So awful that a nice lady like this should be in pain b/c she rides a motorcycle.. After an accident that wasn't her fault. I can relate.. but it's such a shame.
Good Morning Tom,
My surgery was Friday at 10 a.m. I had a bad reaction to pain medicine after surgery. Instead of getting released by 1:30pm I was released from the hospital a little after 6pm.
I didn't get to talk to Dr. Schroeder after my surgery to find out exactly what was done to my knee as he was in another surgery.
I have an immobilizer on that stretches from mid-thigh to just above my ankle (certainly does immobilize!).
My pain / discomfort is not as bad as I expected. Actually my pain level is probably equal to or less then the days prior to surgery.
They sent over a CPM device (continuous passive movement). I use it 4 to 6 hours a day for the next 3 weeks. It moves the knee/leg up and down - - I'd call it a gentle form of physical therapy. I'm sure there will be more physical therapy to come.
I'm anxious to speak with the doctor and find out exactly what was done.
Hope this email finds you well.
I look forward to watching your Cover Story tonight -- I've sent the info to all my friends to make sure they watch.
Your hard work on that story will Save Lives!
Tom, Big THANKS From me and thousands of other m/c riders .... Jo....
Motorcycle Awareness Month ends today..
Tonight at 9- a WGN News 'Cover Story' on how I got hit, and how you can not. I get back in the saddle with some guys who really know how to ride- and they offer some tips for staying safer than I did.
The guys I'm talking about are motorcycle cops from all over Chicagoland. They tell me why my crash was 'textbook,' a term I've heard a lot since last September, and how the average rider can use the same skills the pros learn on a closed course to keep them safe on the open road.
It's pretty good stuff, but I've gotta tell ya- I was literally sick about getting back on a bike again- especially a 900-pound police Harley. It was good, though. I'm still not in a big hurry to start riding again- but it was good.
I've got to thank the Elk Grove Village Police Department, Illinois State Police, Evanston PD, Schaumburg.. the list goes on.. 14 different departments were out riding that day-- all great guys.. REALLY good riders. If you ride, I hope you get something out of the piece. Crashes happen, what can I say. Best to prepare yourself. Even these guys have close calls all the time, while riding with sirens and lights.
Still recovering from my spill- in some ways a lot more slowly than I had hoped- but I'm still pretty grateful. Thanks also to my amazing docs at Rush, who put me back together, and to neurosurgery resident Dr. Ali Ghods, a motorcyclist, who helped me with the piece.
My thoughts and thanks also go out to my dear friend and fellow rider Jo Giovannoni, who continues to recover from her crash last summer- and who continues to ride. I know it ain't easy living with pain, but Jo smiles through it; a pretty good example to the rest of us.
I know in an earlier blog I promised more info on how I was fast-tracking my recovery. It's a program that's working wonders for me, and I feel like it's pretty important. It's also a little bit out there..so I've wanted to be careful how I characterize it. Plus- I've been really busy. The old Number 9 has me running my tail off these days from the second I get in the door, so quite frankly I just haven't had a lot of time to do the job, the odd Cover Story (like tonight's) and keep the blog going. But I really feel like what I went through and the things I learned can really help some people. I certainly hope so. So I promise a subsequent blog will reveal how anyone can improve their health and well-being, how those who, like me, have suffered a life-altering health setback can make big strides toward recovery, and how maybe -MAYBE- they can even have a better life than they did before. That's what I'm shooting for.
In the meantime, some important safety tips. They are below.
If you ride.. God love ya-- ride safe.
If you drive.. please keep an eye out for 'em..
And a nod to the Zaffke family-
As anyone who's suffered physical trauma knows -and I'm just now finding out- things don't always go well. They're not going well right now.
Got a little cocky early on, because things were going too well. I was feeling really good- and the physical sensation of running again and lifting small weights.. I guess the endorphins, or whatever, went straight to my head. It's like I ran a mile and immediately signed-up for the Chicago Marathon. Actually, it's exactly like that- 'cause that's exactly what I did; I ran a mile and late that same night I signed-up for the 2010 Chicago Marathon. I'll run it, too. It's not 'til October. In the meantime, I'm as sore as Hell and getting worse, not better- slower, not faster. It's incredibly frustrating. One of the guys here at the office, who clearly doesn't read this blog (ha) and had no idea what had happened to me, stopped me in the hall the other day. He's about the nicest guy in the world- always stopping ya to chat and ask how you're doing. Just seriously a wicked nice man. And he says he saw me limping across the parking lot the other day, and he was worried about me. Did I twist my ankle or something? I kinda smiled a weak little smile (I thought I was doing great- and in no way limping, that's for sure) and told him in a nutshell what had happened and that I was getting way better and blah blah blah.. Thing about this gig is- you're not doing a lot of heavy lifting.. but you're bouncing around in live trucks all day long. Now all of a sudden I catch myself hobbling around all the time. I think that hallway chitchat gave me a little dose of self-awareness I simply was not ready for. Whatever. This too shall pass.
