(published in March 2009, Killer Blue was our first attempt at long form storytelling, and a project that will always have special meaning to me)
The day I arrived at “Combat Outpost Killer,” Staff Sgt. Chad Caldwell walked up to me, extended his hand, and said, “I hate the media.” I liked him right away.
Maya Alleruzzo, Rick Bowmer, and I spent the next year covering Killer Troop on the ground in Iraq, and on the homefront. We were there when Sgt. Jose Regalado met his baby for the first time, and we were there when Jose Regalado was laid to rest. We were there through big moments, and small throughout their tour.
I’ll never forget the moment I found out Chad Caldwell was killed. It’s nearly impossible to capture the real sacrifices that soldiers and their families make in war. What an enormous strain that the constant deployments cause, what it feels like to leave the wire each day, or how loud an IED actually is.
It’s impossible to show the fear an Iraqi family feels when Americans kick in the door in the middle of the night, or how hard a young lieutenant works to calm them.
It’s easy for Americans to say they support their troops, it’s much more difficult for them to understand what those troops actually go through. The memories of seeing your friends die, and the emotional and physical toll that takes on a human being.
The final week of this story was spent at Fort Hood, Texas, to do the last interviews with the guys at the end of their tour. My most vivid memory from that week was sitting in the middle of the food court on post and watching 22- and 23-year-olds walk by with canes or on crutches. Take a drive in a military town sometime and you can see for yourself.
Iraq and Afghanistan are thousands of miles away, and for the vast majority of us life goes on uninterrupted. But there are thousands of families out there who’s memories of a son end at the age of 24. And there are children out there who’s only memory of their father will be from an old Facebook page that hasn’t had a new entry in eight months.
Killer Blue isn’t a story of patriotism or pride. It’s a story of sacrifice and friendship.