Elizabeth Kilbride Reporting from Iraq



 

 

June 2007

 

Dear Allen,

       This past year has been an amazing journey filled with new discoveries. I have not only learned new things but I have also had reinforced for me my love and admiration for those who serve our country in the Armed Forces.  I have also learned many things about myself along the way. Many tears have been shed on this journey as I have been touched by stories of hardship, trauma, bravery, horror, and yes, even the ultimate sacrifices that have been made in the name of freedom.
 
       I owe you an apology, Allen. You told me that this trip would change me forever, and at the time I blew off your warning, and for that I am truly sorry because you were so right—this trip changed me forever!
 
       Here is a recap of my journey that began on the battlefields of Iraq where I spent time with those in uniform in a combat zone. 

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       I learned a great deal on this trip and gained firsthand experience of what it is like going to war with the active and reserve component U.S. marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Experiencing their daily life and willingness to give the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and each other is something that every American should experience.

       During my time with the marines of 3LAR and CAG, I discovered an inner strength I never knew I had. While I endured the rigors of combat life with these brave warriors, they gave me a very special gift, one I never expected to understand or feel firsthand—they allowed me to feel that brotherhood of trust between those in a war zone. This was a feeling that is indescribable to anyone who has never felt it before. That special trust allowed me to endure many things while I was with them and to gather many stories about which to write.

       Because of that trust and bond, I also share the burden of loss for the eight marines who gave the ultimate sacrifice after I had left this unit. This I will never forget.


       I would not realize the emotional intensity of my trip to Iraq until after I went to Vietnam with a few marines on their journey back in time a few weeks later. I believe that my experience in Iraq better prepared me for my visit to the places that were once battlefields in this previous war. I could empathize with the marines with whom I was traveling in Vietnam as I felt the intensity of this war all around me. I could feel the essence and bond of that brotherhood, and my heart wept silently. These feelings helped me understand and feel the horror that these warriors felt long ago and still feel today. Throughout the trip these brave warriors shared their stories with me.  I learned of their horrors—how war-time events changed their lives—and I was touched deeply by their stories. I learned of the hardships and struggles they had to face not only on the battlefield but at the hands of their fellow Americans upon returning home. For many years I had heard stories of how the humidity and rain felt upon their skin; now having been there, I can fully understand what they were describing. I had been told stories about the sounds that the wind makes when it whistles through the elephant grass, sounds that one can hear when hiking up a trail, but now I too have had this experience.  These and many more wonderful experiences I will never forget, and I have so much to write about now.
 

       After returning home, I was called to my brother Jack’s side, and I learned for the first time the horrors he endured while in Khe Sanh. He quietly shared the loss of his brothers on the battlefield during the Tet Offensive, and we cried together.  I learned how he is dealing with the Agent Orange complications that have taken hold of his heart. I saw his inner strength and determination to live as long as he can. His encouragement and unwavering love for me to succeed on this project, for him and all his brothers, was a gift I never expected.


       I received yet another gift during this journey; I located a platoon sergeant, Larry Hampton, who was the man my childhood friend replaced the day before he was killed. I have searched for thirty-six years for anyone who knew Ray, and I am blessed to have found Mr. Hampton. Through a newly formed bond between us, I have been able to learn the horrific details of Ray’s last moments. This information has given me closure, which has allowed me to put that ghost to rest. The bond I had with Ray as a child is even stronger now because of what I have learned. I can feel him around me every day more and more as this project unfolds.
 
 
       Since my return, I have traveled to many bases around this country and have spoken to our current warriors.  In these visits and conversations, I have learned of the many hardships these new warriors are facing. They are similar in nature to those who fought in Vietnam and Desert Storm.  Many of these now-familiar issues will need to be addressed in the near future, and there are many new and less familiar problems surfacing as well. 


       While attending many of the veterans' reunions along this journey, I was told many compelling and touching stories.  I found one son, David, who was in search of anyone who knew his father in Vietnam where he was a Chinook pilot and was killed a few days after David was born. At this reunion of the 101st Airborne, David was introduced to his father’s crew who happened to be attending. There was not a dry eye in the house as they stood together for a photo, hands touching the shoulder of the son of a fallen brother. A reunion I was happy to witness. I found another son who never really knew his father's experience in Vietnam until after his death—his father, a Navy medic, was pronounced dead on the battlefield and placed into a body bag, only to be discovered many hours later alive. His father never recovered from that experience, and as a result he was never the same upon his return home.  I also found two marines who thought the other was dead only to reunite at a unit reunion thirty years later.  Their story reinforced in my heart the importance of military reunions. Through this journey I gained a better understanding of what our veterans and their families have faced on a daily basis since the Vietnam War ended. But that’s not all!

