One Of Those Memorable Stories (Don Ward)

By: Don Ward
By: Don Ward

Once in a while I blog about one of the memorable stories I have covered as a reporter. This is one I'll never forget. The anniversary of it was this weekend.

A STORY I'LL NEVER FORGET

This was the day my personal life and my professional life intersected.

On August 2nd, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  Within a few weeks US and coalition forces were heading to Saudi Arabia and other locations for what started out as "Operation Desert Shield" and then became "Operation Desert Storm."

I was working in Lawton, Oklahoma.  One of my best friends, James Mosley, was a new Air Force officer, stationed at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, about an hour south of Lawton.

I've known James since we both went to Doherty High School in Colorado Springs.  We became fraternity brothers and good friends at CU, Boulder, in the mid-1980's.  We both felt pretty lucky that as we began our respective careers, we were coincidentally living and working fairly close to one another. 

As US Forces began to gather in the Middle East, some from Fort Sill, in Lawton, were sent.  I had done a story or two on those deployments and it was always very moving watching families say goodbye as their soldiers headed out into uncertain circumstances.  It was scary for them.  As a nation we hadn't been through anything like this since Vietnam.  It was a little frightening for every American, remember?

I remember asking James several times if he thought he might be sent.  I remember him saying, "I hope so."   Towards the end of August he got word that he would deploy. 

A lot of the military activity was kept very quiet at the time. When a larger group from Fort Sill went, the post did let everyone know and we did do stories about it.  James would be part of a small group though, just 10 or so, sent over from Altus AFB to an undisclosed location for an undisclosed support role.  There was no news release from the Altus AFB Public Affairs Office. The media had no way of knowing that Altus was sending its first few to the Middle East.

On September 4th I went to the town of Altus, to James' own home for his going away party...I wouldn't have missed it for anything.  Here he is packing a few things that night.

Very early the next morning I called the Public Affairs Office and explained to to them that I KNEW they had a deployment that day because I was at the going away party!  I asked if I could come to the base to do a story.  A few minutes later (and probably a few phone calls later ) they called back and said yes.  My station would get the exclusive story on a deployment very early in the whole Desert Shield process. That wasn't nearly as important to me as getting chance to see my buddy as he left.

This was the part that was so difficult.  Below is a screen shot from the story that day. 

I did a quick interview with my good friend about the fact that he was going off to war..or at least going off to what would likely become a war.  It wasn't a great interview. I didn't ask very good questions and he couldn't really say much of anything about where he was going or what he would be doing there.  There was one really strong part though.  We talked about being a little nervous going to the Middle East, and about the fact that the stated mission was to get Saddam's Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.

I asked him, "Are you confident?"

His reply, "Confident, yeah, the best in the world."

That about summed it up as the US prepared for the task ahead.  It was pretty hard to talk to a close friend at such a difficult time, but it was perfectly reasonable for Don Ward the reporter to be interviewing James Mosley the deploying Air Force officer whether we were friends or not.  I didn't expect it to be that difficult.  The shot below is right after the interview wrapped up and he was starting to move away from the camera. The picture was taken by someone from the base Public Affairs Office.

As his friend I was very proud of him and a little worried about him.  I wanted to keep talking to him.  As a reporter I knew I had to shut up and move out of the way so that the cameraman could get video of him walking toward the plane!  The picture below is basically this same moment in a screen shot from the camerman's raw video....extra video that wasn't part of the final story.

As he moved away I gained something I haven't lost to this day.  I have a true appreciation for what friends and family members go through when they see someone off on a deployment.  (James was and is almost like family.  He even spent one summer during college living with my family because his parents had moved temporarily out of Colorado) I remember that feeling every time I do a story about a deployment or a homecoming. 

I was the last person James talked to before he climbed on that C-130 for a long flight.  I was pleased that I could be there for that moment for him.  That's his plane leaving right behind me as I recorded what we call a "stand-up."

 

Turns out James went to the United Arab Emirates at first then eventually he was sent to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  He wound up working as a protocol officer, overseeing visits from VIP's...from Colin Powell, to Johnny Bench and Jay Leno.  I don't think he knew that would be his duty when he left.  I don't think he cared what his duty was, he just wanted to do his part. 

Six months later when the war was over, he came home.  There was no fanfare, no parade or welcome ceremony,  He came home in a very small group and I picked him up at the airport in Oklahoma City!  He was able to see his family very soon after that.

September 5th, 1990 was far from the most important story I've ever covered, but it is one I'll never forget because of who was involved.  I talked to James briefly on Sunday...neither one of us could believe it had been 20 years that day!

James did his time in uniform (even won the award for top Jr. Officer in the entire Air Force shortly after Desert Storm)  then he went to law school.  He's an attorney now in Texas.   I see him and his family several times a year and his kids call me Uncle Don.  He's part of the group for my annual hike to the top of Pikes Peak.  Here we are last month at the summit..20 years after Altus!

It was a difficult day for me, I can't imagine what it was like for him...and I'm still glad I was there for it.  It is one of those stories I'll never forget.

We'll talk again soon.

Don Ward

 

 

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