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2003 Into Iraq

First night of Iraq Invasion 2003 making deadline early for the March 21, 2003 USA TODAY paper.

I have never really confirmed or researched it but maybe one of the first photos published from the ground of U.S. soldiers in Iraq at the start of the war just after Task Force 3-69 moved across the Kuwait border leading the U.S. Army into Iraq.

I vividly remember Capt. Dan Hibner jumping from the armored troop carrier we were riding down to the ground and into the darkness and into battle yelling at me, “Are you with me or not?”

I think this was the question he and I both were wondering. How far was this embedded photographer attached to his guys willing to go.

I remember thinking to myself for a split second that this was crazy. What was I doing in the middle of a war. But, I jumped down and tried my best to hold it all together.

A short time later back in the track, I remember Hibner asking me if I could make deadline for the paper back in the US. I said yeah, it was early in the day with the time change back in the US but jokingly added, I can’t do anything from inside this troop carrier.

iraq_firstphoto

Hibner stopped the M113, dropped the hatch just long enough for me to toss out the Bgan satellite transmitter for a few minutes for me to transmit maybe one or two pictures before things got a little too crazy before they had to pull close the hatch and get moving.

I had no idea if anything made it back to the paper on that first night.

Turns out, Hibner made deadline.

369 Armor

369 Armor 369 Armor

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Women soldiers at Army Sapper Leadership Course


Fort Leonard Wood, MO, U.S.A — As the Army and Marine Corps prepare to open its most physically demanding specialities to women, all eyes are on the U.S. Army’s Sapper Leader Course which is operated by the U.S. Army Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. It is a physically tough school that trains combat engineers and currently allows women to attend the 28 day Sapper Leadership Course and the opportunity to earn the Sapper tab. They carry 100-pound packs, repel off cliffs and jump out of helicopters. Sapper School represents the best test to determine how women will perform when the military opens Infantry Officer Course and Ranger School to women.

Army 1st Lt. Ashley Miller, 24, center, the one female student among thirty-six students of a class at the U.S. Army’s Sapper Leadership Course, in the water of The Lake of the Ozarks being pushed by instructors before students swam 500 yards in a timed exercise floating and carrying their gear and weapons in their waterlogged packs .

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Prison Pen Pal

I have a prison pen pal.

Well, not actually.

As it turns out, an inmate at Eastham Unit, Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison for men, thinks he and I don’t see “eye to eye” regarding the state of the NFL and quarterbacks in the league.

Because of a story in USA TODAY following the Super Bowl, he has now cancelled his subscription and has informed “Al” why he chose to stop delivery of the nation’s newspaper to his cell doorstep.

He also sent me a letter detailing his displeasure with the article.

With newspapers fighting hard to retain subscribers, I really felt that I had let my employer down. Did I do something to cause a valued USA TODAY subscriber (prison populations could possibly be circulation gold mine) to pull the plug?

By the tone of the letter, the use of all caps and quotation marks at the beginning of each sentence, this guy was “REALLY UPSET”.

The problem is that I didn’t write the article. My name is just tagged under two of the photos that ran with the article following the Super Bowl a few months ago. He just made the assumption that I was the author of the article after underlining portions he disagreed with and clipped the story from the paper.

Working at USA TODAY, I do get the odd letter or email from people at times. This letter is pretty funny at first blush and I chuckled over it before tossing it on the stack of papers on my desk.

The one rule that I live by as a journalist and as a person is that no matter how crazy something sounds or if a viewpoint differs from mine, I do not discount the words or ideas from others.

I always listen.

There are two sides to every story. We all have opinions and that is what make this whole thing work.

This is the one thing I hope I can instill in my kids when I screw up everything else.

That, along with the recent passing of the father of one of my closest friends from college who was a legend in the photojournalism community as well as devoting his life to prison ministry, I went back into the pile and found that prisoner letter and really read it this time.

Mr. Leslie Morgan, Eastham inmate #677163, took a considerable amount of time and effort to put his thoughts down on paper, find the company address for USA TODAY and buy and stamp to send the letter.

But then again, looks like time is not a problem for Mr. Morgan who is doing a big chunk of prison time under the ‘third strike” sentencing guidelines for twice attempting to commit capital murder in 1993 after being first convicted in 1987 for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and was sentenced to 25 years for that felony.

Morgan is currently serving two sixty year sentences at Eastham Unit in Texas.

The letter and Mr. Morgan, of course, did have a different opinion from what I personally took after reading the USA TODAY article.

Morgan’s words ending his letter,

“READING YOUR ENCLOSED ARTICLE IS LIKE READING A BAD RACIAL JOKE, HOPEFULLY, “THIS PIECE” CONCERNING THE HISTORY OF FOOTBALL AT THE “QB” POSITION IS HELPFUL, AS WELL AS TO YOUR “EVOLUTION PERSPECTIVE”.

What is impossible for me to understand is how could twenty-three underlined words in an innocuous fourth quarter wrap up blurb from the Super Bowl bring out this response in someone while the same words convey a completely different meaning to someone like me?

The idea that bias was somehow secretly implied in the writing of this article just seems so far fetched.

The more I tried to understand the guy and his words, the more I realized I couldn’t.

Next, I really started over thinking.

Morgan is just a few years older than me, we are both white men and probably grew up of similar rural surroundings including people and culture.

Information googled from his online prison pen pal dating profile makes himself seem like a decent fellow but someone who had made some serious mistakes in life.

“I am honest, respectful and I attend church. I am interested in football and drag dancing. My hobbies are fishing and sun bathing. I would like to correspond with women between the ages of 18 and 40 of any race.”

When Morgan was first convicted early in his life, he went to jail in 1987. At the same time, I was in college at Ohio University seeing my world completely different for the first time heading out for photo internships in Michigan and California and experiencing life beyond my little patch of life in Ohio.

I have had a lifetime of opportunity and experiences so far. Morgan hasn’t. He has seen much of the same events in history as me from reading newspapers and maybe TV but from inside a confined space.

Not a huge leap here but I think Leslie Morgan and I probably don’t see “eye to eye” on a number of things but for someone who asks questions for a living, I would jump at the chance to have a frank and direct conversation with Mr. Morgan about his take on race and the liberal media looking out from his viewpoint of the world.

Two sides to every story.

What I am fairly sure of is that when inmate #677163 reads a newspaper, he sees the words on the page-and the world-quite a bit differently than I do.

Archive

All Eyes on Gwyneth

3/24/02 — Los Angeles, CA — Gwyneth Paltrow arrives at the 74th annual Academy Awards wearing a revealing Christian Lacroix gown. (Photo by Jack Gruber/USA Today)

I definitely don’t make a habit of keeping up with Hollywood fashion but this story about Gwyneth Paltrow reflecting on her Oscar fashion duds brought back memories of one of my favorite photos from my early days at USA TODAY.

Two that come to mind are looks I wore to the Oscars in 2000 and 2002. The first is the Calvin Klein. It’s an okay dress but not Oscars material. I chose it because I wanted to disappear that year. Also, the goth Alexander McQueen I wore a few years later. There were a few issues; I still love the dress itself but I should have worn a bra and I should have just had simple beachy hair and less makeup. Then, it would have worked as I wanted it to – a little bit of punk at the Oscars.

Gwyneth Paltrow

It just so happened the Pixar animated movie Monsters, Inc. was nominated for a number of Academy Awards and paths crossed on the red carpet as Gwyneth got the eye from Monster, Inc character Michael “Mike” Wazowski prior to the Academy Award show.

I don’t remember if this photo ever did get published in USA TODAY but I still chuckle when I run across the photo in the files.