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The few, the proud - but surely not AWOL

St. Petersburg Marines are featured on Harper's magazine for a story on deserters, but they're not AWOL.

Published March 26, 2005

Kyle Bridge

ST. PETERSBURG - Marine recruits so new that their hair hasn't been cut don't sound like the best models for a story about soldiers going AWOL - particularly since none in the group is a deserter.

But there they are, pictured on the March cover of Harper's magazine along with a headline that reads, "AWOL in America: When Desertion Is the Only Option."

Lance Cpl. Kyle Bridge of St. Petersburg is one of them. When the 19-year-old Marine reservist first heard he was on the cover of a national magazine, he thought it sounded cool. A friend teased him about being famous.

Then he realized the story was about soldiers who desert from the U.S. Army.

"It's kind of frustrating," Bridge said. "Most people that see me, if they know me, they know I wouldn't go AWOL."

The cover photo, taken at Parris Island, S.C., shows seven Marines lined up in their T-shirts, shorts and socks. They are not identified in photo credits or in the article. In fact, Harper's says the Marines are not meant to depict people in the article.

"We are decorating pages," said Giulia Melucci, the magazine's vice president for public relations. "We are not saying the soldiers are AWOL. Our covers are not necessarily representative."

A media observer said using real people as "decorations" for a story about deserters might go too far.

"Going AWOL is not a favorable or positive thing," said Kenny Irby, visual journalism group leader at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which owns the St. Petersburg Times.

Another issue is that the photograph was altered. One recruit's image appears lighter than the others, as if he were disappearing.

Getty Images, the agency that sold the photograph to Harper's, did not know it would be manipulated. The agency prohibits tampering with an image.

"It's clear to me the customer has broken the rules," said Michael Sargent, Getty's vice president in charge of editorial.

And what of the soldier in the fading image?

Lance Cpl. Britian Kinder, an active Marine who asked that his base not be identified, is upset.

"It does make me pretty angry that they would do something like this. I'm pretty much upset that they would do this without my consent."

Kinder's father believes the magazine should correct the impression it has made of his son.

"People recognize this picture," said Mickey Kinder of Pinch, W.Va. "Put another picture of him in the magazine and do a retraction. He's not AWOL."

The idea of deserting fellow troops is painful for some in the military.

Bridge thought back to his days in boot camp. "You are getting yelled at all the time. You don't have any contact with anybody except for writing letters. No computer, no TV, no phone."

The isolation brings recruits together, he said. "You make best friends within two weeks. It is really neat to see. Then you read about these guys who desert everyone: fellow soldiers, fellow Marines, their country. It is tough to read about."

Philip Hennosy, another St. Petersburg recruit in the photo, said, "It was cool to be on a magazine cover, but weird that it was about being AWOL."

The Marine Corps allows photo agencies onto Parris Island to take photographs of recruit training, said Lt. Scott Miller, deputy public affairs officer. Agencies then have stock photographs they can sell to newspapers and magazines.

"Once they leave here," Miller said, "we can't really monitor who uses the photographs."

Times staff writer Mary Jane Park and Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

[Last modified March 26, 2005, 01:26:26]

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