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Resident returning to war zone
-A-Mathes to Iraq pic1
Ben Mathes, founder of Rivers of the World, is preparing to visit Iraq to document the activities of his humanitarian organization. - photo by Frank Reddy

Ben Mathes isn't the type of journalist who confines himself to a safe, air-conditioned office.

As a reporter, he would much rather be gulping the foreign air, knee-deep in the muck, while clawing his way into the heart of a story. Even if it's just a breath away from the bad guys.

The Dawson County resident could find himself in a similar situation when he arrives in Iraq next week to document the activities of his humanitarian organization.

As founder of Rivers of the World, Mathes is no stranger to distant travel.

In fact, his April 19 departure will mark the second time he's ventured into the front lines of the Iraq War.

While reporting in Iraq, Mathes also plans to visit with a friend and co-worker serving in the 4th Platoon of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

While embedded within the platoon, Mathes will "show support for our troops and what they're doing over there."

Mathes said his video footage from the barracks and the field will "give people a front-line look at what our troops are doing and show everyone that their morale is incredible and their skills are impeccable. These are some of the best we got."

Mathes said "the fun part" is following soldiers on their journeys.

"I get to do everything they do," he said.

Accompanying soldiers means he has to dress like them. He'll be sporting a standard-issue helmet and a 40-pound bullet proof vest. He's also got all kinds of high-tech gadgets for transmitting information.

Footage and photographs will be available on the Rivers of the World Web site. He will also make "call-ins" to radio stations around the country, detailing the sights and sounds of his three-week trip.

In a news release last week, State Sen. Chip Pearson said Mathes' trip to Iraq "will give us a firsthand look at the missions and living conditions of the brave men and women who are fighting to protect our freedoms."

Mathes also visited Iraq in 2006 as a journalist. He was embedded with son, U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Adam Mathes, who was serving 140 miles northwest of Baghdad in Haditha.

He said the upcoming trip will be the eighth war he's seen up close.

"Because of the work we do at Rivers of the World, we see a lot of these areas," he said.

Mathes said the organization focuses on "everything from faith-based Christian missionary work to nation building and research. It runs a broad gamut."

Since 1978, Mathes has traveled far and wide on behalf of health development, exploration and Christian missions.

He has worked extensively in the Congo, Kenya, Thailand, Haiti and Guatemala.

The focus of the upcoming trip, he said, is to "encourage and remind our troops that, believe it or not, America is behind them."