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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Time Person of the Year: The American Soldier

Aired December 21, 2003 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The classic definition of person of the year...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... is the man or woman...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... who for better or worse...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... affected the news in the most powerful way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not necessarily always the most obvious or straightforward choice.

ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the CNN special presentation, "TIME Person of the Year."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do think that this year, you can make a case for the gay American. You had a number of legal developments that put the issue of gay marriage and gay parity back front and center in the news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The election of Arnold, he may be the model for future politicians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Howard Dean could be the person of the year.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the war in Iraq was a big mistake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He represents this negative feeling about the war, this negative feeling about George Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm tempted to say it has to be George Bush. Everything else that happened came from him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But let's face it. In any given news year in this day and age, the American president is arguably the person of the year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Secretary Rumsfeld had to come up with a viable plan, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was viewed to be the intellectual engine behind the plan. Clearly Tony Blair's support was a big help to the president.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I believe passionately we must hold firm to that cause.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You could argue for Tommy Franks. You could argue for any individual, leader of soldiers at almost any level.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Jerry Bremer would be an interesting choice.

AMBASSADOR JERRY BREMER, U.S. ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: We got him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is the face, literally and figuratively of the occupation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Saddam Hussein is a very good candidate for person of the year. It is his intransigence that made George Bush decide to invade Iraq and occupy Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The thing that's twisted the United States in knots is it's been the power of the insurgency in Saddam's name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's two ways to look at big stories. There's the big headlines of the day, Laci Peterson, Michael Jackson. Those are big headlines. And then there's history.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AARON BROWN, HOST: Since 1927, there have been those who have affected us the most, affected our world, our lives, generally for the better, but sometimes for worse.

Hello. I'm Aaron Brown.

And welcome to CNN's special presentation of "TIME Magazine's Person of the Year."

It's never an easy decision. It's often been a controversial one. But "TIME's" person of the year was never meant to be an award or an accolade no matter how coveted.

Over the last 76 years, there have been heroes and there have been villains. Everyone from presidents and peacemakers to Adolf Hitler and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Choosing the person of the year, the debates, the short list, all closely guarded right up until the final decision. Right up until now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMES KELLY, "TIME" MANAGING EDITOR: We decided that this year the biggest story of the year was obviously Iraq. So what we tried to do was to find a person that would represent the biggest story of the year. I mean, there were many players in this drama.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow citizens, at this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger.

KELLY: One could make a very persuasive case of the person of the year should be George Bush.

I think one would be very, very hard-pressed to find a story as big as the president's foreign policy.

BUSH: You will not have to fear the rule of Saddam Hussein ever again.

KELLY: I mean, most years the president of the United States tends to be, you know, a major actor. And this year the president of the United States was definitely the world's most important actor.

BUSH: The war on terror is a different kind of war, waged capture by capture, cell by cell and victory by victory.

KELLY: The capture of Saddam, in no way ends the occupation of Iraq. And, in fact, Iraq is just a piece of the larger puzzle that the administration is putting together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are also people who carry out his doctrine. There are people who were thinking up his doctrine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course, some of the folks in the administration who have helped develop this preemptive policy and who carried it out. And is the story as much about them as about the president himself?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy pentagon chief, is really the brains behind that operation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's no question that he has very long time felt as though Iraq was a direct danger to the United States. He also has very strong views about the importance of spreading democracy.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Mr. Chairman, we are committed to helping Iraqis build what could be and should be a model for the Middle East.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact that he's not really so much a dark prince, but a person who's actually an optimist about how the war in Iraq will change the world, that makes a fascinating story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In many ways Rumsfeld is the best choice for person of the year because he is the one who, more than anyone else, I think, mattered.

Rumsfeld was the architect, the engineer of the war in Iraq, the one who sized it, who downsized it, who made sure that it would be quick, who made sure the force would be light. He made sure that it would be fast.

He has made himself in some ways the most effective cabinet officer in memory. DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You've got to be kidding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just asking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He loves it. He loves the battle, the verbal give and take. He's very adroit. He has very interesting hand gestures. Everything about him seems to sort of say watch me.