 
       Here is a blurb about the book I have begun to write and a short version of the first chapter, "Defining Moment."

 

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Journey of an Embed

By Elizabeth Kilbride

 

       Every story is like a piece of a puzzle, and each piece gives us a glimpse of the truth.  A former Washington insider and independent writer takes it upon herself to travel the world in order to uncover the truth of one war and learns about herself in the end. The harsh lessons learned from the rigors of daily combat life with our Armed Forces in Iraq take on a new dimension when she travels to Vietnam with a group of veterans of that war. As the pieces of the puzzle begin to unfold, she discovers the very essence that influenced her own life in the humbled beginnings of a child who watched two men go off to war.

 
       Throughout this journey a deeper truth is discovered, and she begins to question many things: How we entrust our lives to politicians and civilians who oversee our military, both of whom have personal agendas. She begins to question why our media plays a key role in manipulating our laws, our military, our government, and her fellow Americans for their own personal power, greed, and tabloid sales. With these new understandings of the truth, she can clearly see how freedom, the very foundation on which our country was created, is self-destructing and unraveling from within because of ignorance and malice. She is heartbroken to see such brave warriors, committed to duty, honor, and country, being used as political pawns on the front pages of our newspapers and as fodder for negative reporting, but she remains standing proudly with the knowledge that there are still Americans who care so deeply for this country that they are willing to defend and protect her against enemies foreign and domestic.

 

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Chapter 1

Defining Moment

 

       In everyone’s life there is one defining moment that brings everything into perspective. When that moment happens, it’s like a slap upside the head. It's a wake-up call, so to speak, and you begin to see things as they really are. You might be wondering what this is like. The only way I can explain it is this. It’s like your favorite mystery novel being transformed into a movie, where you see the characters come alive and interact with each other for the first time. You begin to see all of the characters for who they really are and realize that each character is an individual. As the show unfolds, you begin to understand and see how each character has his or her own agenda, and that agenda drives the character throughout the storyline. You sympathize with one or two because they touched a cord within your soul, instead of seeing them for who they really are.  When you finally decide who you are going to cheer for, the story twists and you become confused because you didn't see it coming until the story was drawing to an end.  During those last few final moments you still believe that the characters you were supporting were what you thought they were, only to realize that the characters whom you were supporting the entire time were not what they appeared to be at all. They were much more dangerous than you ever thought.
 
       If you take each character from your movie and transform him or her into real issues, you begin to see how each is affecting the world around you. During the defining moment of the movie, reality kicks in and a new screen flashes before your very eyes. As if the show of your life has been stopped, rewound, then fast forwarded, you begin to see the pieces falling into place. While you watch the new movie flash before your eyes, you begin to see a different side of the story because now you see things as they really are in life. The plot is thicker then you ever thought it was. The storyline you thought you were absorbing was not the actual storyline at all; instead, it is much more dangerous than it ever appeared to be. Just then the fantasy world in which you live in and escape to suddenly shatters before your very eyes.
 
       While you absorb this new information, trying to understand and make sense of it all, you begin to make changes in your life. This is your defining moment! You take a few steps back and begin to enjoy life. All the while you try to continually put things into perspective so as to comprehend what you have just learned. You slow down and take a moment to smell the roses. You notice things you never thought to notice before in your hurried life, and as you do, you begin to truly see the bigger picture before you. You finally realize the characters in your story created a deception that they concealed from you, and you become very angry at the end result. The question is, are you willing to do anything about it, or do you just move on in life without ever effecting a change? This is the true essence of your defining moment—what do you do about it?
 
       For me, one of my defining moments was when I went into Iraq. Over the course of the year I spent there, I had many defining moments, which brought me to telling this story. Like anyone else who has ever returned home from a war zone, you begin to see things in life totally differently. Upon my return I was no different.  My eyes were now wide open, and I began to see things as they really are. I saw old friends and associates differently. I saw people whom I had helped to achieve their ultimate goal in life of becoming an elected representative succumb to selling their soul and integrity to the sharks on Capitol Hill.  Lobbyists with whom I used to socialize over the years, and whom I considered  friends, I now saw as the dangerous individuals they truly are. I looked at the life I once had and was disgusted at what I had become. I listened to the rhetoric on the news and became sick. I watched those same friends on Capitol Hill on various news programs and talk shows spouting off the propaganda that their political party thrusts upon them to say. I watched their eyes and remembered conversations with them as they spoke of the dishonesty of our elected officials. Remembering their promise never to lose their integrity, character, and morals, here they were themselves seeming to believe every word that came out of their mouth. I remembered the promises they made that they would never turn their back on those who helped them achieve their goals, and then I watched them discard those promises the moment they took their oath of office.  That should have been my first clue to their succumbing to the shark-infested waters of public life.
 
