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StoryCorps, the national program that catalogs extraordinary stories of ordinary Americans, is turning its attention to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This month, StoryCorps launched its Military Voices Initiative, a yearlong effort to record the experiences of post-9/11 troops and their families.
The nonprofit, known mainly from broadcasts on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," wanted to give troops and their family members a voice as well as "connect those in our country with those who serve in the military," said Bob Patrick, director of the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project, a program that collects thousands of oral histories from veterans dating to World War I.
"There's a great gap there," Patrick said. "A lot of people don't understand … what our service members and their families are going through. We think this will be a great vehicle."
StoryCorps plans to interview more than 2,000 veterans and family members, recording roughly 700 stories.
Among the first troops to record their experiences was Army National Guard Spc. Justin Cliburn, who slipped into a recording booth with wife Deanna to talk about his friendship with an Iraqi boy, Ali.
Cliburn recalled how he played soccer and "rock, paper, scissors" with Ali and his friend Ahmed.
"Once I met these children, it made every day something I looked forward to," he said.
But one day, Ali showed up alone — Ahmed had been killed by a suicide bomber. Cliburn remembered sitting on a curb next to Ali, crying over the death of their mutual friend.
Of Ali, he says: "I wonder what became of him. I guess it's the nature of war, but whenever I see footage of Baghdad, I'm just kind of looking around, wondering if he's in the frame."
Nearly 45,000 StoryCorps interviews have been recorded and preserved by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress since the program launched in 2003 to catalog and preserve memories of Sept. 11, 2001.
The military interviews will be stored, too; some will be edited to air on NPR's "Weekend Edition" on Saturday mornings.
"Weekend Edition" host Scott Simon said he is looking forward to sharing the stories, hoping they will bridge what he sees as a disconnect between service members and many Americans in his audience.
"In recent years, I've noticed a tinge of pity that comes into some of the public rhetoric about U.S. soldiers," Simon said. "People venerate their service but somehow soldiers, sailors and airmen are some kind of victims. They are not. I think some people just don't recognize selflessness when they see it."
The locations of StoryCorps' mobile booths — where veterans and family members can go to record their own experiences — is available at www.storycorps.org/record-your-story">www.storycorps.org/record-your-story.