Regarding Ernie Gates’ May 18 Ombudsman column “When war reporting becomes crime reporting”: First, I strongly disagree with the premise that “It’s not news when people behave the way they’re supposed to behave.” Unfortunately the ombudsman is drinking of the media “Kool-Aid.” That may be his rule but it is neither the rule of world societies nor our own military. Every society and military organization recognizes their members for good deeds as well as punishes them for bad deeds and offensive behavior. So this may be the rule that newspapers and television reporters use, but is not how society acts every day. People look for the good in others because it encourages them and us to strive to do better each day. Go to any bookstore and just look at the list of best-sellers.

Unfortunately, the news media all drink from the same cup and believe they must always sensationalize and hype the news so people will listen. This is not true, but newspapers and TV stations believe it is. Occasionally they print a “good news” story so they can say they do, but this is the exception. Even Stars and Stripes is guilty of this, as the ombudsman pointed out. Stars and Stripes could not print the story about Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta speaking to troops at Fort Benning, Ga., on May 4 without mentioning a litany of crimes by soldiers. Several years ago the greats in the news industry, such as Walter Cronkite, etc., gathered just for the purpose of criticizing the media for sensationalizing and hyping the news.

What I believe bothers soldiers the most is the impact hyping and sensationalizing does to a soldier’s morale. Even the editor must agree that a negative litany over time by a military-dedicated newspaper must have a downside. Many citizens won’t even listen to the hometown news because of the continuous drumbeat of “negative muckraking.” Did you ever stop and think that maybe one of the reasons for the high suicide rate may be the continuous “negative reporting” by the only paper most GIs in combat can read?

I also firmly believe that continuous hyping and sensationalizing in our own military newspaper gives aid and comfort to the enemy and discourages the American public.

Much has been written about how the media affect war and conflict. If the Stars and Stripes audience is the military community, then I believe it needs to be much more sensitive to its audience and the impact of its reporting.

As far as the good news is concerned, one way to offset the bad news is to print more news about awards and decorations. I can’t remember the last time I read about a soldier receiving a Soldier’s Medal or Silver Star or a Medal of Honor equivalent to our allies (for that matter, any awards given to our allies by their own country). An entire section could be given to this type of “regular” reporting during wartime. As it is, the occasional Medal of Honor is reported, but there are many more acts of heroism to read about. Heroism is the perfect subject for the military audience. It encourages and exemplifies good deeds of a military nature. Even Stars and Stripes must agree that heroism is under-reported because it is “good news” by media standards.

If reporters are “expected by their editors” to only report bad news and are guilty of hyping and sensationalizing, then maybe that explains why military professionals do not trust the media.

Col. Ralph B. Kelly (retired)

Summersville, W.Va.

Unsecured weapons are threat

I’m a civilian contractor at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, also a former U.S. Marine with three deployments and a few years of police experience in a major city (credibility established). I can’t help but notice the weapons (with magazines inserted) on the floor of every mess hall on this base, courtesy of the U.S. and British armed forces.

It only starts there. I see muzzles flagging bystanders and weapons left unattended while their owners walk back to the service area for seconds and dessert. It’s not just the lower enlisted who are doing this; it’s senior enlisted and officers as well. What is the retention rating on a plastic neon glow strap? I ask this because I see men and women in PT gear who see fit to use them to holster their pistols.

Actual pistol holsters are being slung over the backs of chairs. Are they that heavy? What is going on here, and why has this gone unchecked? If it’s a problem here, it’s bound to be a problem elsewhere in theater.

This is a tremendous safety issue. We work with local nationals. We work with the Afghan military. We share common areas (such as the mess hall) with them. The reason why magazine-inserted carry has been mandated is because of the “Green on Blue” violence that has taken place in recent months. It would take mere seconds for a disgruntled (or goal-oriented) person to pick up one of these unattended (or barely attended) rifles from the floor and do damage with it.

Let’s get the weapons off the floor. Let’s practice positive control and muzzle awareness. Let’s use approved gear to carry weapons. Let’s do all of this before one or more of us gets hurt, because there would be no honor in that.

Doug Phillips

Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan

Stripes in 7

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