A Decade of War

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A Marine honors the 184 people who died at the Pentagon on 9/11 / DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley

The past decade has generated a wealth of stories for anyone lucky enough to be covering national security since 9/11. It’s sort of the third chapter in my career. My first, which ran from 1979 to 1991, involved the Cold War and the possibility of superpower conflict with the Soviet Union. When it collapsed, I wondered what we’d write about. But no worry – the U.S. military’s push to reorient itself for the post-Cold War world, along with the successful effort to include women, and the still-waiting (but perhaps not much longer) effort to let gays serve openly, generated great tales about people and institutions pushing the status quo.

The past 10 years – my third chapter on this beat – have been the busiest and most rewarding yet. They have involved prolonged campaigns that have put the U.S. military under incredible strain, not to mention families members who – let’s face it – don’t always enlist with the same fervor as their soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.

There is a peculiar gap between the frenetic actions of the U.S. military, while the rest of the country hardly seems to notice. But that takes nothing away from the troops who, by and large, have performed admirably in carrying out the missions our elected leaders have assigned them.  We’ve written about the heroes on the ground, their commanding generals, and their bosses in the Pentagon. I’ve also written of the Army at the breaking point and the wisdom of restarting the military draft. We’ve hopscotched by helicopter across Afghanistan and Iraq, reporting on the wars’ progress and U.S. military’s surprising lack of armor.

There have been more somber pieces, too. War’s funny like that. We took a prescient look at U.S. troops wounded in Iraq, a study of the U.S. troops killed in a single week, and the lonely vigil of an Ohio family whose son was the first American soldier in Iraq to be listed as missing in action (whose remains were ultimately recovered in March, 2008). We’ve explored the death of a GI at the hands of Army medicine a year after he was slightly wounded, and suicides among Army recruiters. Focusing on the hidden wounds of war, we’ve detailed the pressures on the Army’s mental-health corps, how dogs are helping mentally-ailing troops, and the worst case of PTSD-fueled violence by a combat veteran since 9/11.

We’d just like to note the decade since 9/11 with a bow to the troops whose stories we’ve helped tell. Without them, a reporter is nothing. Thanks.