Telling the most important story

The Idaho StatesmanMarch 1, 2006 

— KIRKUK, Iraq — When I was a young, budding photojournalist, I always thought that the big cities with the biggest newspapers were where the most important stories were.

Then I landed my first job in Idaho, and a funny thing happened: Within the first few months I started to get the sensation that I might never want to leave. The more I started to care about Boise as a community, the more I began to understand the people of Idaho and appreciate the beauty of the state. I realized the stories of those big cities and those prestigious newspapers were no more important than the stories I could tell about the people of this community.

I had found my home, and the story of that home became the most important story I could ever hope to tell.

When the citizen-soldiers of Idaho were tapped on the shoulder to do a job in Iraq, my neighbors became part of one of the biggest stories of our world, and I jumped at the chance to help tell it.

I've learned a lot of things on this assignment:

• How frustrating and scary it is to fight a war when your enemy won't look you in the eye to fight you.

• In some places you actually have to be skeptical of people first and trust them later — once they've earned it.

• How truly lucky we are as Americans to have the freedoms we do.

• It is within human nature to be unabashedly happy even though you may be short of money and lack the simplest of amenities, such as sewer and electricity — as long as you have the hope of better days and, ultimately, freedom.

• Most significantly, my admiration of the people with whom I share a home in Idaho has increased. For the past 31 days, I have watched these soldiers endure the discomfort of being away from their families with a sense of purpose that all of you at home should be proud of.

Let me give you one example.

April 14, the day of the attack that killed four police officers training near their station, we were with the soldiers and the Iraqi officers who had to shake off their loss and get right back out there and do their job.

I was behind 1st Sgt. Stan Clinton of New Plymouth, and we were running down a narrow dirt road behind the Iraqi police getting ready to knock down doors and search houses looking for anyone tied to that attack.

As we rounded a corner, there was a little boy who was crying at the sight of the men in uniforms with large guns coming down his street. Rather than rushing past, Clinton stopped and put out his hand to calm the little boy. "It's OK, it's OK," he said in a grandfatherly voice. "It's gonna be all right."

The crying didn't stop, but it was reduced to a wimper. I can't get that scene or the sound of Clinton's voice out of my head.

For me, that 30 seconds sums it all up. You can't skip over the details in life. And no matter what job you are doing, you have to do the job of being a compassionate human being first.

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