CBS reporter Kimberly Dozier, injured in Iraq bombing, goes back to Baghdad
Last month, I finally made it back to Baghdad. I'd left on May 29, 2006, unconscious on a stretcher after my CBS News team and the 4th Infantry Division patrol we'd been covering walked into the path of a 300- to 500-pound car bomb.
The wall of shrapnel that tore through us took the lives of my colleagues, cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan; the officer we'd been following, Army Capt. James Funkhouser; and his Iraqi translator, known as Sam. The explosion badly injured four other soldiers on the patrol.
It took many months of physical therapy and rehabilitation to get me walking and running again. It took painful hours of reliving the attack to begin moving beyond the trauma of that day. What I could not know then was how much work it would take to get back to the job I loved, as a foreign correspondent, if only for a few short days.
My chance came when Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, invited me to join him and other journalists on his annual USO trip last month -- including eight days of nonstop meetings and briefings with commanders in Afghanistan, Pakistan and, finally, Iraq. For someone who hadn't been in the field in almost four years, it was like breathing again.
I'd asked to go back several times before, but my employer had been loath to put me in harm's way again on the network's behalf. So with CBS's permission, I took the opportunity the admiral offered to go as a private citizen.
While my employer was keenly aware of the public response to me and my injury, it took me years to perceive and then understand what that response meant to my future. It's common to other people injured in combat and, to a lesser extent, those who have served in war zones: Once you've been hurt, people become protective and think you should stay where it's safe. I still get letters and e-mails admonishing me never to go back.
This return trip to Baghdad was a bittersweet glimpse of what used to be, but also a chance to show people that it is possible to heal from the level of injury that I sustained and resume doing whatever you used to do, wherever you used to do it.
I've tried to send that message in other ways. I wrote a book about the bombing and my recovery, and I regularly speak to groups large and small, military and civilian. I've even run a couple of 10Ks, partly to raise money for Fisher House, where my family stayed during much of my hospitalization. And partly I ran, like many of those who've been injured, just to show that I can.
That's where my experience dovetails with that of many of the wounded warriors I've met. After proving to yourself that you're whole, whatever your new definition of "whole" might be, you then have to prove it to your loved ones. And you find, if you tell people that you want to go back to doing what you did before, that their reaction isn't always one you want to hear.
In 2008, a year after I came back to work, I told a New York tabloid that I looked forward to returning to the field, including Iraq. I'd lived overseas covering crises for 14 years. My home was in Jerusalem. I would not be driven away from my life's work by an al-Qaeda splinter group's car bomb.
"Bomb girl wants back to Iraq," screamed the next day's headline. It wasn't meant as an atta-girl compliment. The subtext of the article was clear -- this woman is touched in the head. How dare she consider risking her life again?
And then there was the companion question: What might happen if she does go back? Even close colleagues ventured that seeing Iraq again would trigger some sort of emotional tsunami.