Friday, September 14, 2007
The end of a journey
We are leaving Iraq after a week; seven days that my photographers -- Jerry Simonson and Damir Loretic -- and I will not and cannot forget.

This past Monday, we covered the story of a U.S. Air Force squadron that helps train Iraqi police in proper police techniques. I thought it was an interesting story in itself. But what I ended-up finding more compelling was the squadron's dangerous quest to get to Iraq's police stations.

The 14-member group travels five days a week through some of the most hostile regions of Iraq. They travel in armored humvees, and there is good reason they are armored. Over the four months this group has been in the Tikrit area (where Saddam Hussein was born and raised), they have been hit by improvised explosive devices five times. On four of the occasions, they were scared; only their vehicles suffered damage. But on the fifth one, one of their own -- Senior Airman Jason Nathan -- was killed.

Jason was one of the gunners, the person who stands up through the turret and operates the huge machine gun that rotates 360 degrees. Jason was doing his job when an IED came his way and cut him down. His horrified colleagues could not save his life. They went back to the Balad Air Base, took a couple of days off, and then went back to work.

They told us this story as we joined them on a 35-mile journey to a small town police station. We drove through neighborhoods known to be full of insurgents and their supporters. We passed by dozens of cars -- any of which could hold bombs -- parked along the roads. The police station had one way in and one way out, so anybody with a bad thought in their head would know exactly where the four-humvee convoy was going.

The driver of my humvee told me before the trip that if she was hit by an explosive and incapacitated or killed, I was to climb forward from the back seat, move her body, take her foot off the accelerator, put the humvee in neutral, and bring it under control. It took me a few seconds to realize she was serious, and only a few more seconds to realize how brave and selfless these Airmen are. Some of them told me they were scared to do this job, but considered it a patriotic duty.

The following day, we paid a visit to the largest U.S. military hospital in Iraq. Between my videographers and me, we have seven children. But we weren't prepared for what we saw in this hospital: a 14-month-old toddler burned over 45 percent of his body; a beautiful six-year-old girl with a burned face and an amputated leg; a little boy with a gunshot wound in his arm. Two of the children we saw in the hospital were by themselves. The staff at the Air Force Theatre Hospital had no idea what happened to their families. Despite all this, the children smiled and laughed with us just like our own kids. But we take it for granted that we can shelter our own kids from this kind of violence.

People always talk about numbers: the number of troops killed, the number of civilians hurt. But traveling alongside these troops and meeting these children has affected us more profoundly than any number ever could.

-- By Gary Tuchman, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 3:43 PM ET
  37 Comments
Gary,

With all the brutality you have witnessed, I'm glad you have maintained your humanity. Have a safe trip home, and thanks for all the fantastic reporting.
Posted By Barbara, Culver City, CA : 3:57 PM ET
Gary,
I really enjoyed every report that you did in this past week. They were all great! I am glad that 360 took you along this time!

I found the one at the military hospital to be SO hard to watch. The thought of those little kids going through all of that pain is heartwrenching! You did a great job with that!! And you were so caring!

I also really liked the one at Balad Air Base were you showed us the predator. That thing was SO cool! It is unreal that they can fly that thing from the ground and still hit a target with such precision!!

I'm glad y'all are finally on your way home! Have a safe trip back! I'll be looking forward to your next adventure with Coop and the gang!

Cynthia, Covington, Ga.
Posted By Cindy : 4:07 PM ET
There is no way to comprehend the horrors of war without being an eye witness to the death, maiming and destruction.

Perhaps, that is why our current leaders who have never fought in a war and seen, first hand, the results, continue to argue back and forth as more soldiers and more civilians die.
Posted By Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 4:08 PM ET
No matter how many numbers you hear, it's still hard to see the faces of innocent little children caught in a horrible circumstance. Thanks Gary for bringing us the story of those little angels and hopefully their families will be found.

