he never gave any information away that I know of.