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Tuesday, October 14

Battalion commander takes responsibility for form letters

By Ledyard King | GNS

WASHINGTON - An Army battalion commander has taken responsibility for a campaign that sent hundreds of identical letters to hometown newspapers promoting his soldiers' rebuilding efforts in Iraq.

Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo said he wanted to highlight his unit's work and ``share that pride with people back home.''

Army officials revealed Tuesday that 500 identical form letters were sent to newspapers across the country with different signatures. They said the mass mailing was the wrong way to get the message out, but they didn't know if the commander would be disciplined.

``It sounded like a good idea at their level (but) it's just not the way to do business. They're not going to do that again,'' said Lt. Col. Bill MacDonald, a spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division that is leading operations in north-central Iraq.

Caraccilo heads the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, a paratroop unit normally based in Italy with roughly 800 soldiers. The battalion has spent the past few months in the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk restoring basic services.

Amid the daily headlines of bloodshed and unrest in Iraq, Caraccilo wanted to draw attention to the work of his troops by mailing a form letter to soldiers' hometowns.

"The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened," reads the five-paragraph, typed letter sent in late summer.

MacDonald said no one was forced to sign the letter although most did. At least one soldier contacted by Gannett News Service said he never signed the letter that appeared in his hometown paper in Charleston, W.Va. He compared signing the letter to cheating on a test.

Several parents said they knew their sons had not written the letters that appeared in local papers.

The letter appeared in at least a dozen papers, according to a GNS search.

Caraccilo said he meant no harm.

``The letter was purely an effort made by soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry to afford our soldiers an opportunity to let their respective hometowns know what they are accomplishing here in Kirkuk,'' he wrote in an e-mail to the 4th Infantry Division public affairs office. The e-mail was dictated by the office Tuesday to GNS. Attempts to reach Caraccilo directly were unsuccessful.

``As you might expect, they are working at an extremely fast pace, and getting the good news back home is not always easy,'' he continued in the e-mail. ``We thought it would be a good idea to encapsulate what we as a battalion have accomplished since arriving in Iraq, and share that pride with people back home.''

Military officials said they were unaware of any plans to discipline Caraccilo and stressed that his aims were honorable.

News of the letter-writing campaign emerged over the weekend as President Bush and other administration officials were conducting their own campaign to emphasize successes in Iraq while polls show American opinion on the mission souring.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday he didn't have details of the letter-writing campaign and referred questions to military commanders.

``The intention was good but the delivery system was probably not a good way to do it because of misperceptions that could be taken,'' MacDonald said. ``You don't want anybody out there saying I never saw that letter.''---

(Contributing: Judy Keen, USA TODAY)