A story to take a risk for

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November 26, 2006|By Monica Lopossay | Monica Lopossay,Sun Staff

Earlier this year I spent nine or 10 days in Iraq, photographing drama-filled efforts to save Americans injured in combat. It was an an extraordinary experience.

I was one of a relatively small number of female journalists embedded with the military, witness to some of the most emotionally wrenching scenes possible - the sights and sounds of life and death in a front-line military hospital. And in the end I learned that two of three soldiers I had seen seemingly saved in Iraq later died, possibly in part as a consequence of the lifesaving efforts I had observed In Iraq.

Pfc. Caleb Lufkin, the man pictured here, had been riding in an armored vehicle in Baghdad that was hit by an improvised bomb. I was waiting near the heliport at the 10th Combat Support Hospital, the Baghdad military hospital where many combat victims are treated, when the emergency room staff received word that he was on the way. I will always remember the horror of the scene when he arrived. His left knee had been pulverized and his right hand nearly severed.

Bob Little, the reporter on the story, and I followed Lufkin to the hospital operating room, where a team of doctors worked to save him. I photographed the bloody scene as they stopped the bleeding and attached a brace to stabilize his leg. Later, they successfully reattached his hand. He seemed to be recovering successfully when he died in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington after suffering a blood clot in his lung.

Away from the agony of trauma medicine, my days in Iraq were extraordinary in other ways. I was housed apart from the men in a tiny trailer that was also used to store bags of Iraqi potato chips and cases of Coke.

Rigged out in 40 pounds of body armor, helmet, camera equipment and heavy boots, I presented an incongruous figure as I scrambled to stay out of the way while shooting the news. One soldier told me that I reminded him of Private Benjamin, the comic movie character played by Goldie Hawn. Others seemed glad to see an American woman in the midst of the Iraq conflict, regardless of the circumstance. "You sure are good for morale," one soldier told me politely.

Outside the Baghdad Green Zone, where my tiny trailer and other amenities were located, life was more problematical. Flying in the Black Hawk helicopters used by medevac crews was always an adventure. On the ground, we learned to watch the military around us when we heard the long whistle of a mortar. When they took cover, we did too.

When I first told my mother I was going to Iraq, she wanted to call the editor of the paper and tell him that they shouldn't make me do this dangerous thing. But, to me, the story was so significant that it was worth risking my own security to cover it. Having been through that experience, I still feel that way.

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