This piece first aired in September, 2010, as part of the show, “Dunson Checks in”
- Host Intro: Over the summer, War News Radio reported on soldiers using YouTube to share their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. US Army Sgt. Leo Dunson was one of the soldiers we spoke to and recently one of his videos has created quite a controversy. Kyle Crawford got back in touch with Dunson.
[Ambient Sound - ‘MTV PUNK’D IN IRAQ’]
KYLE CRAWFORD: The video, which was posted in April, begins with American soldiers from the 172nd Stryker Brigade stopping an Iraqi driver at a routine checkpoint outside of Mosul, in northern Iraq. After quickly planting a grenade in the mans car without his knowledge, Dunson and his partner repeatedly demand an explanation.
[Youtube Clip - What the? What is that, What is that...]
The Iraqi gestures in denial, and after about 30 seconds, Dunson announces that it was all a joke and shakes hands with the relieved man.
[Youtube Clip - We just playing man (laughing)]
Dunson says he was surprised by the attention his video produced.
DUNSON: I was pretty shocked. I mean, I woke up to like all these calls and all these messages and I had no idea what was going on.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Although War News Radio first reported on the video in July, it wasn’t until Gawker.COM and CNN reported on the prank last week that Dunson’s video drew national attention.
Gawker wrote: “It’s hard to imagine Iraqis really appreciate having a grenade stuck in their trunk by U.S. soldiers, no matter how well-intended.”
DUNSON: What they had to say in the article was pretty shocking. I didn’t think so many people would take it so offensive.
KYLE CRAWFORD: In the wake of prisoner abuses early in the war in Iraq, the US military has operated under the microscope of global criticism, but Dunson suggests that his detractors are misinterpreting the video of the incident.
DUNSON: It was all in fun and even the guy he laughed with me, and that was it, so. Wasn’t that big a deal. I remember the day like it was yesterday, so I remember how it was it wasn’t like he was petrified of his life kind of situation, I was there, it might look like that to them, but he was not petrified for his life. He did the little hold his heart. He was like saying “haha oh you scared me, you got me too, hahaha its funny” you know? It wasn’t like one of those things where he was upset or mad or anything like that. I mean you can get a vibe from people of how they feel.
KYLE CRAWFORD: As a guest on Russia Today, an English-language Russian TV network, American Army COL Joel Hamilton vehemently criticized Dunson’s actions, stating that the behavior was unacceptable and would not be tolerated in his battalion. But Dunson has strong words in response.
DUNSON: The LT COL that goes on the TV and attempted to bash me or slam me into the ground. I can’t tell you his name. But he said you know I would never let somebody under my unit act that way. And I’m thinking to myself: Well, sir you’re not even out in the field so you don’t know what’s going on.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Dunson explains that people don’t understand the pressure weighing on soldiers in Iraq. He says joking around is one way to relax and pass the time.
DUNSON: Well I am here for a year and a half you want me to be serious the entire time? Do you want me to sit here with my gun pointed at every single person that I come to and shoot and kill every person I come across. Is that what you guys want us to do? Because if that’s the case, that is how so many people end up dead for no apparent reason.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Dunson believes that his actions were in line with the stated U.S mission in Iraq.
DUNSON: I apologize if it offended anyone because I never did it with any intent to offend anyone, and you know, they gotta realize that they talk about how to win over the Iraqis’ hearts and minds. I’m a soldier. I was actually over there on the ground. I’m not one of these people just standing back in the field, or from the news room, saying lets try and win hearts and minds. I was out there doing it.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Back at home, Dunson reminds us that soldiers don’t always leave the experience behind.
DUNSON: Once you’re a soldier, you’re always a soldier, but yet the system treats you as if you’re not a soldier anymore and, I think that that is jacked up for them to treat their people that way, because you can’t train somebody how to kill for five years, and then, once they’re done, expect for them to just forget how to kill.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Following his redeployment in Iraq and subsequent discharge, Leo Dunson has a new mission. Now, he is an aspiring rapper, whose music focuses on veterans’ struggles. He just released his new album… ‘American Soldier’.
Dunson isn’t upset about the negative media coverage. In fact, he sees this as a way to get his name and music to a greater audience.
DUNSON: This is absolutely 100% good thing there is absolutely no such thing as bad publicity. I don’t care if they had me on TV you know whatever butt naked, you know what I mean, there is no such thing as bad publicity. You can put me over there and try to throw me to the ground and say Sgt. Dunson is such a horrible guy, I hate this dude blah blah. But the music speaks for itself.
KYLE CRAWFORD: His album touches on a variety of themes but most important to Dunson are the songs that talk about the challenges soldiers face when they return from war. Dunson was homeless for a time when he came back from Iraq and his most recent music video – I went to War – is about homeless veterans. The attention leaves Dunson optimistic.
DUNSON: I’m 100% positive that it’’ll be a major spike in record sales, that’s for sure.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Meanwhile, Dunson has taken a job at a casino in Las Vegas and continues adjusting to life after combat:
DUNSON: I’m just trying to live a normal life.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Dunson believes that his music expresses something all veterans can relate to, and that much of his support will come from the community of veterans still coming home from the war zones.
You can watch the video at the center of the controversy and listen to Sgt Dunson’s music at www.sgtdunson.com. For War News Radio With Aaron Moser and Will Laurence, I’m Kyle Crawford.