May 24, 2007 – When Kimberly Dozier, a CBS News correspondent, was nearly killed last Memorial Day by a roadside bomb in Baghdad that took the lives of her crew, she became the story instead of reporting it. Now, more than 25 operations later, Ms. Dozier is finally telling her own story, which will be a core part of “Flashpoint,” a CBS special to be broadcast on Tuesday night about the many lives transformed that day.
“The hardest part of it was re-living parts of it I didn’t remember,” Ms. Dozier said during a recent interview at the CBS headquarters in Midtown, where she returned to work earlier this year. It has been “weird” to be the journalistic subject, she said, but tracking down and interviewing the people who were with her that day has been cathartic.
“I’ve asked myself why did I make it when the others died,” she said, admitting that she sometimes felt discouraged as she learned to walk again, in a gantlet of surgery and therapy that took her from Iraq to Germany to New Zealand, as well as to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. “You ask yourself that over and over, especially in the beginning.”
In the last year, using her journalistic skills and her memories to help shape “Flashpoint” has been one of the easier challenges for the 40-year-old Ms. Dozier. A tall woman with short blond hair tucked neatly behind her ears, she was given 50-50 odds of surviving on May 29, 2006. She and her two-member crew were hit that morning after leaving their armored vehicle to shoot video in the street for a report about Americans soldiers working with Iraqi security forces.
“We were shredded by shrapnel,” Ms. Dozier said, a hellish end for a report on a slow news day at home.
Besides the CBS cameraman Paul Douglas, 48, and the sound man James Brolan, 42, Capt. James A. Funkhouser, 35, of the Army, and his Iraqi translator, called Sam in the program, died that day. Several American soldiers were critically injured. Ms. Dozier had lost virtually all her blood by the time she arrived at a treatment center. Her heart stopped twice.
She looks fine now, but her heavily scarred legs contain titanium rods, and she has screws in her skull. She took shrapnel to the head, fractured her femur and was burned from her hips to her ankles. Still, she is eager to return to the Middle East and to work, she said, mindful that what she went through is what happens to American troops 20 times a day in Iraq.
“I always, always wanted to be a foreign correspondent,” she said, recalling growing up partially overseas, one of six children of a homemaker and a former marine who did overseas construction.
“I knew there had been some sort of explosion,” Ms. Dozier recalled of her last day in the field, recounting her story in a generally matter-of-fact way. “I just got knocked into blackness. My mind was going, but I couldn’t see or hear for a few minutes. I could smell fireworks. I didn’t know at the time that my eardrums were shattered, so that explains why I couldn’t hear a lot.”
Her first concern was what happened to her crew, she said.
She got through it all with support from her family, her boyfriend and the prayers, she said, of people around the world. She is also grateful for the therapist for her head and those ones for her body. “They call me a poster girl for how to recover or how to avoid P.T.S.D.,” Ms. Dozier said, referring to post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Flashpoint,” a one-hour special with Katie Couric as anchor, portrays the war through the detailed stories of the many lives touched by the explosion that Monday morning. Staff Sgt. Nathan Reed lost his lower right leg, among other injuries, and Sgt. Justin Farrar suffers from such post-traumatic stress that he is still unable to wear his uniform. “Flashpoint” shows him leaning on a cane, sobbing, at Captain Funkhouser’s grave in Texas.
The special is also a portrait of Mr. Brolan and Mr. Douglas, who left behind wives and children. There are close-ups of bloody wounds and of coffins, glimpses of a young daughter of Captain Funkhouser who says, “My daddy was a hero and he died.” “Flashpoint” also zeroes in on how improvised explosive devices (I.E.D.’s), like the one that hit the CBS team, are responsible for roughly half the American combat casualties in Iraq.
While Ms. Dozier comes across in the film and in person as intrepid, bright, and loyal to her colleagues and friends, at least one friend sees her as changed by her ordeal.
“She’s tough in the right way,” said Lin Garlick, the executive editor of CBS NewsPath, the network’s 24-hour news service. “She’s still Kimberly with her stories, with her depth of feeling for people. But there’s a slight guardedness to her now. I think she’s seen more than the rest of us want to see. That’s reflected in her eyes at times and I don’t think that will ever leave her.”
Ms. Dozier, a former print and radio reporter who has covered the Middle East as a CBS correspondent since 2003, has repeatedly asked herself if there is anything she could have done differently that Memorial Day. Her answer is no. Still, she sheds tears in “Flashpoint” only when Ms. Couric asks about her crew.
Ms. Dozier said that it took Bob Woodruff, the ABC news correspondent who was injured in Iraq earlier in 2006, to ease her guilt about her crew.
“He said: ‘You’re thinking, you’re the correspondent. You were in charge, you took them there that day.’ He said, ‘Look, those two guys did not get taken anywhere. They were their own bosses,’ ” she recounted. “And the thing I will always remember, that really stuck with me — and I’ve needed to pull it out several times — he said, ‘If you think any differently, if you think of it any other way, you’re dishonoring their memories.’ ”
Ms. Dozier is working on a book about her life and just finished an article for The New York Times about how Iraq combat is responsible for injuries that doctors have never encountered, also a topic of one of her reports for CBS.
Her return to television comes this Sunday on “CBS News Sunday Morning” with a report about female soldiers whose combat injuries made them amputees.
The journalism fire remains bright, Ms. Dozier said, but she is a different woman.
“You know that ticker you’ve got running in your head going, ‘Got to please Mom, got to please boss, got to’ — you’ve got all these judges out there,” she said. “Especially women do this. I have a freedom I never had before in terms of saying: ‘You know what? I don’t care.’ Because I know what’s important.”