Above, U.S. Marines from the 3rd Batallion yell for infantrymen to rush across the damaged Baghdad Highway Bridge, Monday, April 7, 2003. (AP Photo/Boston Herald, Kuni Takahashi)
By Carlos Olloqui and Sean Benton
With loud noises from the Humvee, diesel fumes blowing in his face, constant physical discomfort and flying bullets and explosions, John Koopman arrived in Baghdad in March 2003. He was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, embedded with a Marine infantry battalion covering the U.S. invasion in Iraq.
“We had sandbags at the bottom of our Humvee just in case we ran over a landmine,” Koopman said. “That’s not something too many people have to worry about when they are driving to work.”
Koopman was placed with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment out of Twentynine Palms, what he calls the “Three-Four.” He ate, slept and worked next to the unit for more than a month.
“When you get to a point where there is shooting going on all you think about are two things, primarily making sure that you can stay somehow protected but also the fact that you have to get the story,” Koopman said. “You have to endure a lot of physical and emotional pressure in order to get to the point where you can get a story that is worthwhile.”
Four Marines died while Koopman was reporting with the Three-Four. He took much of the death he saw and channeled his feelings into stories.
“I liked something that was intense,” Koopman said. “If you can’t find a good story on your own, find a reasonable story about death.”
Koopman returned to Iraq in 2004 and 2006. He told our War Reporting class that each time he went back, the conditions were more harsh and the attitudes toward westerners much more aggressive.
“You find yourself constantly thinking about what it means to be there,” Koopman said. “It’s like you have an IV drip of adrenaline that’s constantly quaking through your veins.”
Koopman, once also a Marine, says those skills were useful while he was a journalist in the war zones. However, he doesn’t believe his military past skews his perspective of the story.
“I’m a journalist, first, last and always,” Koopman said.