Here's the one that really ticked me off..
I'm at the gym the other day- this poser gym (God love the people there- but it's a poser gym) down the road from my place. I walk there every day and do the elliptical for a little while or run my mile or whatever and then steam for 3 hours and take a shower so long and hot it makes you want to write a check to an environmental group and maybe plant a tree (thanks for the line, Andre Agassi). But on this particular occasion I attempt some light curls (on a machine).. and my body- my back- is racked with pain.. but I've gotta move these weights, right? I've gotta get back in shape right now- RIGHT?
And there's this dude. Now, I stop short of saying "jackass," but there's this dude who has been chatty with me in the past at this poser gym (I'm anti-social) and I'm sure he's a nice dude (probably not a jackass at all)- but upon catching the look of pain on my face in the mirror, he mimicks it as he passes by AND I WANT TO STOP WHAT I'M DOING AND RIP OUT HIS LUNGS!
Is that wrong?
He doesn't know. He has no idea that the vertebrae are still fusing around those screws in my back.. That probably I shouldn't even be here.. Shouldn't be doing this.. That anger and frustration well up inside me over the state of my body every single day and drive me to Go. Do. Something.
Dude has no idea.
It makes me think, though, about my own behavior. How many times in my life have I been insensitive to another, not knowing their situation, their limitations- the cross that may be theirs to bear, or what they may be going through in their life.. the pain they may be in. I hope it's not that many times, but I bet I've done it. Even if just through impatience..
Dude made me think.
I've got some really good allies in this little struggle of mine who I will talk about at another time. This next conversation's a bit like Fight Club, tho.. remember the first rule of Fight Club? The second?
So we get to the hospital.. Resurrection.. and I'm wondering why my back hurts so much. But to be honest, my head is what really worries me. I've mentioned how it felt the one time I touched it- right after the crash. Mushy. Soft. Seriously, just bad.. and I'm really worried about that. I know I look pretty rough. I'm covered in blood, woozy.. I really don't know how badly I'm hurt, but I think it's pretty serious. I keep thinking back to the moment right before the impact- when I saw that car and was pretty sure I was about to die...
Anyhoo- I'm good now.. at the hospital. My wife is here, too, and she looks worried- but I'm acting all upbeat.. working some manly-man bit (that came out of nowhere) and they're doing tests and giving me morphine..lots of morphine..and 19 staples are being punched-in across the top of my head. Morphine or not, those hurt. A lot. So all this is going on and I'm moving around- and every time I move, my back just screams. I mean, seriously. They do x-rays and a CT scan and I think an MRI. My brain is fine, they say, but my back is broken. Really broken. Now, I'm gonna get this all wrong.. or maybe not.. but as I recall, it's broken badly in a couple of places; one of my thoracic vertebrae is cracked right where it's met by my ribs- so they're not really worried about that one. In fact, they say, they probably won't even fix it, but let it heal on its own. Further down, that's where the problem is. A couple of lumbar vertebrae are badly broken, and pieces of them are threatening to pierce my spinal cord.
This is the part that to this day I have trouble even thinking about, much less writing about. The doctor tells me that to have escaped an accident like this without serious brain damage is one miracle, but to not be paralyzed.. well, that's something else altogether. I should be a paraplegic.. that's what he's saying. The fact that I'm not, given the circumstances, is another enormous stroke of luck. To stay lucky, I have to stay still. If I do too much moving around, those loose pieces of bone could move just enough to guarantee I never walk again. They say they'll get me into surgery just as soon as they can. I lie very still.
Been picking up the pace a little bit.
Actually, that's a lie. I haven't been going faster, but I have been going farther. I'm up to two miles on the treadmill some days.. but my body's really feeling it today.