For or against the war, you have to agree that these men and women we have fighting overseas are some of the bravest, selfless people out there.
Posted By Evelyn : 4:20 PM ET
The subject of numbers has been on my mind since I saw the report last night on the reality of war. War is all about numbers,battles won and lost, casulties, injuries. They killed our people so we can kill their people.

Anderson struck a nerve when he said they are not just statistics, they are people. The 110,000 Iraqis caught my eye. These are ordinary people like us, going about their daily routine, raising their families, working to make a living and loving each other. They are sons and daughters, parents, wives and husbands and they have nothing to do with the conflict; they are innocent bystanders. Their homes and country are being torn apart. The worst part is the little boy who had gasoline poured over him and set on fire. The only word for this is "evil". I'm glad you aired this report, it's something we all needed to see. War is not just wins and losses and leaders getting their way. We need to remember the people.

Safe trip home to all of you and you are to be commended for taking this trip and bringing us the truth.
Posted By Christina, Windber, PA : 4:52 PM ET
Dear Gary,

Your reports on that Air Force squadron and your visit to the military hospital were the ones that most touched my heart throughout the entire live coverage from Iraq.

When a conflict seems to go on forever, often the human side gets lost in the endless political/social debates surrounding it. My family has had its share of men in military service; I can appreciate the sheer guts that it must take to ship out, to see things that the folks at home can barely imagine, to literally have their lives turned inside out - and still do their duty the best they know how.

In my opinion, every benefit that those brave people are entitled to is the very least their country can offer for such a sacrifice.

As for the children...they are always the most heartbreaking casualties of war. Those children in particular - how the doctors must feel, to heal them, only to send them back into harm's way! It's heartbreaking to imagine. Yet they can still laugh and smile with total strangers!

Thank you so much for helping to put faces on statistics. For reminding everyone not in the line of fire, that this conflict is not just a lot of hot air - but a real battle, with real people; which is the best reason for it to be brought to an end as soon as it can be managed.

Excellent reporting, and congratulations on an assignment well done!
Posted By Cynthia M. Genato, Makati City, Philippines : 5:08 PM ET
Gary, your reports have filled my head with knowledge and my heart with sorrow. Until we have been to these places ourselves, we will never understand the magnitude of the consequences of this war. After I saw your report on the children, I hope it makes everyone think, whatever side of the political aisle they're on: would you let your beautiful children be hurt this way, physically and emotionally scarred for the rest of their lives, through no fault of their own? If you were in favor of the war, and if these were your children, would you change your mind? Amidst the bombs, battlefields, and bloodshed, just think about the children. If I could take every one of these kids home, I would.

Take care Gary and say hello to Anderson and everyone else on your trip. Have a safe journey home.

Lilibeth
Edmonds, Washington
Posted By Lilibeth, Edmonds, Washington : 5:09 PM ET
I was touched with your article, since my sister is heading to Iraq to perform the same job the airmen in your story conducted. I am a little baffled though, our president claims he is beginning to bring our troops home, but yet he is misleading Americans, by replacing active duty troops with our Nations National guard’s troops.
Posted By Anonymous : 5:14 PM ET
I can only imagine how glad your families and children will be to have you all back home. Blog comments this week have been full of concerns about safety for Anderson and the 360 team. Have a safe journey home. While I've been wondering how all of you can do what you do, in going to such dangerous places, the personal stories this week have provided a different sense of the reality of what's going on over there. While you are going home after a week, I've been really struck by what life must be like for those living in Iraq and for the soldiers, who face such dangers day after day, for months and years, and for their families. So thanks for going and giving us a glimpse of the reality, though I know it's not the same as being there. I hope there's an end to this soon, and that some sort of peaceful co-existence can emerge. The piece you did on the children in the Air Force hospital was moving, but very difficult to watch. It's horrible to think of the suffering, especially for the children, and that some children are dealing with this without the comfort and support of their parents or family.
Posted By Vicky, Ottawa, ON : 5:15 PM ET
Dear Gary,

Thank you for your beautiful post! I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate the work you, Anderson, and the rest of the 360 crew have done in Iraq this week.

