POV Regarding War


Q&A with Andrew Lubin

written by Matt Elliott
on August 26, 2010

Andrew Lubin wears two hats. He's a respected embedded journalist, and he's also the father of a Marine who has deployed five times, which lends Andrew a deeper-than-usual understanding and appreciation of our troops. He has a B.A. in Political Science, a Masters in International Management and worked for 30 years in international trade while also teaching college and graduate school. All of this seems to have served as a most unique boot camp that prepared him for walking the streets of Ramadi or jumping the canals in Helmand Province as he writes about Marines and soldiers. Andrew will be contributing to Regarding War in the coming months. To introduce him, we asked him some questions about being embedded and being a journalist.

Andrew Lubin.jpg

Where are you from? Where do you live now?
I was born and raised in New Jersey but went off to college in Western Pennsylvania and never looked back: grad school in Arizona, first job in London, some time in Indiana and Washington DC. Now I live in Bucks County, PA — an easy commute to DC, NYC or Marjah.

How did you get involved being an embedded journalist and writing about the war?
Entirely by happenstance! While I always enjoyed reading, my background is in the export-import field, and I taught college and graduate school. Then my son joined the Marine Corps and fought in the 2003 invasion of Iraq; upon his return I took the stories he told me about fighting at An-Nasiriyah and wrote Charlie Battery: A Marine Artillery Battery in Iraq. The book did okay and won some awards, and the Marines gave me a grant to write another. Suddenly, I was in Beirut with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit( MEU), then later Ramadi and Fallujah. I found myself building an audience so I returned to Iraq a few times, got invited to Afghanistan... and here I am, with a multitude of magazine articles published, the co-author of two other books and writing for PBS's Regarding War!

How many times have you embedded? And to where?
I've been out 12 times in the last five years, for up to three months at a time. I'm just back from my fifth Afghan embed, and I've been in Iraq multiple times, plus Haiti, GTMO and Beirut.

You get out in the field where most journalists won't go — why?
I do boots-on-the-ground articles. As the father of a 5x deployed Marine, I want to know what he's doing over there and what his unit is trying to accomplish. I discovered that a huge amount of parents, wives and family members want the same thing. To get those stories, I go out and spend weeks in the field with the Marines. I live with them, eat the same chow, go out on patrol with them and, yes, get shot-at and IED'd with them. That's how you get an accurate story.

These young Marines are living in some appalling conditions, yet do so with a style and a rough elegance that folks back here will never understand. When I was with an artillery unit at FOB Edinburgh in June, we put a thermometer on the ground one afternoon $mdash; it read 152 degrees. And the reaction of one of the Marines? "Hey Sir, just another day in paradise!" It's important that I get their stories out so people can appreciate, or at least be aware of, what our troops are doing and the élan in which they're doing it.

Who are the authors and writers you admire? How did you develop your style?
I admire David Halberstam and William Manchester, who both wrote great, very readable books on 20th century history; Manchester fought in the Pacific as a Marine, and Halberstam was an embedded journalist in Vietnam. They knew their topics and their writing shows it. There's Steve Pressfield, who wrote that brilliant historical fiction about the Spartans and Greeks; he did more research into the fight at Thermopylae and Alexander the Great's Afghan campaign than most historians. And there's Paul Theroux, who wrote those incredible travel books; his is an easy style that makes you want to be sitting in the Bombay Mail rail car with him.

I've tried to combine all their high points: I need to be an expert in the topic, I need to make it interesting and I need to make it readable. There's nothing better than getting a phone call or email saying, "Now I understand what my son is doing!"

What are your plans for returning to the front?
Afghanistan in Spring 2011 — subject to fundraising. The life of a freelance journalist is more emotionally than financially rewarding. But history is being made, and how exciting to be a part of recording it!

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