On Leno and a Wounded Kid
As I stepped in to the office, the night shift of the section we officed with piped up, “You have a mission.”
“Yeah, what is it?” I replied.
“There is an Iraqi kid coming in for treatment at the clinic. You need to be there to take pictures.”
“Ok, when, at what clinic, what kind of treatment, and at what phone number?”
“Oh, I don’t know, all your sergeant said was to get some pictures.”
Since there were about 10 clinics on camp and only one within walking distance, I decided to try the closest one.
Thinking that these stories always end up with me putting in a few miles between me and several buildings full of people who have no idea what I’m talking about, I was prepared for a day of walking.
Luckily, my first visit struck info.
“Yeah, there’s an Iraqi child that is to be treated here around noon,” one of the medical officers from our battalion said. “Well, his family is arriving at noon. It’ll take them a while to get through the gates.”
My watch bore the signs of 1045, a few minutes before lunch and a few more before noon. It was back to the office for the interim.
I had no sooner dropped my weapon next to my desk when a sergeant major came barreling into the office.
“PAO, just who I needed to see,” he said in that characteristic here-comes-a-work-request tone.
“Yes, sergeant major,” I rose and stood at parade rest.
“Now, this is just in the forming stages, but we need you to begin to get a hold of television stations – ESPN, HBO, Fox, NBC, ABC, all of those…,” he started out.
Okay, I thought, he’s messing with me. A little fun-with-the-evil-journalist game. Since most military members are raging conservatives, they also have the republican innate hatred for “the media,” of which I am technically a member.
I say technically because what I write are processed Army “command messages” – i.e. propaganda. Thus, no self-respecting journalist would ever share his title with me. Yet hardly any of my compatriots would ever see me as anything else. So, I’m stuck between the two sides of journalist and soldier and not trusted by either one.
“…and get them to give you a time when they can record Jay Leno and (insert miscellaneous sportscasters I’m not familiar with), and all those guys saying they support our brigade and are behind us and all that…”
Now the joke was going a little longer than usual. Could he be serious?
“…There is a major in the operations shop that was in Bosnia and said his unit got Leno to say a few jokes when he visited the troops. They even got a 30-minute video saying hi to the soldiers from all these celebrities, so I know it can be done…”
Wow, he was serious! Did he have any idea of how embarrassing it was going to be to call up and be laughed off the phone as I asked the biggest names in television to send video messages to a pencil-pushing mid-sized unit like ours?
“…So have it ready to go so when the colonel pulls the trigger, we can get it going.”
Ah, so not only did Conan O’Brian need to send a video, but we were putting him on hold until we were ready? Got it.
I let out a “Hooah, good training” and the sergeant major spun around and left. Looking down at the watch again, 1140 looked back at me. Having a mountain of bullshit fall on you is a good way to kill a few minutes.
Camera in hand, I headed toward the clinic where the little tike was going to be looked at.
After arriving, I met the medial captain who had started the whole request.
“Now just to give you a little background on the child,” he began, “Saturday he was wounded by a warning shot fired by a convoy…”
Jesus. Ok, go on, I said in my internal dialog.
“Apparently the bullet hit something in the car and sent shrapnel shooting at the child. Now it was totally our fault, so we brought him in for treatment that night to de-debris the wound – that is, scrub out the metal and dirt on the surface.”
Jesus. Ok, I’m good now.
“Unfortunately it was getting late by the time he made it to us. The father said he had to get the child home because it was getting dark. Things aren’t safe on the roads at night. Isn’t that sad?”
…Oh…um, sad? You mean like being shot at by a convoy sad, or the country is in such a state of turmoil that blood, death, and violence stalk the populace as night falls, sad?
“Anyway, he’s here now for us to check up on him again. Most of the wounds are superficial and are healing nicely.”
Yes, lucky us. We “dodged a bullet” on this one, apparently. (Quotes for emphasis, notice the irony…oh God, there it is.)
I got my pictures and headed back to the office. At the end-of-the-day commander brief, the medics reported on treating the child.
“PAO,” the colonel said. “Get me a story on that kid. That’s good stuff we’re doing – helping the Iraqi people.”
Now I’ll probably have to edit out the whole “What caused the wounds?” part of the story, but, yeah, good stuff.
“But don’t release the pictures. There are spies everywhere and I don’t want the family getting attacked because they used our medics.”
Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space.