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'On the Line' with the 3rd ID

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JzitoIt’s been repeated many times: even the best battle plans never survive the first shot fired. That maxim has never been more true than in the Iraq war. It applies to the troops fighting there, and to the journalists covering them. The art of reporting this war is always changing for NBC News as we continually adapt to new -– usually violent -- realities in Iraq. Now, as the war moves into its fifth year, we add another approach to our coverage with a series called, "On the Line."

The series began on Feb. 16, when correspondent Mike Taibbi reported from the National Training Center in Ft. Irwin, Calif., where we found the men and women of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division gearing up for a third deployment to Iraq -- a deployment pushed up three months by President Bush’s so-called "surge" plan to bring some stability to the mean streets of Baghdad. Mike introduced you to Capt. Alex "Pancho" Perez-Cruz, a tank company commander from El Paso, Texas, fiercely devoted to his men and the mission in Iraq. Alex seems to shrug off the American public’s flagging support for the war. He told us, "The way I deal with it... is we sacrifice. We're the ones doing the hard work, and from our perspective it's worth it." And he doesn’t buy the "support the troops, not the war" line. For him the two are inseparable. "The war" is what "the troops" do. It’s their job. To indict it is to give a failing grade to what Capt. Perez-Cruz does for a living; he takes it personally.

You also met Spc. Juan Delgado of Miami, who will be going back to Iraq for his second tour. At 21 years of age, slight of build, and wiry, he already talks like a hardened vet. "Americans think... the world is full of, like, pancakes and lollipops and everything's nice. Well, it's not," he told us. "It's a harsh place to be and, I mean, you've got to learn all this stuff because over there it's real, you know. It's not like you can make a mistake over there. You're probably going to end up dead." Which is what happened to two of Juan’s close friends who served with him in Ramadi, Iraq in 2005. He wears a bracelet bearing their names to honor them. 

Juan will be called on to guide first-timers like 19-year-old Pvt. Josh James from San Jose, Calif. Josh was not embarrassed to admit to us what so many other young soldiers must be feeling –- that he is scared. He joined up just last year with no illusions about where the war was going and where the Army would be sending him. "At the time it seemed like, you know, 'Let's go, I'm all ready for trigger time,' and, you know, 'boots on the ground.' And now that time's coming, it's a little bit different." As Josh packs his bags, he’ll be leaving back home a young wife and their 21-month-old baby boy.

It's our hope that "On the Line" will tell the compelling stories of Alex, Juan, Josh in an unique way. Mike and I will chart their entire journey -- from training in the U.S. to running missions in Iraq. Along the way we’ll get to know them, their wives, their kids, their mothers, their fathers, their thoughts, their aspirations, their fears, their successes, their disappointments. It will all play out on the full spectrum of NBC News platforms, including: "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams," the TODAY show, MSNBC cable, Telemundo, and what you’re reading right now, "The Daily Nightly" on MSNBC.com. 

It’s here on the Web where we expect to give these soldiers' stories the depth they deserve. We'll provide video clips of our reports, photos from the field, and frequent blog posts, but it’s also the place where Mike and I will step back and let Alex, Juan and Josh tell their own stories. We're giving them the means to post their own content throughout their year-plus deployment. On top of their 50 lbs. of Army-issued gear, they’ll also hump Web cams and DV cams provided by NBC News. We hope they’ll be able to find time outside their dangerous mission to let us know how they're doing. We also hope you, the viewer, will engage them while they’re in Iraq, using comments on blog posts like these and perhaps some other technology we'll unveil along the way.
 
Tonight on "Nightly," Mike will introduce you to their families at Ft. Benning, Ga., where they’re preparing for the departure of their sons, fathers and husbands. We’ll then follow the brigade to Kuwait later this month, where they will stage for their deployment to Iraq. Once in Iraq, we’ll embed on their missions, and follow Capt. Alex Perez-Cruz’s troops and his hopes that when it's over people will say they "did a great job and we're proud of everything we did... and we gave it our best and we got the best result.”

