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Lt. Joshua Rushing is on front lines of cyberwar

Name: Lt. Joshua Rushing

Age: 30

Home town: Lewisville, Texas

Branch: Marine Corps

Duty: represents U.S. Central Command on Internet chat rooms around the world.

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DOHA, Qatar—Lt. Joshua Rushing sits at a laptop computer, fighting a cyberwar. For four hours every night, Rushing surfs the Internet, trying to find chat rooms where people debate whether the United States should go to war against Iraq.

Wearing tan military fatigues, sipping coffee and listening to singer Norah Jones on a pair of headphones, Rushing, 30, of Lewisville, Texas, scans a National Public Radio Web site and finds a recent posting.

"After America's best troops have put their life on the line to `free' Shiite Moslem fundamentalists, the U.S. military will have to stay 20 years or more to keep terrorists from taking over the country that we opened up to them. Isn't there better things that Americans could be doing for the world?" It is signed "jay-h."

"Jay-h, thanks for engaging," Rushing writes back, sitting in a quiet room at Camp As Sayliyah, where U.S. commanders would run the war. "This is important stuff. As to your comment 1, it would not just free up Shiites. It would liberate all Iraqi people—Shiite, Sunni, Kurds, Christians, etc. 2. America's best troops already put their lives on the line every day in Iraq. It's called Operation Southern Watch, protecting the Shiites from the wrath of Saddam's military below the 33rd parallel, and Operation Provide Comfort, protecting the Kurds above the 36th parallel." He signs the message "centcomsprsn."

Rushing takes a sip of coffee. He clicks from site to site, visiting chat rooms of some of the largest media outlets in the world. He also goes on www.oprah.com and www.MTV.com.

This is the first time the military has done this, Rushing says. They told him, get out there on the Internet and give them a chance to communicate with us.

The rest was up to him. Rushing decides what sites he visits and what he writes. "I never say, `Let's go to war,'" he says. "I want the diplomatic process to work. I just want to keep the argument in the middle, where the facts are."

Al Jazeera, a 24-hour Arabic-language news network based in Qatar, is starting an English-language Web site chat room next month, Rushing says, and he'll be one of its first guests.

Rushing is a small part of the military's aggressive public relations offensive, which includes calling radio stations, booking officers on television and embedding more than 500 journalists with the troops.

"When they brought me aboard, they said, we are going to go with this in as many ways as we can," Rushing says. "When I first got here, I had done a lot of research—and they said: You are the guy who is going to do the chat rooms."

Rushing started working by himself, but an Air Force captain was recently added to the project.

Eventually, Rushing wants to expand into chain e-mails

"I can't do a lot of the live chat, back and forth where it's really interactive, because of some satellite connection problem with the States, where we time out on the connection," he says.

Rushing worked in Hollywood as a motion picture and television liaison officer for the Marines before he was brought to Central Command as a public affairs officer.

His office handled movies such as "The Sum of All Fears" and television shows such as "JAG."

Rushing plans to leave the Marines in two or three years, and then he wants to get into acting. He's already done some work in commercials.

When he's in uniform, Rushing is energetic and intense, but it's all an act. "I'm not a Type-A personality," he says. "I turn the switch on and off."

He is married to Paige Rushing and has a son from a previous marriage, Joshua Luke Rushing, 10, named for the character in "Cool Hand Luke."

This job is surreal, Rushing says. "I can't imagine what I'll be telling my grandkids what I did in the war; it's going to be different."

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ILLUSTRATION (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): faces+rushing

Iraq

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