RUMSFELD: Coalition forces have moved across more than 200 miles of Iraqi territory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rumsfeld's greatest strength in this operation also turns out to be his greatest weakness.

By driving the invasion force down to just a handful in divisions -- three and a half, four -- he left the U.S. with probably fewer troops in Iraq to maintain the peace than they needed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think the whole Bush doctrine and the military doctrine of Rumsfeld really is tested in the laboratory of Iraq on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that we have arrived at a point in the war with Iraq where, really, the focus is on the individual soldier, on the grunts who are basically going to succeed or fail in making a transition from war to peace.

RICHARD STENGAL, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR: We applaud George Bush for flying over to Baghdad and serving turkey and taking some risks. But that pales, really, in comparison to the risks that American men and women in Iraq are taking every day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've become not only targets of the resistance, but the targets of hatred from ordinary Iraqis, who simply don't like the idea of a foreign presence.

STENGAL: Maybe the Iraqi people themselves should be person of the year because they are so divided themselves about the U.S. occupation, about Saddam Hussein. And they're an incredibly important character, as it were, in this year's news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The most fascinating thing in a way this year is what can and cannot be anticipated? How much do things like national pride in the case of the Iraqis play in?

KELLY: Saddam Hussein being alive is one reason why the occupation of Iraq has proved to be as problematic as it's been.

NANCY GIBBS, EDITOR AT LARGE: Did there come a point where he viewed invasion as inevitable and had figured out there was a possibility that, you know, we can just outlast them?

Getting inside his mind, has never been a particularly easy place to reach. And so trying to imagine what his plan was, I'd love to read that story. I don't know how you'd report it.

KELLY: If there had been no Saddam Hussein, would have been no war in Iraq.

BUSH: The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq.

PRISCILLA PAINTON, "TIME" EXECUTIVE EDITOR: I think you could also make an argument for the insurgent. That's certainly true that our military triumph in Iraq in the spring has been in a way overshadowed in these last few months by the continuing power of the Iraqi resistance.

I don't think that there's any strong evidence that Saddam Hussein is the driving force behind the insurgency.

KELLY: Well, the capture of Saddam has brought Iraq right back into the front pages, and I think it underscores, once again, that Iraq is far and away the major news event of the first part of the 21st Century.

ANNOUNCER: When we return, "TIME's" 2003 person of the year revealed. An inside look at who they chose and why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: We now return to "TIME Person of the Year."

KELLY: We had many candidates this year. It could have been the president of the United States. It could have been Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. But we picked the people who are on the ground, in Iraq.

ROMESN RAINESAR, "TIME" STAFF WRITER: We felt that the best way of illustrating how the war has evolved was to focus on the soldiers on the ground who are actually fighting the war now, carrying out the duties of the occupation.

KELLY: Our choice is meant to reflect everyone in the armed services, most especially those who have to do the work day in, day out. For 2003, "TIME's" Person of the Year is the American soldier.

ANNOUNCER: In 2003, the story of many American soldiers began as it did for the men of the 3rd Infantry Division, training in the deserts of Kuwait. Some were veterans of the first Gulf War, but most were young, 19 and 20 years old, quietly wondering how they'd perform when the real shooting started.

For Americans back home, war was not yet a reality. But these soldiers were primed. They expected combat.

On a dark night in March, those expectations became real. Their division led the drive to Baghdad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My most memorable moment was crossing that border from Kuwait into Iraq. Once we crossed that, definitely knew it was on then.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was everything that you would expect of a war to be with RPGs flying everywhere and machine guns shooting everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your life don't really flash before your eyes because you don't have time to think about it. You're just firing at everybody and thinking about what could possibly happen?

RAINESAR: You had a pretty remarkable ground war: 21 days covering 350 miles, around 200,000 troops. Probably the fastest advance of its kind in military history.