I am always impressed by the coverage of the war 360 has given the viewers over the years, but I think this week has been the best so far. The reports and interviews were thorough, informative, and even heartbreaking. You never fail to make viewers understand that the military and the local people involved in this war are more than just mere statistics; they are human beings with families and friends who love them.

I was surprised by how dangerous it is for the airmen to travel from place to place to train the police recruits; I don't think any of us stopped to realize how dangerous a job it is. Your report from the transport plane really showed us a unique perspective. I have often wondered how these men and women feel on their way to the war zone. I agree that it must be particularly difficult for these soldiers because, as you said, there is no finish line in sight.

Your report from the Air Force Hospital was particularly touching. It is difficult to realize that these children will be sent back to live under the very same conditions that caused their injuries in the first place. I have great respect for these doctors; they are truly remarkable and dedicated people.

As Anderson said this week, the politics of Washington seem far removed from the everyday life of these courageous men and women just doing their jobs in this war. Maybe it would be a good idea for our government officials to take a page out of your book and allow themselves to be embedded with the troops for a couple of weeks so that they will have a clearer perspective when they make any future decisions regarding the war.

Again, I would like to thank you, Anderson, and the rest of the 360 crew for risking your lives in order to bring us these important and informative reports. I am sure it was difficult for your friends and families this week as well.

It will be good to have all of you back!

All the best,
Jo Ann
Posted By Jo Ann Matese, North Royalton, Ohio : 5:33 PM ET
I am not an American, but like so many people from all over the world, I have followed the events of this horrific journey that has been the war in Iraq. -Since the beginning, I have not agreed with the invasion of this country-

Still, I can tell you that as much as I feel enraged because of the inherent damage and pain inflicted on the civilians by war, I feel deeply for your troops: men and women, offering their lives for what they believe to be the right thing to do.

How can it be, that in this day and age, we- PEOPLE- are still not capable of respecting each other’s basic rights, like LIFE and FREEDOM. That the weak continue to be trampled upon. That war is even an option, instead of honest dialogue. That violence, greed, ignorance, and hate are so much part of our daily bread.
Posted By Aline / Guadalajara / México : 6:39 PM ET
We are so lucky to have these brave men and women defending our nation. We are lucky also to have all of you taking risks to show us life in the Middle East. I have enjoyed the reports and I also was moved by the children in your piece-the littlest victims. Thank you all for your dedication and hard work! I hope we can find a way to end this conflict quickly and peacefully.
Posted By Kathy Chicago,Il : 6:51 PM ET
Gary,
Your reports this week from Iraq, and those of the entire 360 team, have taken the statistics we hear about and replaced them with real life images. This week in Iraq you presented us with images and stories that were done with the utmost professionalism and compassion. Some were extremely enlightening, and some were just heart breaking, but they were all a concise representation of the war.

Thank you, and I wish you all a safe journey home.
Posted By Jan from Wood Dale, IL : 6:54 PM ET
360 & Crew,

I'm sorry to see this journey come to an end, but I am "Oh! So glad!" all of you have made it safely to this point.

One cannot absorb stories such as these without feeling closer to the people there. They are no longer strangers or enemies, just different people who live life in a different way. Most want the same things we do. Unfortunately, warring with one's enemy only cuts the chance of finding that life.

Thank each and all of you for you bravery,compassion and determination. Now, get your bodies home safely, enjoy a peaceful weekend.

Maggie C
Posted By Anonymous : 7:00 PM ET
Gary

Your reporting and stories this week were quite compelling. The story on the children particularly affected me and knowing that you had children I could only admire your emotional fortitude in reporting what had to be a hard story.

Looking at numbers abstracts a very real human tragedy. Thank you for showing us some of the faces behind those numbers - believe me, its not very abstract now.

