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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Encore Presentation: Beyond the Front Lines

Aired November 22, 2006 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again. In this hour, a special 360, "Beyond the Front Lines." War Stories, the reality of life in the military, seen through the eyes of young Americans serving our country.
ANNOUNCER: Faces of courage, faces of youth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CODY BARKER, U.S. ARMY: They're a bunch of kids over there, man. Kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: American heroes far from home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a lot of things that stick with you that you never forget. The first time you're shot at.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, hear about the war from the men and women who are fighting it.

In the Navy, it's not exactly "Top Gun." Climb aboard the "USS Tortuga," where the young crew learns what life is really like on the high seas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NOELLE ROOT, 21 YEARS OLD: Duties come first before family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: And African outpost, welcome to the only U.S. military base in Sub-Saharan Africa. Here, soldiers barely out of high school are turning to a new strategy to prevent the next 9/11. Will it work? This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360, "Beyond the Front Lines." Reporting from the CNN studios in New York, here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: Thanks for joining us. Tonight you're going to see a side of the war on terror that we rarely see. Six young journalism students from the University of California-Berkeley spent part of the last year making documentaries about other young Americans serving in the military.

They weren't looking at the front lines, however. They wanted to go beyond the battlefield, to find out what it's like to be young and sometimes scared and on very unfamiliar ground. The student journalists say making these documentaries not only opened their eyes, it changed them as well.

We begin with our first report. It's about a rock band touring the war zone circuit, and young soldiers on a much needed break from the war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CERISSA TANNER, PRODUCER, U.C. BERKELEY "NEWS21" (voice-over): It was a simple idea, a story with no news pack, just an itinerary. Six U.S. military bases in five Islamic countries, 11 days on the road with "Hello Dave," a rock band from Chicago, so that we could talk to soldiers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you all is probably close to the first ones, females being in our tent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are you from?

ALIZA NADI, PRODUCER, U.S. BERKELEY "NEWS21": I'm from New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New York?

NADI: Went to school in California, born in Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where in California did you go to school at?

NADI: Berkeley. U.C. Berkeley.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ooh, some smart girls here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you, same thing?

TANNER: I grew up in Berkeley, then I went to Berkeley.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You grew up in Berkeley, so you're a California girl?

TANNER: I'm a California girl.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You might want to back off a little bit in case something come flying out of there.

TANNER: Welcome to the war zone circuit. First stop, Djibouti, a country in east Africa that I had never heard of before.

(SINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How does that happen?

TANNER: One of the first things we noticed is that we attract a lot of attention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a three-beer limit, 24-hour period. I probably have about 450 cases of beer. Which should last tonight, I hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank God for the country girls!

TANNER: Djibouti felt like a party, a very hot party!

I've never sweat so much in my life.

This is my partner, Aliza, escaping the heat in the freezer in the cantina. The temperature can reach 140 degrees.

(SINGING)

TANNER: If this is the war zone circuit, the war felt very far away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have your bags bagged, ready to board the C- 1307. We're going to...

TANNER: Our next stop is 1,000 miles northeast across Saudi Arabia. We can't tell you the name of the base, but its nickname is the Taj Mahal. This is the Air Force's main hub in the Middle East. The airmen stationed here were not laying out or getting an ice cream at the pool's Dairy Queen. Flight combat missions over Iraq.

When "Hello Dave" isn't performing, the band visits local charities; or in this case, the hospital on base.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most common surgery that comes down here from the theater is actually hernias.

TANNER: Cody Barker broke the record for most hernias the hospital has ever seen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had three hernias. Yes, it's from that (ph), moving it up and down, all of the ammo and stuff.

TANNER: Cody's a gunner on a Humvee, stationed south of Baghdad. The gun alone weighs 72 pounds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you realize what he does, he's the one with his head sticking out the top.

CODY BARKER, U.S. ARMY: Getting shot by a sniper.

TANNER: Has it happened ever?

BARKER: Oh, we've lost quite a -- yes, snipers are a big thing over there. Big thing. You hear about it a lot and see it a lot, too. TANNER: Without his bulletproof vest, Cody wouldn't be standing here. Right before he left the war zone, a sniper hit him in the chest over his heart.

BARKER: Unexpected.

