Mike Shiley is not a soldier, nor is he a medical worker or a professional journalist – he is an average American citizen who went to Iraq for two months, armed with a video camera and a homemade press pass.
The result of Shiley's experience in Iraq was the creation of his film, titled "Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories." The movie was shown in Fort Collins on April 11.
Shiley was already an experienced world traveler before his adventure in Iraq. He spent 18 months living in the deserts of Egypt, as well as spending time in Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Burma and the former Yugoslavia.
"When Bush declared war on Iraq, I decided that would be my next adventure," Shiley said. "The nation became so polarized that I wanted to go over to Iraq as a normal, non-biased American and try to provide some insight into Iraqis' lives and the lives of the U.S. soldiers. I wanted to see what was going on."
Shiley said he contacted his local ABC affiliate station and told it he would work for free as a correspondent throughout Iraq. Because Shiley had shot footage of the war in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and because he was able to speak some Arabic, ABC could not refuse his offer.
"I was basically flying by the seat of my pants," Shiley said. "I had a press pass printed up at Kinko's, packed a bag with a few changes of clothes and my photo equipment. Then I was on my way."
Shiley left the United States in December 2003 and spent the next two months in Iraq, traveling throughout the Sunni Triangle, Baghdad, the northern Kurdish region and the Shiite-controlled south.
"For the first part of the trip I traveled through Fallujah to Baghdad, where I walked through the markets and mosques and talked to ordinary Iraqis," Shiley said. "I visited the Baghdad Technology Center, where all computers and materials had been stolen. I walked with civilians who are paid $10 a day to risk their lives clearing mines out of the ground. I attended a surprisingly popular Christian church service on New Year's Eve, and I was yards away from the explosion of a suicide car bomb near the main markets of Baghdad."
Shiley said that while he believes many Iraqis are relieved to have Saddam Hussein out of power, he still found that many people throughout Baghdad despise the Western influence, which has infiltrated their once-modest society. They resent the United States for bringing this influence into their streets.
"The doors that opened in the name of democracy and freedom have also let in pornography, prostitution, drugs and a thriving black market," Shiley said in his film.
However, the Kurdish people in northern Iraq strongly support all American policy, Shiley said.
"The Kurds love us because we gave them the protection they needed," Shiley said. "We didn't leave them high and dry like we did to other parts of the country."
The second half of "Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories" follows Shiley as he is embedded with the 671st Engineering Battalion and the 3rd Armored Cavalry.
Shiley said the overall feeling he gathered from the U.S. troops was positive.
"I enjoyed my time with the troops," Shiley said. "They are risking their lives every day and that in itself is honorable. Many soldiers made it a point to say that you can support your troops but you don't have to support the orders they are given."
After returning home and completing the film, Shiley embarked on a national tour. The final stop of the tour was at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins on April 11.
Leslie Croft, sophomore open-option seeking technical journalism, viewed the film at the Lincoln Center.
"This movie was different from what I had expected," Croft said. "I was expecting it to be like watching Fox News or like another "Fahrenheit 9/11". It was neither conservative nor liberal. It showed the truth with no biased slant. It was honest and human."
Lance Smith, junior English major, said he enjoyed the film but felt that it did take a slightly biased slant.
"I'm left-winged and I still felt that it was leaning toward the left even though (Shiley) said he had made it a point not to take sides," Smith said. "What he did though was pretty cool. It takes a lot of courage to do something like that. Many people might say they would go to Iraq on their own, but when it comes down to it, I doubt many people actually would."
Croft said viewing the film forced her to think about Iraq as a home to people and not just a place of war.
"My goal in making this movie was to help Americans become more empathetic and compassionate," Shiley said. "We are an important country but we are very ignorant in that we don't care or know much about other countries. I wanted to put a human face on all the countries where we think we can just go in and bomb."
Shiley, who grew up in Denver and graduated from Texas Christian University with degrees in marketing and history, said he stumbled into the journalism profession in 1993.
"I went to, what was then Belgrade, Yugoslavia, during the war there," Shiley said. "While I was in Yugoslavia I ran into CNN reporters who needed a still- photographer. I offered to do it and it just took off from there."
Shiley said he became motivated after he received his first job out of college.
"I was so bored in that job and decided it was not the life I wanted," Shiley said. "I decided then that I would stop waiting for my life to begin and start living it. From then on I would work and save money for a few years and then I would take off on another adventure."
Shiley's next project is a film about Afghanistan. He plans to leave for Afghanistan in September.