Saturday, June 11, 2011

Vietnam -- Freedom of press with limitations

Not that I ever really had to cover a situation where our friendly forces -- or any of us, for that matter -- died due to direct contact with the enemy, one of the limitations to writing about events that occurred was the fact that you couldn't include friendly deaths.

Also, even if it were true, you could say anything negative about the way troops were being treated or the fact that your boss was a total ass and made piss poor decisions the taxpayers thousands for.

Another rule was you couldn't just be a writer, you had to live and play the roll at the pay grade you were in. Which essentially meant you might have been able to devote about 30 percent of your time to writing articles and taking pictures.

The last one that was restrictive was recording kill counts. The NVA was a amazing at removing their dead from the battlefield. And we were too good at blowing them up into pieces that it was hard to get an accurate kill count. Add that to the fact that no one wanted to stick around a "hot" environment long enough to access the damage on either side, you can pretty much figure out from all of this that writing about the amount of NVA killed in battle was next to impossible.

So, from a writer's perspective, you focused on people, places and things that might perk enough interest by editors to want to accept your work and publish the articles

I found this to be incredibly easy. There were many rich and rewarding resources available.  And when I did find a story between the conversations I had with the people, I interviewed, I focused on using that theme as being part of an even bigger feature about why that concerned people.

One of those threads involved unit identification.

Why were we who we where and why didn't the press understand it? This was one of those threads. So, when I started work on the article about the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery (AFA), I wanted to make sure the who were we and why didn't the press understand it was addressed in it.

I wrote it like this:

You might think an AH-1G Cobra "snake" helicopter is just another "gunship".

You would be wrong.

In the hands of the 2/17th Air Cavalry, this might be true, but in the hands of the 4/77th Field Artillery, the Cobra is an artillery platform from which tube launched rockets are fired as artillery rounds supporting ground forces when the enemy gets uncomfortably close.

Just the distinction between the unit names alone should tell you something about the differences in rolls. But if that were not enough, the Cavalry didn't carry 36 pairs of rockets and use grid coordinates to perform their mission. As one pilot pointed out:

"We proved artillery support for friendly forces facing an enemy so close you could smell his breath. The Cavalry uses Cobras for a kill count."

I think the territory between the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Cobra and the 2nd Squadron, 17 Air Cavalry was well marked by the above article snippet.

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