So when I left off a few days back, I was lying on the ground somewhere around Harwood Heights, listening to the siren getting closer. The next little bit's a bit of a blur. The ambulance crew arrived- God love 'em. Just before they did, the lady who would yell at me but not help me moved on.. I remember wondering if maybe she'd get a rag or something from her kitchen to help stop the bleeding from my head. No luck there, but then this nice young guy came over with some of those yellow napkins from Wendy's- a whole bunch of 'em that must have come with his lunch. He smiled at me kinda shyly- like he didn't want to get too close- and said, "Here- press these to your head. You're bleeding pretty bad." They smell like cheeseburgers. I jam them against the top of my skull. Then there's the nice lady from the Cook County Sheriff's Office. I never really got to thank her. She stopped her car and came over to offer help. Once I had the cheeseburger napkins in place, there wasn't much left to do, so I eventually put her on the phone with my wife while the Paramedics did their thing- just so Sus was connected and could be told what hospital I was going to. It was Resurrection. She got that news and got off the phone to head that way. The medics got me out of my bloody leather jacket. A fireman said, "Your bike's over there. It's pretty trashed." Couldn't have been more matter-of-fact. You know he sees this all the time. Bikes. Bikes and cars, man.. What are ya gonna do?? Fireman jams the key into my hip pocket. "What on earth am I gonna do with that?" I wonder to myself. They're getting me onto the backboard.. gently easing me onto it.. and I let out a scream. Like a real scream. It took me completely by surprise- seriously- it was jarring. I couldn't believe it was me. Then I'm in the air and lightly bouncing into the back of the ambulance. There's an oxygen mask and some scissors- and pieces of my favorite gray vintage t-shirt are coming off. The EMT even asked if she could do that. I kind of laughed. I'm a little giddy now that all the screaming's over. That little girl sure had some lungs.. They're cleaning me up and they couldn't be nicer. I pull the mask off, tell the ambulance guy I don't think there's any air coming out of this thing. He says it's fine- just keep it on. I ask him his name. It's Biff. For some reason I think this is funny. "Am I going to die... Biff?" I ask, in mock dramatic fashion. We both laugh. I'm laughing a little too loud.
Ran a mile this morning. In about 16 minutes.
Even those of you who don't run so much can probably surmise that that's not a very good time.
It's a good time for me. Right now, anyway. That's the first mile I've run since that September 5th thing I've been blogging about. As I was out on the bike that day, I remember thinking about how nice it would be to go for a run by the lake. "Maybe when I get back," I thought. Five months, almost to the day, I take the first uncertain steps on a 16-minute mile. Brutal. Maybe it was 15. Like that would be so much better. My back and core have been killing me ever since, but I actually welcome the pain. I honestly feel pretty positive about it- like it's a sign I'm getting stronger. I am.
Never been much of an athlete, but I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2006, 2007 and 2008. I didn't say I won it- but I ran it. '07 was the year of the terrible heat. Scores of runners got sick. I saw people collapsing in the street. One poor soul died. It was awful. I think I walked a lot that year- but there was this one dude I met along the way, right near the end- a Chicago teacher who recognized me from the news. We sort of kept each other moving.. pacing each other in.. and finished. The guy really helped me out, 'cause I was about done when he came along. I've accepted a lot of help since then.
I watched the 2009 marathon from my balcony. The runners were blocks away on LaSalle, and I was leaning out over my balcony- a glass of scotch in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The cigarette is really alarming. Can you imagine a guy who ran 26.2 miles the year before doing something like that? The scotch (scotchy-scotch-scotch) was a gift from my brother. He actually picked it up at the distillery in Scotland. The cigarette was a bad choice. That one was all me. I started-up again a little bit in Afghanistan. Seemed like the thing to do. I dropped my last pack in the trash on the way out of Kabul, never touched them again until after the crash. Then I (wisely) hid them from my wife, occasionally dragging myself out onto the balcony to light one up. I'll never forget the one I smoked watching all those runners stream by. That was a dark time. I was walking, but doubted I'd ever run again. In fact, at that point I was pretty sure I never would. What a horrible thing for a guy who had been so healthy and carefree weeks before to feel.. but it happens to healthy, carefree people all the time, doesn't it? I was all banged-up- with a huge bruise on my hip, an 8-inch gash up my spine and an array of scars over the rest of my body. Under doctor's orders to stay healthy, I followed those orders most of the time.. except for the occasional lapse into smoking and drinking and feeling sorry for myself. I wondered if I'd ever go back to work again.
