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War in Iraq: Perception vs. reality

IABC Honolulu hosts embedded journalists

by Amanda Palmer, staff writer


On August 10, the International Association of Business Communicators of Honolulu presented “War in Iraq: Perception vs. Reality,” a luncheon featuring Honolulu Advertiser reporter William Cole and photographer Richard Ambo.

The Advertiser duo spent 97 days in Iraq and Afghanistan as embedded journalists with the 25th Infantry Division, a group of 150 soldiers from Schofield Barracks.

While in Iraq, Cole and Ambo filed a series of articles that gave readers valuable perspective on the U.S.-waged war in that country.

When one imagines war, one usually envisions death and destruction in a “kill-or-be-killed,” action-packed, blood-spackled atmosphere. The story that Cole and Ambo reveal is quite different. Instead of merciless bloodshed, Ambo showcased compassionate interaction between U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens, implicit in his photo of a soldier holding out a king-size Reeses Peanut Butter Cup to a frightened (but persuaded) Iraqi boy. Other photos showed soldiers posing with Iraqi families, and still others showed the flat bread and chai tea that the families would offer the U.S. soldiers who came to search their homes for weapons.

Cole and Ambo said that while some people were visibly disgruntled, most of the Iraqi people who were inconvenienced by soldiers searching their homes were gracious and cooperative.
Besides showing photos, Cole and Ambo brought to the IABC event the protective gear they wore while in transit: hefty black vests with bulletproof ceramic plates in the chest and tough black helmets.

Said Cole, “When we were traveling with the units (of soldiers) sometimes people would think we were special forces because of our gear, and they would treat us with greater respect and caution!” While Cole and Ambo, luckily, never encountered any live gunfire, bombs, or acts of violence in their travels outside the U.S. compound, they did drive over a roadside bomb. “For some reason,” said Ambo, “the wire was already cut, so they (U.S. soldiers) just dug it up and threw it in the back of the truck and kept going.”

Cole and Ambo agree that being “embedded” journalists with round-the-clock protection by U.S. troops prevented them from gathering more raw footage, and they recognized the positive and negative aspects of being an “embed.”

“ People wanted to know their loved ones were safe,” said Cole, “and they were happy to see them in any picture, even if they were identified as just a speck in the background.”

Cole and Ambo made the loved ones of the 25th Division very happy by reaffirming that the soldiers were safe. They credit the Honolulu Advertiser with “having the guts” to incur the expense of sending them on this assignment. “I’ve heard estimates that it cost (the Advertiser) anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000 to support this mission,” said Ambo.




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