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LEARNING FROM VETERANS: How to participate


If you or a loved one has deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, or any other operation since 11 September, 2001, I welcome you to participate in Learning from Veterans. I am happy to talk to you whether you are currently active duty, reserve component, separated, retired, or a civilian friend or family member. If you are a Public Affairs Officer, veterans’ advocate, or other representative for personnel who have deployed and who would like to participate, I’m glad to work with you to set up interviews for them. Please email me at and I will get in touch with you as soon as I can to arrange an interview.

In your first email

Please include some basics about yourself:

- Your or your loved one’s branch of service (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, other), rank, military specialty (MOS, AFSOC, Rating), and status (active, reserve, separated, retired).

- When and where you or your loved one deployed.

- Whether you or your loved one are currently married or have children.

- Whether you or your loved one have any injuries or disabilities as a result of military service.

- Whether you or your loved one been decorated for valor or service.

- Some times and dates that would work for you to speak to me for about two hours, and your time zone. 

- The best phone number(s) at which to reach you.


- I perform most interviews by telephone; I will happily call you at whatever number you choose at any mutually convenient time. Occasionally, I’m able to travel to do a group of interviews at a single unit, schoolhouse, or base.

- A typical oral history interview takes over two hours, but can range from under one hour to several hours over multiple sessions. Length varies unpredictably from person to person depending on how long you or your loved ones have been in the military, how many tours you or they have had with different units in different places, and how comfortable you feel talking. If an interview starts running too long for you, or if you become uncomfortable in any way, we can break off and resume at another time.

- I love to have photos of the people I talk to, their comrades, and their family members, so my readers can see you as well as read or hear your words. At your convenience, either before or after your interview, please email me the highest-resolution digital images you have available. Informal, unposed pictures in working uniforms and other casual clothes work best; formal, posed shots where everyone lines up against a wall or in front of a flag usually don’t show your individual personality very well.


Every interview is different, depending on each individual participant’s service, but I try to cover certain common topics in each one.

For current and former military servicemembers:

- Where did you grow up?

- Did you have any military personnel in your family or who influenced your choice to join the armed forces?

- Why did you join up? When and how?

- How long have you been (or were you) in the military?

- Where and how did you serve before your first deployment?

- How well did the military personnel system allow you to make best use of your individual capabilities and experiences, from deployment and otherwise?

- How well did your training and professional military education prepare you for each deployment?

- What were your biggest surprises and personal lessons-learned from each deployment?

- Where did you deploy and when?

- What was your unit, your mission, and your base?

- What was your typical “day in the life” during each deployment?

- What is your best memory of your deployment? What is the worst?

- Did you experience combat? Direct fire? Indirect fire? IEDs?

- Were you or comrades of yours injured, physically or psychologically, in combat or in accidents?

- Did you work with local civilians?

- Did you work with allied militaries or local security forces?

- If you were married or had children at the time of your deployment, what was the experience of separation like?

- What was it like getting ready to leave your family?

- What was it like coming back?

- If you had multiple deployments, what was it like getting ready to go again?

For loved ones of military personnel:

- Where did you grow up?

- Did you have any military personnel in your family?

- How did you meet your servicemember?

- Do you live on base, near base, or far from any military installation?

- What is it like to be the spouse/child/relative/friend of a military servicemember?

- What was it like preparing for your servicemember to deploy?

- What was it like when your servicemember came back?

- If your servicemember had multiple deployments, what was it like getting ready for them to go again?


You are helping me by participating in an interview. It’s my job to protect your privacy.

- I prefer to record interviews; if you don’t want to be recorded, just say so.

- I prefer not to conduct anonymous interviews, but if you absolutely do not wish your name to be published, I’m certainly willing to discuss it.

- By default, anything you say is “on the record” and can be published, either in print or online, as text or an audio clip, immediately or years later. If you don’t want a certain remark or a whole conversation to be “on the record,” just say so. I’ll ask whether I can quote you anonymously, or if you simply don’t want me to use what you said in any way.

- If you tell my something highly personal, sensitive, or potentially damaging to yourself or others, I will remind you that you might want to take that remark “off the record” whether you mention it or not. I’ve done this for several sources in the past and it’s a point of professional honor for me that I protect my sources this way.

- Please do not tell me anything that is classified or would otherwise endanger American or allied lives if published. If you do let something slip, please warn me to take that remark “off the record” as soon as you realize it, either during the interview or later.

- If I am in doubt about whether something you said was on the record, too personal, or classified, I will make every effort to contact you before publishing to make sure. To reemphasize something I take very seriously: You are helping me, and it’s my job to protect your privacy in return.



Sydney Freedberg