TANNER: Cody's been hit by shrapnel over a dozen time and he's lost a lot of guys, but he only wants to talk about one.

BARKER: PFC Bobby West -- or no, PFC Specialist West. He's a fun guy. Good guy. Yes. He's a good guy.

TANNER: West, a 23-year-old from Arkansas, was killed in Baghdad by an IED May 30th, just days before we met Cody.

BARKER: It's hard. Just, just a lot of it is hard. Coming to a spot like this or a base, post, when you start, you have time to think about everything that you've seen and everything that's gone on. It gets to you. And it's hard. They're a bunch of kids over there, man. Kids

KEVIN FOSSATI, U.S. MARINES: I'm from Texas, the Lone Star state. I love Texas. Texas is the best! No, I'm not married, I'm single. No kids. Absolutely no kids!

(SINGING)

TANNER: The Oasis is an Army bar at a base down the road. At night the club fills with young soldiers flown here from Iraq for R&R. They get four days off and three beers a night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many beers can I have? Am I going to be able to drink more than three? I think so.

JAMES HUNTER, U.S. ARMY: All right, let's go. I'm ready. How do you want me to stand? Am I good?

TANNER: We met an army photographer who turned 21 the day before he deployed for Iraq.

HUNTER: I'll just be comfortable. I came here in my ACUs, Army combat uniform, you know, full battle rattle.

(SINGING)

TANNER: James never held a gun or a camera before he went to Iraq. Now he uses both.

HUNTER: Right hand for camera. Left hand for weapon.

TANNER: James has been in Iraq taking pictures for the last six months.

(SINGING)

TANNER: Bernard Cooper traded the violence on the streets of his hometown for the war in Iraq.

BERNARD COOPER, U.S. ARMY: Real World. I just had to get way from stuff, you know what I'm saying? Stuff at home ain't too good. Like my mom said, either you die quicker here than you would being in the Army going to Iraq.

(SINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we go out and barbecue and drink our non- alcoholic beer and, you know, smoke our cigarettes. You know, a little piece of home.

TANNER: This soldier may have one of the worst jobs in Iraq. What everyone fears, he seeks out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I run IED sweeps out of -- we run out of Baghdad and go south for about 120 miles. We come back north. We've been here for about 7-1/2 months, got another 4-1/2 before we go home.

I remember I was in high school, and I was in my sophomore algebra II class. We were sitting in class whenever the news came on about September 11th, when the two towers got hit. And until then, you know, I haven't really thought much about the military. And whenever that happened, I was like, you know, that's something I want to do.

TANNER: We ran into Cody later. After he recovers, he'll return to Iraq. He had some advice for anyone thinking of following in his footsteps.

BARKER: If they want to serve their country and if they're doing it for the right reasons, go ahead. But if you're just trying to do it just to be a bad ass or something like that, don't.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

We'll have more from these troops taking a break from the action when we return.

It was the moment one soldier will never forget. The first time he was shot at and the first time he pulled his trigger. That's coming up.

And later, climb aboard a Navy ship as it moves through the South China Sea. Delivering supplies and trying to keep heads above water. That and more, when this special edition of 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(SINGING)

COOPER: Welcome back to our special, "Beyond the Front Lines." Before the break we showed you how two student filmmakers followed a Chicago rock band across U.S. military bases in the Middle East. They weren't there to report on the music. They wanted to talk to soldiers, other young Americans, to find out what life is like in the military. The experience changed the filmmakers, especially after they spoke to one serviceman about the first time he fired his weapon at someone.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TANNER: It's the last night at this location and the band is rehearsing. That's when we met Jason, who had to make due with the sound check because he wasn't going to be here for the concert.

JASON FRANK, U.S AIR FORCE. Yes, I'm down here on R&R from Afghanistan for two days. I'm still kind of on edge, loud bangs and noises, you jump a little bit.

TANNER: R&R is a sudden change in real that's not always easy for them.

FRANK: There's a lot of things that stick with you that you never forget. The first time you're shot at, the first person you have to shoot at, I guess you could say, I don't know. RPGs, mortars. I think the thing that will stick with me the most out of this experience was my first IED.