Holy depressing. Seriously. But what's great is how far I've come since then. Exactly one mile.
The day my little ordeal began.
A quick Saturday morning motorcycle ride. A little twist around town on my amazing '08 Buell 1125R. It's a pretty hot bike. Or, it was. You see where I'm going with this. I had a couple of errands to run, then figured I'd head home. But the day was too nice. I had to ride some more. Didn't have my gloves or helmet, but I had eye protection, of course- the ballistic sunglasses the Army gave me in Afghanistan, the dark lenses swapped-out for clear UV protection and great visibility. My trusty new leather jacket. My combat boots that have been with me on assignments all over the world. I was set. My full-face helmet and gloves would have been better, but I was set enough to head up the expressway and out into the 'burbs. Perfect day. Amazing. Everybody's in a good mood. I pull over to call my wife (she worries) and a bunch of kids in a red Mustang hoot and holler and wave at me and my Buell (it's hot, seriously). Perfect day. Bike's running like a top. Everything is everything. On my way home to River North, traffic's backed-up on the inbound expressway. No big deal. I get off at Harlem. Figure I'll cruise through my wife's old 'hood- Elmwood Park. Traffic's clear in my lane, backed-up solid the other way heading onto the expressway. Drag for those guys. I'm southbound, no one around me, loving this ride, this bike, this perfect day when something catches my eye-- a big car cutting out of all that stalled traffic, trying to get out of the jam. Who can blame him? But the Ford Crown Victoria is headed for my lane, headed the wrong way up a one-way street, headed straight for me- and not stopping, not slowing down, not even as I try to lock eyes with the driver, who I can see now just feet away. I feel like he's looking right at me- and he's still coming. Automatically, I feel my mouth form a dirty word. I've been riding for a long time, on the street and on the track. I've taken courses on the track to help me on the street-- specific courses designed to get you out of specific situations.. just like this one. I already know how this is going to end. While my mouth is starting on that bad word, my left hand's snapping in the clutch, my right hand the front brake. Way too late for the back brake. That hot bike and it's big front disc come to a screeching halt- which I believe saved my life. There's an impact, but I don't feel it. To this day, I don't remember it. Harlem Avenue goes white, then black, then comes back and I'm skidding along it.. on my belly.. on my new leather jacket. Leather and denim and flesh are tearing away. Behind me, plastic and steel are grinding down the street. I can still hear it. I don't have to look; I know the bike is gone. I'll never see it again. Last time I saw it was by the side of the road, with those kids in the Mustang and my wife on the phone. I'm still sliding, but I'm slowing down. I roll to my feet, and feel the knife in my back. It's metaphorical. The searing pain tells me I shouldn't be standing. I have a friend who has a friend who had a crash just like this. His girlfriend survived the hit from the first vehicle, but died after being hit by a second while down in the road, That's why I rolled to my feet. Even before I do, both hands are reaching for my phones. There should be a WGN BlackBerry in my right inside pocket and my iPhone in my left. They're still there. I pull them out. I feel like I've broken in two (it later turns out I have), but even the knife in my back can't keep me from stumbling to the safety of the curb. That's as far as I can go. I feel the warmth coming down my face and neck.
Stop reading now. I know nobody reads this stuff, but just in case- stop reading now.
I know I'm going into shock. I also know what that warm stuff is, now soaking into my favorite vintage t-shirt. I shift my phones into my left hand and put my right hand to my skull. It's soft. I think I'm touching my brain. Literally, that's what I think. My hand comes away filled with hair, covered in thick blood that looks more black than red. I don't feel bad, except for my back, which is on fire. I know I shouldn't be standing. I fall down on sombody's lawn and try to dial my iPhone. My blood-slicked fingers and impact-addled mind are doing me no good. I want to call my wife. She's expecting me home right about now and I'm bleeding by the side of the road. I wonder if I'm going to die. I'm pretty sure I'm going to pass out. What if I pass out without calling her? What if I die? What if I pass out then die? Or wake up in a hospital and she has no idea what happened? Or I wake up and don't remember? This is the stuff that runs through your mind while you're going into shock, I decide, as I go into shock. I'm still fumbling with my phone. Should I call 911 first- or her? A voice says they've called 911 already. A louder voice is screaming at me to stop texting. Stop texting? I tell her to stop screaming. She's weird, man. This lady's hollering like I fell from the sky and landed in her yard- an alien from outer space. Come on, this stuff has to happen here all the time. My mind's not right. I can't work this iPhone. It's the user interface- it's just not made for situations like this. I switch to the work BlackBerry, press the wife speed-dial key. The lady's still hollering. Now she's talking to the 911 center, yelling that I was yelling at her to shut up. This whole thing's bizarre, but I'm trying to manage the situation, control what my wife will hear. I don't want chaos and mayhem and screaming ladies. I want to sound like I haven't got a care in the world. I take a deep breath, steady my voice. She picks up. I sound fantastic; straight and calm and easy-going. This is a walk in the park. Even the screaming lady has moved away. Then the siren of the approaching ambulance blows the whole thing. There's no way they're here this fast, but here they are.
