About Jack

Jack is really a storyteller, international explorer, and humanitarian and everything else rolls out from there. As a writer, its what he does.  As a trial lawyer, its his most important tool.  As a former CIA officer, the only way to truly motivate people is to connect and to tell them a story that they can feel viscerally.  As a media analyst, what better way to make a point.  In the end, he tries to captivate his audience about the world and its people as much as he himself is captivated. 

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Gov. Howard Deans Joins the Program to Talk the Future.

The political atmosphere across America is heating up and mid term elections approach. Both Republicans and Democrats are fighting for your vote, your interest, your money. Both are trying to argue that they are the best to lead. But who will prevail?

Today, I will be joined by Democratic National Committee Chairman Gov. Howard Dean. He will discuss the future and the possibility of a Democratic majority in either the House or Senate in November.

My first question: With the mounting disasters facing the Republicans, including Iraq, Katrina, Scooter Libby, NSA wiretapping and lobbying scandals, why can't the Democrats seem to get any traction? Are the Democrats simply incapable or do the American people not care about these topics?

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Joins the Program

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will join me today to discuss the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism.
AP Photo

Looking at recent polls, the great majority of Americans are not happy with the direction of the war in Iraq. My impression is that staying the course, as the President has stated, will result in more of than same and that that seems to be the problem. But will it?
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld will discuss this and whether we are failing in the war of ideas around the world.
He will appear at 12:50 central time today. I hope you can join us.

Exhausted and Thrilled All at the Same Time

March 17, 2006
Kuwait International Airport

I'm on my way home and I'm exhausted. Following the story all day and then trying to get it on the air after that has worn on me. But something else has worn on me too. We were mortered almost every night I was in country. And the IED that hit too close for comfort.

As I write this from the airport, I keep hearing a boom. I'm not sure if it is Expolsive Ordinance Disposal (OED) getting rid of explosives on the Ali Al Sabah Airbase or just a door being banged shut. Either way, every time I hear it, I feel the need to duck. But I guess that is nothing.

The people who stay here when I leave deal with this everyday. I know that all have to find ways to cope. Many are scared and told me so. Makes complete damn sense to me. I was scared. Some joke. Some bluster. Some feel nothing. However, it manifests itself, this is one of the costs of us being here.

I am about to jump on a plane for home, to my wife Marlo, to my daughters. But I won't forget all of the stories, all of the faces. Some made it to the air. Many did not. There is only so much time. But the privilege was mine to hear each and everyone of the them.

Good night and my next correspondence will be from American soil.

Is GI Confidence Enough? Are Enough Good Things Happening?

Today is a big day in Iraq. This is the first day when Parliament meets in Baghdad. The Iraqi leaders are trying to establish a unity government that will somehow lessen or stop the sectarian violence that has gripped this country.

For the last couple of weeks, I have traveled the region to get a view from the Americans and from Iraqis. I wanted to know if things were as bad as portrayed in the media.

And I have to say two things. Well . . . Yes, things are as bad as portrayed in the media in that the bad things they show are taking place. In fact, sectarian violence is increasing. As a results, many more Iraqis are being killed and injured on all sides since the attack on Samarra. In fact, things are pretty terrible. I went on multiple patrols and saw anger and violence against Americans. When the IED exploded in our convoy, I saw the dirt fly. I felt the explosion. I know that somebody very close to where I was wanted all of us to die. But it didn't happen. One man was injured and I still think about that!

At the same time, where the media has sometimes failed is in providing context and showing some of the good things that are also going on here. And there absolutely are good things going on.

Remember, truth is truth.

Wells are being dug. Schools are being built. Hospitals are being upgraded. But I guess that is not newsworthy, unless you are sick and couldn't go to the hosptial. Or if you are a kid who used to go to school on a mud floor and now you don't have to. That seems pretty newsworthy to me!

I talked with the Army Corps of Engineers and have looked first hand at some of the rebuilding that is going on. More than 3000 projects are taking place as we speak, including schools, hospitals, and other public works products. What the media often fails to acknowledge is that this country was rotting from the inside out when the US invaded in 2003. Therefore, we didn't just start at ground level.
We started in a six foot hole.

