An Iraq War Reporter's Road to Recovery

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Her story was one she was told nobody wanted to hear.

Award-winning CBS network correspondent Kimberly Dozier says it was a challenge finding a publisher for her book Breathing the Fire: Fighting to Report-and Survive The War in Iraq.

"The feeling in the publishing industry was--is--that there have been too many things written about Iraq, and that the country is turned off to the story," Dozier said.

Reporting on the Iraq war was Dozier's job as Baghdad-based correspondent for CBS News, until a roadside bomb on Memorial Day 2006 made her the focus of reporting.

"We were going on what was to be a routine patrol," she said.

Ambushed!

Embedded with a U.S. Army unit in Baghdad, Dozier and her camera crew walked into a deadly roadside ambush when got within 20 feet of a taxi packed with 500 pounds of explosives.

"The insurgents, watching from a building above with a cell phone triggered the bomb," Dozier said. 

Army Captain Alex Funkhouser, his Iraqi translator, and CBS soundman James Brolan were killed instantly in the attack. CBS cameraman Paul Douglas was fatally injured. Six soldiers lay around Dozier wounded from the blast.

"I could hear people calling for help. I could feel the pain in my leg. I couldn't really move," Dozier says. "The ammunition started firing crazily all around us. I thought it was a car bomb going off. I didn't realize the car bomb had been completely obliterated."

Doziers injuries were critical, fragments of molten car metal had pierced her skull and legs.

"I was studded by shrapnel, huge burning chunks of shrapnel in my legs. I could hear people calling for help. I could feel the pain in my leg. I couldn't move," she said. "Paul fought to stay alive for the next hour as they were treating him from the ground, but he bled out. In the moments after the blast, I was trying to figure out where Paul and James were. They were my team, they were my points of reference."

"Countless Souvenirs"

In her book, Dozier would call the jagged metal lodged in her body her "countless souvenirs." After the explosion, she was stretchered to the medical center in Landstuhl, Germany, and narrowly escaped double amputation.

"I had both femurs shattered. They had to drive titanium rods through them to support them, but in the hospital they said 'you've got so much tissue damage, and we also don't know if we got the angle right against your hip. You may never walk properly and normally again.'"

Two years since the tragedy, after multiple surgeries, skin grafts, and excruciating therapy, Dozier is now walking, even running, and she's back on the job at the CBS Washington news bureau.

She says writing about her recovery was an exercise in grief.

"Every step of physiotherapy is pain. It was often screaming pain," Dozier said. "They would pick up my leg and the therapist, she would just force them to bend. And I always needed extra doses of pain killer before every session. And I was just, you would scream every time, try not to."

Road to Recovery

Dozier now hopes lessons from her personal recovery can be of help to wounded service members she once covered on the front lines.

"One psychologist told me she'd gotten a young woman soldier to open up the first time about a suicide car bombing she'd been through," she said. "Before that she couldn't cry about it. She couldn't talk about it out loud. When I heard that, I thought great, then this was worth it."

Dozier says her reporter's instincts kicked in during her recovery.

"As a woman from the Oprah generation, I'm used to talking about my problems out loud," she said. "From the moment I opened my eyes, before I could even speak, when I still had a tube down my throat, I wrote about what I could remember. And my family was furious. My mom especially was furious at anyone I started speaking to, as if they had somehow made me start telling the story. She didn't want me to remember anything. None of them wanted me to remember anything."

She called language her "psychotherapy boot camp" and rejected the view given her by one camp of neuropshychiatrists.

She says they told her, "You've got traumatic brain injury. You shouldn't talk about Iraq. You shouldn't talk about the incident now. Wait till your brain is healed. Wait until you find out how far the damage has gone, and then, then maybe we can lead you into it."

Little did I know that as a reporter who would first have to tell the story on T.V. and on a book tour that I'm talking about this incident more than anyone would expect, hope fear, or want," she said.

Faith for the Journey

Dozier, who once considered joining the Episcopal clergy, says faith also played a role in her recovery.

"My family's been active in the church for years. Interfaith groups between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, to try to encourage understanding," she said. "So when I woke up and found so many people were praying for me it was just fantastic. They sent letters. They sent cards. Catholic churches, Protestant churches. A friend was praying for me at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Shiite Muslims praying in Karbala. I had Sunnis praying at some of their mosques in Baghdad. And knowing that was out there was amazing. It gives you a real surge of hope."

Dozier says she'd like to return to Iraq, but under slightly different conditions.

"I don't necessarily need to go on a foot patrol," she said. "If I go out in Iraq proper, I'd rather go with high-ranking officials where it's a different series of procedures as to how they take you out to a place. I always traveled with the grunts. Now, because of what I've been through, because of what my family's been through, I would probably wait a little before asking to do something like that."

A Badge of Honor

Dozier views her experience as a badge of honor that's given her deeper understanding of the struggles of nearly 25,000 to 30,000 wounded service members returning from the war and had to fight to return to health.

"And then all those folks in the field who've seen their buddies cut down or injured and keep going out, knowing the next time, the next day, it could be them," she said.

"The other thing is I appreciate that people acknowledge that we as journalists have taken risks to life and limb, literally. But what we do doesn't equal the risk the troops are going through," she said. "Sometimes I felt like we were to use Iraq as a backdrop, a Hollywood backdrop to tell a story. Look at us, out here with the brave troops risking our lives.

"Oh, come on," she said. "They're the ones risking their lives. We're occasionally along for the ride. We're not out there every day. They are."

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Melissa Charbonneau

Melissa Charbonneau

CBN News White House Correspondent

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