More later. It's late and I spent all day chasing the Scott Lee Cohen story. It's worth checking out. Illinois politics: You can't write it.
Anyway- I'm beat. That ten minutes on the elliptical yesterday about knocked the life out of me. Couldn't even get on the thing today.
Pretty amazing what passes for a workout these days.
I'm back blogging again.. not about Afghanistan this time. I've gone from writing about the challenges American soldiers are facing overseas to something more personal.
I've run into more than a few of those guys since I've been back.. even got Christmas cards from some of them- which blew my mind more than you might think. I spent two weeks with them 8 months ago, yet still think about them every day. Going on that trip really changed my perspective- and meeting so many fascinating men and women (Afghan and American) really inspired me. So I'm facing this struggle, this little bit of turmoil- and I remember how I felt when I was writing. In a word: better. Writing about that trip motivated me. It made me, for one thing, better able to tell the stories of those brave servicemen and women- which was extremely important to me. I need motivation now.. and I figure since nobody reads these blogs anyway, this is a safe place to write, vent and get my thoughts focused again. Nobody may ever read this stuff, but the fact that blogging puts it out into the world gives me reason to at least try to be coherent. The challenge, in short, is my badly broken body- and my need to set it right again. I'm just getting started doing that.. finally able to talk and write about it.. and I can tell that it's a long road ahead.
More on what brought me to this point later.. tomorrow, I hope. I did ten minutes on the elliptical today and started a blog- and for now, that's enough.
...and we're furiously editing the half-hour program. It has incredible potential. The soldiers I talked to in Afghanistan what seems like a thousand years ago were unbelievably honest and open about their work, their lives, their thoughts.
I got the impression it was nice for them to have somebody from home to talk to about what they do and how they feel about it, somebody who -unlike their fellow soldiers- didn't automatically understand, but had a genuine interest. That would be me, alright, and I came by it quite honestly. It's tough not to find an experience like that fascinating on a whole lot of levels. It's good to have your eyes opened every once in a while. That's the great thing about what I do. I think the troops were also glad to have somebody carrying their thoughts home- letting people know they're making a difference in the world and that they're enthusiastic about that. It's a big sacrifice- not just for them, but for their friends and families.
Since I'm being so honest, let me also say that writing this thing has been a BEAR- and I still don't feel like I'm done -like I'm truly doing the story justice- but I'm doing my best. I was here banging away at it until 1:30 this morning and back in at 8. Thursday's coming fast, and I have the feeling we'll be making changes right down to the wire. But I honestly believe in the importance of this- that -for one thing- great human sacrifice should not go unrecognized. Afghanistan is the war we have not heard enough about. Not yet, anyway. I hope folks will tune in to hear a little bit more Thursday night at 9:30.
Hopefully the show will be ready. Just kidding-- it'll be ready.. or I'll be going back to Afghanistan looking for work!Continue reading 7 rewrites later... »
We're hard at work on a very special project that has me re-living my experience in Afghanistan. I've spent the past week trying to boil down the best of what I shot into a half-hour program that will air this Thursday night, July 2nd. The second half of our 9:00 news will be devoted entirely to the trip..and the troops.
It might be easier to do a full hour. I have so much amazing material- and so many great interviews. I'm thrilled we're getting a chance to give the story more exposure. While the big challenge has been getting it down to a half-hour, the great part of that is it leaves us with only the best elements- and hopefully a half-hour well-spent.
The special will run at 9:30 Thursday night and again on the 4th of July between 7:30 and 8pm CST.
Given the timing, expect something that strikes a patriot tone and incorporates material we couldn't include in the 6 earlier reports.