Annie Kate
Birmingham, AL
Posted By Annie Kate : 7:50 PM ET
Dear Gary - I think you are right in this was one of the most compelling pieces of the entire stay - this and the burial ground one that Michael Ware covered.

You and the rest of the 360 crew have given such a comprehensive, compelling and stark view of what is really happening on the ground there, I know I won't be forgetting it ever, either.

Not that I wasn't before, but I am in complete awe of our military.

Hang tough. Come home safe.
Jayne Ferguson
Los Angeles
Posted By Jayne Ferguson, Los Angeles, California : 8:10 PM ET
Gary/AC360:
Thank you for going to Iraq and the stories you bring to the American people.

Even with the propaganda machine on full force from the White House this week, the American people are still looking for answers on why we are still in Iraq.

Looking in the eyes of those wounded children may hold some of the answers.
Posted By Sharon D., Indianapolis, Indiana : 8:30 PM ET
My heart goes out to every innocent person caught in the crossfire of this unnecessary war in Iraq, especially the children. Unfortunately the situation is what it is and the Iragi's must join together and help rebuild their country. To move forward the Iraqi's must help restore order and halt the insurgency. If freedom is what they want then they need to make a stand. If Iraqi's aren't willing to fight for their freedom American's should not die for their freedom.
Posted By Anonymous : 9:01 PM ET
The AC 360 series on Iraq have lived up to the title "Keeping them honest."
Posted By bhuvana : 9:58 PM ET
Gary,
I could'nt add anymore words to your last statement...people are now to us nothing more than numbers, I personally feel absolutly selfish when i hear those numbers and dont get depressed as if they are only numbers. It is something we can not control until we experince, until we see those "numbers" dead with our own eyes. Now dont get me wrong i dont wish for no one to see such scenes, but then again i ask myself, isnt it necessary for each person to see just some of this greif to get the sense of what life is and what such kind of death truely is and feels like. I wish i can join the army just so i can have this sense of this what so called emotions, however, i dont want to be holding a gun because iam anti killing any life, even if there is a person with his gun pointing straight at me and about to shoot. I wish you guys come safe to the US and i envy you because you guys are truely the bravest souls out of everyone since your weapon is your camera.
Posted By LulaK : 10:31 PM ET
Gary,

Your story about the children at the hospital really touched me. As you described their wounds, I couldn't help but see a pararell to the children back here in the U.S. whom parents died during the war. Although the circumstances are different and thankfully they are not physically harmed, I cannot fathom how they will cope with the loss of their parents.

My thoughts and prayers go to children in Iraq, as well as the ones here in the U.S.


Ariston Neto
Miami Beach, FL
Posted By Ariston Neto : 11:23 PM ET
That was a touching story about the children. We all DO forget to realize how much these Iraqi children suffer and face each day. We are so busy focusing on the war, the number of soldiers getting killed and the terrorists that are attacking that we forget to realize that our next generation is suffering greatly in big numbers.
All this week was amazing reporting and I am proud of yall and the 360 team. Keep up the work and the kids are in my prayers each day as the war ends.
Posted By Taylor Smith : 11:29 PM ET
Hi Gary,
Thanks for all the pounding of the pavement, facts on the ground reporting you and your colleagues have brought us this week.
I also thank our troops for their day in and day out hard and dangerous work.
I must admit that after watching AC360 this week, I feel a twinge of hopelessness. But I'm still hopeful enough to believe nothing is impossible and never say never.
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 11:53 PM ET
Dear Gary, Anderson & "Crew 360":

Your reporting from Iraq this week was superb and informative as usual. Please know we are thankful that we have you whom we can trust to delve deep in search for the truth and for keeping us informed of issues that affect us all, even when we are not always aware of it.

It is so distressing to continue to hear about so much death and distruction in this world, it has gone on for so many years, we need peace to come so quickly. It broke my heart to hear of all the little children who have been caught in the middle and our soldiers who lose their lives so tragically. I wonder where innocence has gone.

