By: Rafe Bartholomew
A month in the Persian Gulf was enough for Chris Barron. A reporter for The Sun in Bremerton, Wash., Barron wasn’t sick or injured, did not have a family emergency, or give away his unit’s location — the mistake made by some embedded reporters covering Gulf War II. He gained 10 pounds while on board the USS Abraham Lincoln, so poor living conditions had nothing to do with his return. On March 24, just five days into the war, Barron left because his job there was done.
It may sound strange, but Barron wasn’t embedded on the aircraft carrier to deliver comprehensive coverage of the war. The Abe Lincoln docks in the Puget Sound when it’s off duty, and the relatively small Washington daily sent Barron to report on local sailors who live at Bremerton’s naval base. By March 24, he had filed several stories on these sailors and the focus of the war was shifting to the Army and Marine Corps. The Navy and Air Force were only being used to back up ground forces.
So Barron left. “How many stories can you write asking a pilot ‘What’d you bomb today?'” he said.
Between military developments and local sailors, Barron said he found it easy to file stories twice a day for most of the month he was embedded. He wrote news stories about the ship’s military actions and features about the sailors’ everyday lives. Comparing his experience on board the Abe Lincoln to that of other embedded reporters, most of whom worked for larger news organizations, Barron said: “I probably had a lot more to choose from because of the local angle.”
A full-time military reporter, Barron said he was the only “true military writer” aboard the Abe Lincoln. The others were general assignment reporters. “I’d tell people where I’m from and they’d say, ‘Where?'” Barron said of his colleagues’ initial reactions to him. By the time he left, Barron said other reporters were asking him to stay because no one else knew as much about military coverage.
Barron’s reputation as a hometown reporter helped him gain access to troops. “I knew the ship, the people on the ship, and I’m from the hometown,” he said. “People opened up to me probably more than they would [to] other reporters.”
He may have been popular with the locals, but the ship’s leaders made the first few days aboard the Abe Lincoln difficult for all embeds. Reporters weren’t allowed to go anywhere without a military escort. “The only thing you could do by yourself was go to the bathroom,” Barron said. With “an escort listening over your shoulder, you’re not going to get good interviews,” he explained. “Even the sailors were nervous.”
After four or five days reporters were allowed to roam freely, Barron said. The ship’s leaders saw that other U.S. vessels, such as the USS Constellation, weren’t restricting the media and apparently decided to follow suit.