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From Iraq: Underscoring the Danger

Dmitry Chebotayev (1978-2007), a photojournalist with Russian NewsWeek, was killed May 6 along with six American soldiers when their Stryker armored vehicle was struck by an IED in Diyala, Iraq.

* * *

Bidding farewell to a man who was there for all the right reasons.

I met Dmitry Chebotayev while in the Green Zone in Baghdad. He was between embed assignments (having come from a component of the same unit I was about to embed with), and I was waiting to head out to the field. The group of us there at the Combined Press Information Center (CPIC) spent the whole day talking about journalism, Iraq, and journalism in Iraq - a fascinating, multinational conversation. I remember Dmitry very well; he was young (about my age), motivated, and exceptionally smart and talented, and in that one day we spent together he made an eternal impression on me.

Like many of the foreign journalists I spoke with, he was impressed by the soldiers he met, and very much wanted to get the story right the first time, rather than wanting to make news or frame a narrative himself.

Along with being a great, personable, nice young man, he was very, very good at what he did, and it was literally gut-wrenching to me to hear of his death this past week. Though I could go on for some time about how highly I thought of Dmitry, though, the praise which deserves to be published here is that of the soldiers with whom he sweated and suffered - and, ultimately, died.

This is what Major Kirk Luedeke, the Public Affairs Officer for the 1st Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) of the 1st Infantry Division (the parent Brigade of the 1-4 Cav, among others), wrote to me after Dmitry's death:
We...lost a dear friend - embedded photographer Dmitry Chebotaev of Russian Newsweek, who had spent a week with the 2-12 IN in Doura before going to Baqubah. He was the European journalist killed along with 6 U.S. heroes in a Stryker on Sunday. He was young, energetic, smart and fair. Like you, he wanted to be with the Soldiers and share in the hardships and dangers. And like you, the Soldiers respected him and were genuinely shaken upon hearing the news of his death.

It really underscores the dangers that we all face here in Iraq, no matter what our mission is.
Emphasis added. The dangers in Iraq are very real, for journalists as well as for soldiers. 69 reporters were killed last year alone in Iraq, and nearly 200 have died overall since the war began in 2003.

However, to simply make Dmitry a statistic would be to do him a disservice. He, like the rest of us who volunteer to go to Iraq as journalists, knew exactly what the dangers were, and embraced them with a full awareness of the possible outcome of his actions. Dmitry was an example to all of us who aspire to something bigger than ourselves, and in demonstrating the risk which must be taken in order to do just service to that bigger ideal, he made the ultimate sacrifice, alongside the soldiers he loved, respected, and was there to report on.

I tip my cap to a man with such conviction that he would inject himself into such a politically charged and life-threatening situation simply to observe and relate the truth to his readers, and only hope that my modest endeavors in such a pursuit can reflect positively on his legacy, and live up even in part to the example and high bar he set.

Requiescat in Pace, Dmitry - you were taken from us far too soon, and you will be missed dearly.

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