05 August 2009

Paper: "No matter what we produced on the deaths of Fort Drum soldiers, I know it was not enough."

From yesterday's Watertown Daily Times of Upstate New York. I think many of us in the milblogging community (and of course others) struggle with the same feelings of inadequacy, and I very much appreciate this unnamed editor's (there is no byline) frankness and his willingness to express them. I've posted it in its entirety; I hope the Watertown Daily Times doesn't mind.

A collective sacrifice that is still made by individuals

Fire all of the guns at once and explode into space.

AUG. 5, 2009: A Fort Drum soldier was killed in battle the other day. Or was it the week before? Maybe I have him confused with another soldier who died with his three buddies during an explosion. Or was it just two other soldiers?

And so it goes. The U.S. is losing soldiers at such a rapid clip in Afghanistan that names and faces of 10th Mountain Division soldiers are flashing by us, giving little time to reflect on the collective sacrifice being made by these individuals.

Most news mediums, and certainly this newspaper, attempt to give equal weight to each death of each soldier. But at the numbers grow, the task has become impossible.

On some occasions, we discover the death after it is reported on the Defense Department’s Web site. Other times a story of a dead soldier is found on the Web site of a hometown newspaper. Only the latter has quotes from family members.

Sometimes the death is announced early in the day, giving us plenty of time for research. Sometimes it is discovered just before deadline, restricting information to the bare essentials.

Sometimes there is a photo with the story. Sometimes the photo arrives by email after the story is published. Sometimes the dead soldier has lived in our community for several years and his kids go to our schools. We can find neighbors and friends for quotes. Sometimes the dead soldier arrived at Fort Drum just in time to hop a plane to deploy, having never met one civilian here. There are no quotes to be found.

It all makes it difficult to produce the same amount of information for each casualty.

Years ago we printed a quarter page of photos of soldiers killed in battle after a nasty spike of deaths in Iraq. The other day we printed 12 faces to show how many soldiers have been killed in the last six weeks. Are 12 deaths in six weeks more significant than one death in four weeks?

Some soldiers die in a firefight. Some die in a vehicle that is blown up. Should one get more attention than the other? The father of one dead 10th Mountain Division soldier was recently called by President Obama who said his son will be a Medal of Honor recipient. Was that soldier’s death more significant than another? His late son would likely say, “I was just doing my job. I know others who did things just as important and courageous. Why me? Why not them?”

How do you give equal attention to the death of each 10th Mountain Division soldier?

I often review our previous stories and look for balance, tone and perspective. And no matter what we produced on the deaths of Fort Drum soldiers, I know it was not enough.

Our reporters work to ensure these are not unknown soldiers, even if they were not known to anyone in our community. But in the end these soldiers, who gave the last full measure of devotion, are never known enough.

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