Hello and welcome to today's StarNet Live Q&A Chat featuring Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Wood. Please feel free to submit your questions for David in the comment section of the chat. The Q&A will start at noon.
In addition to this live Q&A, Wood is also a presenting author at this year's Tucson Festival of Books and will be hosting an event for his ebook "Beyond the Battlefield" on Sunday, March 10 at the Arizona Daily Star Pavilion on the University of Arizona Mall.
And now a brief bio about David Wood:
Wood has been a journalist since 1970 and has worked as a staff correspondent for Time Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Newhouse News Service, The Baltimore Sun, where he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and Politics Daily. He has reported on conflict from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Central America. His 10-part series for the Huffington Post on the severely wounded of Iraq and Afghanistan won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. His e-book "Beyond The Battlefield," is an expanded version of the original Huffington Post series. He has appeared on CNN, CSPAN, the PBS News Hour, WUSA , RTV and the BBC, and is a regular guest on National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm Show.
Hi everyone... Of course it was a huge honor to have been invited into the lives of these wounded warriors and their families, and I found them to be incredibly inspiring; their courage and determination are really contagious. And yes, I intend to be doing some follow-up pieces.
Sadly I don't think the book will be made into a mass-produced paper book although some copies will be for sale at the book fair.
Yes, I will be at the book fair and I will be speaking on Sunday. I hope to give a really quick overview of the book and the work it took to make it, and then respond to questions -- that's always the most fun part of meetings like this.
Well, okay, the US does use armed drones in Afghanistan as part of what's called Close Air Support; the advantage of a drone is that it can loiter over a suspected target for hours, or even days, to gather intelligence on who and what's there -- in the way that a fast-moving jet cannot. I think there is little controversy about using armed drones in this way; more controversial is the use of armed drones in places like Yemen anhd Somalia.
Thank you, Annie. The military of course loved that their wounded folks were getting some attention; some defense officials were less pleased that I pointed out some gaps in medical care.
The people I wrote about were pleased, of course, but also a bit embarrassed at all the attention. They really most want to be accepted as Americans -- not "wounded" people, and they're anxious to get on with their lives. So understandable.
This is a good question. Yes, the US was surprised at the appearance of the IED, or roadside bomb, in Iraq and then Afghanistan -- even though these kinds of cheap weapons had turned up elsewhere. And of course it took a while for the Defense Department to adapt, by designing better body armor,more heavily armored vehicles, better IED-detection gear, and most important, better intelligence efforts to penetrate and take down the networks of bomb-builders, financiers, couriers and other people responsible for the IEDs. It's been a pretty good effort and IED casualties are now decreasing.
Ah ... complicated question. I was a pacifist as a young man, and those beliefs were tempered -- really, exploded -- in my experiences covering war and armed conflict. Like many people I know who have been professional soldiers and have experienced war, I've seen enough of it and I believe there are far less destructive and more moral ways of conducting life. But sometimes it is a lesser evil. That sense I think helped me be more sympathetic to those wounded in battle -- and with their families who had to wait at home.
Two great questions. It seems to me that for many years we've been content to sit back and let our government medical institutions take care of the wounded, largely because it's hard to know how an individual can help. I have felt this frustration personally. Now I am coming to see that a critical part of healing is welcoming these warriors home, an act that can take many forms. The simplest way is to go out of our way to greet a wounded warrior, thank him or her for their service. There are also a variety of community projects where you can volunteer your time.
Some of the most helpful community projects I've seen are ones that pair up volunteers with needy families, for instance who would like someone to babysit, or provide a ride to the hospital, or home repair, that kind of thing.
I approached each of them very gently, first asking if the wounded person would share his story -- just asking, can you tell me what happened? By being a careful and sympathetic listener, not pushing too hard, and sensing when we were approaching a subject they'd rather not talk about, I think they came to accept me as a friendly ear. It was a gratifying experience.
Henry, I have no experience with comic books other than a big appreciation for the art. Sorry I can't be helpful.
One of the steps the Department of Veterans Affairs took while I was reporting these stories was to finally work out a way to actually train and pay caregivers for the often complicated and exhausting work they do with their wounded family member. For instance, keeping track of various medications, understanding how they work and what danger signs to watch out for; changing dressings; helping with emotional storms ... all this is really difficult, especially when the caregiver is a young mother with small kids in the house as is often the case. It's not a perfect system, but many of them now are receiving that monthly stipend which helps with the family budget -- since many of these caregivers have had to quit their jobs.
