Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Spotlight on... Jim Foley

I am headlining this post one more day. Jim Foley is a freelance journalist and writer embedded in Iraq with the 101st Airborne and the 76th Indiana National Guard unit. He maintains a great blog about his experiences at www.in-iraq.org. I've been reading his blog for about a month now, and I decided to interview him and feature his blog here at NWI Connect. I'd highly recommend that you read his blog for the inside scoop on what's going on in Iraq, and to hear how Indiana soldiers are making a difference in the War on Terror.

I'll post the questions I asked him in bold, and then his responses in standard text.

Do you go by Jim or James? Where did you grow up / where are you from currently (when not in Iraq)? "My name is Jim Foley. I grew up in New Hampshire and currently live in Chicago."

What city and base are you currently stationed at in Iraq? What is the primary mission of the unit(s) with whom you are embedded? "I came over with the 76th Combat Team of the Indiana National Guard. They are stationed at a handful of large supply bases in Northern Iraq. The soldiers main job is providing convoy security for supplies going to and from these major bases. This kind of mission requires concentration and endurance, as they can last 8-12 hours on dangerous roads that are frequently planted with IEDs." [IED stands for "Improvised Explosive Device, i.e. roadside bombs].

What influences throughout your life have piqued your interest in journalism? When did you know that you'd like to write for a living? "I always loved stories. I loved people. Later I loved travel and meeting different kinds of people through teaching. I've always tried to write for a living, but fiction is very difficult to make a living off of. Journalism seemed like a good fit for me. I went back to school in January of 2007 for a one year masters in Journalism." What did you teach? "I taught secondary through junior high and high school in Arizona, Social Studies and English as a Second Language. I most recently taught at Cook County Boot Camp in Chicago, a 4-month discipline and education program for adult offenders."

What past influences have you had with the military (prior service, family members, friends, current events, etc.)? What made you decide to work as an embedded journalist with an Indiana Army National Guard unit? "I had a brother who came over to Iraq with the Air Force. We originally got into some arguments, as I made my case against the war and he made his case for doing his duty. I realize now that many of my comments were pretty stupid, especially for a guy who had no choice whether he was heading to Iraq or not.

My interest in going to cover the Indiana National Guard was based around the Guard's high recruiting rate in Indiana. For several years Indiana was beating out California and Texas for number of Guard recruits to the military. This is fascinating for a state that is 12th in population nationally to be 1st in military recruiting."

What is one of your favorite things or most memorable experiences from your current tour in Iraq? What is something you abhor about being in Iraq, or is there a negative experience that you'd like to share? "The best thing is just seeing the regular soldier who has been given a tremendous amount of responsibility- i.e. the life of his brother soldier. A soldier who works in bad conditions, whether they be small bases or on the road all night, but is alert and professional. These guys for the most part believe in what they're doing, they support each other and will give the shirt off their back to anyone who comes over to try to cover what they do.

One of my favorite stories is of two 76th Guardsmen from Alpha 1/293rd Infantry. One night they were escorting some fuel tankers to another base and one of the tankers overturned and was gushing gas everywhere. These two 76th soldiers, Cpl. Collins and Spc. Villegas, both firemen by career, ran to pull this guy out from being pinned behind a steering wheel. They stopped his bleeding, and when his vital signs started to fail the platoon called in a medivac helicopter and probably saved his life. He wasn't even an American, but they treated him like one.

The sad stuff is of course the state of the Iraqi economy which means its peoples' standard of living. The U.S. Army and reconstruction efforts have improved infrastructure, have focused on schools, and have done a tremendous job on day to day security. But on a daily basis many Iraqi people are living just above the level of starvation."

What were some of your biggest expectations prior to coming to Iraq? How have those expectations been proven true or false? Were your preconceived notions of the country and situation generally true, or did you experience a 'paradigm shift' once on ground for awhile? "My preconceived notions were generally all wrong -- either based from pure fantasy or reading too many mainstream press accounts of violence and believing too little of the reconstruction stories.

I've been to almost every city in Sal Ah Din- a primarily Sunni province where Saddam Hussein was from. Obviously it used to be an area filled with insurgents. Things have changed. The rise of Sons of Iraq, who are basically an armed militia paid for by the US Army to guard their own neighborhoods and roadways, have made a huge difference in driving insurgents out of communities. Some cities you couldn't even walk through before, now they have a shopping district once again.

I just interviewed a Lieutenant Colonel who has helped train the Iraqi Army for the past year. He said that everywhere he has gone, Iraqis have told him that Al Qaeda is in retreat. As an ideology it is dead to Iraqis: one, because Al Qaeda targetted Iraqi civilians as well; two, because it is not economically viable. Not when the average low-level insurgent can now join the Sons of Iraq or the Iraqi Army, Police, for a much better salary and not have to constantly be on the run."

Thanks Jim for interviewing with us and for covering our troops! "Anything else let me know. I truly appreciate it the more I see what your doing with your site. Very nice."

Once again, I recommend that you read his blog for the inside scoop on what's going on in Iraq, and to hear how Indiana soldiers are making a difference in the War on Terror and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Check it out at www.in-iraq.org!

1 comment:

Daltonsbriefs said...

Terrific post Dan, well worth a digg, stumble, twitter and all the rest.

I will pass around.

Now, to the subject, it does sound to me like he's saying that things are working, and we are beginning to see the results of our labor.