I just remember this loud, just boom, and your ears started ringing and it was, you felt this warm air and it just sucked all of the breath out of your lungs. And it's hard to explain it until you've been there, you know, to understand. But it's just, I think it's something that I'll never forget.

(SINGING)

FRANK: A lot of people have forgotten we're still fighting a war in Afghanistan. Though it's not in the headlines every day, it's like old news. I mean we have just as much going on there as it is in Iraq.

(SINGING)

FRANK: Yes, we're going back. It sucks. That's my own personal concert. I feel, I feel special. Something before I go back to hell.

C-17. C-17 straight shots, three hour 15 minute flight. It's a long flight back. It's just a lot longer than coming here, trust me. Frank out. You all take care.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Cerissa Tanner and Aliza Nadi are the journalism students behind the piece you just watched. I spoke with them earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Cerissa, let me start off with you. What was this experience like?

TANNER (on camera): It was amazing. COOPER: Different than you thought it was going to be?

TANNER: You know, I didn't really know what to expect. I'd never been on a military base before. We didn't know who we would find or what we would meet. So we just really set out to take the journey, essentially.

COOPER: Same with you, Aliza?

NADI: Exactly. It was pretty jarring. It was overwhelming. We had this hour by hour itinerary set for us, and then once we got there, we had no idea to what to really expect.

COOPER: Did meeting these troops, meeting these young men and women, I mean, did it change the way you view the war on terror?

TANNER: It totally changed my definition of what I think of as courage. You know, it's not sort of about these real macho guys. Really, what it was, is these very young, very vulnerable people really enduring amazing things that we kind of have no concept of. And it's that just consistent ability to endure under extreme duress, which is what sort of now I define as courage.

COOPER: Few people here really realize how tough it is and, I mean, the heroism that it almost becomes routine for them.

TANNER: Exactly. And we got to see them at a really unusual point, sort of in this pocket of four days when they know they're safe, and trying to unwind, as difficult as that could be after leaving a war zone either in Iraq or Afghanistan. So we also, we wanted to show a side of these soldiers that you don't normally get a chance to see.

COOPER: I want to bring in James Hunter, the army photographer who's in the piece that you did who is currently serving in Iraq. He joins us now from Baghdad.

James, thanks for being with us.

HUNTER: You're welcome.

COOPER: First of all, why did you decide to talk to these two young women?

HUNTER: Well, me being a journalist and all, when we talk to other soldiers about talking with the media, we always say if you get the chance to talk to the media, always take it because if you're not going to tell your story, then somebody -- then who is? I saw it as an opportunity to tell my side of the story and what I've seen in Iraq.

COOPER: So it wasn't just the fact that they were the only two women around? No, I'm just kidding, James. That was a little joke, sorry.

Well, let me ask you about the R&R. How important is it to have something like that R&R? I mean, is it to be able to recharge at least for a couple days?

HUNTER: That's definitely it, recharging, that's where it's at. You get so spun up in everything that's going on and you wear yourself out at some points. And being able to go on R&R and relax and just talk to other people, and I guess hear everyone else's story. It definitely recharged me and it brought me back and I came back stronger.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: From the desert to the Middle East, to the middle of the sea. If you want to know what life is really like in the Navy, this may be the best place to start and it is a very long way from home. That story, coming up.

And later, welcome to the only U.S. military base in Sub-Saharan Africa, where young Americans are hoping to prevent another September 11 from happening. All that and more ahead, when this special edition of 360, "Beyond the Front Lines."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. Tonight on this special edition of 360, we're going beyond the front lines with some remarkable stories of young people in the military. Stories told by journalism students from U.C. Berkeley.

We continue now at sea where American naval ships stand guard at points all around the world. The U.S. Navy has 281 deployable battle force ships. About a third of those are on deployment right now, including the USS Tortuga, stationed in the Pacific. There, every day life is anything but easy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EMILY TAGUCHI, PRODUCER, U.C. BERKELEY "NEWS21": We're going to the fifth floor.

LEE WANG, PRODUCER, U.C. BERKELEY "NEWS21" (voice-over): That's my partner Emily, and I'm Lee. Neither of us have ever been on a Navy ship before and we quickly realize we have a lot to learn. One of the first things we have to get used to are the drills. They happen almost every day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're in the middle of an exercise of man overboard, and we're supposed to report to an office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Satell (ph), answer me.