God bless all of you, please have a safe trip home, we've all missed you. You are to be commended for your compassion and dedication. We are proud of all of you.

Jennifer,
From Ontario Canada.
Posted By Anonymous : 12:27 AM ET
I think it takes real guts to go into Iraq to report what is really happening. I am sickened by the amount of death. Our troops dying, the good Iraqi people and innocents dying. for what! I wish our soldiers success, whatever that means and I pray for all who are caught up in this war. I pray for their safe return and the safe return of our brave journalist that risk their lives to report the truth to the American people.
Posted By mdevericks : 1:15 AM ET
This is one of the most horrendous stories to come out of Iraq. As with all wars, the children always seem to suffer the most. I am at a loss for words as far as these children are concerned. I, as an individual, certainly cannot make their lives better, or return their parents to them...only wishful thinking on muy part! As for your driver, obviously she is dealing in reality. I hope Mr. Bush is very happy with his oil war...how can that man and Chaney sleep at night?....these Republicans have made, and are continuing to make, so much money off this illegal war it sickens me! I will continue to talk about the number of troops (our soldiers) killed in this illegal war, as most of them are only children themselves (or not very far removed)....most of them, I am sure do not even have full rights as american citizens. If Mr. Bush and company were serious about this war on terrorists then Osma would be no longer among us!
Posted By Moe, NY : 1:25 AM ET
I hope you thanked all those men and women for us, Gary! Also, thank you for telling one part of their story. It's good to know the real soldier's stories in Iraq, because it keeps us in tune with what's really going on over there, instead of the spin we hear out of Washington.

And those children... it breaks my heart. Stay safe, Gary and team.
Posted By MarcieGee : 2:25 AM ET
Gary and team,
I watched that story you are writing about and it impacted on me through the TV so I can only imagine the effect it has had on all of you actually being there. Those poor kids, innocent victims of a horrendous war. I know they say the night is darkest just before the dawn so lets hope there is some light at the end of the tunnel that is this war for the sake of the Iraqi people, the US and the rest of the world. Sincere thanks for risking all to bring us these stories and I'm glad you are all heading home in one piece today.
Posted By Denise, Cork, Ireland. : 9:16 AM ET
Godd job Gary. Stay safe. Looking forward to your next report.
Posted By Judy, Hatfield, Pa : 12:31 PM ET
"Death is easy to pronounce. It's the smell of burning children that's hard." -Sampurna Chattarji

Showing those photos is vital to making Americans see the severity of the war. I'm sure you're all in shock; please don't get discouraged. You're doing important work.
Posted By Anonymous : 7:13 PM ET
Hey Gary,
Thanks for an outstanding job reporting from Iraq. I've got a question I want to pose to you specifically, because you are seeing conditions on the ground with relatively fresh eyes.
Most of us will agree that in every region of the world (Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East, etc.) there are common cultural traits that contribute to the mass cultural identity of the region. These common cultural traits influence individual behavior more profoundly than we care to admit sometimes.
As an example, consider the Virginia Tech killer. It was easier to understand his bizarre behavior after acknowledging that his culture often considers failure or even the absence of overachievement to be unforgivable. This cultural belief may have influenced him so profoundly that even if this young man's "failure" was only in his head, it drove him into isolation, and eventually to violence.
Now, for my question: to what extent do you view the Middle Eastern cultural concept of "shame" as a factor in prolonging this war?
As an extreme example of this deeply embedded concept of shame, I cite cases where fathers and brothers have killed their daughters and sisters over the shame they perceive the woman has brought to the family if she has had relations with a man prior to marriage.
If a father will kill his own daughter because of shame, is it possible that the shame of being an occupied country, years after being "liberated", may be some of the salt that is irritating the wound and keeping it from healing?
Is there a possibility that continued US occupation is prolonging, or even intensifying, the violence?
You've got kids. You know that if you send them the message that "you can't handle this on your own", there's going to be some anger and rebellion. What works is telling them: "I'm confident that you will learn to handle this on your own, and I'm here to help until we both mutually agree that it's time for me to stop helping".
In your viewpoint, would this change in attitude, on our part (i.e. a firm, believable commitment to pull out when measurable objectives are met), produce the desired effect (lessening of violence) on their part?
Posted By Julie San Diego, CA : 11:33 PM ET
I am so glad you, Ac, and all the others are returning home safe and
sound. I know all of you have seen
things that will stay with you forever and probably leave unseen
scars. I have watched 360 all week. I do have a better understanding of why we just can't cut and run. This war has caused so many people here and in Iraq nothing but heartache and pain. Maybe our Washington powers should just step back let Petracus and the other milatary leaders decide what needs to be done. I just wish
we had never gotten ourselves in the mess we are in. There will be so many more innocent chidren killed and mained, as well as our own milatary personnel before a solution is finally reached about
how to complete this misguided mission we are on.

