My Time With Chris Hondros

He was a war photographer, assigned to the Squadron for a week it was, I think. Maybe two. And I was tasked to take him with me on my counter-reconnaissance patrol that day. We’d got reporter embeds before; some from Stars and Stripes, a guy from Newsweek I think it was, and some girl – I don’t remember the girl other than she was OK looking. But girls in Strykers were bad luck, so we tried to get her in, get her out and be done with it as soon as we could.

And then there was Chris. We had him in January, 2005. I remember him well because that day we were doing patrols and dismounted work on Route Bell-Air in the central part of Tal’Afar, south of Hasan Qoi and West of Al Sarai, but close enough to the Castle and the Al Neda traffic circle that we still could take some pot shots, or an RPG or something. He wanted to ride in the hatch with me, but when I told him we’d begetting out and doing a lot of dismounted work he was satisfied. We were dismounted and he was walking around, taking photos as a war photographer does I ‘spose.

Stick close and don’t wander off, I said. Otherwise you’re a big boy so just try not to do something stupid. After around twenty minutes on the ground, he kept getting farther and farther outside of our patrol bubble. “Someone grab that idiot” I would say, and men would go chasing him down; it was like a butterfly. “Look, pal” I say “I’ve got a job to do here and if you wander off too far and get snatched up, you’ll end up on TV wearing an orange jumpsuit and there won’t be a whole lot I can do for you then.” But he was displeased. ‘I want to go get into some shit. I want to see some action’ His words, not mine. “Buddy”, I said, “Every day when we come out here we’re glad if we don’t get into any action.” He didn’t seem to care. He wanted to know where we always had it worst, and I pointed about a kilometer or two East: “Al Sarai, that’a way.” I said. I swear the rest of the patrol he kept eying the East to see if we’d get closer.

We chased shots in the distance the another patrol in town kept getting hit with, but no contact for us materialized. A unique day at that, as you could generally count on one hand the number of times you hit the streets in Tal’Afar in a month without taking some kind of contact. After our hours were up, we were recalled back to the FOB. I dropped a disappointed Chris off at the Squadron tactical operations center, and that was the last I ever saw of him. Later that week while on a night patrol with men from Apache Company 1-5 Infantry near Al Sarai, Chris Hondros shot what probably were his most iconic and remembered photos of a bloody Iraqi 6-year-old girl, the remainder of her family gunned-down by a squad when their car failed to stop for a checkpoint and made no attempt to deviate. The world saw the barbarity of the American servicemen and Tal’Afar was thrust onto the world stage. What no one ever saw was the week earlier when in the same spot, in the same scenario, a car sped towards the Strykers and blew up, killing and severely injuring men of 1-5 Infantry. That story never got told. Timing.  It’s all about the place, and the time.

Years later when I heard Chris Hondros was killed in Libya in an artillery strike while covering the Arab Spring, I was startled a bit because I remembered him well. I was slightly saddened. But, I was not surprised in the least bit.

About anotherwarriorpoet

Mathew Bocian served as a Captain in the United States Army with the Stryker Brigade and was deployed to Mosul and Tal'Afar in 2004 - 2005, and to Baghdad for The Surge in 2007 - 2008. He left the Army in 2012 and now uses his poetry as a way to heal from the traumas of war, while attempting to express to readers the realities of war. He is the recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and holds a master's from the Graduate School for Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.
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