WANG: This is where we meet John, one of the three sailors we end up spending most of our time with.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here.

WANG: He's 24, one of the youngest officers on the ship. An hour later, it's clear the fire drill didn't exactly go as planned. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it comes to saving lives, it's a big deal. And I don't tolerate any fooling around or any (EXPLETIVE DELETED) from you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very difficult coming in. And the way they see it, they see this young college punk that comes in, and all of a sudden he's your boss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ask questions. Don't give people attitudes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I have to use confidence at any and all times. Because if I don't, my guys will see weakness.

WANG: It's 6:00 a.m., and we're somewhere in the South China Sea, hundreds of miles from anything resembling a war.

But we didn't come here to see the front lines. We came to see how most of the Navy spends its time.

Not on aircraft carriers, but on smaller ships, like the USS Tortuga. 350 sailors call this place home. And for nine days, so did we.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Skip on the veggies. Yes, I would too. We won't tell you mother, though, all right?

WANG: This is where we meet Mike. He's only been on the ship for six months and he's in the middle of what's called cranking. It's an initiation of sorts for new sailors. 90 days of serving food, doing dishes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Appreciate it.

WANG: And cleaning up after everyone else.

MIKE PLITT, 21 YEARS OLD: If I did not join the Navy, I would be in Pennsylvania doing the same thing I did every other day. I was just like, you know, where's the party at? Where's the party at? Where's the party at? Just realizing that I wanted to get out and do something, I wanted to be somebody.

WANG: That's Noelle. We meet her on the smoke deck, one of the most popular and loudest spots on the ship.

Is there anyone who doesn't smoke?

NOELLE ROOT, 21 YEARS OLD: Who doesn't? I don't know about, I think about 75 percent of the ship smokes. It gives you some time to get away from work for a little bit. I think my parents shouldn't see me smoking.

WANG: Noelle is a deck seaman, which means she does a little bit of everything. She's also one of the lowest ranking and worst paid people on the ship. And like most of the enlisted, she joined straight out of high school. ROOT: I decided that it would be best if I just got away from my family and I would have money for college and I was thinking what I want to do. I never would have thought in a million years I would join the Navy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are we decent? Everybody dressed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody's dressed.

WANG: Women aren't normally allowed in here, but we get a special tour.

PLITT: Satell. Say hi. You're on TV. Like, this is like Mike's spot. This is my oasis. You know, get in my rack, I shut my curtains, you know, turn off the light. I just chill. See, I can just -- see right now, like that, and just kind of like shut off from everybody. So it's kind of nice.

WANG: For nine days we slept in a room just like this. The beds are about two feet wide, which is why the sailors call them coffins. One floor up from Mike's room we get a peek at how the officers live.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These were my three roommates.

WANG: That's John at VMI, the Virginia Military Institute. He went there for college and graduated from an all-male military high school before that. But that wasn't entirely his choice.

JOHN COBB, IV, 24 YEARS OLD: My parents signed me up and took me there, dropped me off, drove away. That's pretty much how it went.

WANG: Did you want to go?

COBB: No. But there really wasn't much I could do. They said you're going. I said I don't want to. They said, too bad. I said, OK.

WANG: Most of the ship is still asleep. But at any hour, someone's day is ending and another person's is just beginning.

Noelle's day begins with watch. Looking out for ships the Tortuga's radars may have missed.

How do you feel right now?

ROOT: I'm exhausted. I feel like I need a cup of coffee, but...

WANG: She still has 12 more hours to go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You guys can't wait?

WANG: And sometimes she's asked to do some pretty random things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's supposed to be three boxes of meat coming. See if it's on its way. ROOT: Three boxes of meat? Chief wants to know about the three boxes of meat. The chief wants to know about the three boxes of meat that's supposed to be being brought down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go see TS3 Williams.

ROOT: TS3 Williams?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes?

ROOT: OK. Never mind. You answered my question about the three boxes of meat coming up.

WANG: What's going on right now?

ROOT: We're getting ready for flight quarters because the admiral's coming on board.

WANG: Big deal?

ROOT: That's why we have people in the colored jackets, we call it over the rainbow.