I really want to thank everyone again for their kind thoughts, calls, letters and emails. I'm a little overwhelmed.
Many, many people have asked if they can buy a tape or DVD, and while that's not really something that we do, we will allow the material to live on-line for as long as possible. When the half-hour show is complete and has broadcast, it will be available here as well. And it's free..
I'm away with family for Father's Day and a little break from all the work that's still going on around this story.
Ever since I got back from Afghanistan, I've been scanning the headlines for the story I hoped I wouldn't see. I saw it today.
From the Tribune:
Two Illinois soldiers have died in Afghanistan after their vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device in Kandahar, according to the Illinois Army National Guard.
Twenty-six-year-old Staff Sgt. Joshua Melton of Germantown and 43-year-old Sgt. Paul Smith of East Peoria died Friday, according to the national guard. Two other soldiers in the vehicle were injured.
It was Melton's second deployment after serving with Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004 to 2006. He graduated from Central Community High School in Breese in 2001 and enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard in November 2000.
Melton was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry based in Marion.
-June 1, 2009
Just back from another crazy Afghan road trip.
Returned to Kabul late, and was looking at spending the night at the airport until a kindly photog from ABC took pity on me. No, not that ABC-- the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which is doing some great work over here. He had a serious, SERIOUS-looking private security team taking him into the city -i mean, armed to the teeth- and they wouldn't let me out of their sight until I was where I needed to be and had secured safe passage. Terrific guys. Fitting that I was mooching a lift from the Australians, because it was one of their Hercules transports that brought me back from Kandahar- complete with tactical takeoffs and landings--fast climbs and steep dives that bring you to the ground fast and hard.
We had picked up my Australian friend at a spot called Tarin Kowt. He had just finished filming an intense four-day firefight with the Taliban. I haven't been seeing that kind of action.
That's not to say it hasn't been an interesting few days.. but mostly, it's been the hurry up and wait ritual of travel in this country.
I wish I could cover more ground.
There are a lot of great hometown stories here -as I keep mentioning-- and word that a local reporter's in-country spreads surprisingly fast. Here's an email from a group near Jalalabad that I couldn't get to:
"We are a Chicago-based Infantry Battalion who deployed to Afghanistan late October 08...
...this is the first combat deployment
under our colors as The 1st Battalion 178th Infantry Regiment (from the GEN Jones Armory, 5200 Cottage Grove in Hyde Park) since world war II.
Our Task Force, TF Bayonet, not only supplies Security teams all over Afghanistan to the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) but we are also area managers over the Laghman Province.
Our element manages 2 Combat Out Post (COPs) and a Forward Operation Base (FOB) located on the outskirts of Mehtar Lam. We would very much like to share our experience here in Afghanistan with our families, co-workers and friends from the Chicagoland area.. "
...and I would love to help, but my time here is quickly running out. There are several other groups I just couldn't get to, although I tried very hard.
I did get to Kandahar, though, then south.. within 50 miles or so of the Pakistan border. Spent time with a couple of groups of Chicago-area guys. My day with Team 'War Hog' was especially interesting. While we were talking, and I was filming, there was this 'WHUMP' not far off that could only have been a mortar round. It was an interesting moment that I'm trying to feed back to Chicago right now. They're a pretty fascinating group of young guys -sort of an Illinois 'Band of Brothers'- patrolling the wilds of southern Afghanistan.. easily the toughest, most dangerous part of the country right now.
Back to work. Lots to do before I can go home- and a couple of other stories I want to share a little later on.
A quick update-- my lovely wife just sent me some more of your posts. Thank you for them. I found the timing of this one pretty interesting:
Thank you for doing this. I can't tell you what a joy it is to have our soldiers being shown in such a wonderful light. These soldiers truly are doing a good thing, regardless anyone's opinion of this war.
You have traveled a bit with my husband SGM Jason Burris. We are so proud of Jason and the rest of the Illinois troops. As the NCO IG, Jason is dedicated to seeing this mission through and helping all of the soldiers there. We as a state should feel honored to have people like these soldiers living amongst us. They are willing to give up everything at a moments notice at home and abroad.
Please stay safe, and know our hearts are traveling along with you. Don't forget, Illinois is a big state and yes, there are Cardinal fans that watch WGN too!
