2023 was a year of transition at Task and Purpose. We said heartfelt goodbyes to longtime teammates, welcomed a few new faces to the newsroom, and grappled every day with how to best report the news and tell good stories both for and about America’s service members in a rapidly changing digital media landscape. The challenges were many, but we met them head-on and put in long hours tackling heavy topics to tell stories that deserve to be heard at the highest levels. 

In December 2023, we asked our readers to vote for their favorite story, tournament-style, from a field of 16 staff-nominated choices for a “reader’s choice” award. Along with the most-read stories of the year, and a few editor’s picks, we are excited to announce the best Task & Purpose stories of 2023. 

2023 Reader’s Choice Award

From hot takes by Marine veterans and Army generals, to a heartwarming story about overcoming obstacles, asking tough questions about the safety of the Osprey, and even a profile of perhaps the most controversial chairman of the Joint Chiefs to ever hold the position, this year’s staff nominations were excellent. Of the 16 nominations, one was voted as our reader’s favorite: 

Army tanker vet facing cancer gets a final wish: send one last round

By Patty Nieberg

Jay Tenison in front of tank
Jay Tenison holding an aft cap in front of the tank he shot at Fort Moore, Georgia on Tuesday. Courtesy photo.

Patty, our newest addition to the team, took a unique angle to tell this great story about Jay Tenison, a nine-year Army veteran and Iraq War veteran who wanted nothing more than to send one final round from an M1 Abrams tank after finding out he had terminal cancer. Patty took us through his day at Fort Moore, from talking to armor trainees to the actual range time. She also wrote about his time in Iraq as a tanker, where he served during some of the most violent years of the war.

This report bested four other great stories to take the top spot in a field of 16. You can read the full story about Jay Tenison’s final day at the range here.

Also, check out this story about the family of Marines killed in an Osprey crash, which took second place.

Most read Task & Purpose stories of 2023

The amount of traffic a story gets isn’t the best indicator of quality reporting, but it does tell us what stories our audience is interested in reading. This year’s lineup of stories is interesting: two of the top five stories are about commanders getting fired, and one story is a pretty straightforward report about two Army units deploying to Europe. The other two stories, one about the last class of Marine Scout Snipers and the other about the death of Navy SEAL Mike Day, probably aren’t that surprising to see on this list. Either way, these are the top five most-read Task and Purpose stories of 2023, and we applaud the reporters who wrote them:

  1. Navy destroyer USS John Finn’s commanding officer fired by Jeff Schogol 
  2. 82nd Airborne, 1st Infantry Division deploying overseas by Nicholas Slayton 
  3. Air Force fires commander of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base by Matt White 
  4. End of an era: The last class of Marine Scout Snipers graduates on Dec. 15 by Joshua Skovlund 
  5. Mike Day, Navy SEAL who survived being shot 27 times in Iraq, dies by Max Hauptman

2023 Task & Purpose Editor’s Choice 

Finally, we hand-picked a few stories that we, the editors, feel best represent Task and Purpose’s high standards and the work our staff puts into telling important stories that will stand the test of time. This year, we are proud to highlight the work of James Clark, the former deputy editor of Task and Purpose, and Jeff Schogol, currently the most-tenured reporter in our newsroom.

American veterans killed in Ukraine series

By Jeff Schogol

Lance Lawrence and Andrew Webber
Lance Lawrence (left), a Marine veteran; and Andrew Webber (right), who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, were killed on July 29 while fighting in Ukraine. (Photos courtesy of Ryan O’Leary on Twitter and a GoFundMe campaign for Webber)

For much of 2023, Jeff Schogol has been the only reporter to quietly, one at a time, tell the stories of American veterans killed fighting in Ukraine. He’s written about dozens of these veterans and established an important record of the sacrifices these Americans are making on behalf of another nation but in the name of American principles.

