Today the Army Times runs the conclusion of Kelly Kennedy's 4-part, more than 14,000-word story on the 15-month tour of duty of a single Army company. In August, 2006, Task Force 1-26, with 823 soldiers, was deployed to Baghdad. According to the Army, they reduced murders from "ten a day to less than two a day" in Adhamiyah, which is in north-eastern Baghdad. But over those 15 months, 31 of the Task Force would be killed—14 of them from the 190-member Charlie Company alone—and 122 of them would be wounded.
Charlie Company—1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment—was to have left Baghdad on June 20, 2007, but received a three month extension of their assignment. On June 21, five of the company's soldiers (as well as an Iraqi interpreter) were killed, including at least one soldier who'd been stop-lossed.
They got a week off. Charlie Company was moved to relatively-calmer Kadhamiya. Alpha Company took over in Adhamiyah. There, Alpha's first sergeant killed himself on the street in front of his men, saying he couldn't take it any more. A week later, four soldiers of that company were killed.
And then, after a day off, Charlie Company's second platoon were ordered to go back out in Adhamiyah—and they refused, having decided that they could not "function professionally." This was then described as a mutiny.
Kennedy, the medical reporter for the Military Times newspapers, had recently arrived in Baghdad and had just started following Charlie Company a few days before the June 21 incident; she had intended to write a story about their medics.
"On June 21st, we went out at 6 in the morning and did patrols in the streets of Adhamiyah," she said by phone this afternoon. "You could tell it wasn't friendly. The Iraqis weren't thrilled to be pulled out of bed at 6 in the morning. The day before [patrols] found two IEDs and set them off. They knew that they were under attack essentially all the time. We were supposed to go on patrol with them at, I think, 10 in the morning—and decided to do interviews on base instead."
"It took an hour to get close because the flames were so high. They watched one of them burn alive. So they're waiting for news on their guys, you can hear small arms fire, there was another explosion, which hit the chaplain as he was coming in. He was essentially okay.... Every time it seemed to calm down again, you'd hear another explosion. Another was a rocket-propelled grenade; it hit an MP truck and decapitated a woman that was driving it. The day just got worse and worse.... [And] as angry as some of them were, others were coming to us and making sure we had water and were okay. It was 117 degrees that day."
Kennedy had to leave for parts elsewhere. "While I was still in Iraq I got these emails from these guys, saying 'They're trying to kill us and we're not going out and you need to come back.'" She met them in Germany in October, when their tour was complete.
From top brass to rank and file, Kennedy said, no one tried to obscure the story of the company—even about how the platoon refused orders. (The Army Times is a Gannett newspaper, not a publication of the government.)
"When I got to the commander, he said 'Oh, I wasn't sure you knew about that' and then he told me. It's part of war and they hope that people understand what they're going through. The guys put that story out there. I heard so many times: 'All Americans care about is Britney Spears and we're watching our buddies die.'"
She spent ten weeks in Iraq, from June to August of this year, and rarely saw other reporters. "We ran into one from Stars and Stripes, and in the Green Zone we ran into several. I didn't see any T.V. reporters out of the Green Zone. I saw someone from the French wire service. I think someone told me there were 20 reporters in theater, and it'd gone up because of the surge. It's dangerous! And as a news
organization, it's a lot of money for insurance. And our editors deal with the same things commanders deal with: What happens if you lose your reporter, your photographer?"
Kennedy is back in D.C. "There's no plans for me to go back over now. But if there's a story, or if they need someone on the list, yeah, I'll go. I try to justify it to myself—and my dad. When I was [serving] in Desert Storm, there were reporters who were there and watching out for us.... They were making sure we were being taken care of, trying to make sure we're not there for a bad reason. I feel like I sort of owe it to them? Or maybe not owe it, but want to be there for them."