First some background. Despite the constant flow of news out of Baghdad, which to many reporters is where Iraq begins and ends, terrorist-infested Ramadi is probably block-for-block the meanest place in country. Asked where in the city I wanted to be embedded I told the military “The redder, the better” (“Red” means hostile). So they packed me off to Camp Corregidor with the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division – the “Band of Brothers” made famous by author Stephen Ambrose and HBO.
Four minarets stand within sniping distance of the camp and the gentlemen in these erstwhile places of worship regularly shoot at the observation posts and often into the camp itself. Huge 122-millimeter mortars explode in Corregidor on average every other day. I photographed a crater where two men were blown up just before reaching shelter.
Because of the constant attacks, body armor is required whenever outside a protected building – something I’ve seen nowhere else in Iraq. I went on two day patrols and we were attacked in force both times. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) pop up like mushrooms.
One chilling statistic: Charlie Company arrived in January with 132 men. By late April it was down to about 100 from deaths, wounds, and injuries.
These horrors I described and photographed for my blogs from the camp, which many family members read. I discovered from their letters that ignorance is not always bliss. Here are excerpts from two:
Thank you so much for the excellent pictures of Ramadi. My son is in Camp Corregidor and these are the first really decent pictures of the area I have seen. It at least gives me an idea of what it is like. He doesn't say much about the conditions so I have to prowl the internet to find what I can. He doesn't want his mom and dad to worry more than we have to.
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My son is there at Camp Corregidor – an Army sniper with HHC 1/506th – and although he doesn’t tell the stories as well as you did, the firefight you experienced is a daily event for them. I appreciate the fact that you are not spinning the story to fit a personal agenda. We need more articles like yours. Enjoy your time in Ramadi.”
Another told me:
It's hard to talk [to my husband in 1st Battalion] on the phone and not be able to know what he is doing or what all is happening. It always makes me feel better when I know what’s happened even if it is good new or somewhat scary news. So what I am getting at is that I enjoyed reading your articles and seeing the pictures. Just hearing what they are going through for our country makes me so proud that I married into the military!
So “No news is bad news.” Repeatedly I found troops were trying to spare their parents, but the parents didn’t want to be spared. One wrote: “As a mother, I need to know what he's going through – not to torment myself but to better prepare for his state of mind when he returns.” Another: “[My son] can not say what he does. All I get is ‘I am good’ but he sounds tired. You gave me some insight into his life.” It was signed, “Scared mom of Spc. [omitted].”
Others were grateful the world was hearing of the men’s sacrifice. Predictably, not many reporters go to Corregidor, and often they cut their trips short if they do. (One embed there was recently shot twice by a sniper.) “Damn – at last!” read one of the e-mails. “Someone finally went into Ramadi and stayed for more than 15 minutes to cover the real deal. I speak to [my brother] once or twice a week and have heard only a little of what you observed. The activity and hardship endured by these soldiers is incredible – huh?”