Friday, January 16, 2009

Washington Social Diary

Showing the colors at the Rappaports where Kimberly Dozier was the featured guest at a dinner of the Women’s Foreign Policy Group.
REMEMBER THE WAR?
By Carol Joynt

Scan the newspaper and you can find it, but it’s not always on the front page anymore. Tune into the network news broadcasts and it may get mentioned, but it’s rarely the lead. What’s that? The war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Remember when the war was certain to be Topic A of the ’08 presidential campaign? It wasn’t. The campaign itself became a bigger topic, and then in September every other issue was overtaken by the economic collapse. Now the war fights for attention among headlines that scream Presidential transition, Gaza and Russia and China and, of course, always the economic collapse.

But the war goes on and men, women and children die or suffer life-altering wounds from car bombs and other mayhem. The surge is credited with making some kind of difference, but mostly one senses that after the surge happened many Americans just tuned it out. The war? What war? Oh, yeah, that war.
Susan Rappaport hosted the Women's Foreign Policy Group at her home. Guests at the buffet before hearing remarks from CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier.
The living room mantel at the Rappaports.
In the past 24 hours I had the opportunity to spend time with two people for whom the war is indelible. Kimberly Dozier is a CBS News correspondent who was critically injured in Baghdad on Memorial Day 2006 by a car bomb that killed four others - her two-person crew, an American soldier and an Iraqi translator.

She was the featured guest at a dinner Wednesday of the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, which is based in Washington and keeps its members in the loop of global affairs.
Kimberly Dozier with her book, "Breathing the Fire"; Kimberly Dozier talks about her near fatal wounds from a car bomb in Iraq.
Gail Leftwich, Donna Constantinople, Pat Ellis, Kimberly Dozier, Susan Rappaport, and Maxine Isaacs.
Members of Washington's Women's Foreign Policy Group listen to CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier talk about the two dozen or more surgeries she endured to recover from car bomb wounds.
Dan Sudnick devotes much of his professional life to helping the survivors of those who died while serving in the Armed Forces, and since 2003 the chief focus has been Iraq and Afghanistan. With founder Bonnie Carroll, Sudnick runs the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors – or TAPS – which has headquarters in Washington but serves an international network. A Navy veteran and telecommunications executive with more than 25 years in the reserves, he was a senior advisor to Ambassador Paul Bremer in Baghdad from 2003 through 2004.

Dan Sudnick of TAPS.
That’s where he met Bonnie and started working with her for TAPS. Dan and I had lunch Thursday at the new Bourbon Steak restaurant in Georgetown. The luxurious dining room – we had a cozy booth - belied the subdued nature of our conversation, just as Kimberly’s recollection of getting blown up by 500 pounds of explosives was in contrast to the comfort of host Susan Rappaport’s Georgetown living room.

“They fought for an hour to keep us all alive. I had shrapnel to the brain, eardrums. I had been hit with burning shrapnel from my hips to my ankles, my femoral artery was nicked,” said Kimberly. “I got to the hospital and started dying. I learned this from the surgeon who worked on me. I kept trying to die for two hours. I lost more than half my blood, but they kept me alive. They got the shrapnel out of my brain.”

She was flown to Landstuhl Hospital in Germany and endured more than two dozen major surgeries. It took 8 months before she walked, but a year after the attack she felt “completely recovered.” She now runs marathons. She credits her “amazing” doctors as well as the fact she was an “obnoxious patient ... They want you to fight and fight harder, to push through.”

Dan knows Kimberly – she is an “unofficial” advisor to TAPS – and he says, “What happened to her made people more aware of the consequences of war, and made them think about the person in the White House and the decisions he made about the war.”
Bourbon Steak, the newest restaurant in Georgetown.
The bar at Bourbon Steak.
Dan says the mission at TAPS is “purely dealing with the emotional impact of the war. The consequences of our political actions. There is a human element. The most extreme form are the soldiers who come back in a coffin, and the survivors who get the proverbial knock on the door.” TAPS volunteeers provide grief and trauma resources, casualty casework assistance, crisis response and intervention and sometimes “immediate emergency funds to families in crisis.”

He says their “constituents” are largely young widows, parents and many, many children. They sponsor a virtual “Good Grief Camp for Kids.” They have expended to reach out to Iraqi survivors, too, “because even though Obama next week will say we’re getting out of Iraq, we will be there for years doing economic reconstruction.” While they work primarily with families of killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, that is not the only criteria for assistance from TAPS. They also serve the families of military men and women who have died while on duty anywhere and under any circumstances. “We are paraprofessionals in the area of bereavement.”
With Kimberly I sipped white wine and nibbled on quiche. With Dan I supped on oysters while he had vegetable soup and a sea bass salad - in both instances a million miles away from the war. I asked Dan why Americans seem to have forgotten about the war. “We all get numb to these things after a while,” he said. “We know it’s sad. We feel our elected leaders have not been truthful. We see the carnage. We want it to end.”

Both Kimberly and Dan had thoughts about the challenges ahead for President-elect Barack Obama. “The solution in Iraq is not going to be black and white,” Kimberly said. “It’s not going to be something that makes the spectrum of American opinion happy. It will be listening to commanders, taking their advice, doing what the situation on the ground dictates. You would have seen a lot of the same under a McCain administration.”
The Sea Bass salad at Bourbon Steak.
Dan believes Obama should draw down the American troops “from the population centers.” He thinks he “ought to continue the path we are on with the host government.” But can the Iraqis fight their own war? “Of course they can.” For survivors, Dan said, Obama should “fix many of the holes in the benefits they are entitled to and recognize we don’t have nuclear families anymore, and for severely injured soldiers many of the handicaps they suffer are psychological.”

Kimberly Dozier has a book out, “Breathing the Fire.” TAPS will hold its annual Honor Guard fund-raising gala March 31 in Washington at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium. For tickets, visit www.taps.org.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol Joynt is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.