Waiting on the home front

Support: For service members' spouses, embedded journalists can serve as personal conduits of information.

War In Iraq

April 10, 2003|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

OCEANSIDE, Calif. - Like military wives the world over, the women who gathered for dinner here recently have bonded so tightly these past several weeks that their chatter is all first-name-only telegraphing: the baby shower for Suzanne, the cartoon Jason sent Delaina, Angie's next doctor's appointment and, always, the latest from Chip and the two Johns.

That would be Chip Reid, John Murphy and John Makely - three journalists they have never met but on whose every word and image they hang. Reid, a correspondent with the NBC channels, and Murphy and Makely, a reporter and photographer, respectively, for The Sun, are embedded with their husbands' Marine unit fighting in Iraq.

The Pentagon's embedding program, in which more than 500 journalists have joined various military units and followed them into battle, has yielded more than on-the-scene reports for newspapers and broadcast outlets: The journalists have also become personal conduits of information for military families back home, opening a distant yet intimate window to their loved ones on the front lines.

"They tell us what we miss knowing about - what they do day to day, what they had for dinner," said Megan Pasciuti, the wife of a Marine corporal. She and the other wives start reciting, almost word for word, part of a March 18 dispatch by The Sun's Murphy about the unit's endlessly unvaried meals: "chicken and rice, chicken with vegetables, and chicken with rice and vegetables."

"That's what I want to know about," said Pasciuti, who hurriedly married her husband, Amatagelo, or A.J., in December when they found out his unit would be deployed to the Persian Gulf.

It didn't take long for family members across the country to find out which news media outlets had journalists embedded in their relatives' particular units. With 24-hour cable coverage and newspapers' Web sites, they've been able to access a constant stream of information, if not about their individual relatives, then about their units.

In the loop

The wives who gathered recently at an Applebee's near the sprawling Camp Pendleton Marine base feel particularly in the loop - they have both TV and newspaper correspondents embedded with their husbands' India Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. They so closely track the correspondents' words and pictures - by monitoring MSNBC around the clock and bookmarking The Sun's Web site on their computers - that they've extended their range of worries to include the journalists.

"I think Chip's lost weight," Amy Gonzalez says with a bit of concern.

The women, who live on or near the base, met through Heather Thomas, who coordinates the Key Volunteer Network support and information group for the India Company wives. (As an infantry unit, the company consists of only men.) Her husband, Jeremy, is a corporal with the unit.

Jeremy Thomas was interviewed by Reid once but ended up on the cutting room floor, his wife said. Other wives have been luckier: Caroline Ware's husband, Marcco, is the subject of an already well-known picture by The Sun's Makely, showing the lance corporal carrying a wounded Iraqi soldier to safety. The photograph has run in newspapers around the world and even caught President Bush's eye - in a recent speech, he called it "the picture of America."

Makely let Marcco Ware use his satellite phone to call his wife after the photograph drew renown. "I was running my mouth about the picture," Caroline Ware said. "I said, `Baby, you're everywhere.' And he said, `I'm getting goose bumps thinking about it.'"

Often, though, the wives have to settle for general reports about the unit or for thinking that one of the out-of-focus figures in the background of a photo or TV broadcast "looks like mine's face," as Pasciuti said.

Gonzalez, whose husband, Jorge, is a staff sergeant with India Company, has scrutinized every report and photograph by The Sun's two Johns, as the wives call them. She thinks - or rather, her 5-year-old son thinks - he was in a picture by Makely showing the Marines in gas masks.

"I tried to blow the picture up as big as I could," she said. "My son was like, `That's my daddy. That's his ears.'"

But this week has been a bonanza for this particular group of wives - the husbands of Gonzalez and Pasciuti were quoted in an article by Murphy about the Marines raiding a Baath Party building in the Baghdad suburbs, and Delaina Burrier's husband was in another report by Murphy about the unit approaching the center of the Iraqi capital. Even better, Cpl. Jason Burrier III, whose usual communications with his wife are hand-drawn cartoons such as a recent one showing him wandering Iraq looking for a Wal-Mart, borrowed one of The Sun team's satellite phones to call his wife yesterday.

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