Armed Forces media chief in Iraq talks about his family and work

Kathy Uek

At 10 p.m. in Baghdad where the temperature registers 40 degrees recently, Sudbury resident Capt. Victor Beck wrapped up another day as chief of Media Operations, Multi-National Force-Iraq.

A U.S. Navy Reserve officer recalled to active duty, Beck is responsible for arranging press conferences and assessing how the news is being reported to ensure the military officers communicate an accurate message.

The center also assists the Iraqi media, which since the fall of Saddam Hussein, is no longer controlled by the government. The center helps the Iraqi media, in its embryonic stage, provide balanced reporting to the people of the Mideast nation.

"Just like the free press in the United States - what’s relevant to the people," said Beck. "It’s very interesting to be part of that."

While the officer runs the 24-hour center, his wife and two children go about with their lives in Sudbury. His wife, Debby, works as a teacher at Temple Beth Sholom preschool in Framingham. Their 10-year-old daughter, Rachel, attends Peter Noyes Elementary School and their 13-year-old son, Josh, goes to Curtis Middle School.

The separation poses many challenges for the family.

Prior to his current assignment 7,000 miles away, the most time Beck spent away from his family was one month, training in the reserves. In civilian life, he was the vice president of the public relations firm, Peter Arnold Associates in Wellesley.

Since his departure in April, Beck’s children have gone out of their way to help their mother. Josh helps put food in the oven while Rachel makes scrambled eggs and her own pasta sauce. "The idea of the kitchen is comfortable to them, I cook as a hobby," said Debby Beck.

Both children are a mix of their parents. Josh, like his dad, is project oriented, a fixer and a doer. "When the shower drain backs up, I get out a can of Drano," Debby explained. "Josh does what Vic did. He unscrews the drain and cleans it out."

Like her father, who enjoys photography and sketching cartoons, Rachel likes to draw, paint and sew.

"They remain connected to their father with these tasks," said Debby, who admits to not being a damsel-in-distress around the house. "When push comes to shove I get the job done," she said. And thanks to her forward-thinking husband, who dropped off a case of beer for each of three neighbors before he left, she gets a little help from them, too.

The family of three keeps busy but can’t help but miss their father and husband.

"I really miss just doing stuff with him - anything," said Rachel. "It’s the little things like having him on the couch with us when we are all watching TV, tucking me in at night, and hugging, and kissing me."

Josh misses playing sports such as football, baseball, and basketball with his father. "I also miss just hanging out with him and doing a lot of stuff with him," he said.

Knowing her husband is located in the cure international Green Zone, Debby admits she does not have the added worry other military wives and husbands have.

"I have undying admiration for people who are not only separated, but have to worry as well," she said.

Capt. Vic’s day begins at 6:15. When he arrives at the media ops center, he gets several reports from a media perspective on the events and occurrences of the previous night, on what still needs to be addressed, and what lies ahead.

"It may be a press conference for the general, for which I would prepare the script," he said, "or interviews with the generals or admirals depending on the day."

Beck also gets the battle update on all the military reporting to Gen. David H. Petraeus.

The reports help Beck to understand "the progress we are making, what we need to improve, and what we need to focus on," he said. "In media operations we understand what is going on throughout Iraq and what’s happening in the battle space."

Inaccurate information from of a variety of different places presents one of the chief’s biggest challenges. "One of the wire services might report a suicide bomber blew himself up in the market and said two women and a child died, and in reality it’s two men died," he said.

"The levels of complexity in battle are many. The western press is used to investigation, where the Iraqi press is more likely to ask someone what happened and take their word for it."

The 45-year-old officer, who plans to return to Sudbury in April, admits being away from his family is the most difficult part. "I miss sitting around talking about the day with the children and my wife - what’s happening today and what they are doing - the normal day-to-day of living life together - what they are doing in school," said Beck.

Beck also misses driving around town, going to Sudbury Farms and the Fugakyu Cafe for sushi - "the normalcy of things there and friends and neighbors," he said.

His tour began in Dubai. For three months, Beck served as a Pan Arab spokesman for Central Command. While he served in the metropolitan city, his family communicated with "daddy on a box" on a Web cam.

In Baghdad, Beck works 16 hour days, seven days a week. Without the luxury of Web cam there, his wife and children try to touch base daily by phone.

While having her husband away is difficult, Debby admits it has been a tremendous growing experience.

"You dig deep and grow and change and get things done," she said. "You do what you have to do, there are no alternatives. The kids and I are very close and we work together as a team."

But New Year’s Eve was difficult.

"This is really our holiday," she said. "Vic and I have always celebrated it together. Before the kids, we celebrated it alone at home and when the kids came along, we created this tradition for the four of us."

As she talked about getting through that day, Debby choked back tears. "This is the first New Year’s Eve we have been separated since we met," said Debby, Beck’s wife of 14 years.

The couple, both Deadheads, met standing in line at WZLX hoping to win tickets to see the Grateful Dead in London. They did not win tickets that day in 1990. "We won a much bigger prize," she said. "We were married in June 1993."

Sitting around at dinner is the best part of her day. "The three of us get dinner ready and talk about our day," she said.

For her officer husband, the best part of his day is ensuring the 85 people who report to him are doing OK. "They are all separated from their families," said Beck. "The most difficult part is learning soldiers were killed. I think about these 20-year-olds fighting and coming face to face against al Qaeda and the extremists - my part is easy. I also have a magnificent wife to go back to.

"The thing that gets me through the day, is knowing I’m here to do my piece," he added. "That’s what it’s all about. Eighty-five people rely on me to give them guidance and direction. They deliver on all the pieces that make this run."

For his wife the biggest challenge is managing it all at home. "Between homework, car repairs, juggling schedules and working and making sure all the balls stay in the air ... and making sure the kids are OK emotionally. They are in a good place and OK."

But as the family nears the home stretch, they will soon be together temporarily when they meet in Belize.

Rachel, who after hugging her father, plans to show him some of the sewing she’s done in his absence.

Josh plans to talk to his father. "Probably about the Patriots," he said.