ANNOUNCER: By mid-April, these soldiers were just beginning what would become known as the occupation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: RPG.

ANNOUNCER: After relatively light combat casualties, confidence ran high. But the mission was changing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to work out first at the 925 where this helipad is.

CAPT. STEFAN MCFARLAND, U.S. ARMY: About April 14th was the definitive transition to stability and support operations. Really transitioned from direct combat operations to almost a peacekeeping mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello?

ANNOUNCER: The 464th tried to adapt, meeting Iraqis on the streets, searching for Saddam loyalists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Baghdad from over there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No, no, no.

ANNOUNCER: They asserted their authority in as friendly a way as anyone in battle gear could.

KELLY: They're cops in a bad neighborhood, basically, is what the occupation of Iraq is about.

SGT. 1ST CLASS MICHAEL ANSLINGER, U.S. ARMY: The Iraqi people wanted security. You'd stop and talk to the civilians, you know, and tell them yes, we're out here. We're helping you guys. And what do you need, you know?

Treat the person the way you would want to be treated. You treat them like a human being, and you're going to get progress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 11 p.m.?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No English?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no.

ANNOUNCER: A language barrier and a shortage of interpreters made it difficult for soldiers to do their jobs.

RAINESAR: I think many people expected when the Americans came that life would suddenly improve. And instead, on a day-to-day basis, the basic necessities of life became a lot more difficult.

STAFF SGT. LAMAR EWAN, U.S. ARMY: It seemed like we've got a lot of people here on the ground. And their goal is to get the country back up and running. But it seems like it's no plan.

There's a lot of people stepping on each other, and it's just not working for the Iraqi people.

RAINESAR: You could say that there was probably not enough preparation for the kind of chaos that we saw right after the war. And that certainly put the military behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell them right now, all of Baghdad don't have no electricity. They're working on it.

ANNOUNCER: Soldiers on the ground like Sergeant Daryn Swain had to take matters into their own hands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got involved with the people. I said, OK, I know y'all had some generating mechanics, some electricity, some, you know, plumbers, all that prior to Americans coming here. So I said, hey, give me a list of these people.

ANNOUNCER: Within a few weeks, the Iraqis in Sergeant Swain's sector had a working sanitation system, and strides were made to re- establish electricity. The neighborhood was nicknamed Swainsville in honor of its unofficial mayor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell him to have a safe trip.

RAINESAR: What we found throughout Iraq is that there's a great deal of improvisation. There aren't necessarily set rules on how you do this. And soldiers have had to make decisions at the lowest level every day.

MCFARLAND: What we did in Baghdad in our sector, a small slice of Baghdad, I think we did win the hearts and minds. Granted, there's a few people that are going to be disgruntled about what we did, but I think about 95. 98 percent of the population were truly happy we were there, truly respected us and truly saw that we were there to help them help themselves.

ANNOUNCER: Evidence that boots on the ground, even more than the voices from Washington, will determine the future.

After ten months, the 3rd Infantry Division finally came home in September.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dismissed!

ANNOUNCER: But the war remained in Iraq. And it changed. When "TIME Person of the Year" continues, soldiers face a growing threat in a dangerous conflict.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to "TIME Person of the Year."

Four months after tanks first rolled through Baghdad, the city bustled with activity.

And bristled with violence. Just as a frustrating rebuilding effort began to take shape late this summer, a morale-busting explosion in Baghdad.

RAINESAR: I think the U.N. bombing was a kind of defining moment. It came at a time when the security situation seemed to be improving in some places. The uncertainty that that created did have an impact in how this whole operation has been perceived.

ANNOUNCER: Civilians seen as cooperating with the occupation had become targets, and new guerrilla tactics sent a message about the strength of the Iraqi insurgency.

RAINESAR: Roadside bombs, mortars on their compounds, and now suicide bombings on military headquarters. I think these kinds of things, because they're impossible to identify, impossible to stop, have raised the level of danger for the average soldier on a daily basis.

ANNOUNCER: It raised the pressure on a military force already worn out from months of being on the defensive.

