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Monday, December 22, 2003 - Page updated at 12:13 A.M.

Person of Year choice salutes the U.S. soldier

By Sara Kugler
The Associated Press

JAMES NACHTWEY / AP
Time magazine's cover pays tribute to the 1.4 million serving in the U.S. military.
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NEW YORK — The American soldier, who bears the duty of "living with and dying for a country's most fateful decisions," was named yesterday as Time magazine's Person of the Year.

The choice represents the 1.4 million men and women who make up the U.S. military, which led the invasion of Iraq nine months ago and a week ago captured deposed leader Saddam Hussein, Time Managing Editor Jim Kelly said.

About 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, with others deployed in Afghanistan, South Korea and elsewhere.

The troops were singled out as the top newsmakers of the year because "the very messy aftermath of the war made it clear that the mission had changed, that the mission had not been completed and that this would be a story that would be with us for months, if not years, to come," Kelly said.

The selection echoes 1950, the year the Korean War began, when the magazine's editors picked the American GI for the cover, writing that "it was not a role the American had sought, either as an individual or as a nation. The U.S. fighting-man was not civilization's crusader, but destiny's draftee." The magazine has been naming a Person of the Year since 1927.

The 2003 Person of the Year package, on newsstands today, features an artillery-survey unit from the 1st Armored Division to tell the story of the American soldier.

The magazine's cover shows three of them — Sgt. Marquette Whiteside of Pine Bluff, Ark., Sgt. Ronald Buxton of Lake Ozark, Mo., and Spc. Billie Grimes of Lebanon, Ind., all members of Survey Platoon, Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion in the 1st Armored's 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, based in Giessen, Germany. Two Time journalists embedded with the platoon were wounded in a grenade attack this month.

The magazine glorifies the soldiers, but not the Bush administration for putting them in Iraq, calling troops "the bright sharp instrument of a blunt policy," and leaving it to scholars to debate "whether the Bush doctrine is the most muscular expression of national interest in a half-century."

The justification for a U.S. military presence in Iraq has been widely questioned, as coalition forces have found no weapons of mass destruction, which President Bush had argued Saddam was stockpiling.

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Guerrilla attacks against U.S. and allied forces in Iraq stationed there have escalated since May 1, when the president declared an end to major combat. More coalition troops died in November than in any other month: 104, including 79 Americans.

"A force intensively trained for its mission finds itself improvising at every turn, required to exercise exquisite judgment in extreme circumstances," the magazine said. "They complain less about the danger than the uncertainty — they are told they're going home in two weeks, and then two months later they have not moved."

The Pentagon has said it expects to reduce the number of American troops in Iraq to just over 100,000 by May.

Time magazine knows first-hand the risks that the soldiers face. On the evening of Dec. 10, Time writer Michael Weisskopf's right hand was blown off and photographer James Nachtwey was hit with shrapnel when a grenade landed on their Humvee as the platoon was stuck in Baghdad traffic.

Grimes, the platoon's medic, treated the two journalists along with injured members of her unit.

In 2001, when then-New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was picked as Time's Person of the Year for leading the city's response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, critics suggested Osama bin Laden should have been featured as the top newsmaker.

Kelly said Saddam was not considered this year because "he was on the losing side of this conflict," and it was unclear how much he was leading the insurgency.

Last year, Time editors selected Coleen Rowley, the FBI agent who wrote a scathing memo on FBI intelligence failures, and Cynthia Cooper and Sherron Watkins, who blew the whistle on corruption at corporate giants Enron and WorldCom.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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