Patricia Timmins

Patricia Timmins
"My Information Literacy Journey"
College Writing 2, Dr. Richard Foss

While writing this piece, I did a lot of reflecting on my time in the military and more specifically my first deployment to the Middle East. It was the first time that something I was a part of was important enough to be written about in newspapers and broadcasted on news stations. Being behind the scenes and knowing the ins and outs of the stories the media was telling and seeing all the spins and exaggerations different news networks would do was an interesting position to be in. It was the first time I really questioned where I was getting my news from. I really wanted to get this point across in my essay.

Excerpt from "My Information Literacy Journey"

My favorite excerpt of my piece is the first paragraph: “After a long twenty-four-hour trip across the world, I finally made it to my new home for the next 7 months. Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. It was 125 degrees in the middle of September and I knew that I was in for a very long deployment.” Every time I read it, I get transported back to that hot September day in 2016. It was the 15th anniversary of 9/11 attacks, and I was very proud to be serving my country.

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My Information Literacy Journey
by Patricia Timmins

When the plane touched down and I looked out the window, I was blinded by the sun reflecting off the sand. It reminded of snowy January afternoon in Chicago. When I stepped off ramp, I was hit with a gust of hot, humid desert air. It felt like I was standing in blow dryer filled with rocks. After a long twenty-four-hour trip across the world, I finally made it to my new home for the next 7 months. Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. It was 125 degrees in the middle of September, and I knew that I was in for a very long deployment.

For the past four years of my life I had been working as a weather forecaster in the United States Air Force. I had been on deployments before, but those were mostly to Europe on to train with our allies and show of force missions where we would fly close to the Russian boarders to remind Russia that United States was always watching them. This deployment to a tiny peninsula across the Persian Gulf from Iran was different. We were deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, a military operation responding to the Islamic State, ISIS, control over Iraq and Syria. The squadron I was a part of, the 96th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, were composed of B-52 bomber aircraft. This was our first frontline combat deployment in over 10 years! Therefore, this was our time to shine.

Over the next few weeks, we started generating combat sorties (flying missions) where our bombers would fly over ISIS controlled areas and either provide close air support to the our ground forces or they would be tasked to bomb a specific ISIS target. Many of these sorties would be reported on back home. Bombing a few Islamic State training facilities, factories where they were using to make bombs, etc., made headlines on major media outlets. “B-52’s from Barksdale Air Force Base take on ISIS” or “B-52s take out ISIS training camp: Over 100 fighters dead.”  I enjoyed reading these articles and knowing that the world knew we were doing something big.

Two months into the deployment I received a news article from a friend from back home in Louisiana. The headline read “B-52 takes out Syrian Children’s Hospital.” This was odd to read considering I watched all the classified footage of our bombing missions, and none of what we demolished was near a hospital. As I read the article further, I noticed something interesting. Not only did I not recognize the name of the news agency, but the footage they were using to “confirm” was from 2 years earlier when the B-52s were nowhere near the middle east. It was Russian aircraft in the video. I proceeded to share this article with one of the B-52 pilots, Maj. Brum. He has been on the military for over 15 years and is someone who has been a part of many large, well known military operations. His response to me, “Get used to this.” Was this something that happens regularly? As I talked with more experienced airman on this deployment, I had come to find out that false stories of military engagement were quite common.

I wish I could say that this was the one and only time during this deployment that I came across and news article spouting misinformation about what we were doing, but it wasn’t. At least a few times a month, my co-workers and I would share with each other articles we had found regarding our deployment. Many of these articles were poorly written, misinformed or just plain wrong. We even came across an article claiming to show the U.S. firing on innocent people, only the footage was from a movie. This sparked something in me. If some in the media are incorrectly reporting things I have actual knowledge on, what about the articles I read about things I don’t know much about?

This was my wake-up call. Soon I was reading articles about things like climate change, politics, and other topics and began questioning what I was reading. How do I know what they are reporting is fact? This was the beginning of my quest for information literacy. I started with looking to see if the article referenced a source for where they got the information. If they did not mention a source, I would disregard the article as not factual and look for an article from a different media outlet and see if they mentioned a source on the same topic. In my head, if they don’t list a source of this information, how do I know they didn’t just talk to some random person with no expertise on the topic? If I were reading an article that did mention a source, I would look up the individual or company and see if they were credible. I came across an article on climate change once that mentioned a man named Patrick Taylor. Never hearing of this name before I decided to do a quick Google search of that person. The first result was of a Patrick Taylor who worked for NASA. I looked further into the NASA website and discovered a biography written of him. He was not only a worker at NASA, he was a climate scientist. If anyone would know something about climate change, it would be a climate scientist. These were the techniques I started developing to check the information I was reading instead of taking everything at face value.

In the fall of 2016, I saw my Facebook timeline take a turn. It went from friends and family posting funny cat memes and pictures of their children to anti-Donald Trump and anti-Hilary Clinton posts. I am a person who likes to stay out of politics, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of what I was seeing. One post in particular caught my eye right away. It was about how Hilary Clinton will take away everyone’s gun if elected. As someone who is strong proponent of the second amendment and has gathered quite the collection over my military career, I was concerned to say the least. Who does she think she is? The comment section of that post was littered with angry messages about how the Clinton’s were trying to take over the country and destroy our freedoms and then other comments questioning the validity of the claim. Learning what I did while I was deployed, I knew that in order to find out the truth, I needed to my own research into the matter. I pulled up Google once again and proceeded to search “Hilary Clinton stance on guns” what came up was her campaign website listing her stance on different issues. As I read the section talking about guns and what she would do if she were elected, I found no mention of stripping law abiding citizens of their guns. I then investigated the National Rifle Association website because if someone were going to take away our guns, I’m sure they would have something to say about that. This search of their site yield no results. No mention of mass gun confiscation if Clinton were to be elected. There was absolutely no evidence to support this person’s claim.

Information literacy and the techniques you use to gain knowledge is, in my opinion, the most important tool to have in your arsenal. It gives you the ability to think for yourself. Some fear the government taking away your guns or your house or your basic freedoms. The one thing that can never be taken away from a person is their knowledge and knowledge is the most powerful thing you can have.

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