My experience at war was critical in this way: a lot of combat veterans believe no civilian can possibly understand what they have experienced. So when I show up, start chatting with a combat veteran and it turns out we've been the same places, ate the same food, often know this E-7 or that lieutenant or used to hang out at that FOB ... we'd have enough in common that it'd be easy to ask, "So tell me what happened when you got wounded."
If this sounds like a pitch to have all reporters be thoroughly grounded in the subjects they're covering, and that we should be encouraged to get out of the newsroom into the world ... it is.
The government is actually pretty good at covering the costs for wounded warriors -- a little slow sometimes, and the bureaucracy can be infuriating, but the money is there. So far. The VA for instance will pay for home renovations, an adaptive car so amputees can drive, of course prostheses. Military insurance pays out when a troop is wounded. Still, some of these families face a lifetime of reduced earnings and added expenses. I think we don't yet know what the cost will be -- or what the needs will be as today's generation of 20-something amputees gets into their 50s and 60s. However I trust we taxpayers will be willing to foot the bill.
It was a gigantic honor, of course, and completely unexpected. I spent several days in a sort of befuddled state. The most interesting part was being at the awards luncheon at Columbia University in NY and being in the company of past winners -- poets, novelists, playwrights, journalists, photographers. Quite humbling.
Two good questions here. First, I love working for HuffPost: there is a sense of excitement, constantly breaking news, and what seems to me a dizzying series of new ways to tell stories. I just get jazzed up just walking into the office here in Wash. DC. It is true that traditional newsrooms are shedding talent; we are in a gigantic transition. What I do know is that fast and accurate information attractively packaged is prized by readers -- and also that readers leap at well-crafted, longer "traditional" narrative journalism.
(Secret). No -- actually I am working on some follow-up stories to the Beyond the Battlefield series. There are many more stories to tell.
I boldly predict ... no impact. I know that changing the official rules was a big deal. But honestly, I have spent a lot of time in "coed" units at war, and like a lot of things in the stress of war, gender differences seem not to matter. On the issue of strength, I have seen big strong women Marines and small less-strong male Marines and same for soldiers and "airmen" (can the Air Force find a better word?) and sailors. I am not in favor of gender-norming PT tests but allowing anyone to try out for any position makes sense to me. If a person is good at the job, what else is there to say?
Yes, casualties -- dead and injured -- are both on a downward trend -- in some measure because of the decreased number of US troops in Afghanistan, and in part due to the shift in the US military role from direct combat to advise and assist Afghan troops.
OK, Ann. Truth and accuracy have always been the lodestar of journalism, something we all strive for. I don't see that as any less the case today than 20 years ago. We can all remember newspapers that were terrible, stories that were shallow or just wrong. That's why the "corrections" section of newspapers became hugely popular in the 1970s and 80s. I do know that at HuffPost and other online pubs that I am familiar with, there is a serious effort made on accuracy, and we take readers' corrections very seriously and always note when we have made an error and corrected it immediately. That said, of course, perfection in depth and accuracy and fairness are all goals we strive for.
This is an interesting question. My sense is that some returning troops feel envious of the attention that the wounded receive -- and here I am thinking not so much of my book as I am about the wounded being (properly) honored at galas, football games and so forth. I personally feel the unwounded who served deserve our respect in equal measure.
Start at a local news outlet -- newspaper, web site, tv station, where you can do a lot of on-=the-ground reporting. Find a crusty and cantankerous editor to work for -- someone who will yell at you for getting a name wrong or forgetting to ask someone's age. Be patient and learn the craft. I say this because it's the way I started, and the lessons I learned early on about sped AND accuracy serve me well today.
Oh sure. Any big project like that is a process of winnowing out things, and in retrospect I often find myself wishing I'd done this or that. but that's what makes it so interesting to be a journalist -- the chance to do it better next time.
I may go back to these same folks to find out how they're doing, and I may find that something to write about. But mostly I'll be pursuing others whose stories I have not yet learned and told.
If no more questions, I'm going to get back to work ... see you all soon and thanks for the good questions!