Copyright 2003 Cox Enterprises, Inc.
Cox News Service
May 16, 2003 Friday

SECTION: Entertainment, Television and Culture
LENGTH: 533 words
HEADLINE: Military life gets human touch

Any day, every day, 24 hours a day, the military is awake, working, ready. It's one thing to know they're there, patroling, carrying out missions and searching for caffeine; it's another thing altogether to see the faces of the paratroopers in Afghanistan, carrying out a night patrol.

On Oct. 22, 2002, a group of 125 photographers were deployed across the country to record a typical day in the life of people in the military—key word being "people."

The invitation-only group of shooters included 12 Pulitzer Prize winners, the result being "A Day in the Life of the United States Armed Forces" (HarperCollins, $40), released just in time to be passed around at Memorial Day picnics (wash your hands first, please).

The project was conceived after 9/11 and before the war in Iraq, an amazing feat of timing and conclusive evidence of the fact that the military and the media were interested in crossing some chilly boundaries even before embedded journalists took their place with the fighting desert troops. On one hand, this book is an incredible triumph of public-relations pragmatism, a testament that military leaders are waking up to the fact that the secrecy is not necessarily all it's cracked up to be. By allowing members of the media to chronicle the people involved in our country's defense, they're drawing the curtain back and letting some light illuminate on what, for the average citizen, can be an easily dismissed necessity of American life.

"A Day in the Life of the United States Armed Forces" is one of about 20 "Day in the Life" projects, one of those brilliantly simple ideas that works by virtue of its very basic premise. One day—it's all there, random events tied together by the human factor and the fact that we're all getting by, doing whatever we need to do.

"A Day in the Life of the United States Armed Forces" has the requisite tanks and guns and uniforms, but it's the human moments that make the book so valuable. A staff sergeant puts on her mascara; a sergeant plays with his 3-year-old son before reporting for duty; a technical sergeant helps a recruit tie his tie; Coast Guard recruits in New Jersey stare at breakfast—a griddle of fried eggs—that seems to star back at them.

There's a photo of an Army major in Hawaii, saluting with one hand while the other holds a surf board; there are war games in Iceland; female Marine recruits taking a "combat swim" and soldiers searching for MIAs in Vietnam. There's the all-male crew on the Trident submarine; soldiers hunting for al-Qaida in the eerie light of night-vision goggles; a recruiting meeting at a Pizza Hut in Iowa.

Walter Cronkite, writing in the forward, makes the point that the book has "very few words, but is not a quick read." The book is an amazing testament to the diversity and widespread presence of the U.S. military. We're everywhere, doing a little bit of everything.

Project co-producer Matthew Naythons, an emergency room physician who became an acclaimed combat photographer, found the cliche to be all-too true.

"We can sleep at night," he said, "because they don't."

Laura Dempsey writes for the Dayton Daily News.
E-mail: ldempsey(at)
LOAD-DATE: May 17, 2003