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Embedded Reporters Help Military Families

April 3, 2003

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The U.S. military might not be much help as Saja Laum tries to keep track of her husband fighting in Iraq.

But ABC News is.

Since the war began, Laum has caught about a dozen glimpses on TV of her husband, Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Laum, because freelance journalist Mike Cerre is traveling with Laum’s unit for ABC.

``I jump up and down, do a little happy dance, the whole thing. It makes my heart skip a beat to see him,″ said Mrs. Laum, 30, of the Philadelphia suburb of Phoenixville.

More than 600 journalists are embedded with military units in Iraq, using the latest technology to transmit stories, photos, audio and video to TV and radio stations, newspapers and Web sites. That means that for the first time, some military families know what their loved ones are up to on the battlefield in real time, or close to it.

Military families have always soaked up wartime news, but they’ve never had as much access to the battlefield as they do now. Soldiers have even borrowed satellite phones from reporters to call home, their private moments showing up on television.

``With the technology we have and the embedded journalists, it’s possible for people to see and hear their loved ones instantly, and that wasn’t the case in previous wars,″ said Mary Ann Weston, a journalism professor at Northwestern University in Illinois.

Maura Champigny, 35, a social studies teacher in Acton, Mass., logs onto the Web site of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper ``five times a day″ because one of the newspaper’s reporters is embedded with her brother’s Marine unit.

``I can tell he got to know my brother because he mentioned him in several articles,″ said Champigny, whose brother, Lt. Christopher ``Buster″ O’Brien, is stationed with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. ``If we didn’t have that guy, it would be so much harder.″

A few days before the war started, an Associated Press photographer captured an image of O’Brien sitting on a wooden bench outside a tent in the Kuwaiti desert, writing a letter home. O’Brien’s wife, Maureen, 27, saw the photo in The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Portland (Maine) Press Herald and knew she had something to look forward to.

``I just got that letter,″ she said.

The access is far wider than that granted to journalists during the 1991 Gulf War and the Afghanistan campaign.

Military families have long relied on war correspondents for news. In the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-48, and again during the Civil War, the telegraph allowed news to be transmitted more rapidly than before.

Famed World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle provided millions of readers with a soldier’s-eye view of war. His daily dispatches listed the names and hometowns of innumerable front-line grunts.

``He was the ultimate embedded reporter,″ said Columbia University professor Tom Lansner, a former war correspondent.

During the Vietnam War, the fighting came to televisions in living rooms across the nation, although the images were often several days old.

CBS newsman Bob Schieffer, who covered that war for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, recalls tracking down young soldiers from Texas and delivering letters and messages from home.

``They were very lonely, and I remember very well walking up to one tough young Marine in full battle gear, and I said, ‘I’m from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and your mom asked me to come over and see how you were.’ And he just broke down into sobs,″ Schieffer recalled recently on National Public Radio.

Nancy O’Toole, whose son, Air Force Lt. Adam Pugh, flies AWACS surveillance missions over northern Iraq, said she tries not to watch TV obsessively.

``It takes a toll emotionally and mentally. You just get on overload. You can’t function,″ said O’Toole, of West Pittson, Pa., who runs a support group called Mothers of Military Service Members.

Saja Laum agrees, preferring to check in every few hours to get the headlines rather than watching the events unfold minute by minute. Nevertheless, she’s grateful for the chance to see her husband.

One of her most precious videotapes contains a recorded ``Nightline″ segment he appeared in.

``Those 30 seconds are about the most precious 30 seconds ever. Getting a chance to see him, I’ll be glowing for the next three days afterward,″ she said.


On the Net:

Support group for mothers of Marines: http://www.marinemoms.us

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