Harlingen, Texas, August 30, 2005: The Miami Herald had another Abu Ghraib story this past Saturday. In an Associated Press article by Charles J. Hanley, the headline announced, “Abu Ghraib general describes her Iraq tour”
The article’s opening paragraph reads, “Iraqi prisoners could lift their doors right off their hinges. One senior sergeant whiled away his evenings blasting grazing sheep with a guard tower machine gun. U. S. commanders didn’t bother telling their troops they’d be stuck in Iraq for months more than advertised.”
It next goes on to explain that the only woman commanding general in the war zone, prison chief Janis Karpinski, has written a candid portrait of an often dysfunctional Army.
This was printed in one of those major daily newspapers that so proudly proclaim they support the men and women in uniform. If they are so supportive, why are stories on the degradation of prisoners in Abu Ghraib featured in print over and over again, and the heroic exploits of those in uniform seldom reported?
It should be noted that the Miami Herald has never written about Marine Captain Brian Chontosh or First Sergeant Justin Lehew. while it has written repeatedly, as have countless other media outlets, on soldiers named Lynndie England, Charles Graner Jr., Jeremy Sivits and Ivan Frederick II.
According the Kate O’Beirne, writing for the National Review Online, ABC, NBC and CBS combined have run more than 200 stories on these four individuals and the other three abusers of Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib Prison. In addition, there were more than 40 page one stories about them on the front page of the New York Times and their names made headlines in almost every major daily publication in the country.
It is true that Abu Ghraib Prison and its abuse perpetrators made an important story, but the disproportionate weighting of that happening against the actions of Chontosh, Lehew, Bass, Cunningham, Mitchell and Perez is impossible to understand. What these men did was praiseworthy at every level…and a Google search shows their names were only in print in minuscule numbers, when compared to the reporting on Abu Ghraib.
Marine Captain Brian R. Chontosh found himself and his men trapped on March 23, 2003. Then a Combined Anti-Armor Platoon Commander, he was leading his unit north on Highway 1 toward Ad Diwaniyah when ambushed by a coordinated attack of mortars, rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapons fire. Realizing his platoon was caught in a kill zone, Chontosh ordered his driver to advance directly on the enemy position, enabling his machine gunner to engage the opposing force. He then directed his driver into the enemy trench, where he exited the vehicle and began to clear the trench using his rifle and a 9-millimeter pistol. When his ammunition was expended, the officer picked up abandoned enemy weapons and continued his attack. He used a discarded rocket propelled grenade launcher to destroy another group of enemy soldiers. When his attack ended, he had cleared over 200 meters of enemy trench killing 20 enemy soldiers and wounding several others.
Marine First Sergeant Justin D. Lehew was an Amphibious Assault Platoon Sergeant during that March 23, 2003 combat operation. An Army maintenance company convoy came under fire; Lehew and his unit were dispatched to rescue the soldiers. Under constant heavy fire and with total disregard for his own welfare, he assisted in the evacuation of four soldiers, two of whom were critically wounded. While still receiving enemy fire he climbed back in his vehicle and immediately began suppressing fire on the enemy. Later, during an attack on an eastern bridge over the Euphrates River, Lehew continuously exposed himself to withering enemy fire during a three-hour urban firefight. His courageous battlefield presence inspired his Marines to fight a determined foe and allowed him to position his heavy machine guns to repel numerous waves of attackers. In the midst of the battle an Amphibious Assault Vehicle was destroyed, killing or wounding all its occupants. First Sergeant Lehew immediately moved to recover the nine Marines. He again exposed himself to heavy fire as he worked for nearly an hour recovering casualties from the wreckage.
Navy Chief Petty Officer Stephen Bass, a member of a rescue team was sent to locate and recover two missing American citizens at the Quala-I-Jangi fortress in Afghanistan. Once he moved toward the fortress, the enemy constantly fired upon Bass. He was forced to walk through an anti-personnel minefield to gain entry. He then had to crawl through withering fire to reach the uninjured citizen. He was forced to withdraw, but reported his findings to his team, which then went in search of the second man. As darkness fell, he again tried to make the rescue. Without fear for his own personal safety Bass moved into the heart of the fortress, under constant enemy fire. His own ammunition gone, he used the weapon of a fallen enemy to return fire. Chief Bass finally was able to locate and verify the condition of the injured citizen.
In the same operation, Army Major Mark E. Mitchell was the ground force commander of the rescue team. He showed unparalled courage under fire, decisive leadership and personal sacrifice, which were directly responsible for the success of the rescue mission and instrumental in ensuring the city of Mazar-e-Sharif did no fall back into the hands of the Taliban. His actions contributed to American forces holding their objective even while under heavy enemy fire. By his engagement of the enemy, he assured the freedom of one American and the posthumous recovery of another.
Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham was a Search and Rescue medic assigned to the Quick Reaction Force. Sent to rescue two American servicemen who were evading capture in terrain occupied by Al Qaida, his helicopter was hit by enemy fire and disabled, causing it to crash land. A hasty defense was formed, but his force quickly received three fatalities and five critical casualties. Despite heavy enemy fire Cunningham remained in the burning fuselage of the aircraft treating the wounded men. He then exposed himself to enemy fire as he moved the wounded to a more secure location. When that protected position was compromised, Cunningham braved enemy fire seven times to relocate his wounded to a third collection point. Even after being mortally wounded he continued to direct patient movement and transferred their care to another medic. In the end, his efforts resulted in saving the gravely wounded Americans, but at the cost of his own life.
Marine Lance Corporal Joseph B. Perez was the point man for the lead squad clearing Route 6 during the advance into Baghdad. His squad came under intense enemy fire, the majority of which was aimed at his position. Without hesitation he returned fire with his rifle and directed the fire for others in his squad. He then led the charge down a trench to destroy enemy combatants. Perez next fired an AT-4 rocket into a machine gun bunker, completely destroying it and killing four enemy combatants. His actions allowed his squad to capture the enemy position. Perez continued to fire on enemy troops as he and his squad continued to move forward. He was wounded in both the torso and shoulder, but despite the serious injuries Lance Corporal Perez continued to give his squad accurate fire direction, allowing them to destroy the enemy.
The president of the United States presented this nation’s second highest award for valor to these six servicemen. Brian Chontosh, Justin Lehew, Joseph B. Perez and Stephen Bass were each presented The Navy Cross. Mark E. Mitchell was presented The Distinguished Service Cross and Jason Dean Cunningham was posthumously presented The Air Force Cross.
These men served in the highest tradition of our United States Armed Forces, yet their names are unknown to most of their countrymen. In fairness, there were wire service accounts of their actions. Still, with the exception of hometown newspapers and military service publications their heroism went mostly unheralded.
Our media has been shamefully remiss in reporting the valor of our dedicated Americans in uniform. Since the beginning of our War on Terror, there has been no Medal of Honor awarded and only 14 people have received our nations second highest award for extraordinary heroism. In fact, about the only time the word hero in placed in print, is next to the word fallen. But, we need not be concerned about bias because the media tell us it doesn’t exist. Television, radio and newspapers alike all claim to support our men and women in uniform. Their selective reporting and featuring of death, defeat and denigration tell a much different tale.