By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 24, 2007
As the daughter of a World War II veteran, Kimberly Dozier always had a special feeling about Memorial Day.
Her father was wounded during the assault on Iwo Jima, and was one of only two survivors in his 73-man unit. So when the CBS correspondent arrived in Baghdad for another tour of duty shortly before Memorial Day last year, she wanted to chronicle how American troops were spending the day.
She never completed the assignment. A car bomb at an Iraqi checkpoint killed her two crew members, as well as an Army captain and an Iraqi interpreter, and left her with shrapnel in her brain, a missing eardrum and two shattered legs.
One year and more than 25 operations later, the tall, feisty Dozier, once a lowly stringer for The Washington Post, is back on her feet and back on a story -- her own.
"The importance of that day is not that we were there," says Dozier, 40, whose special report on her ordeal will air Tuesday night at 10. "We were there during what happens to soldiers 20 to 30 times a day. Everything that happened that day is the story of the U.S. military in Iraq."
She says she is uncomfortable being the center of attention. "It's partly survivor guilt," says Dozier, who had grown close to her fallen colleagues, cameraman Paul Douglas and sound man James Brolan, during her three years covering the war.
But, she says, "It's probably the best therapy you can have. Every trauma survivor, we want to know every detail. We try to relive every moment. For me, it's an amazing chance to go back. I spoke to my ICU nurse, to the guy who tied the tourniquets to my legs and saved my life."
Dozier's life was in jeopardy. Her heart stopped twice. Brain surgery was required to remove the shrapnel. And doctors said she might never walk again.
After titanium rods were inserted in her legs, it took six weeks of training at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda before she could take 30 steps with a walker, and more time at Baltimore's Kernan Hospital for her to walk with a cane. Dozier felt devastated until she realized that some of the soldiers she had met had lost their limbs.
Her parents, who live in the Baltimore suburb of Timonium, not far from where she spent part of her childhood, provided encouragement. Although Dozier walks normally now, her legs remain badly scarred and she still requires physical therapy. A new eardrum has been grafted into her ear. There is still shrapnel in her head.
She spent part of the winter recuperating at the New Zealand home of her boyfriend, Pete. They met in Baghdad, where Pete (whose last name Dozier is withholding for safety reasons) was providing security for CBS and other organizations.
"He wouldn't date me," Dozier recalls. "He finally asked his boss for permission after I asked him out three times."
By 2005 and 2006, Dozier says, reporting in Baghdad had become so dangerous that Iraqis feared for their lives if a Western crew visited them, so Dozier says she brought interview subjects to CBS's hotel and used different rooms to make the backdrop look different.
Still, going out with the troops was part of the job. The Memorial Day excursion with the Army's 4th Infantry Division, Dozier says, was considered relatively safe.
"Paul and James were old hands, experienced at covering Iraq," she says. "These guys did not take crazy risks."
Susan Zirinsky, the veteran CBS executive producer in charge of the prime-time special, says that as she got to know Dozier, "I kind of stood in awe of her. She has that passion for the story and has dedicated her life to it. She's a reporter's reporter.
"She doesn't feel sorry for herself. That's why her recovery was so remarkable -- she just looks at it as something she has to get over. There's no weeping in a corner."
The program begins with Dozier and anchor Katie Couric strolling through Arlington National Cemetery and talking about the car bomb, which was remotely triggered. "Someone was watching. Someone was waiting for us," Dozier says.
Covered with blood, she was rushed to a U.S. military hospital. A CNN crew, which happened to be filming there that day, provided harrowing footage of the attempt to save her.
Army surgeon David Steinbruner recalls rushing to examine the patient. "By definition, she died for a moment," he tells CBS. "At the time, when we lost her pulse, I thought we were going to lose her completely. I kind of think of that as being on the edge of a precipice between life and death." The program then broadens into a look at all the lives that were touched by a single bomb.
Dozier relished life as a television correspondent, in part because it took her a decade to reach that goal. She worked her way through Wellesley College by cleaning houses and ironing shirts, and spent two years as a reporter for the Washington trade publication Energy Daily.
Dozier studied Islamic extremism at the University of Virginia, where she earned a master's degree while tending bar on the side. In 1992 she set off for Egypt, where she found work at the English-language Middle East Times. "I was terrified," Dozier says. "I spoke no Arabic. I'd never been a foreign correspondent."
She was able to do some stringing for The Post, along with the Baltimore Sun, San Francisco Chronicle and CBS radio. "I wanted to be a newspaper reporter," Dozier says. "I only took a job in broadcasting because it was paying the bills."
In 2001, after five years in London for BBC radio, Dozier was hired as a full-time radio reporter for CBS. She sneaked into Afghanistan days after Kabul fell, getting past the Taliban-controlled border by having tea in a back room with visa officials and parting with $200. From Afghanistan, Dozier did occasional reports for CBS's television service for affiliate stations, but a regular network job was out of the question. "I was told I had the wrong looks, a bad voice," she says. "I just couldn't pull off that TV correspondent look."
Dozier reported from Iraq until three weeks before the war, when CBS ordered its personnel to leave the country. "I folded. I shouldn't have," she says. "I regretted it ever after."
Shortly after Baghdad fell, Dozier returned, driving anchor Dan Rather into the Iraqi capital. In short order, the network hired her to cover the conflict on TV. "Nobody else wanted to work there," she says.
Like ABC's Bob Woodruff, an old friend who was badly wounded in Iraq four months earlier, Dozier finds herself a symbol of the war's dangers. She plays down her role, noting, for instance, that an Iraqi at a nearby tea stand was killed by the same bomb. But in taping the CBS special, writing a book and testifying before a Senate panel last week on the need for more research into limb injuries caused by bombs, Dozier has come to terms with her new status.
"The Americans might be tuning out this war," she says, "but the rest of the world is watching, and they're judging us by this war."
Dozier appreciates the good wishes of those who recognize her but finds the constant focus on her injuries depressing. Her goal, she says, is to return to her home in Jerusalem and cover the Middle East again.
"I'm not a freak there," Dozier says. "Other people have been through it. Everyone's had a brush with violence."