KCRA Beale Reservists Return from Afghanistan 9-26-2013
As I write this, America has been in a state of war for a dozen years since 2001. The United States has withdrawn its combat troops from Iraq and next year, in 2014, is scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan.
For a dozen years now I have been going out to the Sacramento International Airport and covering service men and women returning for deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s always very emotional and, from a photographer’s standpoint, you can never get a bad shot of a service man or woman being welcomed home. It’s further visually enhanced by the array of American flags being held by the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle organization of mostly retired veterans who are on hand for these types of occasions, as well as military funerals and other events, when they are invited.
I’ve covered I don’t know how many of these “welcome home” events at the airport and I’m always happy to go. At the beginning of our foreign wars there would always be reporters and crews from all the other stations on hand. Over the years that has become smaller. It started to be just the photographers that would be sent out. And lately when I am sent I have been the only photographer, from either a TV station or newspaper, on hand. This was the case yesterday. (Although, it is worth noting that Beale Air Force Base did have their own digital journalist on hand for the base news.)
I was given the assignment in the morning and asked if I could turn a package around for the 6 o’clock news. As I’ve said before in other posts on this site, I always look forward to turning a package on a story when asked. This was going to be a little trickier because the plane bringing in the 21 returning Air Force reservists with the 940th Security Forces Squadron, which is based out of Beale Air Force Base wasn’t scheduled to touch down until 2:30 in the afternoon. Deplaning and making their way out of the terminal and coming down the escalator to the awaiting families always takes another fifteen to twenty minutes. Then shooting the welcome home event, I figured I wouldn’t be heading to my news car to make it back to the station until 3:15 at the earliest. Then the dive back, wouldn’t get into the station until after 3:30. I’m typically back a few hours sooner than that.
But these were the dice being rolled and I was going to have to do it. I’ve learned not to be afraid if I want to do this and be taken seriously. Jump in. Commit. In all the years of working in TV news I’ve learned one thing: One way or another — get the story in & on the air.
I got to the airport just after 2 PM. My plan was to arrive early and do as many interviews with family members and some of the Patriot Guard Riders beforehand.
There is always a rush of excitement once the returning men & women come down the escalator to the waiting arms of their family members. That’s not the best time for interviews. And I’ve also found that — with no disrespect to the service personnel — they are generally not as open and ready to speak to a camera and share their thoughts and feelings as the other people on hand. There are always exceptions to this and I am always glad for the exceptions. But, generally, it’s just the way these things tend to go.
When I was shooting the interviews with the families and others there before the airmen and women arrived, several asked when the story would be running on the news. When I told them at 6 o’clock they looked surprised. “You’re gonna have this on at six? That’s going to be tight for you, isn’t it?” one of the Patriot Guard Riders asked. I replied that it would and also apologized to the people there in advance if they saw me dashing out early so they would know why I had to leave, which they all appreciated and understood.
I got to the car around 3:15 and started loading the footage into my computer so that it would be transferring while I drove back.
I also had along my Canon 7D to capture some of the returns with the super-wide Tokina 11-16mm lens to give a dynamic look. (See the header photo of the returning airman shaking hands with the Patriot Guard Riders.) So I was loading footage from two cameras.
3:32 — I got into the station. I was told that the 6 o’clock producer Amy McPherson (who is an excellent, organized and calm producer) had me slated in the 6:10-6:15 slot.
Went right to work logging. Logging and then sorting out the bites and writing the script — so that there is a story to all this — always takes the longest.
I’d kept my interviews down to just 2-3 minutes, so that kept it a bit simpler.
Also, during the interviews before the airmen started arriving, I’d found a mother, Rita Coughlin, and wife, Julie Coughlin, of a returning reservist, Michael Coughlin, who had a couple of small children. One of the boys, Michael Coughlin, was dressed in military camouflage. I thought they might be good to wrap the story around. A “peg” we call it. To tell the story through their eyes and experiences. Not the whole story, but to give something of a sense of structure.
The image and sound of the little boy in his camos waving and calling out, “Hi daddy!” was priceless.
As I said at the top of the blog, I’ve been covering these welcome homes for a while. I always try to approach a story with a different slant that might also provide some big picture approach to a story or event. In this case, with the official winding down of the War in Afghanistan slated, if all goes according to plan, for something next year in 2014, I made a point of asking everyone their thoughts about the proposed ending of the war and how, hopefully, there won’t be many more deployments and welcome homes in the foreseeable future.
The story was written and approved by 5:20. I had a little over half-an-hour to edit and get the package in the system.
Editing in 30-minutes is always tight, and this is the very reason why I shoot in a dynamic method of an “active camera” where I shoot action in long-running shots and follow the action with moving and zooming. A good emotional shot that can run 5 or 10 or more seconds is a lifesaver in crunches like this.
The edited story was fed into the system and ready to go by 5:58. I also always check to make sure that it is in the system properly and completely and will playback as it’s supposed to. This is confirmed by about 6:05.
I still had to get the fonts with the people’s names in!!!!!
We’re working in a new system and I’m still learning it, so fortunately assistant news director Jim Stimson helped me to get these in.
I then rushed to the control room and stood with producer Amy and the director as the story rolled and let them know which font was coming up and when it should be punched up under the people being interviewed as they air. Many people are still surprised to learn that so much of TV news happens live as the news is being broadcast and is not done in advance.
Everything aired without a hitch. I would love to have had a little more time to put the story together and to have also had more time for the story. But this is TV news and getting a minute-and-30-seconds for a story on the news these days is success in itself.
I only hope that everyone in the story is happy with it. And also that this will be their last deployment.