David Finkel
David Finkel

Inside Media: Reporting From the Front Lines

October 11, 2009

Guest: David Finkel

By Lesette R. Heath, special programs coordinator

In early 2007, when President George W. Bush announced a new military strategy in Iraq, a U.S. Army battalion nicknamed the Rangers was flown to the front lines.

These "soldiers of the surge" spent 14 grueling months in Iraq, as Washington Post correspondent David Finkel chronicled their story.

In his new book, "The Good Soldiers," Finkel offers a gripping look at the horrors of war from the soldiers' perspective.

"If you think of the journalism that had been done around the war," Finkel said, "there were great policy books like "Fiasco." Memoirs had been done, but no reporter had gone and stayed to write a ground level view among soldiers."

Finkel first met the battalion while doing a piece on Lt. Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, who was leading the surge. Believing that his guys would make a difference, Kauzlarich suggested that Finkel visit the soldiers halfway through the deployment.

Finkel agreed and took a leave of absence from the paper to write the book. Still, his editors insisted that he take a safety course before heading to Iraq. Finkel learned first aid, how to look for trip wires and how to react when a bomb goes off.

"But absolutely nothing prepared me for what I saw," he said. "The things I studied, the accounts I read, there was simply nothing like this."

The battalion was assigned to an area of Eastern Baghdad, largely Shiite, where the weapon of choice was a roadside bomb called an EFP — Explosively Formed Projectile.

"It was hidden anywhere and everywhere," Finkel said.

Over the ensuing months, the battalion would lose 14 men, suffer catastrophic injuries and receive 75 to 80 Purple Hearts. Finkel described the young men as slowly "losing their naïveté and optimism."

Yet every morning, he was humbled by watching the soldiers get in their Humvees.

"They knew what was waiting for them," he said. "It was a brave and ruinous thing to observe as a journalist."

Finkel signed copies of his book after the program.

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