Soldiers and Airmen of the Virginia National Guard,
For over five years, our country has been involved in a fight against an enemy that seeks to end the American way of life. He is ruthless in his attacks, hides in the shadows and behind masks, and targets the innocent without regard for human life. We Americans recognize that this will be a long war and this enemy will challenge both our national will as well as the resources of our great nation.
The Soldiers and Airmen of the Virginia Guard have selflessly answered the call to duty from our country and have done so in the greatest traditions of America’s fighting men and women. At the same time, they have protected the citizens of Virginia responding to disasters that have struck across the expanse of our great Commonwealth. Regardless of the mission, they have responded in heroic style to safeguard the citizens of America and of Virginia, and for that, I thank them.
I believe the tale of our Guardsmen’s efforts should be communicated to their fellow citizens in a way that accurately portrays their heroic accomplishments; unfortunately that sentiment is not universally kept. I am compelled to share with you one such incident that, in my opinion, falls well short of telling the complete story of our Soldiers’ brave actions in combat.
In September 2006 Joint Force Headquarters – Virginia (JFHQ-VA) received an inquiry from ABC News asking for information about an attack on a convoy in Iraq in August 2005. This convoy was protected by Guardsmen of the 1173rd Transportation Company, Virginia Army National Guard.
The report, which was filed by ABC’s Senior Investigative Reporter, Brian Ross, featured a Kellogg, Brown and Root contract employee who made a video recording of a portion of the attack. The video showed the convoy, including the KBR vehicle, under attack by insurgents and a military vehicle apparently fleeing the battle leaving the unarmed and wounded American contractor to plead on the radio for assistance.
JFHQ-VA conducted an inquiry to discover the facts of the incident. We found that an investigation of the incident was conducted by US Central Command (CENTCOM) which had operational authority over the Virginia Guardsmen in Iraq. The CENTCOM investigation revealed a very different story than that suggested in the ABC News feature. On the contrary, the Virginia Guardsmen not only performed in accordance with Army doctrine, but they did so with great heroics and in the finest traditions of the American Soldier. These brave Guardsmen did not cut and run, but stood their ground as they were trained to do. Their actions in keeping the enemy at bay along with that of the convoy commander who coordinated overwhelming firepower with the quick reaction force resulted in the rescue of the convoy and the KBR drivers, including the narrator of the video.
The official Army investigation revealed proper conduct and heroic action by those involved in this action. Bronze Stars and Army Commendation Medals, many with the “V” device recognizing valor in combat, were awarded to members of the 1173rd in recognition of their conduct during this action. In short, the Army said these Soldiers DID IT RIGHT!!
After a review of the ABC News report, I wrote to the President of ABC pointing out the misleading impressions left by the Ross feature and asked him to report the facts of the action. I did this without accusation of their intent and in recognition that a deadline may have resulted in a report that did a disservice to the brave Soldiers of the 1173rd Transportation Company. I am providing a copy of my letter to Mr. Wallau for your review.
Sadly, the response that I received from Mr. Greg Macek, Director of News Practices for ABC News, did not agree with my assessment. His letter is also provided for your review. Rather than providing an accurate report of the action, Mr. Macek sought to justify the report by ABC’s attempts to obtain information from the Virginia Guard and the Army. He did state that the Army’s investigation that commended the Virginia Soldiers appeared on the ABC web site and that no further reports would be aired.
The intent of my request to ABC was simple. A misleading report appeared as a lead story on their premier news broadcast (NBC also aired a similar report that same evening) that gave the impression that members of the Virginia National Guard not only ran from a fight, but abandoned a fellow American who was in grave danger. I suggested that ABC News has a special responsibility when our nation is at war to report information that is not only accurate, but will not give comfort to our enemies, and will praise the actions of those who defend us. This, I feel, ABC News did not do and the refusal by ABC News to provide clarification is a disservice to the American public and an insult to these brave Soldiers. I want all Virginians to be proud of the men and women of the Virginia National Guard and to know their conduct in this action is honorable and brave.
Never before in the history of our nation have we relied on the National Guard for so much. From guarding our nation’s airports, to patrolling the skies over Washington, to rescuing our fellow citizens in New Orleans, to patrolling the borders of our nation, to combat duty overseas, the Virginia National Guard has stood tall in defense of our country, our Commonwealth, and our fellow citizens. As such, I am as proud of the Guardsmen of the 1173 rd Transportation Company. It is my great honor to lead our Soldiers and Airmen wherever duty calls and I am proud to stand with them to defend America and Virginia during these dangerous times.
ROBERT B. NEWMAN, JR., Maj Gen (Va), VaANG
The Adjutant General of Virginia