16 February 2008
I had made several attempts to embed before January 2007, but the assignments never worked out due to my schedule. In December 2006, radio talk show host Martha Zoller asked me if I would accompany her on her second embed assignment to photograph the trip and her interviews of the troops. Her primary goal was to get Gold Star father John Wroblewski, to the site in Ramadi where his son, USMC 2nd Lt. J.T. Wroblewski was mortally wounded on 6 April 2004 (and where 10 other Marines and a Navy Corpman of 2/4 Marines also lost their lives that terrible day.)
I quickly agreed, especially after learning about J.T. and his family. If successful, this visit by a Gold Star parent to the actual "site" would be a first. Martha's plan was to interview troops along the way, and report on the memorial service that John would perform where J.T. was hit.
So, with only about three weeks notice, I began packing for my first embed assignment.
Our team (Martha Zoller, John Wroblewski, LTC Robert Quinn, and I) departed for Kuwait on 12 January 2007 on an R&R flight full of our troops returning to Kuwait and Iraq from leave. Everyone was incredibly polite, but the mood of the troops was somewhat subdued. They were leaving home and its comforts for many more months of possible danger, and the deprivations of being stationed in the Middle East.
Once we arrived in Baghdad, we began the process of getting clearance to fly by helicopter to Ramadi. We were granted clearance our first night there, but there was no space available on the helo. Our chances appeared better for seats the following night, and we again returned to the landing zone for a chance to fly out to fulfill Martha's plan.
However, even though we had clearance to travel by helicopter to Ramadi, we were unable to get there due to the tenuous security situation at that time. I knew it was bad when one of the U.S. Marines waiting for the flight to Ramadi asked, "Where are you headed?" I said, "Ramadi." He looked at his fellow Marines, looked down, and said, "Oh." Somewhat puzzled, I asked him what he meant. He sighed, and said, "Sir, we're used to getting shot at. Whatever you do, don't stand still for very long, and don't move in a straight line. There's a lot of sniper activity in Ramadi now, and some of them are pretty good shots." Later, when the helicopter landed, the crew chief of the helicopter told the Flight Line manager that the seats were needed for troops, and our team was turned away. I know that the helo crew made the right decision for our safety, and more importantly, the safety of the soldiers and Marines in Ramadi.
After coming so close to attaining our goal, I then promised John Wroblewski that I would bring him with me if I ever got another embed assignment. John and I were granted permission for another embed assignment in November 2007, and we began making plans for a second attempt to get John to the site in Ar Ramadi where J.T. and eleven in his unit were killed on 6 April 2004.