Last November, I asked for a one-on-one with Iraq's four-star Commanding General George W. Casey. I'd been at a handover ceremony at Saddam's palatial complex in Tikrit — Casey was there to officiate the ceremony as the Iraqi army took control. Halfway through the speeches and the martial band music, there were some bangs, and some whistling sounds: mortars, flying over our heads.
While everyone ran for cover (I personally got up close and personal with the concrete sidewalk outside the palace), I saw one grey-haired officer surrounded by a small entourage, walking calmly into the building, like an advertisement for "Do not run, WALK toward the exits..." It was Casey. Everyone else looked just about white with terror — he looked annoyed.
"This guy, I gotta interview," I said to myself, dusting off the remnants of the sidewalk. Especially as few of the interviews of him that I'd seen before captured his attitude — someone who was honestly undeterred by the whole "danger" thing, just ticked off with it, because it was getting in the way of his day.
So all these months later, I got my answer in the form of a phone call, giving me less than 24 hours notice. It went something like this:
PAO (U.S. Military Public Affairs Officer) to Dozier: "Hi. Are you doing anything tomorrow? Your request for an interview with a certain high-ranking commander came through." (None of us can talk specifics over the phone — the insurgents, and goodness knows who else, are listening.)
Well, I was planning to spend the following morning with the 21st Military Police in Doura — one of the most bombed parts of Baghdad — a visit I'd been waiting for, for a while. The whole unit had re-organized their day so we could track their progress, as they took the training wheels off the Iraqi police in their area.
Lucky for us, there was time to do both. A drive around Bomb-Central-Baghdad and the flight to Fallujah, where insurgents love to fire rockets at aircrafts.
So we spent the morning driving around with the MPs (who went through one of the scariest convoy briefs I'd heard in a while, describing all the latest roadside bombing threats, with a mention of all the things that had recently hit them), at the end of which I thanked the gunner, as I customarily do, for "a quiet ride." (I do not know how they do that job. "Oh, look, here I am sticking out of an armored vehicle, the only person completely exposed...") Then we rushed to a helipad, to meet the Commanding General's staff. His aides told me I'd have a 25-minute flight to Fallujah, during which I could speak to him over the chopper noise through the helmet microphones, and a 5-minute interview on the ground. The poor man and his poor staff. I don't think they thought anyone could ask that many questions over the noise of a chopper engine.