Dozier describes coming to terms with Iraq’s danger

Wounded CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier remained in critical but stable condition Thursday at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where doctors lessened her sedation, enabling her to communicate with her family for the first time.

Dozier’s first question, scribbled on a piece of paper: What happened to her crew?

Her family and doctors -- who had agreed to answer her honestly if she asked -- had to tell her that cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan were killed by the same car bomb in Baghdad that left her with shrapnel wounds to her head and serious leg injuries.

In the days since Monday’s attack, many colleagues have recounted Dozier’s courage and unwavering determination to cover Iraq, despite the increasing risks. Here, in a piece she wrote for in January after ABC’s Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt were seriously hurt by a roadside bomb, Dozier explained how she copes.

Matea Gold, Times staff writer


AMMAN, Jordan, on the way to Iraq, Jan. 30, 2006 -- You know how they say a frog will let itself be boiled alive, sitting placidly in a pot of bubbling water, if you turn the heat up slowly enough?


That used to be what Iraq was like for journalists. Over the past 2 1/2 years, the danger increased incrementally, with kidnappings, killings and bombings first hitting Iraqis, then U.S. soldiers, then foreign contractors and missionaries and foreign aid workers, before finally hitting us.

It took us a while to admit/recognize we were targets, and slowly start changing the way we work -- first adding bodyguards (who we initially resented, and tried to leave behind at the hotel), then armored vehicles (which we at first thought were a waste of cash), then blast walls outside our hotels (which many of us thought were the security people’s way of justifying their existence, and would only draw attention to us) and on and on.

In each case, the worst fears of our pessimist bosses and security advisors were later realized. I remember one of our ex-military security advisors musing that it wouldn’t be long until a commercial plane got hit by a missile at Baghdad’s airport.

Then a DHL plane got hit, and just barely managed to land, and later, a UK military cargo plane got taken out, killing up to a dozen on board. Ahem.

So now going into Iraq is like being flung into a pot of water you can see boiling from a great height from far, far away. Inwardly, you’re screaming, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” then stifle it with a mental, “Ulp.”

Every time, every time, before I fly in -- and like most of my colleagues, I’ve been coming here for 2 1/2 years now, so you’d think I’d be used to this -- I sleep with one eyeball peeled, staring at the alarm clock, counting the minutes until the plane takes off from Amman, Jordan, and half-holding my breath until our plane corkscrews down and touches the tarmac in Baghdad. Then there’s another slight breath-holding experience driving down the (admittedly now much safer, but still) airport road, before finally arriving, red-eyed and sleep-self-deprived, at our Baghdad hotel.

My mood instantly changes. I see all our Iraqi staff and some of the regular CBS “inmates,” the translators make fun of how much my Arabic has deteriorated while I’ve been away, we knock back some strong Arabic coffee, and I get to work. There are always a couple of startled moments, when a distant or nearby bomb makes me jump. But I quickly forget where I am (or rather, that it bothered me).

The water’s toasty, verging on the scalding, but I’m just fine.

That is, until I get myself and a cameraman, soundman and perhaps a producer invited on an U.S. military embed, or any trip across town with a U.S. commander, just like our ABC colleagues Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt did.

Then it starts all over again -- the eyeball glued to the alarm clock the night before the trip, counting the minutes until morning. Then there’s the armored car dash to our meeting point with the military (which often entails a round trip down the airport road, and you just know the insurgents know our cars by now, and they see us from their hiding places and say to themselves, “Oh, there go the Western TV journalists. We could go for them, but let’s see if we can get a Humvee or an Iraqi army patrol today instead.”)

We then spend the day rolling around Baghdad or nearby, with U.S. troops in Humvees, or more precariously, with their Iraqi counterparts in far less protected vehicles. We wrap up in a Kevlar vest, Kevlar helmet, ballistic eye protection and ear plugs -- the last two are recent additions in the past couple of years, after the U.S. military discovered they help save eyesight and hearing -- but that’s little comfort when the U.S. soldiers give their preliminary safety briefing before we go out with them.

It goes a little like this, usually a young sergeant to a bunch of privates: “OK, you know what to be on the look for. As usual, we’ve got the improvised explosive devices -- remember they’re hiding them in median strips again, but they’re still using all the other hiding places -- the garbage, the dead dogs and donkeys, etc.... “

... Almost every soldier I meet now has done at least one tour of Iraq, and is sometimes working on his or her second or third, and that means they’ve seen a lot of action. Almost every one has been hit by something. And while they may have walked away, they usually know someone who hasn’t.

It gives a whole new meaning to the expression, “Feel the fear, and do it anyway.” Wow, do they.

So basically, if you want to tell their story, you have to take their risks. To take the metaphor a little further, if we, the journalists, are sitting in hot water, the troops we cover are hopping around on hell’s coals. Even when we spend extended time with them, we face a tiny fraction of their risk.

So yes, absolutely, journalists face awful, dangerous risks in Iraq, more so than almost anyplace else on earth right now.

But it’s nothing compared to the people we cover.

And knowing how Bob and Doug both can be direct to the extreme, they will likely shortly be telling all of us, when they get out of surgery, “Come off it, folks. We knew the risks, and that’s never stopped us from doing the job -- nor will it. Now let’s get back to work.”