2010 MRE Journalism Contest winners announced

A harrowing photo, an investigative report on falsified documents and the trials of a Marine unit in Afghanistan took Military Reporters & Editors top awards for military reporting this year.

Judges called Associated Press photographer Julie Jacobson’s photo slideshow of a Marine’s death “a gripping tale of combat.” Many will remember the controversy the photo caused as she documented Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard’s last moments. For this, she’ll receive the Galloway Award at the MRE convention Nov. 5. The Galloway Award honors the work of Joseph Galloway, author of “We Were Soldiers Once…And Young.”

Defense News reporter Christopher Cavas wrote about 10,000 welds on eight submarines and an aircraft carrier after meticulously digging through records. A contractor provided false information that could have endangered the people on board.

And Kristin Henderson, author of While They’re at War and a writer for the Washington Post’s magazine, is the winner of the overseas coverage from a large publication for a story she wrote about a Marine unit deployed to train Afghan police. Instead, they encountered a ghost town and a group of insurgents. Henderson also received an MRE award for domestic coverage in 2008.

The awards were judged by Ellen Shearer and Tim McNulty, co-directors of the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative.

They will be presented at the MRE convention Nov. 4 and 5 at the American University School of Law. Bob Woodward, author of “Obama’s Wars,” will be the keynote speaker at the awards luncheon Nov. 5. Michael Hastings, who wrote the Rolling Stone article that led to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s resignation, will speak at the opening night reception at Medill. For more information, or to register for the event, click here.

Kelly Kennedy
Military Reporters & Editors

Other Category winners:


1. Winner/Overseas coverage from large publication: Kristin Henderson

Kristin Henderson’s evocative reporting of a mixed-up mission and the dangers Marines in Fox Company face in the (irrigation) trenches of Afghanistan reflects both the military’s complex assignment and the personal bravery of those sent off to fight. Deployed initially to train Afghan police in the remote and fertile Helmund Province, Lt. Arthur Karell discovers his platoon has been dispatched to a ghost town, no police, no people, except for a shadow band of insurgents.

A freelance reporter writing for the Washington Post Magazine, Henderson’s telling of the 2nd Battalion/7th Marine Regiment’s story is dramatic: “At night, all you heard were the jackals, ululating like veiled, grieving women.”  But she also focuses on the individual Marines who sometimes doubt and second-guess themselves as they fight to make a difference, or at least survive, in a brutal environment.

(Henderson also won the MRE award for domestic coverage in 2008)

2.  Winner / Overseas coverage from  Small  publication:  Stars and Stripes, reporter Jon Rabiroff

These stories by Stars and Stripes cast a bright journalistic light on one of the often unmentioned aspects of life near a U.S. military base in South Korea – prostitution in establishments known as “juicy bars.” In an investigation that drew on sources from three governments, Rabiroff reported that young Filipino women are lured to South Korea on the premise of becoming singers and dancers, but are forced to work in bars that sell juice for $10 a glass, and the women have to do much more if they don’t meet certain quotas. After the stories appeared, the Phillipine government took steps to try to safeguard its young women from the sex trade.

3. Winner/Domestic coverage from a large publication: Yochi J. Dreazen

Yochi J. Dreazen, the military correspondent of The Wall Street Journal, has made more than 30 reporting trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, but his coverage of the United State military at home is just as vivid and personal as any exotic foreign reporting. His work includes an intensely personal story about an Army general and his wife who are committed to reducing the number of military suicides after one of their sons, an ROTC cadet, killed himself. They lost their other officer son to a roadside bomb in Iraq. Dreazen also looks back at West Point’s 1976 graduating class, whose members are now among the top generals and deputies in charge of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, Dreazen focuses a keen eye on the emotional impact of a soldier’s war experiences and how a new generation of so-called psychiatric-service dogs, in this case a Golden Retriever, are helping veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. All his stories are told with care for the individuals involved but Dreazen never misses the larger point of why these tales are important to Americans.

4. Winner / Domestic Coverage from a small publication : Stars and Stripes

Stars and Stripes uncovered a Defense Department program to profile journalists, using The Rendon Group – a military contractor. The program’s intent was to shape coverage of the war in Afghanistan and deny access to reporters whose work was too negative. Because of the stories, the Defense Department canceled the program.

Honorable Mention  for Print Domestic / Small: Christopher Cavas, Defense News

Chris Cavas’ story detailing concerns that falsified reports on at least 10,000 welds on eight submarines and an aircraft carrier was reporting in the best tradition of investigative journalism. His article detailed the possibility that the submarines and carrier could be operating unsafely because of false information from the contractor.


No winner for TV Large

Winner – TV small: Alan Cohn, WFTS-TV  Tampa, FL

Alan Cohn and WFTS-TV in Tampa unmasked a man who had been going to military towns masquerading as a Marine who had been awarded the Navy Cross and other decorations. The man, Angel Ocasio, never served in the military and, because of the WFTS investigation, was convicted in federal court of charges of violating the Stolen Vale Act and forging government documents.

Cohn was able to get video of Ocasio as he fraternized with military and retired military in Tampa. The compelling visual confrontation when Cohn interviewed Ocasio about his hoax was a highlight of the package.


Winner – Photography: Chad Hunt Popular Mechanics

The gripping photos that help tell the story of a mission called Thunder 2 not only make the viewer feel the heat, tension and threat of danger, but emotions of the soldiers in the unit. The 12-photo essay captures the lengths that U.S. forces go to to conduct these missions. Hunt keeps the lens firmly focused on his subjects, despite the hardships and dangers of taking photos in an embed situation.


Winner : Online – Tie : Julie Jacobson, The Associated Press and Tom Ricks, ForeignPolicy.com

Julie  Jacobson, The Associated Press

Julie Jacobson’s photo slideshow with narration is a gripping a tale of combat – and one Marine’s death – told through rich images and well-written narration. The story showed bullets flying as a unit fought through an ambush and tried to keep alive Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard. The story truly conveyed the reality of war, including a photo of Bernard’s dying moments.


Tom Ricks, ForeignPolicy.com

The Best Defense, Tom Ricks’ blog, is what he calls “sequential journalism – incrementally advancing lines of inquiry by interacting with readers, sources and the news cycle.”  His sparkling, sometimes angry, prose coupled with reporting that on occasion is ahead of the rest of the media make this a must-read for anyone interested in national security.