Saturday, August 15, 2009

Who is Michael Yon

Who is Michael Yon?


American combat soldiers don't want pity. Yon says, they're ready to fight to the end; they just don't want it to be for naught. They have been fighting for two nations, one of which didn't seem to notice. The Iraqis noticed. (emphasis mine)

I believe now as I did then: The government of the United States has no right to send our people off to war and keep secret that which it has no plausible military reason to keep secret. After all, American blood and treasure is being spent. Americans should know how our soldiers are doing, and what they are doing while wearing our flag. The government has no right to withhold information or to deny access to our combat forces just because that information might anger, frighten, or disturb us.


In a counterinsurgency, the media battlespace is critical. When it comes to mustering public opinion, rallying support, and forcing opponents to shift tactics and timetables to better suit the home team, our terrorist enemies are destroying us. Al Qaeda's media arm is called al Sahab: the cloud.


Early Background

Michael Yon was born in 1964 and grew up in Winter Haven in central Florida, where he was always looking for a way out of his dismal home life.

He was very independent as a child and a youth and frequently got in trouble for being a prankster and making homemade bombs. Yon's mother died when he was only seven, and that irreparable loss, combined with the neglect that he later suffered at the hands of his father and the refuge he found with his grandparents and his friends, created an emotional anchor for him. He was taught stories of life lessons from his grandfather whom he deeply respected. He gives much credit to his mother and to his grandparents for his current beliefs and values, plus a woman named Viola who had helped in his growing up.

In his book, Danger Close, he describes the death of his mother. It's painful and difficult to read, however his entire story is both inspiring and an open challenge to every young person today that is the product of disadvantage and hardship, a broken home or a dysfunctional home. The message he makes in Danger Close is, "Yes, you can make it! You will succeed if you'll only reach down deep enough. Never quit!"


High School/College/Dreams of Future

Mike could have become yet another statistic, as a child he was put through hell in countless ways, he witnessed the behavior of a stepmother that was sadistic. In 1982, one month after graduating from high school, Mike Yon joined the United States Army to earn tuition money for college. He went to a local community college and did not express any interest in journalism. He did not become a burden to anyone; he became an asset for us all.


Military Career

At that time, President Reagan had begun channeling massive amounts of funds into Special Operations units such as the Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, and Special Forces in response to the calamitous failure of a U.S. Special Ops attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran. For a brief time, writes Yon, "the Army allowed kids straight out of their initial military training to try out for Special Forces"--and Yon jumped at the chance. By July of 1983, at the remarkable age of 19, Yon had survived rounds of grueling training and graduated into the Green Berets. Due to his bright blond hair, short stature, and physical boastfulness, the other soldiers nicknamed him "Bam Bam", after the Flintstones character.

No sooner had he finished the Special Forces qualification course at Ft. Bragg, NC, than he killed a man in a fist fight while on a weekend pass and got arrested for murder. Yon landed in jail, accused of murdering a fellow patron at a Maryland bar with his bare hands. Eventually he was exonerated because it was a clear case of self defense, Yon explained. After being cleared by civilian authorities, Yon attended the Defense Language Institute at the beautiful Presidio in San Francisco studying German. Upon graduation he spent four more years with Special Forces A-teams in Massachusetts and Germany.


Journalist

Yon left the service in 1987, after serving five years in the Army, and worked in a variety of different businesses, at one point providing security detail for Michael Jackson. Having learned German and some Polish within the service, he also attempted to work in Poland. He started general freelance writing in the mid-1990s despite having no background in the field. Notably, he covered the Aghori, an obscure Hindu cult that eats human flesh to supposedly gain magic powers. Yon believed that he had located an American cult member and passed his suspicions on to the FBI. Yon later remarked that people thought he had "gone over the friggin' top with this.

I don’t think Yon was doing this so much to be a successful reporter as he was acting on a more deep compulsion–he often talks of his friends who died on the bridge in Falluja as a driver for what he wants to do. He even fired an M-4 (big no-no for embeds) trying to save the battalion commander that was shot 3 or 4 times.

He says,

But what spurred me to drop what I was doing, get on a plane and fly halfway around the world, to a war zone, was a growing sense that what I was seeing reported on television, as well as in newspapers and magazines, was inconsistent with the reality my friends were describing. I wanted to see the truth, first hand, for myself.

I saw American and Coalition soldiers putting everything on the line to accomplish their mission.

So that Iraqi children can have the chance to grow up in freedom and fulfill their potential.


Today

An American author, independent reporter, columnist, and blogger. Yon has had vocal feuds with the United States military, and the nature of his reports are also controversial. He continues to blog from Iraqi and Afghan towns and battlefields. In 2008, The New York Times reported that he has more spent time embedded with combat units than any other journalist in Iraq.

The ability to embed with coalition troops and report from the battlefront has spawned a new generation of independent combat journalists. Intrepid individuals — often veterans — like Michael Yon, J.D. Johannes, Michael Totten, Bill Roggio, Pat Dollard, and Bill Ardolino have followed in the footsteps of legendary World War II reporter Ernie Pyle, giving generously of their time and resources to travel to and within the combat zones that make up the many fronts of the global war on terror, for the dual purpose of accurately reporting on events (something so many media outlets have demonstrated time and again that they are incapable of doing) and of telling stories that simply would not make it back to the American people any other way.

However, a mere handful of individuals cannot, by themselves, provide a nation with enough of that which it so desperately needs in this age of ephemeral pleasures and doom-and-gloom news reports: true stories of courage and sacrifice, bravery, and gallantry shown by our fighting men and women around the world on a daily basis.

