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Globe reporter Charles Sennott discussed veterans' issues

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November 12, 2007

JenD__Guest_: How much time did you spend with the New England Battalion to do part seven? And how hard was it to get the footage of that Iraq mission from the Marines? Charles_M__Sennott: I have been in contact with New England's Own for a year. I live nearby Fort Devens and attended their homecoming ceremony last October. But it is really in the last six months that we have been conducting interviews. The archival footage was made available to us over those months by members of the battalion. We spent a fair bit of time earning the trust of these Marines before my colleague Bill Greene began videotaping or photographing the Marines. I think the Globe showed a commitment to this story by giving both Bill Greene and I the time to do it right. Robby__Guest_: I loved the anecdote about the Marine who lost his leg in Iraq and was receiving the award for bravery and trying to appear like nothing was 'wrong'... and then he fell and his fellow Marines prevented him from falling... so moving. Thank you for sharing. Charles_M__Sennott: I love that anecdote as well. Cpl. Pat Murray is a great Marine and an amazing guy. He's also funny as hell. The strength he has shown in the process of healing and in simply making his fellow Marines laugh with a great Irish sense of humor has been powerful to witness. kabul__Guest_: Charlie, great job on writing the story and the remarkable video. Are some vets getting politically active on their return to make sure we as a country ask more questions on the value of our mission before putting our brave soldiers at risk again? Charles_M__Sennott: Most veterans who I have spoken with stay clear of politics. They focus on their duty particularly since so many know they have a chance of being called up again. But for those who do express political opinions, I hear lots of different points of view. Certainly some have questioned the value of the mission, or more precisely, the direction of the war. Charles_M__Sennott: There is a sense that Washington did not understand what it was getting into until too late and that the actual mission is sometimes ill defined. Charles_M__Sennott: But I would also have to say that many Marines and soldiers say they are proud of their service, proud to have taken part in toppling a tyrant like Saddam Hussein and believe they were making a difference over there in building schools and helping Iraqis build the foundation of their own future. Charles_M__Sennott: A larger percentage of veterans from Afghanistan express a positive attitude about the change they were working towards during their tour of duty. In other words, their exprience is defined by the qualitatively different nature of the two theaters of conflict. You can't generalize for all veterans in the post 9/11 struggle against terrorism. btd617__Guest_: Is it becoming more rare that the Globe allows its reporters the proper amount of time to do great enterprise journalism like this? Charles_M__Sennott: I am a special projects reporter for The Boston Globe and feel extraordinarily lucky to get this kind of time to work on one project. It is true that the demands on newspapers in a shifting landscape are pulling some resources away from long-form journalism. But at the Globe I think there is still a strong commitment to this kind of reporting. I am tough on the Globe in a lot of ways, but I also believe the owners and editors should be recognized for giving reporters like me and photographers like Bill Greene the time to give veterans the attention and consideration they deserve. lilygc__Guest_: Just wanted to say that was a great article yesterday -- and I'm blogging about it on my blog, www.HealingCombatTrauma.com. Thank you so much. Great narrative, that really drew us in, AND touched on a number of key points about veterans' issues that develop after combat. Wonderful job...thanks. Charles_M__Sennott: Thank you and good luck with your work helping veterans. JTN__Guest_: Do you think that an abrupt withdrawal from Iraq would impact our veterans' mental health one way or another? Charles_M__Sennott: I don't know the answer to that. I think it is true that part of the mental health crisis among veterans returning from Iraq is linked to the questioning of the mission. That questioning does go on within the ranks and within the veterans themselves. A lot of veterans who I have spoken to over the last year seem to struggle with a desire to serve the country and uphold its ideals, and at the same time question whether they were accomplishing that on the ground in Iraq. Would pulling out intensify that kind of reflection? I would have to say it probably would. But the veterans themselves would know better than me. Whatever they have to say in the end of this conflict, I will be listening to troops on the ground and those returning and writing about what I hear. lilygc__Guest_: Were you able to interview Captain Brian Hasheider from that same battalion? He was with them there in Iraq and pretty involved in some of those stories, but has since moved on to another battalion, and is out at Camp Pendleton. (Though this week he's out in the field.) He might be a good source as well... Charles_M__Sennott: Please direct him to our coverage and tell him to get in touch. the_booma__Guest_: Your footage and mulit-media presentation of the effects of the war on Iraq War Veterns deserves comparison to two icons of your field from a different generation: Ed Bradley and Dan Rather. Thanks for taking the risk for our country. Charles_M__Sennott: Thanks. Killjoy__Guest_: Mr. Sennott, thank you for your coverage of New England's Own. As a wife of one of the platoon commanders I have seen firsthand how life has changed for not only him, but our entire family. Charles_M__Sennott: I wish you and your husband luck working through the changes. As you probably know, there are a lot of places to turn to for guidance on that path. Family and friends are a big one. The Veterans Centers, which are a sort of walk-in counseling center that pay particular attention to the wider needs of families, are another. There are also a lot of counseling services specifically for families. Your local veterans agent (in your town or city hall) can put you in touch with them. Please feel free to get in touch directly with me if I can be of any help. Sgt. Mark Wills put it very well in an interview we did with him. He said, "It just takes time." charlie__Guest_: Will you stay covering veterans for the newspaper? Charles_M__Sennott: I still have a lot more stories to write about veterans. And, so, for the time being I plan to stay with it. Paul__Guest_: Will there be a follow up in future years? Charles_M__Sennott: Sadly, it seems the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will not end any time soon. So the issues of returning veterans will not end either. I guess that is a long way of saying, yes, I plan to follow up on these stories. We are already in the process of writing follow ups to the stories we have done earlier in the year. Some of the veterans who struggled with PTSD have recently called and said they found help. One called today and said he had just landed a good job and I was thrilled to hear it. Some others are still struggling, including one soldier who recently informed us he is divorced and living in a homeless shelter. One of the great things about working on this story is the offers to help veterans that we get from so many of you out there. Charles_M__Sennott: Thanks everyone for the great questions, and the concern for veterans. Please stay in touch particularly if there are stories of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans that you think we should be paying attention to. My email is sennott@globe.com.

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