Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown Alumnus Embedded in Iraq

As the base sirens shriek their Alarm Red signal, warning of an imminent Iraqi attack, Ben Arnoldy (COL ’98) jumps into his chem-bio suit, fumbling with his gas mask and scrambling for cover. Breathless, sweating in his hot rubber suit, he hopes that rumors about the inaccuracy of Iraqi missiles are true.

The loudspeaker announces that all is clear – no incoming Iraqi missile attack this time. No chemical or biological weapons . yet.

At the abandoned air base in Tallil, outside of Nasiriyah in Iraq, Georgetown University alumnus Ben Arnoldy is learning about the finer points of gas masks and war tactics. Embedded with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group, Arnoldy writes a daily online column for The Christian Science Monitor about life on the air base. He explores a diverse array of themes, from daily life on the base to faith in times of war.

“Daily life has been fairly bland, but punctuated with the possibility of getting killed,” Arnoldy said.

He moved from Kuwait to Tallil, Iraq, a much more dangerous area, earlier this week. “The hazards here are greater,” Arnoldy said, referring to the former Iraqi base where unexploded ordinance poses risks of bodily harm. Arnoldy also makes day trips into Iraqi cities where irregular forces and possible suicide attacks increase the risk of danger.

False alarms are part of daily life on a base. When the screaming sirens sound, warning of a possible incoming Iraqi missile, he scrambles for cover and goes through the drill he’s practiced many times before. “Worse than those hurried moments is the silence and waiting that follows,” Arnoldy said. “Sometimes I sat for five, 10 minutes, curled up under a desk waiting for the `all clear.'”

Perhaps worse than false alarms, however, are the warning alarms that are not heard. It does not pay to be a heavy sleeper when embedded in a war zone. In one of his dispatches, Arnoldy describes how he didn’t hear the sirens one morning because they couldn’t be heard throughout the base. Tracking down the source of the problem through the base bureaucracy was such a headache that Arnoldy finally took care of the problem himself, and gathered enough fodder for a story called “Giant Voice Goes Silent.”

Arnoldy sees the added value of embedded reporters as the ability to provide the details, whereas journalists outside the conflict can present a more comprehensive view of the situation. With minimal access to the Internet and cable television, Arnoldy does not have access to the same breadth of information, but he provides a “close-up view of one unit in a wider war.”

Classified information, however, poses challenges as he attempts to flush out stories. “For a while I was keeping track of every time somebody told me that something was classified – I lost track after a few dozen,” Arnoldy said.

Usually, limits are imposed because information relates to ongoing missions, future tactics and operations, or is sensitive to Kuwaitis. “It’s at the level of `tactics and information’ that the Air Force, in my opinion, is too tight with information,” Arnoldy said.

Arnoldy seeks to enhance his dispatches by covering issues related to “hearts and minds.” While in Kuwait, Arnoldy discovered that memories of American liberation from Iraq’s invasion still run deep. During his first week in Kuwait City, he spoke with many locals and guest workers and found a consensus about the threat Saddam poses to the region. “I was genuinely surprised at the depth of support for military action,” Arnoldy said.

Arnoldy works in concert with his editors, safely nestled away in Boston, to develop story ideas and edit the articles. When he decided to write a story about religion and war, he found that pilots and soldiers were reticent to talk about the ethical and moral dilemmas they face. He decided to interview their confessors for a piece called “God and Man at War.” After speaking to a priest, a chaplain and a Rabbi, the importance of faith in conflict emerged from descriptions of confession and questioning that inevitably occur during war.

Religion and faith also play a role for those not directly involved in the fighting. Jacqueline Arnoldy (SFS ’98), Ben Arnoldy’s wife of three years, prays for his safety daily and depends on the support of her high school students as she seeks to understand the events in which her husband is involved. Yet, despite her fear for her husband’s safety, she never considered not letting him go.

“From the beginning, I told him that I would never stop him from doing it,” Mrs. Arnoldy said. “We were relieved to know it was the spot with the Air Force because we had decided in the interim that if it were the spot with the ground troops he would probably need to really reconsider his acceptance.”

The Pentagon accepted nominations for embedded positions from Washington bureau chiefs, and the Christian Science Monitor received two spots. Arnoldy was nominated by his editor to go with the Air Force unit, but expresses frustration that combat access is not as available with the Air Force as it is with ground troops because many fighter jets are one-seaters.

Arnoldy began his journalism career at Georgetown University in 1998 when he was an editor and columnist for The Georgetown Voice online. After graduation, The Monitor hired him as their web news producer.

Despite Jaqueline’s fears about his safety, Ben attributes his current situation to her; they met on Healy lawn, and soon after, she showed him a notice about a position with The Voice. Since then, the Arnoldys have tried to be flexible so that he can accept surprising assignments like the one that he has now.

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