People are dying to protect this reporter | PostIndependent.com
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People are dying to protect this reporter

Once a month, I interview a stranger who provides protection to me, my coworkers, friends, family even my adversaries.Sometimes we meet for 15 or 20 minutes. Other times I spend nearly an hour asking questions and writing down answers.The protection these strangers offer is comforting like my great-grandmother’s yellow hand-sewn quilt at the end of my bed on a cold Colorado night.As a reporter, I’ve met some colorful sources in my day. There have been musicians, athletes, chefs not to mention a former vice president infamous for spelling “potato” with an “e.” But rarely do I interview a person who I know, without a doubt, would die to protect my First Amendment rights.Sounds intimidating, right? That couldn’t be further from the truth. Each month, I meet soldiers taking part in Operation Vacation. And they are some of the most humble, fearless people I’ve ever met.Glenwood’s Operation Vacation program welcomes veterans of foreign wars to the valley for a weekend of on-the-house lodging, food and entertainment. The soldiers and their families are so grateful for this opportunity, I’ve seen tears well up in their eyes faster than standing water in a clogged drain.One example is Sgt. Ken Henry. A couple of months ago, Operation Vacation allowed his family their first vacation in 10 years.And I thought I deserved a spring break just because I haven’t left the state since December.During their Friday afternoon interviews, I ask each soldier a set of designated questions. My favorite answer so far has been when I asked Army Spc. Gwendolyn Shelton, who visited Glenwood with her mother, “What historical figure do you most admire?” She briefly hesitated, then answered “Dr. Martin Luther King.” Her reason: Because he paved the way for her to go into the Army, or to even be talking to me.A little shiver went up my back.Then I thought about the old days when news sources were certainly not black and soldiers were definitely not women. She never knew it, but at that moment I was thankful to be speaking with Gwendolyn, too.Another memorable moment was after Sgt. Albert Alexander’s family portrait, which we do with every Operation Vacation participant. Sgt. Alexander’s 9-year-old daughter, Kamille, was so excited to meet a “real-life” reporter and photographer, she asked her dad to take her picture with us.Most people don’t even want to acknowledge us, let alone snap a photo as a keepsake. Maybe there’s hope for the media after all.Of course, there’s so much more to the lives of these soldiers and their families than editorial space allows. Many of the soldiers are dedicated family men who love their wives and kids so much, I can feel it as I enter the room.The sacrifice these soldiers and their families make is the biggest difference between them and me. No matter my beliefs, or disbeliefs, about war, I still think serving one’s country is heroic.There are still some things in life that I can be old-fashioned about. Ice cream is another.Three years ago, a 29-year-old friend of mine we call Mookie joined the Army with goals of being a medic. I honestly thought he was either on drugs or had lost his mind. Or, quite possibly, both.Mookie had just lost his World War II-veteran grandfather and felt he couldn’t handle the “stress” of the mortgage business anymore.Today, Mookie laughs at that last part.You would, too, he said, after being shot at and seeing the worst of humanity. And doing nightly door guard duty, which is as frighteningly boring as it sounds.Mookie is done with his three-year commitment, which included service in Iraq, and has returned home to Indiana. He’s proud of serving his country and has no regrets. He also said he has a better appreciation of life and has grown as a person even though he’s still 6 foot, 5 inches tall.He also admits to still telling lame jokes.Luckily, some things never change.April E. Clark is not a morning person and never would have made it through Basic Training based solely on the 5:30 a.m. wake-up call. And the “no faddish/stylish eyewear” restriction. She can be reached at aclark@postindependent.com.


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