Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Shameless promotion department

Our Iraq project receives cover-story treatment in the spring issue of  Aurora, UAF's alumni magazine. The package includes an overview I put together describing how we got there, what happened and lessons the students took away from the experience. It also features one of Tom's best  pieces, "Saying Goodbye," a story about the 1-5 Infantry's last training mission with an Iraqi police unit. Staff Sgt. Daniel Blalock's emotional parting with several Iraqis he's been working with says it all.
Aurora's designers gave us a beautiful spread. We owe them. Big time.
--Brian O'D

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

UAF Journalism Embeds: Free public lecture

This coming Friday, Feb. 19, Jenny, Jessica, Tom and I will discuss our experiences reporting on the brigade last summer. Pictures never seen. Stories that didn't make the printed page. Bring your questions. Nothing is off limits. That's 7 p.m. at Schaible Hall, which is located in UAF's Bunnell Building.
--Brian O'D

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Personal Delivery

Just before Christmas Capt. Chris Hassan, a platoon leader with the 3-21st Infantry, went above and beyond reasonable expectations in completing what amounts to a final Iraq mission.

Let me explain:
Jessica Hoffman and I traveled in Strykers under Hassan's command on a mission at FOB Normandy. The photo shows the captain briefing soldiers before we joined Iraqis searching a palm grove used launching rockets at Warhorse. When we shifted back to the 1-25ths headquarters we again caught a ride with Hassan's platoon in the convoy out.

Somewhere along the way, Jessica misplaced a UAF Journalism tripod.

We hadn't had much use for the thing. In general, field assignments were too hectic for tripod use. Jessica's camerawork was mostly hand-held by necessity. But she's the kind of videographer who leaves nothing to chance. She lugged that tripod across Diyala Province on the outside chance it might be needed.

It wasn't a huge loss, but it was the only piece of gear the team misplaced in our month-long rambles through airport lobbies and military camps stretching back to Fairbanks. Figuring it was at least worth a shot, I emailed Hassan.
> Hey Captain,
> Jessica tells me she thinks she left a tripod behind the driver's
> side bench seat inside the tripod. Could you guys take a peek when you get a
> chance.This would have happened in Monday's CLP run from Normandy.
> If, by chance, the tripod turns up maybe we can figuring out how to get it back
> through the PAO in Warhorse. If it's not there, don't sweat it.

The initial word from the platoon wasn't promising:
Mr. O'Donoghue,
No one has reported finding a tripod but I will look and let you know. If i find it I will get it to you if i have to bring it to you at UAF.
Take care,
Christopher B. Hassan

We both scoffed at the idea that an officer with Hassan's warzome responsibilities would make such an oath.

Jessica laughed, I e-mailed back, and says she's betting you'll hock it at the haji shop.

Hassan responded in kind:

The Haji shop would probably only give me $5. I personally would rather try it at a Pawn shop in Fairbanks. Im sorry but no one has found it and no one has reported finding it. I will still keep my eyes and ears open for it. Hope you have a safe trip back.

Take care,

Christopher B. Hassan

No sweat, I responded, I appreciate you looking for it. Jessica hasn't used it much and I don't think we'll miss it. Good luck down the stretch to you and your men.

A week later he had the last word:

We found the tripod. We are going to load it in one of our storage containers that is flown to the States. I would imagine that I will be able to bring it to you around October.

Take care,

Christopher B. Hassan

In November, the container showed up at Fort Wainwright. Soon after, the captain fulfilled his pledge, dropping by the department where I gave him a peek at our developing brigade Web package. Like many 1-25th soldiers and officers, Hassan elected to reenlist and is leaving Alaska for a new assignment. Wherever the next mission takes him, I'd bet the captain goes the distance, personally seeing the assignment through.

Take care, Chris

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In the works

Snow is on the ground here in Fairbanks. The brigade's command officially changed hands earlier this week. Col. Burt Thompson and many others are soon jetting off to new assignments.

Our Iraq adventures, from accompanying soldiers on sweat-streaming patrols in Diyala to the odd serenity we glimpsed exiting through VIP quarters near Aw Faw palace, continue to draw attention within the field.

CBC's The Current, a national radio program, aired a thoughtful discussion about the project, featuring interviews with Globe and Mail war correspondent Graeme Smith, Tom Hewitt and myself. Scroll down to the 9/29/09 show's third segment for the audio stream.

A fairly comprehensive three-page spread, "From J-school to Jihad," was the lead item in Editor and Publisher's September hard-copy edition, illustrated by several of the student's photos!

In October, Ryerson Review of Journalism, an online publication associated with a Canadian university of that name, posted "Extreme J-School," an written by graduate student Chelsea Murray, contrasting our project with a Canadian journalism program's involvement producing a multimedia documentary about environmental problems in Ghana.

What's next?

Hewitt, Jessica Hoffman and other students are working on a new website presenting a fuller picture of UAF Journalism's experience reporting on Alaska soldiers efforts in Iraq, as well as the 1/25th Stryker Brigade Combat Team's ceremonial "redeployment" home. The package should show up later this winter on Extreme Alaska, the department's online publication.

We're planning a public lecture about the Iraq embedding project this spring. I'm also reprising "JRN 493 Pen and Sword: Covering America's military" the special topics class constructed around what then seemed to be a radical real-world assignment: embedding UAF students in local war games proceeding the brigade's 2005 deployment.

Little did we know,

--Brian O'D

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Strykers teach final lessons

By Tom Hewitt

UAF Journalism

BAQUBAH, Iraq — Shortly after entering the police station, Staff Sgt. Daniel Blalock of the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment found himself in the embrace of an Iraqi officer.

“I knew it was going to be a sad day when we told them we couldn’t come back,” Blalock said, after he returned the hug.

Sgt. Blalock and other members of 1-5’s Charlie Company had come to the station, just north of Baqubah in Diyala Province on a mission to help train the Iraqi Emergency Response Force. The ERF, a special branch of the Iraqi Police trained for security operations, had worked with the American soldiers for months, and it was their final session...

Read more in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Sunday, August 30, 2009


The team arrived home safely last night on Northwest Flight 405. We were met by our loved ones at the airport. Even UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers and his wife Sherry Modrow showed up to welcome us back, which was really nice of the two of them. Jenny rushed to catch a flight back to Anchorage - after all of our traveling, she still had one leg to go.

We caught up with our families as we waited for our checked bags. After we had all our things, we said goodbye to one another and stepped out into the darkening Fairbanks night. A temperate 50-degree Interior night never felt so cool before.

I can only hope that every soldier with the 1/25th Stryker Brigade Combat Team has an equally happy homecoming. And I hope that the new soldiers with the 3/2 SBCT coming into Warhorse now work to help the Iraqis of Diyala Province - it's going to take a lot of work by all involved to return the area to its former prosperity.

For those curious what will happen to this blog, there's still quite a bit of material to be posted here, so I expect we'll have new stuff for you for at least a week or so. We'll probably do a couple more pieces for Alaska Dispatch too, so don't tune out quite yet.

It was an amazing month, and I hope you all enjoyed our coverage. It was an honor to be able to bring some of Diyala back home for you.

-Tom Hewitt for the UAF Iraq embed team

Friday, August 28, 2009

Deputy Dogs

Americans are familiar with working dogs. However, for the Iraqi police this is something new.

Soldiers from the 1st Stryker Brigade Canine Unit are helping Iraqi Security Forces train dogs to sniff out trouble.