Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=109555
Story Retrieval Date: 5/21/2013 9:10:33 AM CST
WASHINGTON--When Walter Watts got to Iraq in February of 2008, he had a lot on his mind. For all that a soldier has on his mind, Watts was also focused on educating his family and friends on a country most Americans know only through war.
Watts is a 39-year-old product operations consultant for the Allstate Insurance Company. He is also is a Major in the Army Reserves.
Maj. Watts served in Iraq from February until November of this year, after going through training at Fort Riley for about three months. He was stationed with the Multi-National Security Transition Corps - Iraq, 108th Sustainment Brigade. His team’s responsibility was to help train the Iraqi army.
Free time is not a common luxury for those serving in Iraq. Soldiers are working and training for around 16 hours a day, so even the simple things, like checking email, become rewarding.
However, Maj. Watts took his emailing one step further. On a weekly basis, he sent an email to his distribution list of 150 on the history of Iraq, the realities of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and the tensions between the Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
Watts said, “I went ahead and I thought, well maybe my emails could educate people about what’s going on over here and the more I saw about what was going on, the more I realized that the people back home really needed to hear about it …”
Watts was also deployed in Afghanistan in the Task Force Phoenix, 53rd Infantry Brigade, between June 2005 and September 2006. It was during this tour that he started the emails.
“I thought, well, if I am going to be emailing people back home, I might as well tell them a little bit about what we are doing,” Watts said. “The problem is when you are in a war zone, you can’t talk about the specifics of what you are doing because it is an ongoing operation and it’s classified.”
Dwayne Shaffer, a current Allstate employee and Chief Petty Officer in the Navy Reserves, was on Watts’ distribution list. He served in the Middle East six years ago.
“There isn’t a lot of free time when you’re over there [Iraq]. When I was over there, it was about, pretty much about two hours a day,” Shaffer said.
Randy Sparks works with Watts at Allstate and was always anxious to receive the weekly email.
Sparks said, “It’s just a very, I thought, kind of a very different perspective than what I was getting from most of the media.”
Watts said he spent about 45 minutes to an hour per week on the emails. “When I first got to Iraq, I knew I was going to do this and I kind of divided up the time that I knew I would be there,” he said.
Watts also included pictures from around the country that he took or received from friends serving as well. Some on the email distribution list were captivated.
“It’s one thing to read about something, but like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. And it really does bring things into perspective when you see something, especially the pictures of people,” Sparks said.
Shaffer was drawn to the visual images as well.
“His stories are so vivid, it’s like I’m almost there. I can picture myself being where he is. And then he has pictures,” he said.
Watts hoped to make an impact on those he emailed and to go above and beyond his responsibilities while serving.
“I felt like I was contributing a little more than simply doing my duty on a daily basis, Watts said. “I think I was kind of giving something to the people who were reading the emails that they wouldn’t have got anywhere else.”