News is leaking out of Iraq that U.S. soldiers are worried about the hostile attacks on them, as well as the mysterious diseases that are affecting them there. Despite this, upbeat letters supposedly written by local soldiers have started appearing in hometown newspapers across the U.S.?and they're all exactly the same.
Reporter Ledyard King has found identical letters from different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment in 11 newspapers. They all begin, "I am a [name of town] native and have been serving in Iraq for over five months now..." and talk about soldiers' efforts to re-establish police and fire departments, build water and sewer plants in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, where the unit is based. The letters say, "The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened." The form letter describes people waving at passing troops and children running up to shake their hands and say thank you. "The majority of the city has welcomed our presence with open arms," the letters read.
The names of the soldiers are real, but it's not clear who actually wrote the letter or has organized sending it the hometown papers. Six of the soldiers King contacted say they agree with the letter, but none of them says he wrote it, and one says he didn't even sign it. A seventh soldier didn't know about the letter until his father congratulated him for getting it published in the local newspaper in Beckley, West Virginia. "When I told him he wrote such a good letter, he said, 'What letter?'" said Timothy Deaconson, about his phone conversation with his son Nick. "This is just not his (writing) style." Pfc. Nick Deaconson is at a hospital recovering from a grenade explosion that left shrapnel in both his legs.
Sgt. Christopher Shelton, who signed a letter that ran in the Snohomish, Washington paper, says his platoon sergeant distributed the letter and asked soldiers for the names of their hometown newspapers. Soldiers were asked to sign the letter if they agreed with it.
Sgt. Todd Oliver, a spokesman for the 173rd Airborne Brigade, said he was told a soldier wrote the letter, but he didn't know who. "When he asked other soldiers in his unit to sign it, they did," Oliver says. "Someone, somewhere along the way, took it upon themselves to mail it to the various editors of newspapers across the country." Lt. Col. Bill MacDonald, a spokesman for the 4th infantry Division, says he hasn't heard about the letter-writing campaign.
The letter or excerpts from it also ran in newspapers in Charleston, W.Va.; Utica, N.Y.; Boston; Jersey City, N.J.; Moriarty, N.M.; Connellsville, Pa.; Lewistown, Mont.; Urbanna, Va.; and Tulare, Calif. The Olympian in Olympia, Wash., received two identical letters signed by different soldiers.
Sgt. Shawn Grueser of Poca, W.Va., said he spoke to a military public affairs officer for what he thought was a news release to be sent to his hometown paper in Charleston, W.Va., but says he didn't sign any letter. Although he agrees with the letter's contents, he doesn't like the idea that these aren't his own words. He says, "It makes it look like you cheated on a test, and everybody got the same grade."
The government has gotten up to some sneaky things in the past, as well as the present.
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