Wednesday, October 15, 2003
The curious One Letter Many Soldiers story is currently attempting to seem neatly squared away with the timely arrival of an Army battalion commander to claim responsibility for creating 500 identical form letters and overseeing the signing and dispersal of those letters to a wide geographic range of American hometown print media.
The story, first reported Saturday by Ledyard King of the Gannett News Service and hyped by bloggers until major media noticed Monday, advances today with King reporting the person responsible for this masterful press offensive as a fairly obscure link in the military food chain, Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo, the commander of the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, a reserve paratroop unit reactivated in January 2002 in Vicenza, Italy.
In the photograph, from the battalion’s reactivation ceremony, Lieutenant Colonel Caraccilo (on the left) is shown handing off the battalion colors to a Command Sergeant Major.
The historic 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry, known as The Rock from its involvement with the assault on Corregidor in 1945, has a rich history stretching from the first ever parachute assault in American military history on November 8, 1942, through the only combat parachute operation of the Vietnam conflict to their present duty in the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk restoring basic services.
This is a tough hardened unit that, I assume, finds itself fairly occupied with duties more humdrum than coordinating a mass mail campaign no matter Lt. Colonel Caraccilo’s desire to promote his unit’s work and 'share that pride with people back home.'
Lt. Col. Caraccilo is, I’m sure, a good soldier only executing orders.
The source of those orders, the coordination of the mass mailing and the mailing’s timing with the Bush administration’s latest Bad Filter/Good News Iraq push needs to be explored.
Various statements by the military regarding the signing of those individual form letters do not add up and Caraccilo seems curiously well suited to pen a heart-warming letter.
Monday in The Olympian, Ledyard King quoted Lt. Col. Bill MacDonald, who is with the 4th Infantry Division currently heading operations in north-central Iraq, as saying:
“Some soldiers wrote some letters independently. I guess that's what happened. Nobody I have spoken to in the chain of command knows where these letters came from”… Six soldiers reached by GNS directly or through their families said they agreed with the letter's thrust. But none of the soldiers said he wrote it, and one said he didn't even sign it.
Tuesday, in a report credited to the Los Angeles Times and published on the website of the Mercury News, Air Force Col. Jay DeFrank, the Pentagon's director of media operations, said:
All we know here is that some unit's commander decided that what he wanted to do was write a letter to some of the Gannett newspapers . . . and a number of people in his unit decided that was a good idea and they wanted to do it, too.
According to an Associated Press report filed today at 7:08 am, EDT:
It turns out they were form letters written by the command staff of an Army battalion in Kirkuk, then signed by the soldiers.
This morning, Ledyard King reports in this morning’s Chicago Sun-Times a fresh quote from Lt. Col. MacDonald:
It sounded like a good idea at their level [but] it's just not the way to do business. They're not going to do that again…No one was forced to sign it, though most did.
Lt Col. Caraccilo’s hometown newspaper, The Finger Lakes Times, reported yesterday:
Caraccilo, who graduated from West Point in 1984, has been in the military nearly 20 years. He married his high school sweetheart, Karen Gleason, formerly of Waterloo, and they have three children.
Prior to his current deployment, Dominic Caraccilo served with the 82nd Airborne in Desert Storm and was awarded the Bronze Star. He was a member of the Army Rangers (special operations) when he served in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. He has also published three military books in the past several years, including a diary of his time in Desert Storm.
Clearly this curious story didn't just happen at this particular time though the New York Times has already rushed to judgement:
The Pentagon denies that there is any sanctioned propaganda drive...The Pentagon should nip the form-letter barrage and make sure it is not repeated, if only because it is so counterproductive. Fakery is the worst possible way to answer the public's rising demand for information about the true state of affairs in Iraq.
If young soldiers can be swayed, if not ordered, to sign letters then what is to stop some equally over eager officer to perhaps sway his troops execution of, say, an absentee ballot?
Photo: Spc. Michael Walkmeyer, USAREUR Public Affairs