Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The 'Inside' Story on A Mutiny in Iraq

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The 'Inside' Story on A Mutiny in Iraq

Article excerpt

When Army Times medical reporter Kelly Kennedy embedded with U.S. forces in Iraq last June, a mutiny was probably the last thing she expected to cover. But the catastrophic losses of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment that preceded the revolt -- including 14 soldiers killed, more than any other Army company sent to Iraq -- convinced Kennedy and her editors at the Gannett-owned, independent weekly to greatly expand the scope of her original assignment.

Instead of focusing on the near-miraculous efforts of the on-site medics, the 37-year-old Kennedy would instead chronicle the company's entire 15-month deployment. "Blood Brothers," the resulting four-part series that appeared in December, became "one of the single best examinations of an Iraq war deployment so far," in the words of Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Kennedy, herself an Army veteran, "took readers deep inside a combat unit in a way nobody else has," he observes. "She knows when an Army public affairs officer is pushing a line of b.s. and can sense when a soldier is afraid to be candid in front of a superior. Her military experience clearly gives her subjects a level of trust that they would not have with someone who had not personally served."

But it wasn't easy. "I cried a lot writing this story," admits Kennedy, who had just started following Charlie Company a few days before the June 21st IED blast that killed five of its soldiers. "They'd been great to us, hanging out the night before, doing karaoke," she recalls.

She and photographer Rick Kozak had gone out on a patrol earlier that morning in Adhamiyah, one of Baghdad's worst neighborhoods before the troop "surge," and were supposed to go on that second one during which the IED detonated -- but at the last moment decided to stay and do some interviews on base. In the aftermath of the deaths that day, Kennedy and Kozak were asked to stand away, to give the soldiers privacy to deal with their anger and grief.

One soldier she interviewed months later confessed that he'd "locked and loaded on me, had me in his sights," she says. "He was bawling as he told me this. He's a kid, and thought we'd sensationalize the story. That he'd considered hurting me really upset him, and he wanted to apologize about it." In a story she posted the day after the bombing, Kennedy wrote that "this day showed why soldiers come back home with mental health issues, and why there should be no stigma attached to seeking help for those issues."

The soldiers thanked her for her reporting. "After that story ran, they trusted us," she says. A month later, the soldiers of 2nd Platoon determined they could no longer function professionally in Adhamiyah, fearing that their anger following the suicide of a well-regarded sergeant from Alpha Company and the killing of four more soldiers from a 500-pound IED would unleash a massacre. They immediately e-mailed Kennedy about what the military had labeled an act of mutiny. They wanted their story told. (Battalion commanders broke up the platoon; the remaining soldiers eventually returned to the United States.)

It's not hard to see why they would trust Kennedy, the daughter of a Vietnam veteran whose bona fides include joining the Army National Guard while still in high school, then the regular Army, to help pay for college. She served in Iraq and Kuwait during Desert Storm, and in Mogadishu in 1992 and 1993. ("You tell any soldiers you've been in Mogadishu, they feel like you're on common ground," she says. …

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