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But by far the most dangerous activity we would perform in Iraq was driving to our projects sites in SUVs. We had little armor protection and few weapons, so we used raw speed to enhance our security. That meant we often drove over 100 mph. We rapidly changed lanes every few seconds to throw off the timing of in IED. We took the tailgate off some the SUVs and placed a security contractor with a Russian machinegun in the rear. He was our “tail gunner”, and he would defend against high speed enemy BMWs that tried to pass us from the rear and spray us with their AK-47 rifles. Driving every day in Iraq was like living in a “Mad Max” movie. We learned many lessons, and over time, the equipment an tactics that we used improved.
I was recalled to Active Duty again in 2007 and I traveled to several countries in the Middle East, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar, Egypt, UAE and Kuwait. I saw how much improvement happened in Iraq as a result of “the surge.” And I was able to better understand the reconstruction program and challenges in Afghanistan.
FP: Tell us about how much attention the mainstream media gave to your successes and inspiring story.
Kachejian: Unfortunately, very little of this story was considered newsworthy. If there were reports, they were often reduced to a few sound bytes or the reports were focused on perceived failures, not successes. There was some reporting, but the story was largely ignored.
FP: Why did the mainstream media ignore it?
Kachejian: The mainstream media is an industry and makes a profit by selling sensational headlines. Blood and scandals have always been a good recipe for improved ratings. In 2004, “Breaking news, massive car bomb explodes in Baghdad,” helped with ratings. Good stories, such as opening an Iraqi hospital or school, were considered “not newsworthy.” I give specific examples in my book. When I returned to Iraq in 2007 (after “the surge”), I never heard a commentator lead with, “Breaking news, no car bombs again today in Baghdad”.
FP: What damage did the mainstream media do in its behavior?
Kachejian: The persistent and selective reporting of car bombings, prisoner abuse, and U.S. casualties gave Americans a skewed and deeply negative perspective on the entire effort. It hurt the morale of troops, played in the favor of our enemies, diminished the credibility of our military and our nation, and turned public opinion so negative that it I believe it nearly cost us the war.
I am not sure how much of it was intentional, but it wasn’t right.
There were major policy errors that included inadequate troop levels, the complete “de-Ba’athification” of the government and the disbanding of the Iraqi military. Pile on the inadequate armor protection for many troops and there were plenty of issues for the media to feed on.
But while sensational news reports that Americans saw every night on television about Iraq were often true, they were only part of the story. Reporting was not balanced. There were few reports of U.S. tactical successes and little of the valor demonstrated every day by our fighting men, our allies and our security contractors. Only rarely was there a report on the reconstruction program, and few of these accounts were portrayed positively. There were many good things happening, particularly with the reconstruction mission. Hospitals and schools were opening, and electrical power plants were coming on line. But everything in Iraq was hard. The Abu Ghraib abuse was dominating the headlines at the expense of all good news, but that was tame compared to the daily torture inflicted by Al Qaeda and the Shia death squads on their fellow Iraqis.
FP: What do you hope this book will help achieve?
Kachejian: I want the American public to know that there were many good things happening in Iraq other than sound bites about daily car bombings. The reconstruction mission was a piece of American history that was in the making. Many Americans volunteered to perform this unbelievable mission. But we also learned many hard lessons that I wanted capture so they are not repeated by future generations.
FP: Kerry Kachejian, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview. Thank you for putting your life on the line for freedom. And thank you for telling this important story. We wish you the best.
We encourage all of our readers to get their hands on SUVs SUCK in Combat: Chaos & Valor–The Rebuilding of Iraq During a Raging Insurgency.
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