Saturday, April 6, 2013

Remembering David Bloom: Ten Years Later

(A decade is a long time, and, yet, one that can easily be remembered. Here, in 2013, we are marking the decade anniversaries of the Iraq War. One of the things that I always remember were the reporters embedded with our fighting forces, David Bloom in particular. Today, on the anniversary of his untimely passing on the battlefield, I am reposting the essay I wrote for and was published in the Houston Chronicle. Bloom died of a blood clot brought on by deep-vein thrombosis. It can be prevented, and you can learn more at PreventDVT.org. Mr. Bloom, we all still miss you.)

April 7, 2003, 8:18PM (Tuesday)

The war came home for me Sunday.

I hesitate to write that sentence because the war in Iraq is almost 4-weeks-old now and there have been at least 108 coalition soldiers killed. Each one of those families already has the war at home with them. The war sits down to dinner in the empty seat of the missing father. The war is in bed with the newly widowed wife, the empty space next to her now a hollow hole in her heart.

I have no relatives fighting in Iraq. In this country of more than 280 million people and about 1.4 million people who serve in the all-volunteer military, I am one of many in America whose freedom is defended by someone nameless.

But those who cover the war aren't nameless, and one of the best things to emerge from the war is the reporting by embedded journalists in the field. With new technology and 24-hour news channels, the war --with its images of reporters in military gear – is simply always on. Yet, while I admire the courage of these reporters, some of them look out of place.

One reporter who seemed exactly in his place was David Bloom, a journalist for NBC. Ever since his unit -- the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division -- moved out, David was dirty. He was the first reporter to beam live images of the moving convoy of tanks. I remember seeing these images and being astounded that I was witnessing live war footage. He had a "boyish enthusiasm" when he described military details, and he knew his role exactly: Bring home the war to the American people.

But the war details were not the entire story. He also knew that his greater responsibility was to show America the lives these soldiers were leading. He let us know that MREs were not all that bad. He let us know how big a Bradley vehicle was and yet how cramped it could be when fully occupied. He let us know how dusty it was by never cleaning up for the camera. He let us -- the ones the soldiers were protecting --know what it was like to be a U.S. soldier in Iraq.

David Bloom seemed to always be on the air. Iraq is nine hours ahead of Houston, but no matter the time of day here, there always seemed to be the word "Live" on the screen. He was live during the middle of the night talking with Lester Holt, live during the Today show and even live during the evening news, giving Tom Brokaw the absolute latest. When I flicked channels between the three major network news channels, if David Bloom was on, I stopped and listened. He was, for me and for my wife, Vanessa, our favorite reporter, a friendly voice from the front line.

He died Sunday of a pulmonary embolism. Based on what I learned that day, he took power naps and would stay awake for hours. Perhaps that is why he seemed to always be on, live, no matter the program or time. The retrospectives told us that he was a driven man, one who always had to be where the action was. He volunteered for this assignment and, I think, broke the mold as a front-line combat reporter.

I was feeding my son when the news broke. I am used to nameless numbers when the media talk about casualties, men and women who have laid down their lives for me. But when the news anchor said David's name, my heart was pierced. Tears seeped into my eyes for a man I never knew but, somehow, knew. My wife cried, too.

The embolism was a noncombat death, but it really is a combat death. David went to Iraq partly out of a duty to his profession, but also partly out of a loyalty to this country. He is a casualty of war, just as are the other fallen soldiers. They all are heroes.

I have never been a soldier, but I am a writer and I know what that is like. David Bloom and the more than 600 embedded reporters are heroes to me. With them, the war is very close.

With the intimacy of television, perfect strangers can seem like friends to us. We viewers think of Dave or Jay, not Mr. Letterman or Mr. Leno. David Bloom's constant presence on the television, his mannerisms, his wit, his focus on the ordinary humanness of our soldiers made him seem like "David" to me, a person I knew on a first-name basis. And he was, in a way. That is the nature of television.

But on Sunday, upon learning that I'd never again hear his voice, upon learning that he left his family to go and do something bigger than himself, upon learning of his ultimate sacrifice for his country and his profession, he was Mr. Bloom. That is the nature of heroes.

The war came home for me that day.