The Manchester Union Leader ran an embed piece earlier this week by Nathan S. Webster, a freelance photojournalist and creative writing instructor. Webster was embedded with the 82nd airborne, though a different brigade from the seven Sergeants who penned the recent op-ed for the Times. Webster's style, and his reporting, is somewhat reminiscent of another aspiring creative writer, Scott Thomas Beauchamp, except there's a sense of balance and honesty that was conspicuously absent from the work of TNR's Baghdad Diarist. Webster writes,
Every soldier in Bayji doubtless had moments of doubt and fear, of bone-deep exhaustion, of hard breaths taken after a legitimate near-miss. It's no different for a reporter - but I got to leave when I wanted. I learned a few things, about our soldiers at war and where they fight.
The desert heat is Biblical. Under the ceramic body armor plates, your chest feels like a faucet, ceaselessly dripping, absorbing, stinking.
Yes, a bit overwrought--certainly would make for an interesting semiotic analysis--but not bad. He goes on:
I learned the most cynical soldier would be the one most eager to pose for pictures with Iraqi children. The best squad leader and NCO will laugh about his long-past demotion, that being a Pfc. was much better the second time around.
They can be cruel. Some throw rocks at stray cats or are pointlessly mean to the Iraqis they work beside.
Almost nothing is off limits to their gallows humor. They laugh about a guy who was shot through both arms and got sent home, "but he's totally okay, so it's funny." They take nothing seriously. Except for everything.
When they tell what it's like to lose a friend, they speak with a quiet weariness entirely out of place in a 21-year-old.
I took hundreds of pictures. In the end, they all show the same thing.
Each picture's subjects - U.S. and Iraqi - are patriots, heroes and men.
Petty cruelty juxtaposed with daily acts of courage and heroism, gallows humor that conceals a deeper concern for one's comrades--it certainly passes the smell test.