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Monday, October 13

Army says it doesn't know who wrote soldiers' letters

By Ledyard King | GNS

An Army spokesman maintained Monday that commanders have no knowledge of a letter-writing campaign involving soldiers whose names appeared on form letters to hometown newspapers promoting their accomplishments in Iraq.

"Some soldiers wrote some letters independently. I guess that's what happened," said Lt. Col. Bill MacDonald, who is with the 4th Infantry Division that is heading operations in north-central Iraq. "Nobody I have spoken to in the chain of command knows where these letters came from."

A Gannett News Service search found identical letters from different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment in 12 newspapers. At least two other papers received the letter but declined to run it.

The five-paragraph, typed form letter talks about the soldiers' efforts to re-establish police and fire departments, build water and sewer plants and improve life in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk where the unit is based.

It's not clear who wrote the letter or organized sending it to soldiers' hometown papers.

"Certainly soldiers are free to write people and let them know what's going on here," MacDonald said.

Several military spokesmen said last week that they didn't know the origin of the letters.

Six soldiers reached by GNS directly or through their families said they agreed with the letter's thrust. But none of the soldiers said he wrote it and one said he didn't even sign it.

The mother of another soldier, Spc. Nathan Whitelatch of Connellsville, Pa., said she didn't realize a letter bearing her son's name was about to be published until the local paper called her to verify his name. As soon as an editor read her the letter, Elizabeth Whitelatch knew her 20-year-old son hadn't written it.

But Whitelatch said Monday that she's not troubled.

``The general idea of the letter was good and the boys are proud of what they're doing. And we're all proud of them,'' she said.

Most of the letters were published during September, before the Bush administration's latest push to highlight U.S. efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation. The president is asking Congress to approve about $20 billion to help restore basic services.