WANG: With high-powered people like the admiral on board, everyone's on edge.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And it's not just the admiral the sailors have to face. There's also the loneliness of life at sea. What's next for the crew of the USS Tortuga? That answer's coming up.

And later, some call this the model of what the future American military force will look like. We'll take you there at what the filmmakers call the peace corps with guns, when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Before the break, we took you on board the USS Tortuga, a naval ship stationed in the Pacific, far from the front lines. We saw just how some of the young people on board that ship live day to day. When we left our story, the crew was on edge, preparing for a visit from the admiral.

Once again, the young journalists from U.C. Berkeley take us inside.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you ready?

PLITT: I was told to fix the ice machine.

WANG: The admiral is expected for dinner any minute now. And it's Mike's job to get the machine working before he arrives. But there's something clogging the pipes. A few minutes later, the machine is fixed. And Mike manages to change his shirt and get behind the serving line just on time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you doing this evening?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you doing this evening, Master Chief?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great, great.

PLITT: What can I get you this evening, Admiral?

Growing up, I was always so, if you don't do your work, you don't do your job, what else do you have? As long as you do your work, you know, you say you're going to do something, you get it done on time.

WANG: It's our last night on the Tortuga. We're pulling into Singapore in the morning. Everyone's busy making plans for their time off in Singapore.

But Noelle's mind is full of something else.

ROOT: My birthday was right before we left. He filled his room with 50 balloons.

WANG: Noelle just got married last year. And her husband is also in the Navy. But according to Navy regulations, now that they're married, they can't serve on the same ship.

ROOT: I really want him here. And the Navy won't let it happen because duties come first before family. That's really hard, especially if something happens to your family when you're over here. It's really hard. Because you can't be there to help them, but you know that according to them, serving your country comes first before family. And I know that, but it's still really hard.

My ultimate goal is to be an elementary school art teacher, to have a small family, a dog, two kids. We're going to move up to Massachusetts. Close to his family, close enough to my family, just...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Being promoted today from ensign to lieutenant junior grade, Ensign Lieutenant Junior Grade John Cobb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Raise your hand, sir.

WANG: What are like the different scenarios for you in 10 years?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I really want to go back to grad school, get at least a doctorate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I take this obligation freely.

COBB: I take this obligation freely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without any mental reservations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And do research. And eventually teach.

COBB: So help me God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we go back home, I'm going to talk to my friends, what'd you this past year? And then you sit there and go like, you know what, man, we had that same party and it was awesome. What did you do? I went so Singapore, went to Thailand, and Japan. I live in Japan. Back where I live, I never met anybody who has ever been to Japan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Emily Taguchi and Lee Wang are the two student filmmakers who documented life on USS Tortuga. I sat down with them earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: I'm going to ask both of you this.

Emily, what do want people to take way from your film?

TAGUCHI: A lot of times, at least what I see on TV are of soldiers, the pictures of them after they die in Iraq. And there's hundreds of thousands of other young people who are serving. And if we could give them a face and a story, I think that's all I could ask for.

WANG (on camera): I want people to know that young people are capable of amazing things and are capable of tremendous responsibility. I think that, you know, we as a society kind of think, oh, well the new generations, you know, they watch video games and watch MTV. But I think in fact there are, you know, thousands of young people that make this choice that involves tremendous amount of responsibility. And often they're doing it to better their own lives, you know, to go to college, to help their families. So I hope they come away with a sense of respect for people that are under 25.

COOPER: I want to bring in Seaman Noelle Root, who was part of the documentary.

Noelle, are you there?

ROOT (on the phone): Yes, I'm here.

COOPER: Noelle, you know, a lot of people don't realize the sacrifices that you and the other, you know, men and women aboard that ship and in the Navy make. Explain a little bit, I mean, how often do you get to see your husband? How often do you get to see your family?

ROOT: When they do allow us time, I'd say about two weeks to fly home, see your families, and stuff.

COOPER: I know your mom recently had a stroke and I'm wondering how she's doing and how you're doing with it.

ROOT: She's OK. She's a tough lady. She's taking it day by day. I'm doing OK.

COOPER: You're not on the front lines, but you're part of this fight. Is it hard to sort of stay focused on that, to feel like you're part of this mission?

