KIRKUK, Iraq – Spending 101 days with the 101st Airborne Division in the heat of north-central Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom is not what some journalists would call a good assignment, but for one embedded reporter, spending time with the “Screaming Eagle” Soldiers was exactly what she wanted.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to see what’s really going on and to see what it’s like to be a Soldier,” said Shelby Monroe, who is writing “101 Days with the 101st Airborne Division” for the Milan Mirror Exchange, based in Milan, Tenn.
Monroe said that she and the newspaper’s editor agreed that she would focus on what the Soldiers are accomplishing.
“This has been easy, there are a lot of good news stories that the Soldiers are doing,” said Monroe.
Monroe said that she tries to stay neutral while preparing a story, but admits to having some pre-conceived ideas before coming to Iraq. However, she said that she was mistaken about some of these ideas.
“I oversimplified the war and what was going on,” said Monroe. “I am surprised at how dedicated the Soldiers are toward doing their jobs well.”
Before she deployed as an embedded reporter she thought that poor morale or being homesick would have taken its toll, but she is impressed with the Soldiers ability to do their job competently while missing home.
“The Soldiers seem to separate how they feel, and being homesick doesn’t affect the way they perform their jobs,” said Monroe.
She said she respects the Soldiers for the physically demanding job they do.
During her first few weeks with the Soldiers, Monroe said there was some resistance to her, but people gradually warmed up to her. “When you ride around in a Humvee, you bond with the Soldiers.”
Before this deployment, Monroe had no military experience and very little exposure to the military. “I’m almost opposite of a military person – I’m not organized, I question authority, but I thought it would be a challenge to keep up,” said Monroe.
Monroe thought there would be a common personality among Soldiers but was surprised to find a great diversity among the ranks. “There are lots of different personalities; people with different passions and abilities,” said Monroe.
Prior to this mission, Monroe was an English teacher at Husson College, a small college in Maine, and also owned a bookstore. She interrupted a master’s degree program to come to Iraq.
Monroe believes the American public does not know the whole truth about the war in Iraq.
“People don’t know half of what’s going on,” she explained. “There’s so much background they need to understand.”
“I think you have to blame the media for what they report. People only get two types of stories: death and scandals, and that really doesn’t reflect the experience people are having over here. Too often the media lets the bad news take center stage.”