Marines put on four-day show and tell

7 Jul 2003 | Army Sgt. Mike Sweet

A caravan of coalition and Iraqi reporters descended upon Najaf July 6 to see how Marines are working together with the Iraqi people.

Reporters and TV crews from ABC, Associated Press, Reuters, Newsweek, Stars and Stripes and Iraqi Media Network traveled on a four-day media blitz of the First Marine Expeditionary Force area of responsibility.

In Najaf, they not only visited 1st Battalion, 7th Marines from 29 Palms, Calif., but also met with local community leaders.

During major hostilities, reporters lived alongside with Marines as they moved up from bases in Kuwait to liberate Baghdad.  Once the Devil Dogs began focusing on humanitarian operations, the media coverage dwindled.

To generate some press on post-combat activities, reporters were offered up the chance to visit the ruins of Babylon, which the Marines protected from looters after Saddam Hussein fell from power. 

Also, they had the opportunity to see a school that was rehabilitated through the hard work of Marines and Navy Seabees as well as go on a patrol.  The grueling schedule took the journalists to four different battalions in as many days.

Dragging along personal gear and cameras in the 120-degree heat, the journalists got a taste of what life is like for Marines who are working to bring stability and democracy in post-war southern Iraq.

It was also a chance for a team of Iraqi journalists to get a close-up look at the U.S. military as well.  The differences between the Iraqi Army and the U.S. were striking to one reporter.

"Your officers are not brutal," said Assad Kadum, a reporter for the Iraqi Media Network who was also a journalist when he served in the Iraqi Army under Saddam Hussein. 

As a former enlisted soldier he also noticed that the quality of life for the Marines is much better than what he experienced.

"The food is much better," Kadum said.  Also while touching the sleeve of his shirt he explained that the quality of the Marines uniforms was much better.

Aside from comparing the differences between the two armies, Kadum also liked the access the embedding process gave him.

"I will do four or maybe five stories out of this," said Kadum, who studied journalism at Baghdad University before being forced to join the Iraqi Army. "The Iraqi people need to see what is going on."

The American and Iraqi reporters said they learned what the Marines' daily life is like.

"I like the access to the story it gives me," said Colin Soloway, a reporter for Newsweek.  "I am not going to be able to write a story about how everyone likes the Marines, because of course they [Iraqis] are going to say they do, when the Marines are around.  But what I can do is compare how things are going here."

For chow in Najaf, the reporters ate at the galley or had Meals Ready to Eat, which is the same field ration the Marines eat. 

At the end of the day, they also had to stand in line with the rest of the Marines for a chance to freshen up in the outdoor field showers.  Well, almost everyone.  Since one of the reporters was female, the infantrymen from the all-male 1st Battalion, 7th Marine posted a few guards to ensure a little privacy for her underneath the camouflaged shower point.

"I guess it was good that it was dark," joked Julianna Gittler, a reporter for Stars & Stripes Pacific, on the facilities.

During a press conference, Lt. Col. Chris Conlin, the commander for 1st Battalion 7th Marines talked about that Najaf was a safe and secure place not only because of the great work his Marines were doing but also because of the dedication and high moral values of the citizens.

"You must share that with the rest of the world," said Conlin.