Today I wake up in Baghdad. The regime is crumbling, turning to dust. The people of Baghdad are taking to the streets, looting back what the regime has taken from them for 25 years. The minders of the information ministry didn't bother to show up to shepard the journalists at the Palestine hotel. It is now only a matter of days before the war is officially over.
Greg and Mal head out to survey the city with Col. Perkins. Myself and Sgt. Mark Scott head into the palace to survey the destruction. The palace had been hit early on in the war by American air power. The entire southern wing of the building has fallen in on itself. We walk through the rubble to the intact second floor. There we find ourselves in Saddams office and cabinet room. The palace appears to haven't been used in quite some time. Mal confirms this, having been to some of the other palaces today. Soldiers are everywhere, looking for a nick-nack to take home from the war.
For me, I already have the best momento from the fight. I am alive and well, and hopefully going home soon.
08 APR 2003
The Day after the missle attack. It looks like it was a Soviet era FROG-7 surface to surface missle that hit us. A lot of people had a hard time sleeping last night. It took me a while to get to sleep. When I finally drifted off, my rest was haunted by explosions and missiles and craters and burning rubble. The sun rises on a new day and wakes me up.
Greg and Mal spent the night sleeping on beds in one of Saddam's palaces. The brigade continues the attack today. Every time a new target is found, the brigade finds a tiny bit of payback for the loss of their own.
Later in the day our first tape arrives. It was shuttled down by a team of scouts that had enemy contact on the way. On the tape is a scene of a statue of Saddam being destroyed by a tank round. I'm sure it is destined to become a lasting image, like the swastika being blown off the Reichstag in World War II.
After I have fed the tape, I get word that a supply convoy is moving up into the city. The tanks and Brads of Second Brigade are running low on fuel and ammo. They have the Iraqis on the run, and keeping that momentum is crucial. The decision is made to send me forward with them. The palace Greg and Mal are at is secure, and the Army has no plans on giving it up. So, we hook up the hummers for last drive of the trip.
Our mission was to get to Baghdad. We are now all here. Hugs go all around, and we quickly get to work setting up the uplink. An hour later, the Fox Baghdad Bureau is back on the air after a two month abscence. Night falls, and we roll out our sleeping bags on the front lawn on the palace.
07 APR 2003
Early this morning Greg and Mal set out with Col. Perkins for another assault into Baghdad. The goal of today's mission is to strike deep into the very center of the city. If all goes according to plan, the Second Brigade will be taking 2 Presidential Palaces and other key locations in downtown Baghdad.
I stay behind at out new location to await the return of their first tape. And there is the possibility, if things go very well, that I will join them later in the day if the situation is stable and secure.
In the mean time they took a videophone with them, the first television to be live out of Baghdad with the troops. I get to sleep in for a little bit. I get up and head into the TOC to check on the progress of the action. The troops are deep into the city, and the first elements are already taking one of the palaces.
The assault is massive. More than 60 tanks, 45 Bradleys and their command vehicles rolling through downtown Baggers. Amazingly, at the same time the Iraqi Information Minister is on the air claiming that we are not in the city, and that the Iraqis are killing us in droves. Our live pictures throw broad daylight onto their lies.
I head back out to the truck, parked outside the walled compound, to check in with New York. They haven't heard from Mal and Greg in a little while, and are looking to me for a battle update. On they way I run into Specialist Geroge Mitchell, who has become a very good friend to us on this journey. Every day he makes a fresh pot of coffee, and is always sharing his Thermos with us. I stop and have a cup with him.
We chat a while about the daily rumors of war news, rotation dates, and the outstanding progress that the brigade is making today. Next to me are two foreign print reporters, one from El Mundo in Spain, the other from Focus magazine in Germany. I had seen both of them in the TOC earlier, and one of them actually got the word out before Fox that the Americans had taken the heart of Baghdad.
New York is still looking for their battle update. I head back into the TOC to get the latest from Lt. Col. Wesley. Everything is going according to plan, and we are in controll of a good chunk of real estate in the city.
