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August 24, 2004 5:36 p.m.
It was not easy to get out of Chechnya, especially with ten cases of gear. The only way out from where we were was by helicopter, and space for foreign journalists and their equipment was not a priority. After witnessing the beating of the sergeant in my tent, I had had enough. Living with theRussians was more dangerous than the war. They had a password system where each day the password would be a number. The challenge from the guard would be one number — your answer had to make a sum total of the password. That is, if the password is five and the guard says two you have to say three. This is not easy at night in a field with a drunk soldier suddenly appearing from the darkness to hold a rifle to your head, when all you wanted to do was urinate out in the mud, and he's shouting "SIX" at you. Would negative one work?
Not everyone was having a bad time with the troops. My freelance cameraman was gay. He did not want to leave. He said it was the best New Year's he'd ever had. He was about 40. Most of the soldiers were 19. He would disappear at night.
For some reason Russian helicopter pilots were difficult to bribe. Either it was pride or else they made enough from contraband. Their leather coats were a cut above the rest. I sat on my cases of gear out in a field with my reluctant cameraman as one helicopter after another landed and left. There was only one option, a "load 200."
The "load 200" in the Chechen war meant dead Russian soldier's bodies. The weight of the body in a zinc coffin was 200 kilos, hence the term "load 200." It was the grimmest load, the load no one wanted to call by name, the load no one wanted to transport. You weren't allowed to shoot [film] the bodies of dead Russian soldiers, but it was a hard rule to enforce. Zinc coffins were also in short supply where we were based, so plastic bags and a kind of aluminum foil were substituted. The last helicopter of the day was a "load 200," and the pilot was not happy about having to haul dead bodies. It was the only ride. The cameraman did not want to go. I was going. After some hesitation, he helped load our gear.
On board was the pilot, my cameraman, me, our gear, and six and one half dead Russian soldiers. I don't know what happened to the half. There was not much room in the helicopter between the gear and the bodies. Dead bodies were on the seats to my left and right and a dead body was at my feet. They were wrapped in shiny aluminum foil but were not well wrapped. The half body was on the floor of the cabin to my left.
The thing that got me, the thing that stays with me even now, is that because of the motion of the helicopter, the bodies moved. They shook a little bit the entire trip. So you'd be looking at a hand coming out of the foil, or a foot, or the half body, and it would be moving...
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I am not your mother but I have a son about your age. I really think that you are a great reporter and add to Fox' credibility. However, I worry about you most of the time when I see you. I hope that you are taking more care of yourself than it appears.
Maybe it is time for you to take a nice long vacation back in the USA. You could always get run over by a car but bobbing around evading shots etc. must be more dangerous.
I look forward to your live reports and I always check online for your articles. Checking in on foxnews.com is a part of my daily lunch break. Your story about 'white cat' is my favorite. Thank you for your raw candor. Your words take us places we may never see. I appreciate your dedication in bringing us the stories from the worst of places with your thought provoking reporting.
Stay safe and keep up the good work. I hope 'white cat' is still safe, too..
— Janet (Portland, OR)
Incredible! Wonderful blog entry.
Mr. Harrigan –
9/11 seemed surreal even to those of us in the States, let alone those abroad. I now understand why many people felt it necessary to visit NYC soon after 9/11, to stop by ground zero, to look into the pit, to take in the destruction, to make it part of their own personal memories. Events like sometimes help clarify our priorities and purposes. Thanks for the blogs.
— Jan (Atlanta, Georgia)
— Sandra (Elwood, In)
This is my third war. Probably ones that you were not out of school or old enough to see first hand. Your ability to report calmly and accurately amazes me. I'd be happy to shake your hand and give you some security if you ever get to my area of operations. You are articulate and as real as any American Press Rep that ever sent words home from bad places. Take care, Steve, Good Luck only lasts so long! Keep Your Head Down and Drive On!
I love reading your stories and hearing your reports on FOX. You are a terrific reporter! I know it can't always be easy, but just know that there are lots of us waiting to read your blogs and hear your reports. Thanks a lot for all of your hard work!
Thanks as always for your wonderful blogs. I am printing them — you are now in a three-ring notebook. When your blog novel ends, I might bind you in duct tape; seems appropriate for our times.
First I must tell you my Mother has said "I really don't want him to go back to Iraq." She's pretty much telling you that you can't go. But you know how Moms are. I live with my Mom and she was leaving on Sept. 11 to help her 90-year-old sister move. She left just as the first plane hit. When she got there, her sisters did not want to watch, not having grasped the big picture. I was alone watching with disbelief as the events unfolded. It's strange how these things are so compelling to watch on TV, so far removed in Kansas, but something that will change your life forever.
As always be safe and thanks for all your good work. — Donna
Wow, I amazed! I just read your article about Chechnya. God has truly blessed you with the ability to evoke feelings and emotions in your writings. In your case, your writing conveys more than pictures ever could. God Bless!
Very Best Regards,
Butch (New Orleans, La.)
Steve, I've watched you with admiration from the start of this war. You're a gutsy guy, a stalwart. You report concisely and with passion. I'm easily old enough to be your mother, and I worry about you as well as all our people there. Stay safe.
— Vera (Monroe, CT)
Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.