Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=79821
Story Retrieval Date: 5/19/2013 6:39:36 PM CST
WASHINGTON -- Pfc. Joshua Hutcheson of the Army Reserve assumed he’d finished his duty, until a notice came just before Christmas asking him to report to base.
“I was living here two months when I got the mail and it was like ‘surprise sucker, you’re back in the Army,’” he said. “I didn’t think they’d call up a journalist.”
Infantrymen aren’t the only Reserve soldiers being mobilized repeatedly. Military journalists such as Hutcheson have a relatively high reactivation rate since about two thirds of Army journalists are reservists.
They write press releases from the frontlines, publish magazines for local bases, manage public relations across the country and train for combat. Some, like Hutcheson, joined the Army before 9/11, and their civilian lives have been on hold for longer than they expected.
“They’re being rode hard,” said Lt. Col. Steven Harmon, chief of training and readiness of military journalists for the Army Reserve.
Many Army commanders have started emphasizing the use of military reporters to provide the public with more information about the war and to highlight military messages, but above-average education requirements limit who can become a soldier journalist.
The Reserve accounts for about two thirds of Army journalists. About 105 broadcast journalists and 230 print journalists were in the Reserves as of early February. About 27 percent of the broadcasters and 13 percent of the print reporters have mobilized more than once, according to the Reserve.
More mobilizations means reporters pick up more experience leading to better quality work, Harmon said. The military needs more reporters, he said, whether through retention or recruitment.
“There’s still a handful of guys raising their hands saying ‘Yes, sir, I want to go,’” Harmon said. “But there are a lot of guys sitting back. You might get some, that for whatever reason, they’re disgruntled. But I tell them, ‘You knew what the requirements were.’”
Hutcheson said he doesn’t blame the military for his predicament. The young man signed up knowing the rules but never really expected to be at war, let alone on a third tour, he said. Mostly, he’s just frustrated that his life is in limbo.
“It’s all up in the air,” Hutcheson said. “All I know is that the final result will probably be Iraq.”
For now he is in a refresher course on journalism at Fort Meade, Md., awaiting his next assignment. The letter notifying Hutcheson of his reactivation interrupted his new job as a marketing director for a company that makes waterproof computer mice and keyboards.
He had moved into a new apartment in Greenbelt, Md., with his sister two months earlier and also had started freelancing for a local paper. His sister had to move back in with their mom.
“I’m not allowed to have my own life,” Hutcheson said. “I can’t make any plans.”
So how did Hutcheson end up in the military to start with?
After being kicked out of college twice and failing to find a job, he decided to straighten himself out, the soldier said.
At the age of 20, he signed up for the Army. The contract required five years of active duty service and three years on call in the Reserves. The commercials said he’d be out in no time and the young man – who had never held a job for more than 10 months – didn’t really comprehend the level of commitment, he said.
It was June 2001 – four months before planes would strike the twin towers in New York and two years before U.S. troops would step into Iraq.
Hutcheson had decided to become a journalist for the Army, the natural choice for a former English major, he said.
After an intense cram course to learn a completely new career and a few years reporting and editing for a base newspaper, Hutcheson was off to his first tour in Iraq.
“I saw the war start,” he said. “That felt like a justification of our jobs. All you do is train, train, train, it felt good to report. I had my 15 minutes of fame.”
In his first tour, Hutcheson said he wrote two to three stories a week, helped develop magazines and took photos of bigwig officers while battles went on around him. The second tour, in 2005, was a bit quieter and Hutcheson said he was somewhat relieved to head home in one piece to return to normal life.
He had finished his active duty service and figured no one would bother a reservist journalist. Once home, Hutcheson burned his uniform at a party and started working to establish a beard and a potbelly, he said.
“Living in Iraq is not fun,” Hutcheson said. “I was looking forward to the new Batman movie. I’m going to miss another Christmas, people’s birthdays, my birthday.”
“Two times I went to Iraq and made it back safe. I’m pushing my luck.”