Walking back out to the truck, I pass George and the other journos. George offers me another cup of coffee, but I need to get my gear set up and checked in with New York. The first tape could come in at any time, and I want to be ready to feed it ASAP.
I'm at the truck and giving the battle update to New York. I hear a jet, probably coming or going from the battle. It quickly gets very loud, sounds like its moving just about the ground and very fast.
An instant later, a massive explosion throws a fireball into the air and blows my sat phone off the roof of the truck. The TOC has taken a direct hit from someting.
Immediately all of the soldiers outside the compound are running forward with litters, fire extinguishers, and water cans. The fireball is now setting the building on fire, the vehicles inside are ablaze. I grab my water and fire extinguisher and rush forward. Halfway there I hand them off to a soldier coming back for more.
I know that I need to get my gear packed, and fast. There are so many people fighting the fire and helping the wounded that I don't feel I can be any help. That and my gear is right next to the burning building, and the satellite antenna is blocking a vehicle path.
I haphazardly throw break down the uplink. I don't bother to pack it in it's case - I just throw the bits into the truck. Everything now in the back, I pull the hummers away from the immediate danger. The junior officers are starting to take account of their troops. I hook up with them to let them know that I am OK, and that Mal and Greg are up front at the battle. All of the Fox people are accounted for.
I now have to do one of the hardest things in journalism. I need to put all of my feelings aside, and place a camera between me and the world. The situation quickly become more stable. The captains start to regroup the working equipment around Lt. Col. Wesley, the wounded have all been moved accross the street to the evac area. Everybody has been accounted for.
Two soldiers are dead. One of them is George Mitchell.
The two journalists from Europe are dead as well.
I am the only journalist still here. I put the thought away and continue to shoot. Mal has both of our cameras. All I have is my digital still camera and my note book. I check in with New York quick to let them know I am ok. I also tell them that it is very important that we do not report on this. I know the Iraqis are monitoring Fox, and reporting on the direct hit will only draw us more fire.
The TOC is now consolodated a few hundred yards away from the burning compound. The background is a constant staccatto of the ammunition, shells, and rocket burning in the inferno. Secondary explosions, they are called.
I check in with Wesley. He agrees that we should embargo any reporting for a while until the security situation is established. It's tough for me, because my whole career in news has been about getting the information out as quickly as I get it. But now, not only is the safety of the brigade in jeopardy, but if I report I am putting myself in grave danger as well.
A couple hours later the first wire story about the incident moves, datelined from the Pentagon. It has the basics of the incident, and the accounting of the casualties. I go back to Wesley, and ask to be able to run with the story. He gives the ok.
I call in to New York. They are still very confused about the situation. I explain what has happened, and ask for guidance on what they want me to do. Stand by, the tell me, and I get transfered to the control room. I tell the senior producer there the situation, and they want to put me on the air right away.
My call gets transfered into the audio rig, and suddenly I am on the air. I give my report and answering questions from our top anchor, Shepard Smith. I get through the report, and they are very pleased with it. In fact, the seem a little taken aback that an uplink engineer can report as well on the air.
They are done with me for now. I plug the computer in to the sat phone, and start to email my pictures to New York.
And then I sit back. It seems so surreal to me. Two journalists in the brigade have died earlier in the week, David Bloom from NBC and Michael Kelly of the Washington Post. Both died in non-combat situations, but I had me both of them on the trip. Last night, as Greg, Mal and I were planning our coverage of todays mission their deaths were at the front of our minds. Things tend to come in threes, and we didn't want to put ourselves in too risky of a position. We had talked about having me come along with a more elaborate satellite setup. We decided that it was too much of a risk, and that I would stay behind.
The fire has burned itself out now. Wesley comes over to my truck. He asks how the report went, and makes sure I am doing OK. We then go up into the compound. It is devestating. Everthing is twisted and melted. I walk up to the impact crater. A place where I was standing not 5 minutes before the missile hit.