Because Americans in Ukraine are there on their own, there is no ‘Pentagon’ spokesperson to ask about their deaths. Jeff speaks with their comrades in arms from the trenches, their former buddies in the U.S. military, and, almost every time, their heartbroken but also confused and terrified family members.

Jeff has chronicled how American veterans have died in nearly every way Ukrainian battlefields can kill. They’ve died in artillery shellings, drone attacks, mine explosions, from bullets fired by unseen snipers, and by charging infantry in brutal trench fights. At least one American, Jeff found, was executed by Russians after he was wounded and his position overrun — his death witnessed via drone video by his comrades.

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Jeff has talked to the families who sent a veteran to war, almost always for at least the second time after deployments with the U.S. military, mostly with service in the Army or Marines, though some said they wanted to go to Ukraine because they’d never had the chance to deploy in the U.S. military. In some cases, Jeff found that families discovered only too late that retrieving their son’s body might take months, or cost tens of thousands of dollars, or never return from the battlefield at all.

It’s fashionable in many circles to say that supporting Ukraine’s war is a “bargain” for America because its battlefields are shredding a once-imposing foe, the Russian army, without ‘a single American life lost.’

Jeff’s coverage shows how untrue that is.

For that, we are proud to make Jeff’s series on American veterans killed in Ukraine one of our selections for the 2023 Editor’s Choice Award. Here is a list of links to his diligent and heartfelt reporting: 

2 US military veterans killed in Ukraine during intense fighting

Marine veteran killed by Russian missile strike on restaurant in Ukraine

Army veteran killed in Ukraine wanted to protect civilians

Marine veteran killed in Ukraine was attacking a Russian infantry fighting vehicle

Marine, Air Force veteran killed in Ukraine wanted to protect children

U.S. Marine vet in Ukraine repulsed Russian attack in final moments

US Army veteran killed in Ukraine ‘fought for good over evil’

Army veteran killed in Ukraine ‘was a true hero’ 

US Army veteran killed in Ukraine ‘fought for good over evil’

U.S. Army infantry veteran killed in Ukraine leading daring recon mission

US Army veteran killed in Ukraine believed in freedom

Mother of Marine veteran killed in Ukraine waiting to see if her son will ever return home

The long journey home for a Marine veteran killed in Ukraine

What happens when an American dies in Ukraine but can’t be recovered?

Who was General Mark Milley before he was ‘The Chairman’?

By James Clark

General Mark Milley chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
From Korea (left) to the Pentagon (right), General Mark Milley has spent over 40 years in uniform. (Courtesy photos, Task & Purpose composite)

It’s possible that Gen. Mark Milley is the most public-facing, most controversial chairman of the Joint Chief in our lifetime, or maybe ever. For that reason, we felt it was important to tell this man’s story, on the record and for the record, as he neared retirement. The only reporter we felt could do that story justice: James Clark.

James seized on an opportunity to shadow the chairman for a day at the 2022 Army Navy Game, enjoying unprecedented access to start the process of reporting Milley’s multi-decade career in uniform. But that’s not where his research ended. He talked to Milley’s old team sergeant from his Special Forces days, soldiers he served with in Iraq, and even family members. He heard stories that had never been told before and began weaving it all together in what would be a nearly 10,000-word feature profile. 

Even after he conducted multiple interviews, he hunted down reams of documents of Milley’s service and fact-checked every story he was told. He was provided photos that had never been seen before, too. He also combed through every controversy, and every criticism leveled at the chairman to ensure that his story was balanced and truthful. This took months of work, multiple rounds of writing and rewriting, and even more rounds of edits to get the story up to his standard of excellence. 

Finally, on May 9, 2023, we published what we believe is the most definitive account of Gen. Mark Milley that has ever been written. For his herculean reporting effort on this story, we are proud to announce one of our selections for the 2023 Editor’s Choice Award is James Clark’s profile, “Who was General Mark Milley before he was ‘The Chairman’?”

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