I put Annette's husband Jason on a chopper out of Camp Phoenix not 15 minutes ago. He's doing great. He showed me some pictures of their son and daughter as we talked about home. Had a minute to check email and wanted Annette to know he got on that Chinook with a big smile on his face.
Have to go. Keep the comments coming-
Hitting the road again, so one more entry before I go.
I've been trying to get close to the Pakistan border, south to the Kandahar region and east toward Jalalabad. I have opportunities to do two of the three before my embed is over- but I have to move fast.
Good Lord- a chopper just flew so low overhead the building shook. You'd think I'd be used to that by now.
Today was sort of a housekeeping day. I mostly slept, but I also got some laundry done and a couple of interviews shot.
There's something else I've been meaning to get to. I've been having trouble keeping up with people and news back home, and I don't really know what's going on with the website and my blog, but my wife sent me a few comments from it that stopped me in my tracks the other day. Here's one:
I think you are doing a great thing out there. Keep up the good work. You have no idea how many people who have loved ones out there are getting a little peace of mind. P.S. Tell my brother (CSM Mark Bowman) that we love him and "stay safe"! :)
Thank you again and praying for all of you! Kelly Bowman
Kelly might be interested to know that I've been spending a lot of time with her brother. In fact, he was on the road with me on the trip with the two Generals, as part of Gen. Huber's Command Team. Command Sergeant Major Mark Bowman's kind of a big deal around here. He's an amazing guy, and I'm sure Kelly's very proud. She should be. When I sat down for a one-on-one with the General at FOB Ghazni, it was Bowman I asked to tag along. Just Bowman. He's the kind of guy you want to have around-- a hard-core soldier with a sharp intellect and a calm demeanor. In Chicago, he's a teacher.
Here's another, and this one really got to me. I sums up in a nutshell what I'm doing here.
I have a 26 year-old son in camp phoenix, my oldest child. Your blog shows me his reality thru his eyes, and brings him home just a little bit. Of course if he knew I was reading it he'd worry, so we won't tell him. Thanks for putting your life on the line to bring us this report. I will look every day for your words. Julia dahlstrom
See, here's the thing: There's a war over here-- and whether you agree with it or not, it's happening, it's underway. If you don't want your countrymen in harm's way in Afghanistan- great-- neither do I. I don't want anyone in harm's way anywhere. But there are men and women from our city and state who have answered the call of our nation, are doing the bidding of the government you elected. Don't say you didn't ask for this-- didn't ask them to-- you did. What happens over here happens in your name, whether you currently approve or not.
If I wanted to get into the politics of this, I would have embedded in Washington. I wanted to let people know what's happening in Afghanistan, so here I am.
Am I having a good time? Do I like it over here? Do I miss my wife? Do I hate making her worry? Do I worry?
I'm sure you can figure out the answers. The bottom line is, as I keep saying, this is a huge story. It's a local story. How the US media is not doing more to cover it I do not understand. What I can tell you is that I have seen some things since coming over here that would blow your mind. Tomorrow I head downrange again expecting to see a few more.
Julia's email moved me almost to tears, because Julia understands. I came over here to bring her son home, just a little bit.
This is actually starting to turn into the multi-media experiment I hoped it would.
Since arriving here a week or so ago, I've been filing on-line, on WGN-TV via Skype and satellite.. phone for WGN Radio.. and now it looks like the Trib is going to pick up a piece I banged-out yesterday.
I'm travelling light, shooting my own stuff on a pair of tiny (and I mean tiny) cameras and doing some basic editing on a MacBook Pro. The resolution on those tiny cameras blows me away. There are issues from time to time that I won't bore you with, but I'm getting some great stuff. I can't wait to get it all back to Chicago.
Now, television isn't always pretty. And it sure ain't easy sometimes.. not from here. It's tough to make a reliable phone call where I am, much less do a live shot over the Interweb.
Satellite normally would not be an option- but some guys out here worked very, very hard to make that happen yesterday, so viewers of the WGN Morning News could connect with some of their loved ones serving in Afghanistan- and so I could get a little bit of this story out. Sadly, we couldn't see them- or even hear them- but I think we made a connection as best we could. That was a little rough, and honestly, I ended the day pretty frustrated. I'd been up for most of the three previous days, chasing a pair of Generals around southeastern Afghanistan.. and lemme tell ya- that'll wear you out.
