Faking the funk
“I’ve got you on a flight to Seitz. You’ll stay a few days,” the boss-lady said.
Another trip down south. I didn’t even know what the story was. It didn’t matter. They were all the same. Convoy to such-n-such, delivering such-n-such; or on the FOB with a unit that installs such-n-such on so many such-n-such vehicles.
Here’s how it works: We have a list of what companies and battalions are in our brigade. The commander gives us a quota—something like two stories per company, or one story per every few weeks or months. It’s a numbers thing.
No news, nothing that has to do with feelings, opinions, or current events—just reasons why the particular unit featured was the absolute best at what they did, regardless of reality.
Every mechanics shop is retrofitting ten thousand pieces a day, honing their skills through discipline and coming together as a team. Every group of fuelers is competent in their routes, confident in their leadership and ready to spread democracy. Every supply yard is projecting full-spectrum expeditionary combat logistical readiness to the forefront of theater operations. It’s the BTJ syndrome—having to portray everyone as so amazing, they’re “better than Jesus.”
And that’s it, really—give everybody a chance for a page in the yearbook. Since everybody is perfect, everybody is equal. It’s like how we handle awards in the Army nowadays. Everybody gets a medal for showing up to work—everybody is special. The guy who sipped coffee and the guy who endured months of combat both will get the same award, depending on rank, of course.
While learning about my profession from the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, Md., I became a believer. I was the scribe of the Army—a historian. I would tell the Army story, to help write history, document the victories of the American people. I would make a difference. If the news was bad, I would tell it anyway. Truth was our mantra—not just in the “root out the scandal” sense, but laying out the grim reality of war, the attitudes, feelings, and humanity of the troops. We were told to be genuine.
But the disconnect between ideal and reality was still there. And now I work for a photo booth—lights, give me a smile, click.
I’m afraid when I get home people will be a bit disappointed too. Everyone is itching for photos that “tell the story” and all I have are the standard “feature” photos that my higher-ups want—three quarter, two eyes visible, hands working—just a human prop with a different background.
Is it journalism? Am I a journalist? Does it still count toward championing truth? As long as it makes someone feel better, is that ok?
“Hey! Take my picture,” I get it a dozen times when walking around with a lens around my neck. At first I would come back with, “What are you doing that needs to have a picture taken?” Not that I was too good to take their picture, but I was constantly on the lookout for what was “happening” not just what was there.
But maybe it doesn’t matter. Now I just say “sure” and take the peoples’ picture. Maybe it’ll make them happy.
“Is this going to be on CNN?” they often ask afterward.
“No, not likely,” I’ll say. “I’m not with CNN; I’m just an Army journalist.”
“Oh,” and the excitement drains from their faces as they walk off, uninterested.
Yeah, brother, I wouldn’t be too impressed by me either.