Read more from John Zito, On the Line

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COMMENTS

Thank you for doing this coverage. Our family and friends as well as I have enjoyed seeing the guys and what is going on. Aaron has really enjoyed seeing his daddy (Josh) on t.v. and the computer seeing him makes us feel somewhat closer to him. We look forward to seeing more stories. We are very proud of Josh and all of the troops. Again thank you and stay safe!

Hello

I just want to thank you also for following the 3rd Infantry. My son is on his 3rd deployment he was there when the war started. He and his wife did the 2nd tour togather as she was still active military then. My son is a SGT. and a bradly team leader with A-Co and I am so very proud of him. I only hope I will be lucky and see him in one of your broadcast as I am sure all the other parents wifes and children of all the other troops do as well. Keep doing a great job and stay safe.

Thanks John, My daughter has just deployed for a second time w/ the 3rd ID out of Fort Benning. I was there for yet another send off, as all three of my children are military and i seem to have no less than 2 deployed at any given time. I kook forward to your continued honest reporting.

Sir, My son is with the 2-69 3rd ID on his first deployment. He is a young man who is proud to be serving his country and doing so in the 6! I wish them all well and pray that they return home safe and soon. Thank you for the updates and look forward to more.

Hey John,
Thanks again for the coverage. I will be keeping tabs as well. My husband was just deployed from Ft. Benning as well. He, as well as all of the others, are in my thoughts and prayers every day. I'm new to the military life, so if anyone has any info on Ft. Bennings FRG leaders and so on, please e-mail me. I'm trying to stay informed as much as I can.
Thanks!

My husband is in the same company as these three men, and I believe the same platoon with 1, so this is all very real to me. This is my husband's story too. I think it's amazing that people can see what they go through over there, and even a little what we go through back here. Most importantly I think its a few minutes that people that don't have a family member or friend in the military to consider what many men and woman do to keep all of us safe. I couldn't be more proud of my husband, and I appreciate everything he and all his fellow soldiers do.

I would also like to thank you. My son is serving with the 3rd Brigade. He is with E company 1-15 IN.
My family and were at Fort Benning to send him off.
He told us that their deployment will last a year or longer. My family and I will be looking forward to your reports, to help us through that time. Thank You

Trust me, the officer's are out there in harm's way as well. There are a lot more enlisted soldier than there are officers.

As I read news daily the troops killed in action in Iraq seems to be about 99% enlisted personnel. I guess I was under the mistaken idea that officer were there to lead the troops in to action instead of sitting in some safe bunker out of harms way.

Harrisburg -- I "support the troops, but not the war." They are not fighting in Iraq on my behalf, they are fighting on Bush's behalf. I have never bought the reasoning that if we weren't fighting there we would be fighting here. If true, we would be fighting in both places. I support the troops, now, let's bring them safely home.

I am a Vietnam era wife whose husband spend two tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. I didn't see the necessity of that war either; however, back then, military wives had to be a little more low-key about their beliefs.


Troops don't buy the line "Support the troops, not the war." This is the mantra of those who fail to acknowledge that without homeland support, the job of the troops is made even more difficult.

Many Americans are so buffered from reality that they appear to live in a state of denial about the threat the military is tackling on their behalf. It's a formidable enemy. Our soldiers are digging deep within themselves to find the gumption needed for the fight. When they feel our solidarity behind them, it's almost as reinvigorating as reinforcements.

The LEAST we can do is genuinely support our troops for our sakes as well as theirs.



thank you sir: keep giving us "the story behind the story" stay safe

Hello John,

Thank you for covering the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division as they embark on their 3rd tour to Iraq. My boyfriend (1LT), and engineer, is among them who is deploying and I will be following your posts "On the Line" as you join the brigade in Kuwait and into Iraq. Our family (all from California) was over at Ft. Benning this past weekend for his send-off to give him well wishes and safe return from his missions. We will be praying for him, his men, and all of the men and women that are deployed and away from their families. Aside from the limited communication I will be expecting from him, it will be such a relief for me to hear from the others in his unit and get some insight on what is developing over there. Stay Safe!

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