Especially when it's these guys: Brigadier General Huber, a Chicagoan -who I mentioned in an earlier blog- and one General Wiszniewski, his charming Polish counterpart. Now, I don't have to tell Chicagoans about our unique relationship with the Poles-- and I don't have to tell them about you, either. In the past few days, I've visited Poles at what I believe to be the actual edge of the planet. They spoke little English. I speak no Polish. All I had to say was "Chicago."
I met a dead ringer for Ed Harris, who emigrated from Poland to the US many years ago at the age of 21. Settled in Chicago. Joined the Army. Today, Sgt. Gregory Danko serves alongside his fellow Poles, his language skills being put to good use. There's a Polish Army patch on his left shoulder, the Stars and Stripes on his right, and an expression of pride on his face as he serves his two countries. Danko's a great guy. I hope to introduce you properly in a week or so. He has a wife and a couple of kids in Chicago. He misses them a lot, but believes in what he's doing here.
America and Poland have a longstanding military partnership dating back to the end of the Cold War. The nuances are for someone else's blog, but suffice it to say that a connection evolved between the Illinois Guard and the Polish Army. They like each other- and when they can, they serve together. That's why at that base at the edge of the planet, where there's a fortress wall the British built 200 years ago and nothing but sand and nomads for miles around, there's a Polish base, 250 or so Polish soldiers, three US advisors- and all three are from Illinois.
That's how I wound up on a Polish helicopter with these two Generals, as they made the rounds and surveyed their troops.
Now, if you're still reading-- this is where I stop and say that I've been a reporter for a long time and I've never had access like this before. If anyone else tells you they have, they are lying to you.
I'm talking about unfettered access, in a hostile area, to two of the top commanders in the field and all of their soldiers. When many are from Poland and the rest are from home- I think I can get a story out of that.
But let's add one more element, and tell you this: These are the soldiers who will get America out of here.
The Illinois National Guard, with the aid of their Polish brothers and sisters in arms, are tasked with mentoring and retraining the ANP and ANA; the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army. That's the work which, once complete, will allow Coalition troops to withdraw. You know- "They stand up, we stand down.."
It's clearly going to take some time, but it's happening. You'll see. And I can't wait for you to meet General 'Ski...
Sunday, May 17, 2009 -- 3:00 AM CST
I'm on another planet.
People are waving their arms and running and screaming, dodging in and out of traffic, barely avoiding being hit by our wildly careening Toyota Corolla as we speed north from
On this planet there's no fear- unless you count me. To my right, my driver, Rohullah, grins and asks in Pashto if he can smoke, holding up a cigarette with the hand not gripping the wheel. I laugh and he lights up. For the first time in six years, I want one too.
We are flying. The
I'm rolling some tape along the way. I want to shoot everything I see, because I can't believe it. I've never seen such poverty before- and while I knew I'd see plenty of it here, I never imagined this. All I can think about is how tough you'd have to be just to live here. We drive across a flooded street.
As we bounce across the potholes on the other side, I promise myself I'll never complain about anything again. I'll break that promise three times by dinner.
Turns out we took the back way to Bagram. Later, a Master Sergeant from
Rohullah pulls over, yells something out the window.
See, things went a little off the rails today. Back in
Who could say no to that?
But when I landed- no escort, no soldiers- and the would-be dictator wound up hanging around outside the
It's a war zone. Things like this happen all the time and you just have to roll with them. If all else failed, the Army was expecting me at Bagram Airfield by 4:30 that afternoon- so at least I had somewhere to go. Enter Rohullah: cab driver from Hell.
The outskirts of the base are like a scene from a movie: blowing sand, razor wire, trucks and Humvees and guys with guns. The second we stop, a little boy shoves his head through my window and starts yelling in perfect English, his grimy face two inches from mine.
"Your friend will come for you! You must wait here!"
"And who might you be?" I ask, as I shove open the door. I need Rohullah's cell to call inside. He hands it over as I start to unload my gear, six or eight little hands reaching for my bags. I wave them away. The cell connects just as a short convoy of Humvees with big antennas passes by. The connection drops- as it always will when those trucks are around. I connect again and Sgt. Warren Wright of the
There's some change that keeps falling out of a pocket in my laptop bag. I get it out, hold it up, and the happy little boys turn into a pack of rabid little wolves, snarling and clawing over each other. All except Idris. Even when I try to throw him a quarter, he just shrugs and lets the wolves have it. My ride is here. We drive past the razor wire onto a base twice the size of my hometown.
-Tom Negovan, WGN News Special Report