Again I thank all of you for the
week of coverage and am happy all
of you are returning home ok
Posted By Barbara-Dalton Ga : 12:28 AM ET
I want to say a big thank you to all the CNN crew who traveled to Iraq in the past week. I enjoyed every segment of the stories you guys reported. These are all real life stories which should be shown to the world more often, we don’t get to see a lot of this kind of reporting from other news networks.
I am glad you guys are all heading home but like Anderson used to say – journalists get to go home but these poor people are forever stuck in these war-torn countries. What a sad reality.
Posted By Yen Li, Penang. Malaysia. : 3:23 AM ET
I agree that numbers, rhetoric, and bickering politicians push us all into a state of blank staring. Bringing stories like this, the realities of the soldiers lives and the tragedies of the children, are what all of us need to remind us of the grimness of this mission. We NEED to know how difficult, how horrific this battle is. Otherwise, it becomes just more "shock theater", pushed to the background of our minds & forgotten.
Posted By BJM - Dallas, TX : 10:24 AM ET
Dear Anderson and crew,

I wrote last week, but I am unsure if it went through properly, so I thought I would try again. I wanted to send a note of thanks for your time and comprehensive coverage in Iraq. I watched all week, and I am certainly grateful to learn from the insight, you and your collegues, draw from their experience. Thank you again for your time and activity there. Have a safe and peaceful trip home, and God Bless you!

Melissa Lynch
7th-8th grade teacher
Posted By Melissa Lynch - San Jose, CA : 12:19 PM ET
Hello Gary

The report you did about the injured children in the hospital there in Irak is awesome. We only get to see the reports about how many explotions and how many people/soldiers were injured or killed.

The children are often forgotten. Seing those kind of reports make me want to do something. I just don't know what. I wish I could hug each and everyone of those kids and make it better. Do you know what happens to the children that have none to claim them?

I admire your work and your bravery to go toal those dangerous places. I pray to God to keep al of you safe. I know seeing that up close and personal is hard. You do a great job. Thank you so much for reporting what othersn won't.

I thankyou for oppening our eyes here in America. CNN reports great news because of reporters like you Michael Ware and Anderson Cooper. Only one word describes you guys.

UNIQUE.

I'm sure this blog won't get posted but I hope you get to read it.
Posted By Maria in National City Ca : 2:28 PM ET
A big thank you. I want to take this chance to think. Anderson Cooper, Gary Tuchman, Michael Ware, Nic Robertson,- and all the crew of 360 for going over to Baghdad, Iraq. Bring the war home to us so we could see and feel things that until now most of us just wondered about. I know it is hard over there, but as they say war is hell!


I want to give a big thank you to all our service men and women over there giving of themselves so we can stay whom we all are American's again thank you... you are in my prayers today, tomorrow, always. God Bless you all! If I have forgotten to thank anyone I'm sorry.
Posted By bluediamond (Jennifer) : 3:40 PM ET
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