CNN’s Jason Carroll is a National Correspondent, which means he mostly travels the U.S. reporting on domestic stories. But this week, he finds himself embedded with the 101st Airborne in the dangerous Paktika province of Afghanistan.
“It all started in the United States,” he told TVNewser via phone from Forward Operating Base Sharana just a few days into his first trip to Afghanistan. “That’s where their experience started and I decided to follow wherever they ended up.”
Right now, Carroll is following Sgt Randy Shorter (Far left) for a series called “A Soldiers Story,” the idea for which came from a conversation Carroll had with some friends.
“I was having a heated discussion as to why they weren’t paying attention to stories about Afghanistan,” he said. When his friends told him they’d become fatigued, he came up with the idea to track a soldier through the deployment process. “I thought, ‘There’s got to be a way to get people more interested…given all the sacrifices being made.”
Shorter and two recent enlistees have been featured so far. Carroll said he was drawn to Shorter’s story because it was his third tour. “We wanted to see what it was like for those soldiers who had been here before, who had multiple deployments, to see how they emotionally deal with that.”
Carroll’s trip comes just a few months after General McChrystal’s resignation and we wondered if the events surrounding it had impacted soldiers’ attitude toward the press.
“I think there’s definitely more caution,” Carroll told us.
“What you deal with — with the soldiers I’m interacting with — is trust,” he said. “The soldiers I had reached out to did not shut down after the article because they trust me…but it makes me wonder about soldiers who don’t know me.”
It took Carroll and the platoon of 62 men roughly a week to get to Paktika after refueling stops in Ireland and Romania, then a long delay in Bagram. The transportation system right now is having trouble catching up with the influx of soldiers.
“When you sit with these guys, eat with them…you get sense of how they deal with it.” “Hurry up and wait,” is a common expression Carroll said. “We had planned to start shooting much earlier,” he added. “But it gave us an opportunity to do a story on the process of getting soldiers to the operating bases.”
Earlier that day, Carroll — equipped with body armor, a helmet, and protective glasses — had been with the soldiers and Afghan police in downtown Sharana, outside the safety zone. While he was admittedly uncomfortable, Carroll had the opportunity to enjoy “a lot of frank discussions” with Afghan locals.
One vendor said he didn’t want the Americans there, while the principal of the only school was optimistic about the Americans’ chances of reducing corruption, though he advised Carroll not to talk to his students as the Taliban’s influence in the school might mean that their statements could put them in danger.
“You get a sense of how real the insurgents’ presence is here,” Carroll told us.
Carroll said his trip — currently scheduled for one and half to two weeks — is “open-ended,” though he will be returning periodically for updates. The pieces he’s shooting now are set to air on “American Morning” the week of September 27th.
When we asked what he hoped to capture with the series, he told us there were two goals. First, he’s hoping to get viewers more interested the military effort by having them “look at the world through the eyes of these three soldiers.” And second, he’s trying to invoke “a real sense of what serving this country is really all about.”
“I don’t know if it will happen,” he said, “But that’s my hope.”
“Hurry up and wait. Sgt Shorter’s unit waits for military flight to Bagram, Afghanistan.”
The platoon boarding a C1-17.