Dozier hopes book will help others returning from Iraq

June 15, 2008 6:31:42 PM PDT
When Kimberly Dozier accepts a Peabody Award Monday for her "CBS News Sunday Morning" story about two female veterans who lost limbs in Iraq, it will be a big step in her transition from blown-up journalist to journalist. Even sweeter, from Dozier's perspective, is that the award has nothing to do with May 29, 2006, when a Baghdad car bomb seriously injured her and killed two CBS News colleagues and a U.S. Army captain out on a Memorial Day weekend story about the Iraq War.

Dozier has made the journey from victim to survivor. She hopes now that telling her story, in the just-published book "Breathing the Fire," can help families and veterans of the Iraq War who return home with physical and psychic damage.

The war has been going on for so long that Dozier is concerned people have become numb to it.

"I'm not lecturing people which way to go on the Iraq War, one way or another, but this sort of willingness to ignore what is going on or turn away from it kind of scares me," she said. "I want people to pay attention."

Her book tells about that fateful day and her long physical recovery in gripping detail. Perhaps more interesting are the emotional after-effects that usually aren't as well documented, from survivor's guilt to the resentment of others to the frustration of well-meaning people who think they understand what she's feeling.

Emotional wounds turned up quickly. Dozier had harrowing hallucinations involving her dead colleagues, cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan. She was hypervigilant, so worried about another attack when she was transferred from one military hospital to another that she tensely grabbed the sides of her gurney when any car approached her ambulance.

Army people told her that for many trauma survivors, probably the majority, dredging up harrowing memories is harmful. Others are helped. Dozier fell into the latter camp.

"I was the kind of person who needed to go over this until it lost the power to shock or hurt me," she said.

Her family was supportive and protective. But as with many families of trauma victims, they eventually became too protective. A fellow journalist, CBS News' Bob Schieffer, was the first to truly fill Dozier in on what had happened.

During the brutal period of more than two dozen operations and subsequent strength-gathering, Dozier spent many hours in her hospital bed crying.

She replayed the events in her mind over and over, wondering if there was anything she could have done that would have saved Douglas and Brolan, or even if she should have gone out on patrol at all. She knew some people in CBS News' London bureau, where the two men were based, thought she should have done a less risky story standing on a building rooftop.

Dozier received reassurance from a fellow member of a terrible club.

ABC News' Bob Woodruff, who had been badly wounded in a car bomb attack four months before Dozier, told her to remember that Douglas and Brolan were professionals who made their own decisions to go on the trip. It dishonored them to believe she had somehow "ordered" them to go on an assignment that killed them.

She also knew that Sgt. Justin Farrar, aide to the late Capt. James Alex Funkhouser, was furious with her. Funkhouser was killed guiding Dozier on the mission. Besides his guilt that the man he was charged with watching had been killed, Farrar believed the explosion wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for the CBS crew coming along (Farrar and Dozier have since patched things up).

"At first I was angry and hurt to know that there was some of this out there," Dozier said. "But then I realized that they have to do what they have to do to get through it. I'm standing on two feet, so if they need to hate me for the rest of all time in order to get through it, I'm OK with that."

Her return to work brought awkward moments. Well-meaning colleagues freaked her out. One man, with several people standing around, assumed that Dozier had post-traumatic stress disorder and wanted to talk about it.

No, thanks.

She guessed that 85 percent of the people she came across knew little about surviving trauma or working in war zones, and virtually all of them believe they know more than she did.

The end of last year was tough, as Dozier divided time between reliving her ordeal for the book and doing stories about injured soldiers. "That's hard," she said. "I end up being half reporter and half grief counselor."

She stays away from Iraq stories now. She does national security issues from within the United States, a low-profile assignment because of the current focus on domestic issues. On her book jacket, Dozier pointedly refers to herself as a "CBS News foreign correspondent" and she owns a home in Jerusalem, but CBS doesn't want her overseas.

"My inner rebellious teenager was very angry with that for a while until I came to the realization that this experience was not just about me," she said. "My whole company went through hell. My bosses went through hell, and they're very sensitive that even sending me back to what I consider my home in Jerusalem is for them like sending me straight into the fire."

She has agreed to stay in the United States until next year. After that, it's anyone's guess.

"When people recognize me in a grocery store or something, it's like, `Oh, you're that reporter chick who got bombed,'" she said. "I've gone through all of the stages from resenting it, to being annoyed by it to being honored by it."