Nice article in the New Yorker, about the travails of a soldier readjusting to life following injuries in Iraq.
It’s kinda hard to take seriously though, because writer Dan Baum can’t get his basic facts straight.
For instance, Baum says
Two decorations hold particular fascination for soldiers who are shipping out. The Combat Infantryman Badge, or C.I.B., is awarded for spending at least sixty days under fire. . . When Cain left for Iraq, he knew he’d get his C.I.B. . .
That’s just great, except Cain was a truck driver, Military Occupational Specialty 88M. Unless the rules have changed radically since the days I served not too long ago, only infantrymen are eligible for the Combat Infantry Badge.
Then Baum talks about how trooper Cain became an airborne soldier.
After basic, he was sent to Vicenza, Italy, and spent two years driving trucks and taking parachute training in order to get his jump wings.
Again, just one problem here. Parachute training takes all of three weeks, usually spent sweating profusely and drinking a compelled quart of water each hour, getting sore knees on the baby-poop reddish brown clay of Fort Benning, Georgia. Some units have been known to put non-airborne troops through a fitness regimen prior to sending them to jump school, to make sure they don’t flunk out and embarass the unit – but earning your wings only takes three weeks, not two years.
Then Baum talks about Army medics. He says
Their primary mission is that of any warrior, which, as the Soldier’s Creed puts it, is to “engage and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.” Often the first thing a medic will do for a wounded soldier is shoot back, in order to protect him.
Um, wow, if Baum interviewed these medics, they really put him on pretty badly. Most of the medics I served with packed heat, but I can’t think of one who would look to return fire before treating an injured troop. The first couple minutes are magic time you never get back, and in the limited number of situations where I saw medics go to work up front, returning fire was not a concern for the docs – they appeared to look to get the wounded to cover first, and I presume fighting back over a seriously wounded soldier would only occur in dire, dire circumstances. Besides, most of the medics I’ve ever met (except for the Navy Corpsmen with the Marines & SEALs are soft as lukewarm pudding.
Baum continues, telling how the medics responded to the injury.
Cain was writhing and crying, and as Blohm and Brown worked they tried to calm him with stock assurances—“You’ll be fine,” “Everything’s O.K.”—and jokes about attractive women soldiers in the battalion.
Okay, that’s great. Blohm and Brown have to go back to that unit. They did what they had to do to keep injured Specialist Cain alive, and said some things that in truth probably constituted sexual harassment, had the jokes been made publicly. Blohm and Brown have to go back and work with those women, and look them in the eye from time to time… And Baum reports on it making the jokes public. In Army terms, Baum is a buddy f***er. That’s a very bad thing to be, just in case you wondered.
I guess it’s still a pretty good article in some ways. It puts a human face on one of the nameless “casualties” you read about. He seems like a good kid, eminently normal, and probably on his way to a good productive life. And by the way, Mr. Cain, if you read this, thanks for your immense sacrifice on behalf of our nation.
But geez, it’s hard to recommend the article when Baum gets many of the little military facts wrong. When you take that lack of attention to detail, and add Baum’s initiating that little chain screw of the two medics, it seems to me that Baum is revealing a sense of scorn or condescension for the troops he is reporting on. The article isn’t necessarily completely untrustworthy; but it damn sure is unlikeable.