ROOT: It's difficult to stay focused on particular things, especially with what's going on at home. My heart's here right now, I have a mission to complete.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: It's a place where Americans are surrounded by chaos and desperation. It used to be a French foreign legion base. Now it is home to Americans hoping to stop the seeds of terror from growing. That's next on the special edition of 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. Armed with cameras and microphones, some young filmmakers from U.C. Berkeley are giving us a look tonight at life beyond the front lines, showing us how other young Americans are serving their country now around the world.

Some of these men and women are stationed at the only U.S. military base in Sub-Saharan Africa, in the country of Djibouti. And it is there where they are trying to stop other young people from turning to terror.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, welcome to Camp Lemonier. I'm First Lieutenant Omar Villarreal (ph), combined joint task force Horn of Africa here in Djibouti.

AARON SELVERSTON, PRODUCER, U.C. BERKELEY "NEWS21" (voice-over): I'm Aaron Selverston. This my partner Najla Benmbarek. Welcome to the Horn of Africa.

It's one of the least hospitable regions of the planet, unless, of course, you're a terrorist organization. In which case, you couldn't find a better place to capitalize on poverty, desperation and hopelessness.

And that's why here in Djibouti, right in the middle of it all, you'll find Camp Lemonier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We arrive here, take a 360-degree snapshot, that's just, you know, regular Joes off the street and think to ourselves, wow, this place really has a chance.

SELVERSTON: Steve McKnight is a Florida high school teach and Army reservist leading a civil affairs team in Djibouti. If the army is the tip of the sphere, Steve is kind of the bringer of the olive branch.

LT. STEVE MCKNIGHT, U.S. MARINES: I think the challenge for us is to not view ourselves as problem solvers and fixers, but to come in here and do our best, to be listeners and try to understand and find out if there's a contribution that we can make if there's a role that we can play within the framework of local solutions to local problems.

SELVERSTON: Steve's civil affairs team pulled into this remote school in Djibouti City to talk to the school's director about how America might offer assistance.

MCKNIGHT: We're going to speak with the school director as soon as we get our interpreter in here.

SELVERSTON: But the director didn't wait.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So the director of the school's saying that there's almost a 1,900 students in this school and that since 1986, it hasn't been renovated. So some classrooms are in a really, really bad state. And the ceilings are almost falling on the students.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We haven't repaired the light bulbs, fans, electricity cables in awhile. You'll see. Even the ceilings have birds living in them.

SELVERSTON: The director knows that there's no guarantee Americans will help him and he's been burned in the past.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I have a question for you.

I was hoping for the rehabilitation of the school. Will you do it? I don't want the answer now. The answer when you see the classrooms. You know why I'm asking you that? Because the UNICEF came, the Americans came. And the French.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We can't promise you that we're going to help you.

MCKNIGHT: We're covered again.

SELVERSTON: This classroom is in bad shape and in desperate need of repair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Some light bulbs are not working. Some are. But there isn't enough light.

SELVERSTON: And the bathrooms are also in atrocious condition.

MCKNIGHT: Believe it or not, we've actually even seen worse than this. But you can see how this can be a deterrent for school attendance.

SELVERSTON: Down the street from Camp Lemonier, an orphanage houses girls who have lost their parents to civil war, AIDS and abandonment. Today, a U.S. Air Force band plays American hits for the girls.

(SINGING) SELVERSTON: When the band finishes, the girls bring us outside where they throw an impromptu dance party with a much more contemporary beat.

(SINGING)

SELVERSTON: The girls want to show Najla their room upstairs, maybe because she also speaks French and Arabic or perhaps because, like them, she's a Muslim woman.

NAJLA BENMBAREK, PRODUCER, U.C. BERKELEY "NEWS21": These are the girls' lockers. You can see the American influence.

SELVERSTON: Many names we recognized. Many we did not. But there was one name we definitely weren't expecting to see here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Osama bin Laden.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I love him.

BENMBAREK: Why would you rather put "Osama" than put "Allah is great?"

You'd rather put the name of someone who killed people in the name of Muslims?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): No! He didn't kill anybody.

BENMBAREK: Really? He didn't kill 5,000 people? Others in the whole world?

