Beer, Not Bombs

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Glenn Zorpette

Executive Editor Glenn Zorpette traveled to Iraq this past January with a secret wish: that he would at some point get close enough to a roadside bomb to see it with his own eyes.

Little could he know that not only was he going to see a bomb, he was also going to help two U.S. Navy bomb-disposal specialists blow it up. One of them snapped a picture [above] just as Zorpette [at right] pulled the pin on an igniter that blew up a charge placed on the bomb by a robot.

Zorpette admits that his aspiration ”may seem odd. But I was in Iraq to report on how the military is dealing with roadside bombs, and I’ve always believed that the best journalism comes from people doing and seeing things firsthand.”

He spent much of his time in Iraq embedded with U.S. military specialists trained in explosive ordnance disposal, or EOD. They search for, disable, and destroy roadside bombs. ”EOD teams are not only among the best-trained military units I’ve encountered, they’re also the funniest and most irreverent,” Zorpette says.

Arriving at the tactical operations center of one EOD team he had been assigned to, he noticed a whiteboard in the room and, in one corner of it, a terse message heralding his arrival: ”Today’s forecast: sucking up to a reporter. Talking s—t when people are not around.”

The humor and bravado are a mechanism for coping with some of the most stressful duties in the war zone, Zorpette says. They’re also a kind of social glue that helps draw superbly capable people into trusting, close-knit teams.

The rites can even apply to embedded journalists. ”After we blew up that IED, the EOD team leader turned to me and said that according to Navy EOD tradition, I owed him a case of beer,” Zorpette explains. ”Now if he’ll just tell me where to send it, I’ll be happy to discharge my debt.”

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