Some Safety Advice for the U.S. Military

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A couple of nights ago, I was hanging around a major Middle Eastern airport, on a long layover. I had just come from Islamabad (yes, I realize I didn't share the information that I was in Pakistan with Goldblog readers while I was there -- trust me, it was for my own good) and was waiting for a flight to the States, and I began to notice something very troubling (I'm not naming the airport, the airline or the flight number for reasons that will become clear).

It became instantly obvious that this flight was going to carry a large number of Afghanistan-based American contractors and active-duty military personnel back home. It wasn't that the soldiers were in uniform -- American soldiers don't travel in uniform on international flights, for security reasons -- but they may as well have been. One small example: I was sitting, at one point, next to an American man of obvious military bearing, a real barrel-chested freedom fighter sort, who wore a polo shirt inscribed with the words, "Army Aviation Association." He was also carrying a camouflage tactical rucksack with his last name stitched on the back. He seemed like a senior-enough guy to have a Google profile, so I typed into my iPhone his last name, plus Afghanistan, plus "army aviation" and came up with his exact identity in 20 seconds. He is one of the key leaders of the military's drone programs in Afghanistan. Now if I weren't a patriot, but instead an anti-American jihadist, I might have seen this as an opportunity to do some damage.

Now of course, we were in an airport, a good airport with what I think is good security, but still, it seemed as if these people were inadvertently making themselves into obvious targets. I counted, in the crowd waiting to board the flight, five different guys wearing "Dyncorp" hats or shirts; Dyncorp is one of the biggest military contractors. I saw others wearing shirts labeled "General Dynamics" and "Iomax" and still others were wearing "Bagram Air Base" t-shirts, and almost all of these men -- dozens and dozens of them -- were wearing khaki tactical pants, Caterpillar boots, the whole non-uniform uniform. (And fanny-packs and those ridiculous wallet-on-a-string-around-your-neck things, but that is a separate fashion conversation.)

I know it is difficult for Americans not to look like Americans (believe me, as someone who took an unfortunate stroll through an iffy part of Rawalpindi last week, it is hard for Americans not to look like Americans) but there's something to be said for not advertising your military affiliation while standing in an airport in a Middle Eastern country.  It's not hijacking that I'm worried about, of course -- the Americans on this particular plane would have eaten a hijacker's liver with ketchup -- but that, over time, someone wandering through these airports will understand that particular flights on particular airlines from particular places carry large numbers of military-associated Americans, and that they will pass that information on to someone who will be tempted to try some sort of bombing or attack. In fact, I'm sure this has already been noticed. So for safety's sake, will someone communicate to the military, and to these companies, that khaki rucksacks and Air Force Academy T-shirts cause your people to stand out in a crowd?

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward, and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

His book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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