A member of the Army Reserve, Pilot reporter Neil McCabe departs Feb. 8 for three weeks of training, after which he will serve for one year in Iraq chronicling the lives of a unit of U.S. soldiers. Courtesy photo/ Sgt. Christopher Pisano, U.S. Army
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BRAINTREE -- For the past five years, Neil McCabe’s byline has been a familiar one to Pilot readers. Beginning next week, however, that byline will be mostly absent from the paper for the next year, as McCabe heads off to serve with the U.S. Army in Iraq.
A member of the Army Reserve, McCabe received orders to mobilize Feb. 8 with his three-soldier unit, the 311th Military History Detachment which, after three weeks of training, will deploy to Iraq March 1. His mission will be to chronicle the lives and day-to-day experiences of a unit of soldiers over the next year.
According to McCabe, their unit will be “integrated into the command staff” of the 34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota National Guard -- the “Red Bulls,” as they are known -- currently stationed outside of Baghdad.
In order to provide the most accurate historical documentation, McCabe and his unit will “collect as much data, oral histories, memoranda, photographs and interviews as possible,” about significant events and send them to the Center for Military History in Washington, D.C. There, they will be digitally preserved to maintain an accurate historical account of the war in Iraq.
The soldiers of the 311th trained for this mission for four weeks last summer at Fort McCoy, Wis., as part of the Patriot Warrior exercise.
“At the combat historian school, we all learn the quote: ‘History is the last thing we are about during operations and the first thing we want afterwards. Then, it is too little, too late and too untrue,’” McCabe said.
“Once the history is lost, it’s lost,” he added, noting that throughout history, many wars have not been adequately documented, leading to a loss of specific historical details. McCabe said that history units such as his are trying to ensure that does not happen in Iraq.
The 311th is one of five military history units currently deployed in Iraq. Two other military history units are serving in Afghanistan. In all, the Army has 33 total history units.
McCabe enlisted in the Army Reserve in 2000, where he is a photojournalist with the combat historian designator with the rank of sergeant. He is a graduate of the photojournalism program at the Defense Information School and the Army’s combat historian course.
Prior to enlisting in the Army Reserve, he spent eight years on active-duty in the Coast Guard.
Before writing for The Pilot, he was owner and editor of The Alewife, a monthly newspaper covering the neighborhood of North Cambridge from 2005 to 2007. He was the editor of The Somerville News, from 2003 until 2005.
A lifelong lover of history, McCabe is also currently working on a biography of Lt. Col. Charles W. Whittlesey, the commander of the Lost Battalion, who received the first Medal of Honor in World War I. In October, he visited the “The Pocket” in the Argonne Forest in France, to research where Whittlesey and his men were trapped by the Germans for six days.
“I am feeling pretty good about this adventure. I did not ask for it, but I welcome the chance to serve,” he continued. “So many others have held up this burden while I watched from the sidelines. It is validating to be told your country needs you and believes you can complete the mission.”