|WRAL Team Heads to Kuwait
The Personal Side of an International Story
WRAL-TV Reporter Julia Lewis & Photographer Chad Flowers headed for an undisclosed location in Kuwait with the 82nd Airborne last night, Thursday, February 13, 2003. The two will travel with the elite force from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to the Middle East, where war is almost a certainty, to bring personal stories from our state’s troops.
The pair will be highlighting various segments of the 82nd Airborne, reporting on training, preparations and everyday life. Lewis & Flowers will send packaged stories back to WRAL-TV and keep an online journal on WRAL.com. They are hoping to be able to do live shots, with the help of WRAL network CBS.
“I pretty much have got every emotion you can think of…” said Flowers, when asked about making the trip to Kuwait, “anxious, nervous, excited. I feel lucky to get the opportunity, but at the same time feel the inherent risks of going into a warzone.”
“I’m excited,” said Lewis. “I don’t think you could not be excited about doing something like this, but on the same token I’m very nervous. Going down to Fort Bragg for Chemical Warfare Training opened my eyes right away.”
The two trained with the 82nd Airborne on Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare Training. Each was issued a gas mask and chemical suit to protect them from chemical agents on the battlefield. They had to learn how to properly put on the gas mask and effectively use it, how to get in the suit and decontaminate themselves…basically how to survive a chemical attack.
The parents of both Flowers and Lewis have had strong opinions and advice on their taking the trip.
“My mom has cried and cried and cried some more, but she understands that’s part of my job, and she supports me,” said Flowers. “My dad was in Vietnam. He’s given me several pointers about keeping my head down, but he supports me.”
Lewis’ father recently retired after a career as a Green Beret, and one that included serving as Assistant Secretary of Defense under Donald Rumsfeld. “He’s jealous of my going,” said Lewis. “He also said I’d be safer over there [with the 82nd Airborne] than anywhere in the world. If my dad says we’re going to be safe, then I’ll believe it.”
At this time the team will travel with the 82nd Airborne, wherever that is, and plan to return in two or three weeks. The current plan is to travel back on some type of military convoy to the US, but if war breaks out and no military personnel are flying back home, the two will be dropped at an international airport and left to their own devices to get back to the States.
“It goes without saying that a war involving Americans is always major news, but this trip gives us the unique opportunity to report on local soldiers from Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne,” said WRAL-TV News Director John Harris. “That doesn’t happen every time around, so we’re proud to be the first local television station heading to the Persian Gulf with the men and women of the 82nd.”
“This is the biggest trip I’ve ever been on,” said Flowers. “Hopefully I can show the people in NC what their troops and tax dollars are doing. I think it will help me grow as a person to live through these conditions as well as test my abilities as a photographer. My ultimate goal is to try to capture what’s going on there.”
“Professionally, it will be an incredible opportunity,” said Lewis. “If we go to war, this will be a war that could change all of our lives. I’m hoping to bring these kinds of stories home to our viewers. These will be people stories; the bottom line is it will be stories everybody can relate to.
“Personally, I always grew up around the military and was always in awe of them. This will be a life-changing experience to see what these people do. They commit their lives to our country.”