#Aftergram: War in Iraq

For a few weeks in 2004, I was in the thick of the heavist combat I saw during my year with the AP in Iraq, while covering the Battle of Najaf. This came long before iPhones and Instagram, and before most of what we call social media ever existed.

I had been thinking about chronicling my Najaf coverage through my Instagram account this year, but I see that I am already a couple of days behind my arrival date. Maybe I will set up an account to Instagram my whole year at the war on the tenth anniversaries next year.

Eight years ago this week: Just like that, they were gone

 I sent this post to friends and family on a private online bulletin board while reporting from Iraq for the Associated Press in 2004. It has been edited only for spelling and one line of redundancy. I deleted first names and hometowns for reasons explained within.

Posted by jim ( on November 06, 2004 at 00:48:53:

I had been at Combat Outpost, the U.S. Marine base in Ramadi for about a week with Golf Company already when I got up for a mission just before dawn a few on Oct. 31.

They had their vehicles, several Humvees and a 7-ton truck parked in a bay just outside of a room where I slept with members of the Quick Reaction Force, headquarters company, and a few Navy Corpsmen, among others.

Everyday, I would wake up and suit up for the mission with my photo gear and body armor, and look for a vehicle with a free seat. This day it was a “high back,” also called a “ten man,” which is a Humvee with two benches in the back, both facing in. I’ve also heard it called a “Hillbilly Humvee,” and you get the effect when you see it full.

At the last minute before the convoy pulled out, our whole crew was switched to another Humvee, more forward in the convoy for some unexplained reason. It wound up making no difference, except that I always feel at greater IED risk forward in the convoy although countless theories abound about which place is safest.

On this date: Ramadi, 2004

Memorial service, Camp Ramadi, October 2004.

I kept friends and family up to date with a closed message board while I was photographing the war in Iraq for the Associated Press in 2004. Here is my entry from October 15, 2004, one day after I took the photo above:

so i’m in anbar province, site of the most u.s. deaths outside of baghdad. al-anbar includes fallujah and ramadi, and a lot of small surrounding towns and wide open desert.

yesterday i covered a memorial for a 19 year old soldier from pa, on of four u.s. deaths in five days in ramadi, ending monday.

then today, two more guys from his battalion, who were probably at that memorial yesterday, were killed when an rpg struck their humvee and set it on fire.

a little while later, a humvee leaving the base struck a roadside bomb, seriously injuring two more soldiers.

it’s getting busy here.


Economic development, poverty, and inequality in Iraqi Kurdistan

Parts One and Two of Amy DiPierro’s series on economic development, poverty, and inequality in Iraqi Kurdistan. This show-length feature is prefaced by an interview in which DiPierro explains how she became interested in this story, the history of Iraqi Kurdistan, and the meaning of the word Kurdistan itself.

The two segments featured in this piece are also available on War News Radio’s PRX account.

BBC Newsnight: UK Bans Exports of “Bomb Detecting” Dowsing Rods

The UK government has announced a ban on the export to Iraq and Afghanistan of some so-called “bomb detectors”.

It follows an investigation by the BBC’s Newsnight programme which found that one type of “detector” made by a British company cannot work.

The Iraqi government has spent $85m on the ADE-651 and there are concerns that they have failed to stop bomb attacks that have killed hundreds of people.

The ban on the ADE-651 and other similar devices starts next week.


The Bionic Ankle

My Bionic Ankle today

I’ve been so lucky.

I fractured my ankle so badly in 1999 that I could see the bottom of my boot while my foot was still inside, and they even discussed amputation when first I got to the emergency room.

Somehow, the ortho-wizards of The Rothman Institute in Philadelphia put it all back together and – after months and months of physical therapy – I was pretty much back to normal.

In 2004 & 2005, I even managed to cover more than 200 combat missions in Iraq, most of which went something like: run, run, run, take a picture, run some more, and repeat.

Well, the party may be over. Out of the blue, I started to feel some old familiar pain for the last month or so, and went back to the experts today.

I was hoping for a magic bullet; maybe to learn that a screw just had to be tightened. Instead, I heard about arthritis and all the people who come back around ten years after these accidents.

I got some advice, a shot to help with the swelling, and a follow-up appointment. Maybe I should try to lose some weight too, but in any case I might have to admit that I am getting older.

I’m still not complaining about the deal; just groaning about the aches.

I remain a very luck guy.

iPhone, Therefore I am


I got a nice ride – with a smart question mark – from this morning, courtesy of PW Online Editor Joel Mathis.

“The Future of News? asks, Can Jim MacMillan’s iPhone save journalism?” and examines the events I discussed in a previous post.

I hope I never promised quite so much, but the PW article celebrates everything I have been striving for during my first few months as a newly-independent journalist, and asks all the right questions as well, including: “What will (our) profession look like in the future? And how will it make money?”

UPDATE: Joel and I are getting some exceptional attention from Romenesko right now! (Thanks!)


Want to talk about it? @PhillyWeekly Online Editor Joel Mathis will interview me via Twitter re – Join us Wed.@ 1:30pmEST: #twinterview

You will never forget your first Philadelphia Mummer


Philadelphia Mummers © Jim MacMillan

I had never been to Philadelphia but was working in my native Boston on election night in 1984, on my way to cover John Kerry, who was celebrating his first election to the U.S. Senate.


Gratuitously old photograph: John Kerry, 1984 © Jim MacMillan

I went to the right hotel but opened a door to the wrong ballroom, at which point I first laid eyes upon a group of choreographed men playing accordions, banjos and glockenspiels while wearing sequins, feathers and golden slippers. Another young colleague somehow recognized them and simply told me they were Philadelphia Mummers. I didn’t ask questions.


Philadelphia Mummers © Jim MacMillan

I was assigned to cover my first Mummers parade in 1992, a few months after I came to City of Brotherly Love. Co-workers tried to explain, but failed. Almost nobody in Philadelphia can tell you about Mummers without interjecting their opinions, but that hardly matters because there isn’t one person who understands all of the Mummers anyway.


With two esteemed newspaper colleagues in Froggy Carr suits. 2006.

Years later, I signed up with Froggy Carr in 2006, a group later identified to me as one-percenters by a friend who spent years on his own Mummers book. I re-upped in in 2007, but the parade was delayed by windy weather and I had to leave town before it could be rescheduled.


Samarra, Iraq. 2005.

In 2008, I tried to pass it the adventure off as immersion journalism, something like that kid that went to Iraq or one of my own Iraq embedments – but in a dress.


Shooting video. 2007.

For 2009, I made the mistake of scheduling travel on January 2nd, which is an irreconcilable conflict because – as all Frogs know – the parade requires a 3-day recovery period. I hope I get another chance.

Until then – WATCH MY FROGGY CARR VIDEO – and have a Happy New Year!