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Letters home

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Identical letters home from Iraq were exposed in an October 11, 2003 article by Ledyard King of Gannett News Service.


The Letter (dated September 21, 2003, published September 24, 2003, in The Register Herald)[1]:

Fruits of soldiers' efforts are visible in Kirkuk

I have been serving in Iraq for over five months now as a soldier in the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, otherwise known as the "Rock."
We entered the country at midnight on March 26; a thousand of my fellow soldiers and I parachuted from 10 jumbo jets (known as C17s) onto a cold, muddy field in Bashur, Northern Iraq. This parachute operation was the U.S. Army's only combat jump of the war and opened up the northern front.
Things have changed tremendously for our battalion since those first cold, wet weeks spent in the mountain city of Bashur. On April 10, our battalion conducted an attack south into the oil rich town of Kirkuk, the city that has since become our home away from home and the focus of our security and development efforts.
Kirkuk is a hot and dusty city of just over a million people. The majority of the city has welcomed our presence with open arms. After nearly five months here, the people still come running from their homes, into the 110-degree heat, waving to us as our troops drive by on daily patrols of the city. Children smile and run up to shake hands and in their broken English shouting, "Thank you, Mister."
The people of Kirkuk are all trying to find their way in this new democratic environment. Some major steps have been made in these last three months. A big reason for our steady progress is that our soldiers are living among the people of the city and getting to know their neighbors and the needs of their neighborhoods. We have also been instrumental in building a new police force. Kirkuk now has 1,700 police officers. The police are now, ethnically, a fair representation of the community as a whole. So far, we have spent $500,000 from the former Iraqi regime to repair each of the station's electricity and plumbing, to paint each station and to make it a functional place for the police to work.
The battalion has also assisted in re-establishing Kirkuk's fire department, which is now even more effective than before the war.
New water treatment and sewage plants are being constructed and the distribution of oil and gas are steadily improving.
All of these functions were started by our soldiers here in this northern city and are now slowly being turned over to the newly elected city government. Laws are being rewritten to reflect democratic principles and a functioning judicial system was recently established to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the rule of law.
The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored and we are a large part of why that has happened.
The fruits of all our soldiers' efforts are clearly visible in the streets of Kirkuk today. There is very little trash in the streets, many more people in the markets and shops, and children have returned to school. This is all evidence that the work we are doing as a battalion and as American soldiers is bettering the lives of Kirkuk's citizens. I am proud of the work we are doing here in Iraq and I hope all of your readers are as well.
Pfc. David Deaconson
Beckley
Chosen Co., 2nd BN (ABN), 503D INF
Iraq

King's October 11, 2003 news story --Many soldiers, same letter.Newspapers around U.S. get identical missives from Iraq -- and numerous articles about the letters home have been carried by news services and bloggers on the internet.

WASHINGTON -- Letters from hometown soldiers describing their successes rebuilding Iraq have been appearing in newspapers across the country as U.S. public opinion on the mission sours.
And all the letters are the same.
A Gannett News Service search found identical letters from different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, also known as "The Rock," in 11 newspapers, including Snohomish, Wash.
The Olympian received two identical letters signed by different hometown soldiers: Spc. Joshua Ackler and Spc. Alex Marois, who is now a sergeant. The paper declined to run either because of a policy not to publish form letters.
The five-paragraph letter talks about the soldiers' efforts to re-establish police and fire departments, and build water and sewer plants in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, where the unit is based.
"The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened," the letter reads. ... It describes people waving at passing troops and children running up to shake their hands and say thank you.
It's not clear who wrote the letter or organized sending it to soldiers' hometown papers.
Six soldiers reached by GNS directly or through their families said they agreed with the letter's thrust. But none of the soldiers said he wrote it, and one said he didn't even sign it.
Marois, 23, told his family he signed the letter, said Moya Marois, his stepmother. But she said he was puzzled why it was sent to the newspaper in Olympia. He attended high school in Olympia but no longer considers the city home, she said. Moya Marois and Alex's father, Les, now live near Kooskia, Idaho.
A seventh soldier didn't know about the letter until his father congratulated him for getting it published in the local newspaper in Beckley, W.Va.
"When I told him he wrote such a good letter, he said: 'What letter?' " Timothy Deaconson said Friday, recalling the phone conversation he had with his son, Nick. "This is just not his (writing) style." ... He spoke to his son, Pfc. Nick Deaconson, at a hospital where he was recovering from a grenade explosion that left shrapnel in both his legs.
Sgt. Christopher Shelton, who signed a letter that ran in the Snohomish Herald, said Friday that his platoon sergeant had distributed the letter and asked soldiers for the names of their hometown newspapers. Soldiers were asked to sign the letter if they agreed with it, said Shelton, whose shoulder was wounded during an ambush earlier this year. ... "Everything it said is dead accurate. We've done a really good job," he said by phone from Italy, where he was preparing to return to Iraq.
Sgt. Todd Oliver, a spokesman for the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which counts the 503rd as one of its units, said he was told a soldier wrote the letter, but he didn't know who. He said the brigade's public affairs unit was not involved. ... "When he asked other soldiers in his unit to sign it, they did," Oliver explained in an e-mail response to a GNS inquiry. "Someone, somewhere along the way, took it upon themselves to mail it to the various editors of newspapers across the country."
Lt. Col. Bill MacDonald, a spokesman for the 4th infantry Division that is heading operations in north-central Iraq, said he had not heard about the letter-writing campaign.
Neither had Lt. Cmdr. Nick Balice, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla.
A recent poll suggests that Americans are increasingly skeptical of America's prolonged involvement in Iraq. A USA Today-CNN-Gallup Poll released Sept. 23 found 50 percent believe that the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, down from 73 percent in April.
The letter talks about the soldiers' mission, saying, "one thousand of my fellow soldiers and I parachuted from ten jumbo jets." It describes Kirkuk as "a hot and dusty city of just over a million people." It tells about the progress they have made.
"The fruits of all our soldiers' efforts are clearly visible in the streets of Kirkuk today. There is very little trash in the streets, many more people in the markets and shops, and children have returned to school," the letter reads. "I am proud of the work we are doing here in Iraq and I hope all of your readers are as well."
Sgt. Shawn Grueser of Poca, W.Va., said he spoke to a military public affairs officer whose name he couldn't remember about his accomplishments in Iraq for what he thought was a news release to be sent to his hometown paper in Charleston, W.Va. But the 2nd Battalion soldier said he did not sign any letter. ... Although Grueser said he agrees with the letter's sentiments, he was uncomfortable that a letter with his signature did not contain his own words or spell out his own accomplishments. ... "It makes it look like you cheated on a test, and everybody got the same grade," Grueser said by phone from a base in Italy where he had just arrived from Iraq.
Moya Marois said she is proud of her stepson Alex, the former Olympia resident. But she worries that the letter tries to give legitimacy to a war she doesn't think was justified. ... "We're going to support our son," she said. But "there are a lot of Americans that are not in support of this war that would like to see them returned home, and think it's going to get worse."

