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POV Regarding War

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Q&A with David Tate

written by Matt Elliott
on August 31, 2010

David Tate joined the United States Marine Corps at age 17 in 1985 and after spending three years in the Marines, he went on to study Political Science and Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Bloomington. He began his career as a videojournalist in Roanoke, VA as a reporter and photographer. Following the 9/11 attacks, David began working as a freelance international journalist. In 2003, he started his milblog, A Battlefield Tourist, which documented his trip to southeastern Turkey and pre-war northern Iraq. David then spent seven months in Afghanistan in 2004, a majority of it in the local population acting as bureau chief for the Turkish news agency IHA. During that time, he completed more than a dozen embeds with U.S. Afghan, Canadian, and Romanian forces. In August of that year, he participated in the first independent embedment in the fledgling Afghan National Army. In subsequent years, he made return trips to Iraq and Afghanistan. David currently works as the Roanoke bureau reporter for WSET, the ABC affiliate in Lynchburg, VA. In the coming months, David will be contributing to the Regarding War blog. As means of an introduction, we asked David a handful of questions about his military service, travels and writing.

David Tate.jpg

Where are you from? Where do you live now?
Originally, I am from Keego Harbor, MI. I currently reside in Roanoke, VA.

You spent some time in the Marines. Can you describe the reasons you joined, how long you served, and where your military career took you?
I joined the Marines at 17 in 1985. It wasn't long after the Beirut bombing, on my birthday two years earlier, that I made that decision. I was already inclined to join the military as a teen; I had achieved Eagle Scout at 14 and that just seemed to be my direction much of my early life. I entered the Marines as an "open contract," but expecting the grunts. What I got was a billet in a new MOS: Computer Operator. I was turned down multiple times for transfers to a more "Marine-like" billet, but it never came due to a critical shortage in my job. Eventually, I was discharged after three years following a ruptured ACL.

My lack of experience in the military directly relates to why I do what I do today, in the sense that it helped drive me to do what I always wanted to. The only difference? I can go home when I get tired or homesick.

How did you get your start in journalism?
I studied political science and dabbled in journalism at Indiana University, where I was a member of the editorial board for the Indiana Daily Student in 1990. It wasn't until 1997, however, that I put it all together: My love for adventure, military history and video began to collide into the journey I continue today. I had spent the previous year working up the ranks in local TV news in Roanoke and quickly saw the light for what I wanted in life.

When, how and why did you start traveling to the Middle East and Afghanistan?
My first trip to the Middle East occurred in early 2003. I had left TV news by this time and had gone freelance. Going into the buildup prior to the invasion of Iraq, I knew I just wanted to see and record history. It was a crazy idea with all sorts of crazy possibilities, but I got the blessing from my wife and made my way to Turkey in February 2003. I studied everything you could think of to try to predict the best time to go and be there for the invasion. I eventually was one of several hundred journalists let across the border (escorted) to cover the final meeting of the Iraqi opposition in Salahuddin, outside of Arbil in northern Iraq. By then I had run short of money, and promises made by certain potential clients weren't met. I was one of a handful of journalists that returned to Turkey, as asked by the Turks, after the meeting ended. Iraq was invaded three weeks later... but not through Turkey.

The following year, in 2004, I took on a position with Ihlas Haber Service (Istanbul), tasked with covering the military aspect of the war in Afghanistan from the ground. During that year, I spent seven months on the ground, most of it in the population as a resident of Kabul, covering as many angles of the conflict as I could. I was one of two journalists invited to participate in the first journalist embed with the Afghan National Army. I covered the first presidential election from Kandahar and embedded with nearly a dozen units in as many provinces. I am arguably the most traveled western journalist in Afghanistan during 2004.

When and why did you start your blog, A Battlefield Tourist?
A Battlefield Tourist was born in early 2003, making it one of the oldest milblogs on the Internet. It was started as a diary to keep friends and family posted on what I was doing. It has since morphed into more, designed to provide a ground-level view of the coalition forces operating in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as analysis and apolitical opinion regarding both conflicts (and beyond). To this day, I am still looking to make this concept a full-time reality. My more recent trips have literally been completed on vacation time from a real job here in Virginia.

What have you learned about the war in Afghanistan from your travels there?
The biggest observation is that the country will require a lot of time in order for it to resemble a success. I have said this for many years and still believe it to be true. An Afghan proverb often used goes something like this: Westerners have all the watches, but we have all the time. That basically sums it up. Afghanistan is a country that is physically and mentally broken. It will take a long, sustained effort to help a government form and stabilize. If the patience of 20 to 30 years isn't in the cards, however, then this experiment in democracy is over today.

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