U-T San Diego Reporter and Photographer Return to Afghanistan as WarDraws to Close

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Award-Winning Journalists have Made Numerous Trips to War Zone to Report on LocalTroops

Gretel Kovach

U-T San Diego has provided incisive, on-the-ground reporting of the Afghanistan War since the beginning.

U-T San Diego is sending two of its most experienced journalists back to Afghanistan to cover Camp Pendleton-based Marines and other troops as the military winds down combat operations in what has become the United States’ longest-running war.

Reporter Gretel C. Kovach and photographer Nelvin C. Cepeda will be based at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province, southwestern Afghanistan, for about four weeks. Both are well-versed in war-zone reporting: Kovach is making her fifth trip to Afghanistan; Cepeda is making his fourth. Since 2001, U-T San Diego has sent eight reporters and photographers to the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq. Each of their embed trips lasted one to two months.

“U-T San Diego has provided incisive, on-the-ground reporting of the Afghanistan War since the beginning,” said Jeff Light, U-T San Diego’s Editor and Vice President - News & Content. “We bring an important localized perspective because troops from San Diego County have played a major role in this war. But we are always authoritative at the national and international levels of reporting as well.”

U-T San Diego Chairman and Publisher Papa Doug Manchester said he was proud of the troops and the journalists who travel to war zones to cover them. “This embed trip is part of U-T San Diego’s ongoing mission to set the national standard for military and veterans coverage,” Manchester said. “We are proud of our military men and women who make great sacrifices for our country and our journalists who tell their story.”

Kovach and Cepeda are expected to meet Marine Brig. Gen. Daniel Yoo, the former commanding general of Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, who is slated to be the last commander in charge of international forces in southwestern Afghanistan. They also hope to meet with Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top commander of the NATO coalition in Afghanistan and former commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force headquartered at Camp Pendleton.

Over the years, Kovach and Cepeda have provided countless news articles, blog entries, in-depth enterprise stories and extensive photography and video projects from the war zone.

Kovach won the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s 2014 award for local reporting, it was announced last month. It was the second time Kovach has been honored with The General Oliver P. Smith Award for “a distinguished example of local news reporting by an individual that illuminates the U.S. Marine Corps’ relationship with local communities.”

Kovach was recognized this year for a feature on belated valor awards for Vietnam War veterans, a series about the Pentagon’s cancellation of the Miramar Air Show, and a story about efforts to “reawaken” Camp Pendleton Marines to standards and discipline amid the wartime drawdown. She previously won the foundation’s overseas reporting award in 2012 for coverage of Camp Pendleton’s 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in Sangin, Afghanistan; as well as the local reporting award that year for her eight-day series about the recovery of a double amputee wounded by an improvised explosive device.

The Afghanistan War is officially the United States’ longest-running war. The federal government has spent about $750 billion on this conflict, which has cost more than 2,000 U.S. lives.

The U-T San Diego will continue to provide authoritative, thought-provoking and significant content online and in videos along with weekly and special Military + Defense sections. This will continue throughout the military withdrawal period and be accompanied by updates and special retrospective articles.


About U-T San Diego
The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC, owner of the 146-year-old U-T San Diego, is San Diego’s leading media company and its most comprehensive source of news and information. Each week, U-T San Diego products reach more than 96 percent of all San Diego County households through the combined strength of its integrated media portfolio: the Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper, U-T San Diego; the website, UTSanDiego.com; the Night + Day & DiscoverSD weekly entertainment guide; Spanish-language products, Enlace and Vida Latina San Diego; U-TTV, a Digital Platform that provides content, news and programming; and additional home-delivered products.

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