‘I have a story to tell’
New York — LAST Memorial Day, CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier, cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan headed out on a sweltering Baghdad morning to do a fairly routine story: the tale of an Army division on patrol while Americans back at home enjoyed the holiday.
Dozier had lain awake the night before with the usual pangs of anxiety she felt before going on a patrol. But by morning, most of her dread had ebbed, and her biggest concern was getting enough good material for a stock holiday piece.
“It should have been a normal day,” she said quietly, recounting the fateful assignment almost a year later.
In some ways, it was — at least by Baghdad standards.
The CBS team and members of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division were outside their Humvees in the Karradah neighborhood when, shortly after 10 a.m., a yellow cab packed with explosives was detonated by remote control.
Dozier was rocketed into blackness. She regained consciousness long enough to ask the soldier frantically attending to her shrapnel-pierced body: “Where are my guys? How are my guys?”
It wasn’t until several days later, when doctors at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany lessened her sedation, that she learned that Douglas and Brolan had been killed by the blast, along with Army Capt. James Alex Funkhouser and his Iraqi translator.
She is still haunted by their deaths.
“They talk about survivor’s guilt,” Dozier said grimly, sitting in a conference room in CBS News’ Manhattan headquarters on a recent afternoon. “You go, ‘Why am I here?’ ”
The 40-year-old correspondent, a veteran of war zones who has covered the Middle East for more than a decade, had shrapnel lodged in her brain, a burst eardrum and leg injuries so severe that she was at risk of losing them both. In the last year, she has undergone more than 25 operations, but — like ABC’s Bob Woodruff, who is back at work after being seriously wounded in Iraq in January 2006 — she has shocked doctors with the speed of her recovery.
However, coping with the psychological wounds required a different kind of healing. For Dozier, who went to live with her boyfriend in New Zealand for five months to recuperate out of the public eye, it meant finding others who were there that day to talk about how the bomb had affected them.
After speaking with several of the troops and their families, Dozier contacted veteran CBS producer Susan Zirinsky and said, “I have a story to tell.”
The result is “Flashpoint,” a documentary about the aftermath of the bomb, which airs at 10 p.m. Tuesday, exactly a year after the explosion. The prime-time special, anchored by Katie Couric, recounts the immediate chaos after the blast and its ripple effects months later.
“What we tried to do in this program is not just show what happened to our crew, but show what happens when one of these bombs go off — and they go off, as you know, pretty much every single day — what happens to so many people and how many lives are affected,” said CBS News President Sean McManus.
The hourlong piece, which will be presented with limited commercial interruption, is unflinching in its portrayal of the bomb’s messy carnage. There are scenes inside a Baghdad hospital of Dozier lying on a bed with gashed legs, screaming through her breathing tube — images captured by a CNN crew that happened to be filming that day. Bloodied soldiers writhe in agony on nearby gurneys.
The emotional repercussions of the attack have not yet subsided. CBS producer Kate Rydell is consumed with guilt that she insisted that the Army let both Douglas and Brolan go on the patrol, instead of just Douglas. Sgt. Justin Farrar, Funkhouser’s driver, feels he let down his captain by not protecting him from the explosion.
“I should have been by you, sir,” he says tearfully in the piece, standing at Funkhouser’s grave.
For months, Dozier was dogged by memories of that day. But the experience also “leaves you with the strength of your convictions in a way I never had before,” she said. “It reinforced what I already knew — why it was important to explain why these men and women were doing this job every day.”
Dozier still has to wear support stocking to keep her legs from swelling, but she’s able to run again and is itching to return to the Mideast. She’s still discussing her next assignment with CBS, but it won’t be Baghdad again — for now at least.
“I feel comfortable sneaking in and out of a closed military zone in the West Bank,” she said. “Dashing down a bomb-ridden highway in Iraq? I think I’m going to leave that one for a little bit.”