15 January 2010

Who's Your J-Daddy?

I'm trying to catch up on last week's public-radio intercepts, and have just gotten to the 08 JAN 2010 episode of National Public Radio's "On the Media." Host Bob Garfield interviewed George Stanley, the managing editor for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the father of a U.S. Army Reservist deployed to Afghanistan. Stanley was given the unique opportunity to embed as journalist with his son's Wisconsin-based unit.

I encourage you to click over to the show in question, which features an MP3 download, links to a four-part newspaper series written by Stanley, along with both pro- and con- reactions to the idea of a journalistic visit from Dad while still in-country. (Best of all for Sherpa, who's already busy transcribing another recording of another, more-local show this week, there's a transcript.)

While I'm at all this, I encourage to support your local NPR station. The logic of my sales pitch?Freedom isn't free; maintaining freedom requires vigorous exercise of the First Amendment; so good journalism isn't free, either.

For those of us interested in U.S. citizen-soldiers both home and abroad, there a couple of quick takeaways from the Stanley interview: Observations about the normalcy of life in Afghanistan, for example, or living conditions on Bagram, and even possible insights into the difficulties National Guard and Reserve soldiers may face in communicating their values to their families.

Here's a quick excerpt from the "On the Media" transcript:
GEORGE STANLEY: [Y]ou know, one of the things that struck me [... is] that there’s a lot of normalcy in Afghanistan. You know, the violence is there, of course, but for the most part, 90 percent of the time and in 90 percent of the places, people are going on living their lives. Shepherds are walking across hills with their kids and their sheep. Kids are playing soccer, and most people aren't combatants. And most of the troops are not in harm’s way the vast majority of the time.

BOB GARFIELD: So, let me tell you what I really loved about your pieces. There were significant details that had somehow eluded me in the eight-plus years of reading about the battle on the ground there, the configuration of Bagram Air Force Base and how rinky-dink it is and how temporary it looks almost a decade into the war; how packed in the troops are in their quarters and, you know, how there’s no basketball court [...]


BOB GARFIELD: And I also liked the questions you posed. But I have to ask you, isn't your relationship with the son and his comrades such that it kind of makes it impossible for you to establish any kind of critical distance in answering the questions you sought to answer?

GEORGE STANLEY: I think I went at it like any other parent would. Probably the strongest responses I've gotten to the stories have been from other family members of the troops who say, you know, these are the same questions we are trying to get answers to, because even though the troops themselves are committed and gung-ho and volunteers, their families didn't necessarily volunteer for this.

And many, many of the troops are not from military families, traditional military families. Many are, of course, but the Reservists and Guardsmen, like my son, many of them come from families that don't have strong military backgrounds. And so, the families aren't necessarily as committed to this as the soldiers themselves and the Marines are.
The final factoid from the NPR report? Afghanistan will soon be the longest war ever fought by the United States. 'Nuff said.

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