The war in Iraq is officially over, but the winners of this year’s Military Reporters & Editors contest didn’t let up in their diligent reporting as the conflict drew to a close. They shifted attention to the surge of troops in Afghanistan, continued to dissect the effects of war felt in their home communities, and dug deep into military information to reveal little known facts about under-the-radar anti-terrorism operations. Judges, from the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative, praised the reporters’ ability to bring stories to life, provide insight, exercise resourcefulness and add nuance and meaning to difficult and controversial topics.
The awards, for work published or aired in 2011, will be presented at the 2012 MRE Conference on Oct. 19 in Washington, D.C.
Joe Galloway Award
WINNER: Wounded Warriors series by Carl Prine of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Using Defense Department documents to bolster the rest of his in-depth reporting, Carl Prine showed us in detail that many soldiers suffering physically or mentally from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were getting little help from the Warrior Transition units that were stood up to help them Prine shows that some military leaders used the units as dumping grounds for drug addicts and malingerers rather than for those who truly needed help.
Print — Domestic Coverage, large market
WINNER: “The Secret War,” by Sean Naylor of Army Times.
This series of stories about American commandos and intelligence agents working to block terrorists in the Horn of Africa was so dramatically written that readers feel like they are on the Navy submersibles and in the field in this covert war on al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. The stories are the result of a six-month drawing on classified information and expertise of special operations members, military leaders and diplomats.
Print — Domestic Coverage, small market
WINNER: “The Lost Platoon,” by Adam Ashton of The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash.
Adam Ashton was able to get a classified report on the Army’s investigation of the so-called Stryker “kill team” at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a dozen of whose members were prosecuted in the murders of Afghan civilians in Kandahar. His reporting found that the former brigade commander was out of step with Army strategy, the platoon’s leader posed for a photo with an Afghan corpse, “kill team” ringleader Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs used tough talk and grisly war stories to influence the young soldiers and officers up the chain of command failed to connect the dots about the platoon’s misconduct.
Honorable Mention: “Long Road Home,” by John Ramsey of The Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina
Print — Overseas Coverage, small market
WINNER: Andrew Brooks, The Fayetteville Observer.
Andrew Brooks’ range of stories from domestic military bases to embeds with units overseas displayed an interest and concern for all aspects of the American military story. Concern about bombings, ambushes and hijacking infused the last days of the troops and Brooks expertly captured their fears and hopes. Even more, Brooks detailed the important issues facing troops returning from overseas and current veterans, including those who face unemployment and homelessness.
Honorable Mention: Steve Ranson, Lahontan Valley (Nev.) News.
Print — Overseas Coverage, large market
WINNER: Rebecca Santana, Associated Press
Rebecca Santana provided a keen sense of place and mood as she traveled with the last official contingent of American troops as they prepared to leave Iraq and the conflict that began nine years earlier. Santana, who was the AP’s bureau chief in Baghdad for the final two years of the war, wrote with insight and sophistication not only about the internal political issues facing Iraq but also about the brutal realities of life for U.S. soldiers in that country. Whether describing the remains of Saddam Hussein’s palaces, relating how soldiers slept with their shoes on to avoid cutting their feet under rocket fire or describing the concrete blast walls as high as basketball hoops, Santana gave readers a portrait of life in a country that for decades has known repression and then fighting and occupation.
Honorable Mention: Kristin Hall, Associated Press
Online Video — Overseas Coverage
WINNER: “The Horse Soldiers of 9/11,” by Alex Quade, Freelance War Reporter
Alex Quade reported and produced an enterprising and singular short documentary about Special Operations Forces that made the first secret forays into Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks on American soil. Quade’s video, “The Horse Soldiers of 9/11,” interviewed four of the commandos who traveled by horseback to call in airstrikes and synchronize AC-130 gunship attacks with tribal warfare against Taliban and al-Qaida forces in northern Afghanistan. The six-minute video, with on-camera interviews of the Special Operations team, described their journey and the eventual recognition they and others received in this country with a monument to their mission. Quade’s persistence and resourcefulness in first finding and then convincing these warriors to be interviewed years after the event is evidence of her insight into military reporting and to her own tenacity.
WINNER: “Lost Warriors,” StarTribune.com. Reporter Mark Brunswick, Photographer Jim Gehrz and Producer/Editor Jenni Pinkley.
A powerful, detailed look in text, video and photos at the suicide among troops serving, preparing to serve or who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The package noted that more soldiers died by suicide in 2010 than died in battle, and Minnesota had among the highest rates. Lost Warriors ambitiously used video packages to powerfully envelop the reader with the sounds and images and nuance that bring a deeper and more meaningful experience and understanding of the impact than words could alone. The package examined the frustrations families found in trying to get information from the military about those who took their lives, and how the Army “often misses red flags regarding the mental health of its soldiers or doesn’t adequately address such cases after they come to light.”
Honorable Mention: “The War at Home,” CNN.com. Reporter Moni Basu, Editor Jan Winburn, Video Producer Rich Addicks, Web Design, Sean O’Key.
Blogging (first time award)
WINNER: Randy Brown, RedBullRising.com
Randy Brown clearly is not one of those bloggers who sits at home in his pajamas. You’ll find the 20-year Iowa Army National Guardsman-turned-civilian journalist out in the community — and out on the battlefield in Afghanistan. In his entries — one chronicling a homecoming for troops and the second, an embed in Afghanistan — Brown showed he’s a down-home storyteller and conversationalist. You could almost hear him talking to you as you read. He had a wry, friendly, sometimes corny sense of humor, a deft touch for detail; insider insight and knowledge; a tender touch with conveying emotion without getting sappy; and a way of getting to the bottom of things.
The judges were: Medill Professor Ellen Shearer, co-director of the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative; Medill lecturer Timothy McNulty, co-director of Medill National Security Journalism Initiative; and Medill Assistant Professor Scott Anderson, interactive web producer, Medill National Security Journalism Initiative