Well, you're wrong. "God is great" is more appropriate than this criminal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): OK. I'll erase it.

SELVERSTON: When the girl told Najla she'd erase Osama's name from her locker, she was probably just trying to please her new friend. If only it were that easy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wars are started based on ignorance. I would venture to guess that the guys who flew planes into the World Trade Center towers probably didn't have a whole lot of perspective.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you give hope to people? I think you do it by, you know, influencing economies, providing jobs, providing a place for people to go to school. I think we can have success because I think there's something about the human condition that is hopeful.

SELVERSTON: In the Horn of Africa, the conflict we fear has yet to happen. If it does, and our troops here have to pick up their guns and fight, the mission will have failed. Knowing that we've won will be much more difficult. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Aaron Selverston and Najla Benmbarek were the two student filmmakers from U.C. Berkeley who went to that camp in Djibouti. I spoke with them earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We're calling this "Beyond the Front Lines." Why do you think it's important to do what you had did? Why go beyond the front lines?

NAJLA BENMBAREK, PRODUCER, U.C. BERKELEY "NEWS21": Because these people are doing this great job. They're in East Africa, because they're thinking of the next generation. And they're hoping that there will be no 9/11, another 9/11 or another generation of suicide bombers coming from this region because they were there and they met these people and they helped them. And I think it's very important to keep that in mind.

SELVERSTON (on camera): The war on terror is -- when people think of the war on terror, people think of Iraq and Afghanistan. And a lot of critics of the war say, you know, how are we going to make anyone love us by dropping bombs on them? And so, if the answer to that question is well, by helping them in some way, by building their economy, helping them, you know, gain access to education, food, water, then you could argue that that's exactly what the military's trying to do in East Africa.

COOPER: You have this fascinating confrontation in the school, I guess it was, with this girl. Explain that. What happened?

BENMBAREK: We're in the girls' rooms and we're talking and everything and then they show me their lockers.

COOPER: When you first saw the name of Osama written there, what did you think?

BENMBAREK: That was last name I was expecting to see. To be honest with you, I was totally shocked and furious.

COOPER: Furious?

BENMBAREK: Yes. Because well, I'm Muslim. So of course, I'm expecting to see the values I believe in. And this is not exactly what I would like to see coming from a Muslim person.

COOPER: You couldn't stay objective?

BENMBAREK: No, I could not. I think -- you're a reporter, yes, it's true. But there's nothing -- there's nothing wrong in showing the person in front of you that actually there's a misunderstanding and a big one because obviously when I started talking to her, she had no idea who Osama bin Laden was. She -- he was more a pop star or a rock star than what he really is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We'll have more of "Beyond the Front Lines" in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Joe Johns. More of "Beyond the Front Lines" in a moment. First, a "360 Bulletin."

O.J. Simpson tells the Associated Press he made the "If I Did It" book and TV deal for one reason: cash. And he admits it would have been blood money. After a massive public outcry, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. scrapped the book and Simpson's interview with publisher Judith Regan. They were billed as quasi-confessions to the killings of his wife, Nicole, and friend, Ron Goldman, but today, Simpson told a radio station in Miami he, quote, "had nothing to confess."

Danvers, Massachusetts, near Boston. An investigation is underway into an explosion at a chemical plant. Nearly 90 homes were destroyed or damaged. The blast could be felt 20 miles away. Surprisingly, only 10 people suffered minor injuries.

Stormy weather along the East Coast is making traveling harder this Thanksgiving holiday. A system of heavy rains and winds has snarled travel on the roads and in the skies for millions of Americans. AAA estimates 37.2 million people will travel over this long holiday weekend.

And on this Thanksgiving eve, a stay of execution for a turkey. President Bush pardoned Flyer, the national Thanksgiving turkey, at the White House today. Flyer will be an honorary grand marshal at Disneyland's Thanksgiving Day Parade. So will Fryer, the backup bird who also got a presidential pardon.

Those are the headlines. Back to "Beyond the Front Lines" in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: I'd like to thank the Carnegie-Knight Foundation and U.C. Berkeley for making this project possible, and a special thanks to the journalism students and all the young men and women in uniform who shared their stories with us tonight.

Thanks for watching. Good night.

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