Monday, May 23, 2005

Advice to the U.S. Army ... Don't Get Creative ...

Sometimes, the basic facts, in and of themselves, are enough to present a compelling, provocative story that moves, perhaps even elevates its readers. It's something that no amount of embellishment can improve upon ... in fact, such embellishment may even be detrimental to the story itself, and to all the stories that follow.

Would somebody at the United States Army, and the Department of Defense consider that ... please?

Take the case, for example, of U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who was killed in action last year in Afghanistan. Most of you reading this post are probably well familiar with the story ... Tillman, a popular player for the Arizona Cardinals, gave up stardom in the National Football League after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to join the Army Rangers with his brother. After a tour in Iraq, their unit was sent to Afghanistan in spring 2004, where they were to hunt for the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Shortly after arriving in the mountains to fight, Tillman was killed in a barrage of gunfire from his own men, mistaken for the enemy as he got into position to defend them.

The basic facts of the story ... the decision to leave behind the comfortable lifestyle of a pro sports star, to do more than just talk about the war on terror, to join a unit guaranteed to fight rather than a celebrity guard unit in the U.S., and his ultimate death in combat ... were enough to produce the kind of story I mentioned above. Yes, even considering the circumstance of 'friendly fire,' which is tragic, but is a factor of warfare nonetheless.

It is now reported that investigators learned the facts of his death almost from the beginning. But that didn't stop publicists with the U.S. Armed Forces from putting out a very different story. It has since been revealed that "the Army kept the soldiers on the ground quiet and told Tillman's family and the public that he was killed by enemy fire while storming a hill, barking orders to his fellow Rangers. " This from the
Washington Post.

Weren't the simple, basic facts enough?

Apparently, they weren't enough in 2003, when a convoy from the U.S. Army's 507th Maintenance Battalion was ambushed by Iraqi soldiers during the early stages of the Iraq War. That's the engagement that gave us all Private Jessica Lynch ... and I wish there was some way we could give her back.

Me? ... I'd rather have Sgt. Donald Walters ... who? ... exactly!

In this case, embellishment by publicists in the Department of Defense not only exaggerated Lynch's role in that engagement - which left 11 American GIs dead, and 6 captured - but completely obscured the heroism of another soldier in that unit . In fact, according to Julian Loman, writing for Britain's
News Telegraph, many of the heroics attributed to Lynch, were actually Walters' ... fighting on alone, shooting until the magazine was empty, even the multiple shot and stab wounds, which in Walters' case proved fatal.

To give credit where credit is due, the United States Army and the U.S. Department of Defense have acknowledged that these embellishments have confused the situation, and obscured the facts of these cases. And they have even owned-up to what actually happened ... though at no time has it been done in so public a manner as the embellishments were originally celebrated.

As for me, I am forever grateful that, when it's time to walk the walk, the people who step forward are people like the football player from Arizona, and the cook from Oregon, and not the journalist wannabes sitting in the rear with the gear. God bless Tillman and Walters, and all the men and women who offer the last full measure of their devotion to our country. They are, in fact, the reason we still have a country ... and no amount of embellishment, no amount of spin can take that away.

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