Video -----

Footage from a Good Morning America segment on the emerging alliances of former insurgents with Coalition forces which included an interview with Michael Yon and excerpts of his footage of the firefights described in Hunting Al Qaeda, Parts 2 and 3. It is best viewed in the context of those dispatches, published at www.michaelyon-online.com

Personal Views

I saw resolve steel the jaw of a military leader.

I saw hope light the eyes of a young girl.

I saw a village elder’s wisdom

I saw a soldier’s compassion.

And what I saw changed how I thought about this war. The "truth" of this experience is too complex to capture in a body count or a thirty-second sound byte. It's chaotic, dynamic and evolving. It's unwieldy, wasteful and we have made mistakes. It's a struggle of epic proportions that ultimately relies on the strength of a people about whom most Americans seem to know very little.

The longer I stayed, the better I understood things. And I began to realize that Americans need to see these things in order to understand what is happening here and come to a more informed judgment of whether this struggle is "worth" the cost, in money and lives. No one can make that determination without a balanced set of facts.

To me, one look in the face of any of the children tips the scales one way.

Yon has stated, in general, that "If a writer wants to make money, he should avoid truth and tell people what they want to hear. Yet to win the war, tell the truth." Yon has been reluctant to talk about whether or not he actually supported the decision to go to war in the first place. He eventually said he had been a supporter due to his concerns about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, to which he had given the Bush Administration the benefit of the doubt on.

Yon was a vocal proponent of a 'surge' strategy in Iraq and expressed his support in many interviews for Senator John McCain in the 2008 Presidential election. Like McCain, Yon opposes the use of torture by the U.S. military. He specifically opposes waterboarding as well. In June 1, 2009, he remarked that "I get the feeling that Obama is tougher and proving wiser than many people seem to think".

In terms of how his personal views affect his writing, Yon has said, "I feel no shame in saying I am biased in favor of our troops. Even worse, I feel no shame in calling a terrorist a terrorist". The New York Times has commented that "Like most bloggers, Mr. Yon has an agenda, writing often that the United States’ mission to build a stable, democratic Iraq is succeeding and must continue." The Los Angeles Times has called him "the reporter of choice for many conservatives". However, journalist Michael Totten has called Yon a "refreshingly unideological analyst of the war". Yon himself has praised several media agencies that he has worked alongside, saying that "the journalists for places like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are actually very good with their facts."

From Yon while in Iraq:

My military background helped me navigate the system and provided critical context that informed my observations. I didn't need to be told when to duck, or what not to photograph, or why there had to be a red lens on my small flashlight (it's dim: harder for the enemy to see and saves your night vision). My reports and photographs from 2005 were seen by tens of millions of people.

I believe now as I did then: The government of the United States has no right to send our people off to war and keep secret that which it has no plausible military reason to keep secret. After all, American blood and treasure is being spent. Americans should know how our soldiers are doing, and what they are doing while wearing our flag. The government has no right to withhold information or to deny access to our combat forces just because that information might anger, frighten, or disturb us.

By allowing only a trickle of news to come out of Iraq, when all involved parties know the flow could be more robust, the Pentagon is doing just that. Although the conspicuous media vacuum can be partly explained by the danger--Iraq is arguably more dangerous for journalists than Vietnam or even World War II, when reporters were allowed to land on D-Day--some of the few who will risk it all are denied access for no good reason.

This information blockade is occurring at the same time that the Pentagon is outsourcing millions of dollars to public relations firms to shape the news. This half-baked effort has the unintended consequence of putting every reporter who files a positive story under scrutiny as a possible stooge. A fraction of those dollars spent on increasing transportation support might persuade more reporters to request an embed. A reasonable expectation of being able to get to units and get stories filed on time is all most reporters ask. The media people I encountered in Iraq were not looking for four-star accommodations. They knew full well what to expect from a war zone, but they cannot waste days, sometimes weeks, stranded in logistics limbo, held up for reasons that almost never have anything to do with combat.

There's little comfort in the supposition that this mess might be more the result of incompetence than policy. After all, what does it matter whether the helicopter crashed because it ran out of gas or because someone didn't tighten the bolts on a rotor? Our military enjoys supremely onesided air and weapons superiority, but this is practically irrelevant in a counterinsurgency where the centers of gravity for the battle are public opinion in Iraq, Afghanistan, Europe, and at home. The enemy trumps our jets and satellites with supremely onesided media superiority. The lowest level terror cells have their own film crews. While al Sahab hums along winning battle after propaganda battle, the bungling gatekeepers at the Combined Press Information Center (CPIC) reciprocate with ridiculous and costly obstacles that deter embedded media covering our forces, ultimately causing harm to only one side: ours. And they get away with it because in any conflict that can be portrayed as U.S. military versus media, the public reflexively sides with the military.

In September, when the popular blog conglomerate Pajamas Media reported that there were only nine embedded journalists in Iraq, readers lashed out, blaming a cowardly media. But the reality is convoluted. The Pentagon permits an extremely limited number of journalists access, while denying other embed requests that would have been permitted as recently as a year ago.

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For more information on Michael Yon, please see his website or visit the Michael Yon Dispatches Gather group.

Information in this article has been obtain from Michael Yon's website, his book, Danger Close, Wikipedia, his book, Moment of Truth in Iraq, plus a variety of blogsites who support Michael Yon and his mission. Plus:

Afghan Quicksand Awaits Obama

Blogger gains following with Iraq reports By Mitch Stacy, AP Writer

Censoring Iraq - Why are there so few reporters with American troops in combat? Don't blame the media. by Michael Yon

Michael Yon's Witness

Michael Yon YouTube Channel

Milblogger Michael Yon Considers Suing Michael Moore

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