1ST. LT. ROBERT NEWTON, U.S. ARMY: In this type of environment, it's hard to tell who the bad guy is. I mean, they don't wear uniforms, not like a conventional war. So anytime you go out, they can be anywhere.

PFC. ERIC PAGE, U.S. ARMY: It would be nice if they didn't shoot at us. I'd probably go with that one. That gets kind of old.

ANNOUNCER: These soldiers of the 82nd Airborne have experience with elusive enemies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The majority of the platoon's been in Afghanistan.

ANNOUNCER: But Iraq is different. Since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1, American fighters who been dying here at the rate of two a day.

RAINESAR: It is still a war in the sense that the threats to lives of soldiers are immediate and they are constant. PAGE: They'd fire, you know, mortars on the campus, and then you'd have to get up, put your body armor on and you helmet and go back to sleep. That stuff's really uncomfortable to sleep in.

ANNOUNCER: The troops train hard to stay sharp, but emotions still creep in.

RAINESAR: Soldiers talk about their fears all the time. They tell me when they drive down the street, they cringe when they pass pieces of trash because they don't know whether bombs are hidden in there. It's a war that's not just fought on the battlefield.

ANNOUNCER: Danger is everywhere.

KELLY: In reporting the story, one of our correspondents, Michael Weisskopf and photographer Jim Nachtway, were riding in a Humvee with two soldiers on a Wednesday evening, 8:30 at night in Baghdad.

I think they were slowing down traffic, and someone tossed a grenade. And Michael, you know, grabbed the grenade to throw it out of the jeep, and it blew up. Now, Michael's quick thinking, his bravery, saved all four of them from a far worse fate.

RAINESAR: It confirmed to a lot of us that what we have in Iraq is a highly fluid, uncertain, unstable situation.

ANNOUNCER: The job of securing Iraq falls to the soldiers alone. And chipping away seems to be the only solution.

So American fighters embark day to day and door to door on a mission to hunt down insurgents.

One December night, the men of the 82nd Airborne set out for a bounty. Darkness may provide cover, but it can also fray nerves.

PAGE: Driving to the objective, that's when my head has a little time to work. So I guess I get a little nervous then.

ANNOUNCER: Well-trained for their mission, the paratroopers spring into action, sweeping through a small cluster of homes. The raid is over in minutes, and the soldiers encounter little resistance.

Forty-one insurgent fighters are captured that night, including the mastermind of an ambush that killed seven Spanish intelligence workers.

RAINESAR: The biggest concern of every soldier is that he and his team survive and get home safely. That's a constant worry, no matter where you are in this country.

ANNOUNCER: As of December 18 hostile fire has claimed 314 American fighters; 201 of those deaths came after President Bush declared major combat over in May.

RAINESAR: We've talked to a lot of soldiers about their experiences in dealing with the loss of a fellow team member. And it's a highly traumatic experience.

On the other hand, the military is probably better than any other institution at providing ways for soldiers to deal with that and then move on very quickly.

PAGE: It's having a group of brothers with you all the time. You know, there's those times, the camaraderie, esprit de corps and just the stupid stuff that guys do when they're hanging out together.

NEWTON: I think of families back home in a lot of ways have a more difficult job than we do. I mean, we're here. We know what we're dealing with on a daily basis.

ANNOUNCER: For the American fighter, 2003, a year of ups and downs, of struggles and small victories, of danger and of boredom ended with a triumph.

BREMER: We got him.

KELLY: The capture of Saddam Hussein, I think, makes our choice even more relevant.

ANNOUNCER: There are currently 103,000 American military personnel in Iraq. Though most of the coverage focuses on high-level movers and shakers, it is the soldier on the ground who takes on the missions, follows the orders, and bears the realities of the war in Iraq.

KELLY: These are the people who have to execute the policy that is decided in Washington, and that's going to change next year. And that's not going to change with a different administration.

It will always be the American soldier, the American fighter, the American military, that have to make this work.

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