       Therefore, I decided to not allow my defining moment to be stored upon a shelf only to be thrown out as trash when I die. I decided to take a stand and possibly effect a change. Why would I put my life out into the public eye like this?  It's quite simple really.  Many who come to Washington, D.C., never have their voices heard. It is not because they cannot speak but because they don’t know how to break down the barriers to have their voices heard. I do know how to break down those barriers, and for that reason I have decided to loan my voice to all those silent voices throughout the country whom you will never heard from—the brave men and women who serve in our Armed Forces. These Americans chose to be in the military and stepped up to the plate and took that oath to defend and protect our country against foreign and domestic enemies who attack the very essence of Freedom. It is for them that I write this book and tell their story for all to hear. This story, my story, intertwines with their story and has my entire life.

 

Knowledge

 

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. . . . If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.

       As an American, I love to read the words of our Founding Fathers. Whenever I am lost for a beginning to an article, I look back to the Founding Fathers for inspiration. I have found that many of their words resonate as true in our time more so than they did in their day. The above passage from one of Thomas Jefferson’s writings is more important today because of our world climate.
 
       One might wonder why I would bring up this quote. Many have asked why anyone would want to enter into a war zone if he or she were not in uniform or being paid big bucks by a contractor.  It's simple: If you don’t know or understand something, educate yourself with both sides of the story. I believe in education as the Founding Fathers did, and I wanted to see with my own eyes if what was being portrayed on the news was the whole story. If one leaves it up to the media to tell you the story, you will never get the full truth of any story. You will only receive what they want you to hear. Therefore, when the opportunity arose to go to Iraq , I jumped at it.
 
       If any American believes that it is easy to enter a war zone, he or she is gravely mistaken. If for some reason he or she thinks that the process of preparing oneself to enter a life such as this is easy, I challenge that person to try it and then come back and tell me if I am mistaken. Those that think it is a piece of cake to enter a war zone are ignorant of what reality is in the life of our military personnel, and they seriously need to remove those rose-colored glasses. These are the doubting Thomases of this country. They who fear to make the choice to join the ranks of the honorable and serve our country to defend and protect it are in fact the ones we need to fear. For it takes very special people to love a country so much and believe in freedom so deeply that they would be willing to stand before God and Country and take the oath to protect and defend—an oath that might cost them their lives. These are the true heroes of our country. Unless you are willing to take off the rose-colored glasses our society forces us to wear each day, you will never see the leaders, builders, healers, and stewards of the land who make up the United States Armed Forces—they are so much more than just a uniform and a gun.
 

       During my travels I have discovered a truth, a truth that has opened my eyes to the way we entrust our lives to politicians and civilians who oversee our military, both of whom have personal agendas, and to a media that plays a key role in manipulating our laws, our military, and government for its own personal power, greed, and tabloid sales. With this new knowledge I can clearly see how the very foundation on which our country was created is shattering and unraveling because of ignorance and propaganda.

       One major fact that shined through my research on this project was the strength and values of our country.  I found the hidden key to the essence of our country: It is deep in the hearts of those of our Armed Forces! These brave Americans will never be seen on the front pages of your newspapers or on the television news unless they are included as fodder in negative reporting. I plan to change this perception!

       Like the pieces of a puzzle that have fallen into place, the key to understanding what we are to face in our future is education and an understanding of how social, economic, cultural, and political issues interact with each other in this fight against terrorism.

       Education is the key to success of this new war we face. No matter what level a person is at in society, no matter what level of education he or she has obtained, when that person is truly educated with the real facts about the issues at hand and is willing to understand how they interact within our own country and in the world, he or she can make a more informed decision.
 
      

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       Let me know what you think after reading the above . . . because now is the time to kick up the fundraising activities to help me finish this book.  I need a small amount; $25,000 covers me for six months so that I can finish this book and find a publisher so that it can be out by next year. If you know of anyone who is a patriot with deep pockets who loves our military as much as we do, please ask him to contact me asap.  The Perot funding was only for R&D, and now that funding is gone. If you know of a publisher who would be willing to step up to the plate and publish the truth (politically incorrect truth), feel free to send him or her this e-mail and encourage him or her to contact me immediately. This story must be told because it is your story as well.  It is the foundation for the other books I am about to write about Vietnam and the War on Terrorism, which I will use as the foundation for a documentary. But the Journey of an Embed must be sold first because the funds from this book will help with the production of the others in the long run.

 

Take care and hope to hear from you soon,

S/F Betty

 

Elizabeth ("Betty") Kilbride is the founder of the Project America Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 110-392, Arlington, VA 22203 (eak@project-america.us).