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ARLINGTON, Va. — When it comes to writing about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one can tell it like the troops who’ve been there.

In fact, “they are the ultimate embedded reporters,” said Andrew Carroll, founder of an effort to preserve wartime correspondence of veterans and active-duty troops called the Legacy Project.

“Troops have greater potential to be first-rate writers than almost any community,” Carroll told Stripes. “First, they’re taught to communicate efficiently. The second thing is, they’ve experienced things in a very short time that most of us will not experience in our lifetime.

“They have a lot of wisdom to impart, not just about war, but about human nature, because they see the extremes of it,” he said.

The collected wisdom of some 90 servicemembers are found in a book called “Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families,” which is part of a two-year project developed by the National Endowment for the Arts, called Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience.

The goal of the project was to preserve the stories and reflections of the latest generation of Americans and their families to experience war, according to Carroll, who was chosen by the NEA to edit the book.

But at first, “I almost passed” on the offer, Carroll told Stripes, even though he thought it was “a brilliant idea. To be honest, I thought, what was there left to say?”

With embedded reporters, 24-hour cable news and the Internet, Carroll felt that the experience of servicemembers had been documented as thoroughly as any war in history.

“What do we not know about these wars (that) we haven’t heard?”

But the historian in him ultimately could not resist.

To help get the effort off the ground, the NEA sent Carroll and a stable of famous authors such as military thriller writer Tom Clancy and Mark Bowden, who wrote “Black Hawk Down,” to conduct 50 writing workshops at 25 military bases across the country and overseas from April 2004 through July 2005.

More than 6,000 people participated, Carroll said.

Project leaders also issued an open call for writing submissions from troops who have served since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, along with spouses and family members.

More than 1,200 individuals responded, NEA officials said.

Two different panels of NEA officials then read through all the submissions, and winnowed the selections down to 1,200 pages, Carroll said.

Those, in turn, were turned over to a jury of distinguished authors who “spent two intense days,” further culling the selections into big binders with “hundreds” of selections, he said.

“It was a real good mix” of short stories, poems, e-mails, diary entries, and other writings, Carroll said, with personal narratives the most popular genre.

As he edited the selections down into the final book, Carroll said he had to limit the length to 500 pages, because the NEA didn’t want to produce a book that would be too expensive for most people to purchase.

There was also a concern that making the book too long would overwhelm readers, he said.

But in addition to archiving all of the writings gathered for the project, the NEA was to post many submissions that didn’t make it into the book online on the Operation Homecoming site, www.operationhomecoming.gov, beginning Friday.


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