Dispatches from the front line are an enduring part of warfare, but they have never been more immediate than today, in the age of the Internet.
"It's changed the connectivity. You can find out pretty much immediately what's going on from the front if a soldier picks up a keyboard," says Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Web site Optruth.org. "These soldiers go back to their bases at the end of the night and basically create a diary saying, 'This is what it was like for me today.'"
Rieckhoff wants you to keep hearing about the war — firsthand. So is he — in effect — saying I'm not doing my job well enough?
"Well, part of it is holding people like you accountable. The media is missing parts of the war," he says.
Rieckhoff served 10 months in Iraq and founded Operation Truth to tap into the growing online voice of the country's military.
"I felt like the American public was really detached from the soldier's experience. And I wanted to find a new way to try to utilize technology and utilize the soldier's experience to create a visceral connection, so people could really see soldiers, see what they experience, and get a sense for what they're really going through in Iraq and when they come home," says Rieckhoff.
Rieckhoff says operation truth is 25,000 strong — and, through its Web site, it helps vets and those in combat act as their own messengers and advocates.
"We're the biggest advocate for the troops there are. We were there," he says.
Although it is non-partisan, it wants to remind Americans about the personal cost of combat.
Robert Acosta is an Iraq war vet who agreed to participate in a TV ad.
"So when people ask me where my arm went, I try to find the words, but they're not there," says Acosta in the ad.
Rieckhoff and Acosta connected on the Internet.
"There's so much information that you could gain from just typing in a few words. And even the guys over in Iraq, they have access to anything through the Internet," says Acosta. "And they could talk to whoever they need to talk to for whatever they're feeling."
The troops have a strong desire to be seen as individuals — not just as images on television. In an e-mail to me, a sniper who operates his own satellite connection from his base in Iraq, writes of his new power, saying, "My own mother will know that I survived a 15-minute mortar attack on my base before she sees it on the news."
Echoed on the Internet are thousands of online expressions such as his — often captured in blogs — the online diaries that cheer the war and sometimes condemn it.
What Rieckhoff is hearing is coming from America’s combat guys who have been through a searing experience and are understandably upset about it. So what does he think that does to a whole decision-making process that begins with the commander-in-chief who has larger objectives in mind?
"I think it creates accountability," says Rieckhoff. "And it's the same accountability that we have here in America. Joe on the street can understand what's really going on in Iraq and how our administration is fighting this war. (And they can say whether they're) personally happy with it."
Whatever the questions Rieckhoff may have about Iraq — they don't diminish the pride he has in his own service. You can tell just by looking at what he wears on his lapel — considered by many to be the most coveted award in uniform.
"It's a combat infantrymen's badge. It's awarded to infantry soldiers and infantry units in combat. I'm very proud of it. My men and I really take a lot of pride in being infantrymen."
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