Maybe the fact that both things are going on is not a clean picture. The media sometimes doesn't like that. It's true. We like nice clean soundbites. But what happens when a story, or a war in this case, can't be put in a small soundbite.

I should add that sometimes the American people don't have the most patience. I'm certainly not telling you anything new. But from a realistic point of view, sometimes things take longer than any of us would like. Now, whether the policy itself that put us here is a good one, or how the war is being conducted is a smart one, I suspect that is open to debate. And I also think that it is patriotic to have that debate. But my decision to go to Iraq was fact finding as much as anything else for me.

My intention was never to go to Iraq with the specific intent to support or refute the US government policies. In fact I suspect that what I have reported probably does a little bit of each. And maybe that is as it should be. Because the answer is probably somewhere in the middle.

We are doing good but the bad is continuing. Are we doing enough good is maybe the question? The second is more specific. Are those that want us out gaining ground or losing? Are we going the right direction?

In addition to the elections, a second major event took place today as well. Operation Swarmer is the largest air assault operation since 2003. It is taking place north of Baghdad in areas like Samarra, Balad and elsewhere.

I had a chance to sit down with Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Commanding General of Joint Operational Forces in Iraqi. He told be that the Americans are working hard with the Iraqi Army (IA) to establish joint operations and to provide additional training to the Iraqis so that they can continue to improve.

The drive behind Swarmer appears to be an acknowledgement that the insurgency has been gaining ground and that if the coalition forces fail to respond, it may gain additional footholds throughout the country.

If the so-called unity government and Swarmer both succeed, more stability should result and ethnic tensions should lessen. However, if either fails, Iraq may be in a very tough position. There are those including foreign fighters and domestic insurgents that are hoping for failure. However, many in this country simply want a safe place to raise their families.

Who will win this fight remains to be seen. But what is certain is that the only way home for seom 140,000 is a more stable regime. I have seen confidence in our troops. But whether that will be enough as we pass the three year mark is truly very hard to say.

All I can say is that this trip has been life altering for me. I was regularly impressed with are men and women in uniform. I was also impressed with the amount rebuilding that has been accomplished. Finally, I was saddened by the continuing violence that grips this country.

No easier answers. No easier answers. But I guess if I gave you one, one that would fit into a sound bite, then I would be lying like the rest.

Lost Boy

The poverty in parts of Iraq is astounding. Al-Ghazalyah is certainly no exception and may be worse than most. There is trash everywhere and raw sewage in the streets. The stench is overwhelming. Many people appear to be living in almost impossible conditions. And all of this while a war is going on.

I have found this look all over the world. It is hard to describe but I have always described them as lost boys. Those that from a very young age have almost no chance to live up to their true potential. This child seems to fall into this category.

His clothes are obviously not his. They are far too large. And very dirty. He has no shoes. And he is filthy. And he must live in this filth. I tried to get his attention but to no avail. As I moved closer, he ran down this hallway and disappeared from sight. How does he live? Does anyone care?

I have been here in Iraq for a few weeks and as I watch events unfold around me, I know that the answers to this problem are not simple one. Do we feed this child and every other child?

What about our own? Our country has needs that are not being met now!

Do we do half measures. Feed half. Wash half. That would result in half the world's kids fat and dirty, the other clean and starving. On the other hand, looking into the eyes of this child, what could he become in the future. Could he be the savior of this country? Could he find the cure for cancer? Could he become the next insurgent that kills American soldiers in these streets?

Sometimes, I think it would be cheaper to feed and wash everybody than it would be to fight them later. But would that be any guarantee to a safer world?

"I Love You Mister"

The school is two stories. It is surrounded with a large wall. The windows have heavy metal screens and the walls have large blue stripes. The outer wall has two children, one in a dress, one in long pants apparently on their way to school. It first caught my attention not so much because of what it looked like but rather because of what it sounded like.

I was visiting the Al-Ghazalyah Police Station when in the distance, I heard kids screaming, in a good way. You could hear them playing and making a heck of a racket. I immediately wanted to go to the school but had to wait. This area is very dangerous and the number of shooting and IED attacks has been increasing. As a result, it needed several American soldiers around me as a moved toward the school.

By the time I was on school grounds, the kids had finished their play time and were supposed to be back in class. However, when they saw me and the soldiers, bedlum broke out. They started laughing and clapping and screaming out the window.