BBC News, October 14, 2003, US Army's 'fake' letters cause stir. A series of letters supposedly written by US troops in Iraq detailing their successes in the country were all written by their commander, it has emerged.:

The publication of the letters, in several US newspapers, comes as the Bush administration has stepped up efforts to win over an American public increasingly sceptical of its handling of the situation in Iraq.
Critics said if the letters were found to be part of an organised effort by the military to win over US hearts and minds regarding the conflict it could be a violation of military ethics.
However, the soldiers' commander, Lieutenant Colonel Dominic Caraccilo, told ABC News on Tuesday his staff had written the letters merely to get "good news" back to the US more efficiently. ... He says he then sent it round to his soldiers saying they could send a copy home if they wanted to. ... "We thought it would be a good idea to encapsulate what we as a battalion have accomplished since arriving Iraq and share that pride with people back home," he said.
'Positive aspect': The missives detailed the lives of soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment and their efforts to re-establish law and order in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, where they are based.
The soldiers "wrote" of rebuilding police and fire departments and of repairing water and sewer plants in the area.
The letters came to light when some of the soldiers' families sent them to local newspapers. ... Editors became suspicious when they noticed the letters had identical phrases even though they were signed by different soldiers.
"After nearly five months here, the people still come running from their homes, into the 110-degree heat, waving to us as our troops drive by on daily patrols of the city," read one line.
One soldier's mother said she knew it was not her son's words as he did not have the linguistic ability.
But Amy Connell told the New York Times she passed the letter - signed by her paratrooper son, Adam - to the Boston Globe newspaper because she was proud of his achievements. ... "I wanted the positive view put out there," she told the paper.

According to the October 15, 2003 New York Times article -- "Fighting the War at Home" --

Letters home from the war front are some of the revered aspects of history, a treasury of soldiers' impressions and firsthand narratives that hold a value apart from the individual lives put firmly on the battle line. It's all the more disturbing, then, that an apparently orchestrated campaign of letter writing has arisen among some of the American forces in Iraq to highlight what are alleged to be overlooked success stories. What amounts to a warmly worded form letter telling of open-armed welcomes and rebuilt infrastructure was printed by hometown newspapers in the mistaken belief that it was the individual composition of the undersigned soldier in Kirkuk, a relatively peaceful city in Iraq. According to the Gannett News Service, which uncovered the deception, one soldier said his sergeant had distributed the letters to the squad, while another traced his to an Army public affairs officer.
The susceptibility of local editors to the letter, in which each Private Everyman describes Iraqi children "in their broken English shouting, `Thank you, Mister,'" is understandable. But the misleading letter, uncovered by Gannett after it was published in 11 newspapers, coincides with the Bush administration's renewed program of defending the war in an ambitious speaking campaign across the nation. With polls registering rising public doubts, the president and his aides are claiming that the news media unfairly play up negative developments and ignore progress in Iraq.
The Pentagon denies that there is any sanctioned propaganda drive behind the five-paragraph letter, but one soldier told of speaking to a public affairs officer about what he thought would be a news release, then being surprised to hear he was being presented as a letter writer whose words had been published in a newspaper back home.
Firm endorsements of the letter's description of the situation in Kirkuk have since been re-registered by most of the soldiers who were supposed to have written letters, but that matters little to anyone who ever marched in the military command system. The Pentagon should nip the form-letter barrage and make sure it is not repeated, if only because it is so counterproductive. Fakery is the worst possible way to answer the public's rising demand for information about the true state of affairs in Iraq.

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