Kimberly Dozier, Back On The Job

(CBS) On Tuesday night, CBS will air a one hour special called "Flashpoint," about the aftermath of a roadside bomb that exploded in Iraq last May. CBS News' James Brolan and Paul Douglas were killed in the attack, as well as Army Capt. James Alex Funkhouser and his Iraqi translator. Correspondent Kimberly Dozier was severely injured but managed to survive, and after dozens of operations and months of recovery she is now back to work. We spoke with her today.

Brian Montopoli: How are you feeling?

Kimberly Dozier: Feeling great when you think about where I was almost a year ago. I am back to walking, back to running, back to doing just about everything that I used to do. Except for a couple of really complicated yoga poses that require half knee bend. You know, I can't do half lotus right now. But that's about it.

Brian Montopoli: Do you have a different perspective on journalism as a result of what you went through? Are you approaching stories differently?

Kimberly Dozier: Well, I've done about five stories in the past couple weeks. One for "Sunday Morning" on female combat amputees, and a series for the "Evening News." Because of the subject matter, because I chose things that I'd seen and lived through and reported on just by living through them, I haven't had a real test in the field yet on a different subject.

On Aug. 3, 2006, Kimberley Dozier was released from Kernan Hospital to continue her rehabilitation on an outpatient basis.
CBS
For these particular stories, I empathize so much with everyone involved. That's part of the reason I want to tell the stories...one was extremity war injuries. The reason I'm doing the story is because that's what I've got. Blast injuries to my arms and legs. And I had no idea that about 82 percent of American troops, most of the injured troops coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan, have these sorts of injuries. And these injuries are presenting bizarre medical mysteries that doctors really don't know how best to treat.

Now in my case, it meant a number of debates. When everyone thought I was doing well and on the road to recovery at Bethesda Naval, actually every week there was some new nightmare, some new horror that would appear that required me, us as a family, to decide which option we wanted to take. Because they don't know. I had Acinetobacter, an Iraqi bacteria, it's also prevalent throughout the Middle East and Europe. Normally innocuous. But you blast it into a body that's compromised, that's immune compromised because of the trauma it's going through, and all of a sudden it flourishes, and it flourishes to the point that it can kill you.

The problem is the medicine that treats it also destroys your kidneys. So I had to choose after about two weeks on the medicine, my kidneys were tanking. And I had to choose between getting my kidneys cut out or going on dialysis and then having the kidneys removed and continuing to take the drug, or just going off the drug and hoping that my body was healthy enough at that point to take over the fight on its own.

Now I was very lucky. But that was one of the things that every single guy on my patrol who was injured went through. I didn't know about it. Americans don't know about it. So that story, extremity war injuries, to try to bring that to light and CBS also gave me permission to sort of slightly cross the line by testifying in the Senate. Now I can't campaign and lobby for a specific bill, though I sat next to my doctor who was, but I was trying to educate the senator as I educate the public. Here's the problem, we need a solution.

Brian Montopoli: And CBS was fine with that?

Kimberly Dozier: Well, you know, I can't campaign for specific bills. So that's why I was careful when I spoke to say here's the research I'm aware of. You guys do what you need to do in terms of which one you choose, which program you back, how you hand the funding out. I'm just telling you this is a problem that needs to be solved. Because for whatever dint of fate or circumstance, people right now will pay more attention if someone like me is talking about this as opposed to maybe a young marine's family in Bethesda who says to themselves, "What the heck do we do? Why isn't someone doing some more research so we're not faced with a choice like this?"

Brian Montopoli: When you turn on the TV and see other foreign correspondents in Iraq, how would you describe your reaction? Is it dread? Envy? Something else?

Kimberly Dozier: Oh, I guess a bit of both. Envy is probably too strong. There is a lingering sadness that I see them doing the job that I so loved, and following the story that I care so much about. I feel concern, coupled with understanding, when I see a camera crew, sometimes with a correspondent, sometimes without, doing something really dangerous. Because whenever I see the pictures now, I think about the person behind them, and where they had to be standing to take that. Whether it's an Iraqi film crew or a foreign film crew.

Brian Montopoli: And we never think about that. Viewers tend not to think about that. You're looking at the picture, you're not looking at&

Kimberly Dozier: And then a face pops up, it's usually the correspondent's face. That's the face you associate with the pictures. Sometimes we'd have amazing pictures from different parts of Iraq that a stringer would bring in, one of these people who works freelance for us. We give a small DV camera to someone and say "whenever you see something amazing, film it, bring it down." And then I would go back to the states, and people would say, "Oh, it was so amazing when you were here, here and here." We'd even put up fonts saying freelance, or agency, or something that indicates to us in the TV world that we weren't physically there ourselves. But that's lost on the audience. They see those pictures and assume you're right in the middle of the action.

Now, those times I see a correspondent in the middle of the action, I say to myself, I know how you're operating. You're operating with that same sense of, uh, plausible deniability that I need to do my job. It won't happen to me. That is just the only way you walk out the door everyday. I mean, if you're smart. If you're not thinking about the dangers you need to get your head examined. Because if you're in Baghdad, you're listening to explosions galore all day long. If you have a brain in your head, you know that they're you know who they're aimed at. And you know if you go out with either an Iraqi government official or a US patrol, or a foreign aid worker, any one of those groups, you're a target.

Brian Montopoli: With that being the case like you said, you understand that that's there, but you think "it's never going to happen to me." You said you want to go back to the Middle East, maybe not immediately to Iraq. Are you at all concerned about, having just gone through what you've gone through, how you're going to respond when you're in a dangerous situation?

Kimberly Dozier: I've been through so many close calls in my career that this was just one more. It's the worst. But it's not the only one. So I've had many times to go through something where you have your life flash before your eyes, you get out of it, and you think afterwards, "was I in the right place? Was I in the right time?" And if you come to the conclusion, as I did in this case, that sometimes you can do all the smartest things in the world to manage risk and they can still get you, then I'm doing my job.

Now, a lot of people assume that some of us are out there running after the dangerous shot. Usually, you're running out there telling the story, and the dangerous shot just happens while you're there. Because that's the nature of being in a crisis zone, a place where people have a lot of guns and the will to use them and sometimes the lack of know how about how to use them properly. Sometimes the most dangerous thing is misaimed fire.

One of the most dangerous things to do in Baghdad? Everyone thinks about the explosions, the car bombs, the horrible thing that happened to us. But standing on our roof and doing a standup, day or night, puts us in the line of fire. Literally. We have a stoplight right by our hotel. The four policemen who police the stoplight stop cars or get their attention by firing AK-47s into the air. The arcing AK-47 bullets are littered all over our roof. One of our security guys took a liter bottle, filled it to the brim with spent bullets that had dead-ended on our roof. So you could be standing there doing a standup and get hit by a parabolic arc from a bullet. That is a danger that nobody thinks about.

There are all sorts of risks in doing the job that have nothing to do with getting that memorable scary shot that people file away in their minds. And when you do get that shot, they usually go, "oh, wow, isn't the correspondent great." That isn't the point of the story, and that shouldn't be the point of the story. The only time it's useful is when it shows you that this is what the troops who are next to you are enduring on a regular basis. Or this is what the Iraqi family who you're spending time with is listening to outside their front door. When you see an explosion happen outside and all the glass flies in from the windows, and you see the child flinch. When you get something like that on camera, that is the important part of telling the story.
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