1. Why do you believe the heroes in the War on Terror are “unsung”?
We wrote Home of the Brave to do what the mainstream media has yet to do: Honor the jaw-dropping heroism of a generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who are engaged in one of the most important endeavors in our nation’s history. Once we started researching the stories of heroism and hope coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq we were astounded. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a Hollywood action movie. It’s reminiscent of the WWII stories from the “Greatest Generation.” But unfortunately, our men and women in uniform have received abysmal news coverage nationally. In that sense they are “unsung,” and we felt that was a disservice to our men and women and uniform and our nation as a whole.
2. Some might say the Bush administration is to blame for not doing a better job of drawing attention to the heroes. Your thoughts?
Well the president is among the first to admit he’s not the world’s greatest orator. But actually, the president has spoken about the heroes in several speeches. Critics will say, “Yes, but not in primetime.” But presidents seldom speak in primetime, except for the State of the Union and moments of crisis; and the networks now no longer cover all primetime presidential addresses anyhow. Yet even if the president hadn’t spoken about them, since when does the press follow orders from the president? The New York Times ran fifty front page articles about the seven soldiers involved in the Abu Ghraib incident. But not one—not a single one—of the nineteen heroes we profiled had a front page story in the Times. That’s unacceptable. The 2.4 million men and women of our Armed Forces deserve better. Our nation deserves to know the names and stories of those who are fighting terrorists overseas so that we don’t have to fight them at home.
3. How does the endless drumbeat of negative stories affect the morale of the troops?
They’re fed up with the media and the naysayers. And they have a right to be. CNN’s Anderson Cooper recently conceded that it was the number one thing he heard when interviewing the troops—that the media is all negative, all the time. Does it affect the troops in the field? No, because they are as dedicated and disciplined as any fighting force ever assembled; they’re professional warriors. Does it hurt morale at home and for those who return to a divided country and eroding support? Absolutely. A recent study of over 1,300 reports broadcast on network news programs from January to September of 2005 found only eight stories of heroism or valor by American troops. So, for example, when Sgt. Martinez, the first Hispanic-American to receive the Navy Cross since Vietnam, came home and began attending classes at his California community college, he was accosted by a woman who had heard he was a Marine and wanted to give him a message: “I think you’re a disgusting human being and I hope you rot in hell!
You tell us: Does that hurt morale?
4. Do you think the troops have a different image of Iraq than most of us watching it on television and reading about it in our newspapers?
Think of it this way: Iraq is roughly the size of the state of California with a population of 22 million people. Imagine that we sent camera crews to find the worst stories they could find (gang violence, drugs, murder, etc.) and then nationally broadcast only those stories non-stop for three and half years straight. Would public perceptions of California be distorted and overly negative? You bet. That’s what has happened with Iraq, and that’s why the 2.4 million Americans who defend our nation and their families are fed up with the way the mainstream media has chosen to cover this war. All they want is balance. All they’re asking for is that the media show the positive developments as well as the negative. Just be fair, that’s all they ask.
5. How did you decide which heroes to write about?
That was, without question, the hardest part about writing a book like Home of the Brave. There are literally thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines from which to choose. That’s not an exaggeration. There are so many stories out there. We used three simple criteria: First, we were obviously limited by issues of security. Navy SEALS, for example, are all but forbidden from speaking on the record. Second, we wanted to get a mix of stories from not only different branches but also different duties. So, we have basic rifleman, tankers, hospital corpsmen, combat controllers, Green Berets, and military police. We wanted a cross-section of the many talents and skills our Armed Forces possess. And finally, we chose stories which captured the human aspects or elements involved in warfare. We wanted the book to help civilian readers understand the military experience from the perspective of those who serve.
6. Did you find similarities between each hero's story? Are there universal traits among heroes?
Each individual was unique, and that’s something we worked hard to capture. For example, a soldier’s favorite Meals Ready to Eat (if any!), what his hobbies were growing up, his thoughts in the heat of battle, what kind of music he listens to…all these things, we thought, were profoundly interesting, because they illustrate the beautiful diversity of our Armed Forces. Plus, these are the things we can all relate to. These are the human dimensions, and in that respect they are all unique.
But in another sense, there does seem to be a common thread among the heroes: 1) they believe deeply in their mission and 2) they refuse to allow fear to stop them from doing everything in their power to protect their brothers and sisters in arms. They exhibit grace under fire, and they don’t wait for others to lead the way. They lead by example.
7. This was Secretary Caspar Weinberger's last major project before his death. What was it like collaborating with him on this remarkable undertaking and why were the men and women of the American military so important to him throughout his life?
First and foremost it was an enormous honor.Cap was not only a Cold War hero and an American Patriot; he was a warm and caring man. He had accomplished everything in his career. But at 88 years of age, he wanted his last book to be a final salute to the men and women in uniform he served and loved. The other thing was that he, himself, had served in WW II under General Douglas MacArthur, and so he was always a "soldier's soldier." He understood and cared about our men and women at war, because he had once been in their boots. I remember once while we were working on the book he and I chatted about how as Secretary of Defense he always used to enjoy visiting the troops. He said that, for example, when visiting a ship, he always liked to go deep into the bowels of the vessel, where sailors seldom saw dignitaries. Cap said something so simple meant so much to them. And that's honestly what Home of the Brave is all about: honoring the unsung heroes in the war on terror.