This was a school for boy. Their ages looked to be between eight and twelve. They all wore uniforms. blue pants and white shirts. But that certainly didn't stop them from expressing themselves.

Because their English was limited, they kept throwing out the only words they knew. "I Love You Mister. I Love You Mister. Hello. I Love You Mister." I couldn't help but smile ad say, "I Love You Too" All the while, the teachers were trying to regain control of their classes. I'm sure I was not the popular person inthe teachers' lounge that day. Oh well. Certainly, a day to remember. And I had a hell of a time.

Sometimes, scenes like this only reconfirm my belief that in many ways, we are very much alike. And if we can find a way to build on that, then we really have something going.

Two Brothers in Iraq.

Possibly my favorite photograph of the trip.

I am reporting on the American soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division and members of the new Iraqi Army or IA as it is commonly refered to to in Iraq. Their ability to work together and the ability of the Iraqis to work independently will play a large role in the future of this country.

As the convoy appears in the neighborhood, it truly causes quite a commotion. The are six American humvees and another five Iraqi gun trucks.

Well, that commotion caught the interest of these two brothers. It seems to be a combination of fascination and fear. But notice how closely together they stand. Brothers are sometimes the same world over. And sometimes, you can catch a moment in time.

The Soldier is a Gunner - And She's 5'1"

Krystal Choquette is a U.S. Army MP with the 18th MP Brigade here in Iraq. And she is also a gunner in this up-armored humvee travelling through in Baghdad. She has a 50 cal. machine gun mounted on the turret, has an M-16 in her right hand and a Saw, a belt fed machine gun at her feet. You don't see her eyes because of the sunglasses. And traffic in the streets doesn't hear her voice. She doesn't scream. Instead, she uses a whistle. Everytime she needs somebody's attention, she doesn't ask. She demands it!She stands 5'1" and can't see over the turret without a box. Another soldier helped her attach the wooden box to their humvee. It was the box that the uparmored windows arrived in.

When this 20 year old was young, she was a tomboy. So, when she joined the Army, she wanted something aggressive. And this was the best job for her. She wasn't allowed to be in conbat. She's a woman and that is military policy. Well, guess what? Combat is all around her and if the stiffs in Washington DC don't know that, they have a lot more troubles than we know about.

Many have debated whether women should be in the Army. Well, if you talk to Krystal, I suspect all of your questions would be answered. The question is not about gender. The question is about competency. And that is what she is all about!

American/Iraqi Operations Conducted Around the Country

Maybe the biggest question on the minds of the American people is, When will the Iraqi Army stand up? Well, I can tell you from first hand experience that they are attempting to do so as we speak.

I have been watching joint operations being run by both the Iraqis and the Americans. Are the Iraqi troops comperable to the Americans? Based upon my experience, not even close. Are they getting better? Yes, absolutely. So how long? The $100,000 question. Who knows? Do we have the patience?

I stood right in the middle of these men as they ran operations in Ghazaleeyah and elsewhere outside of Baghdad. In fact, during one of these operations, I went into houses with only Iraqi troops while the Americans sat on the sidelines.

I had a chance to talk to Iraqis about their efforts as well. What I can say is that they are very brave people doing an impossible job. They are being killed in large numbers and many are driven to it out of patriotism. Many are driven to it out of money. Either way, if the Iraqis themselves are unwilling to defend their own country, we under no circumstances will ever been able to leave.

I spoke with an Iraqi Officer about the hopes for his country. He is committed even though he acknowledges that working with the Americans is very dangerous for he and his family. As he puts it, "it is our future."Iraqi Col. Abdullah Hazam

That takes guts. How many of us would put our lives on the line. And by the way, it appears to be far more dangerous to be an Iraqi soldier than to be an American one. The number of deaths and injuries certainly supports that conclusion.

Our Convoy is Hit by an IED!

I know that it is possible. I know that it has happened before but for some reason, I don't think it will happen to me and to the convoy of five Humvees that are beginning to patrol in an area southwest of Baghdad.

I'm traveling with a Reconnaisance Surveillance Squadron with the 10th Mountain Division. The men are preparing to jump into these five up-armored humvees. And I should add that these humvees have seen some wear. Shrapnel holes and bullets holes, patched over, but still visible.

