09 April 2012

Omaha Paper Follows-up Red Bull Stories

Three Iowa and two Nebraska citizen-soldiers were profiled in anniversary stories that appeared in the Omaha World-Herald, Sun., April 1, 2012. The soldiers were part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) deployment to Eastern Afghanistan, from August 2010 to July 2011. Omaha World-Herald reporter Joe Morton and photographer Alyssa Schukar embedded with the units, first at Fort Irwin, Calif. in fall 2010, and again in Afghanistan, spring 2011.

The soldiers' stories are a compelling mix of text, photo, and not-to-be-missed video coverage. They include:
  • Alexis Trucke: "I'd like to deploy again, someday"
  • Jeremiah Afuh: Finding a job is "like everything else. You have to fight for it."
  • John Kerschner: "I believe in our freedoms, and I believe in taking personal responsibility for them"
  • William Gomez: "My dream has always been to become a soldier"
  • John Matheson: "Say something nice about my wife. ... She's a hero in my book"
According to an April 3 report, Schukar's Afghan photo work won awards in two different large-newspaper categories in the 2012 Great Plains Associated Press (A.P.) News and Photo Contest. Forty member North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska newspapers in three circulation categories competed:

In Feature photos, a first-place photo depicting a young Afghan boy amidst a sea of women wearing blue burkas, awaiting a wintertime humanitarian delivery of flour, sugar, cooking oil, and tea by Nebraksa's 1st Squadron, 134th Cavalry Regiment (1-334th Cav.).

In the Spot News category, a third-place photo depicting an Iowa cavalry trooper smoking a cigarette after a firefight with insurgents in Parwan Province. The caption reads: "With the blood of an insurgent fighter on his hand, Spc. Brandon Dykun smokes a cigarette shortly after engaging in contact with two insurgents in a dry ravine near the village of Walli Kalay on April 7, 2011." Dykun was deployed with Iowa National Guard's 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment (1-113th Cav.) Both the Nebraska and Iowa cavalry units were part of 2-34th BCT deployment to Eastern Afghanistan, from August 2010 to July 2011. Approximately 3,000 citizen-soldiers participated in the deployment.

Schukar's work has been previously mentioned on the Red Bull Rising blog here. In a "Viewfinder" blog entry that serves as a companion to the World-Herald's most recent coverage, she describes her own motivations in revisiting the Red Bull soldiers:
Some of the best feedback we received from our time spent as embedded journalists with the Nebraska and Iowa soldiers there came from simple portraits of soldiers with quick question-and-answer interviews, which we posted almost daily to our At War, At Home page.

I found that family members were eager to hear any news of their deployed loved ones, and soldiers were quick to take the opportunity to talk about why they joined the National Guard and who was waiting for them back home.

The time changed me in surprisingly positive ways. I wanted to see the soldiers again, to learn how Afghanistan affected them and what their lives were like now.

In the past few months, I revisited five of the 60 soldiers whose portraits I took while I was embedded. Talking with them was very rewarding. We spoke of our shared experiences in Afghanistan and adjustments to life back in Nebraska and Iowa.

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