The men wear chest protectors and helmets. They all have fire retardent gloves and eye protectors. They check and recheck their weapons as I approach. I am there this cover their story. To try and explain what they face everyday and how it impacts them.

I'm probably not ready for what is in store for me.

I'm in the fifth humvee with Captain Matt Brown out of Eau Claire. Our driver is Jonathan Kindem of Zimmerman, MN and our gunner, Sgt Ryan, from upstate New York.

Captain Brown is a very serious man. He is tall, has dark hair and looks you straight in the face. He is also a very serious soldier. He has spent the last six and a half years of his life preparing for this day and days like this. And thank goodness because today, he will need that training.

As we introduce ourselves, Captain Matt, a serious and smart guy, hands me gloves, eye gear sound ear protection. It is not quiet in a humvee and, as he puts it, "if the worst happens, you might need them." I'm already wearing body armor and a helmut.

Finally, it is time to go. We climb into our humvee and take the fifth, the last, position as we leave Camp Liberty. It is about 10:30 in the morning and it is already starting to warm up. And a little bit windy which means there is a little sand in the air as well. It works its way into every available crevice.

We leave the heavily fortified entrance and head out into the streets of Iraq. We travel quickly, staying in a relatively tight convoy insuring that no other vehicles get between. We swing back and forth down the roadways and try to avoid cars because of possible explsive devices. And people on the road are immediately waived off, aggressively, if they attempt any sudden moves. Each gunner on the top of each humvee armed with an M-2 50 cal. machine gun follows everything.

We are traveling up to Huryah to establish some security. Things have been unstable since the bombing up the Mosque at Sumarrah and this should help. Of course, the best way to get their is up Route Sword. And that is where it happens.

As we come across traffic, forcing our way through the city, we take the entrance ramp onto Route Sword. As it wraps around, I see the other four humvees in front of me. And then, I feel it more than see it. Mostly, in my chest.

But then, immediately, I see the dirt flying in all directions, right next to humvee number two. Oh my God! Our convoy has been hit by an IED, an improvised explosive device!

We drive through the attack and then come to a complete stop in the middle of this freeway, Route Sword. Several of the humvees move into oncoming traffic and we take both sides of the freeway and absolutely shut everything down. I watch assessments being made by Captain Matt and his team.

At first, it is pretty confusing but then we find out more. One of our soldiers has been hurt. The gunner. The one in the second humvee. He was most exposed to the blast. While he was protected by steel and bullet proof glass, the impact is still there. We don't know how bad but we have to get him back to base and get him to the hospital.

Backup has been called and they respond quickly. The IA, the Iraqi Army, has also been called to provide additional support. In addition, all sides are looking in the surrounding area for any sign of the perpetrators. I follow Captain Matt from the humvee as we meet with the team and discuss the need to control the area.

The Iraqi Army soldiers arrive. American reinforcements arrive including Abhrams Tanks. The freeway is wired off and the search in the surrounding area begins. The weight of these massive machines is felt before it is heard. They demand respect.

As the investigation continues, we find that two 122 mm mortar rounds were buried in the medium and were triggered just as we drove by. Only one of the rounds went off. EOD, explosive ordinance disposal, comes for what is left.

Of course, as we wait and search, I hear gunfire in background and notice all of the bulletholes in the surrounding building. The places reflects what it is, a warzone.

Finally, we clear the scene. The soldiers race through the streets, getting our soldier back to the hospital. All the time, keeping an eye out for more IEDs. In fact, we come upon even more dangerous ground but avoid any additional problems.

Things go on like this for some time. I suspect it is only a few minutes but it seems a lot longer to me. Eventually, we make it back to Camp Liberty and get our man to the hostpital.

We stand around near the entrance. Are we calling it a day? Are these men ready to retire and say they did enough? Hardly! In fact, they found the exploded ordinance and pass it around like a trophy! They tell war stories and make fun of each other. Not particularly in a callous sense but, from my point of view, as a coping mechanism. Captain Matt says as much. And can you blame them? These are ordinry asked to do an extradordinary job.

After a few minutes, the men put another man in the gunner position on humvee two. And, believe it or not, we roll back out into the streets of Iraq.

The men I travel with thank me for coming out with them. Frankly, it is I who should be thanking them. We all should be . . .