I’ve been covering the war in Iraq for nearly two and a half years, going along with U.S. soldiers and Marines as they hunt for insurgents, knock down doors, get caught in firefights, and dodge roadside bombs. But I realized in the last couple of months that I’d only been covering part of the war, the part you see on TV most of the time.
There’s this other huge part of the war you rarely get to see, but a part that’s just as, if not more so, important. It’s the huge hunk of personal struggle that goes along with that fighting. Kind of like an iceberg with the soldiering above the water’s surface and all the emotions and feelings below.
I’m referring to the husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, family and friends of servicemen and women who are waiting at home, hoping their loved ones make it through their tour of duty. When the troops come home they help them to live with sometimes horrific memories, sometimes horrific injuries, or, worse than that, these families have to live with terrible, final losses.
That’s why when I was presented with the idea of doing a two-hour follow-up to the program we’d done on last fall’s battle for Fallujah, including a lot of new material about the combat but also focusing on the families involved and the aftermath for all, I thought it was great.
Because however you feel about the war — whether it was right to start it in the first place or whether it’s right to be there now — there can be no debate that those who are "over there" doing the job, and those supporting them, deserve our respect...and understanding.
Like Klay South and his family in Indianapolis. He was the guy in India Company who confided to me a few days before going into the fight that it was going to be, "a walk in the park, just a little more 'boom-booms.'" Well, he personally came face-to-face with the enemy and he’s still recovering from some horrible injuries.
I visited him this spring. After several major operations it was clear he had a ways to go, not just physically, but mentally. "Every night I see the muzzle flash," he told me, "Every night I see the guy with the black beard who shot me."
But at least during my visit I could see the spirit coming back to Klay, the one that had his whole squad laughing and joking in the days leading up to the battle. And I could see his parents Kirby and Janet, who had worked for months to bring their son back (Janet is a trained nurse) now thinking maybe he was turning the corner.
Kirby told me about the first time he saw his son in the hospital after he got back. "I mean there’s this big brawny 28-year-old Marine," he said, "and all you want to do is kiss him."
A harder trip for me was out to Omaha, Nebraska, to see the wife, now the widow, of Shane Kielion, April Kielion. Her husband was killed in the battle, just a half hour before she gave birth to her son. Incredibly, this well-grounded 23-year-old greeted us when we arrived and between juggling the toddler, keeping up with the comings and goings of her parents, and finding her way around her new house, she was able to tell her heartbreaking story.
She explained how she and Shane were high school sweethearts, how she hated the idea of him being in Iraq while she was pregnant and giving birth, how they had made a pact that if anything were to happen to him she would name their son Shane Jr., which she tragically was forced to do. Her story about learning of the passing of her husband is too sad for words. I’ll let her tell the tale herself in the special.
As for her feelings about the war and the battle for Fallujah? "I don’t think we should have rushed in there," she remarked. Then she said, "I think the president should have pictures of every man and woman who has passed and should look at them before he goes to sleep." She quickly noted, though, that she was behind Shane, what he did and believed in, 100%.
Feelings of support typical of everyone we spoke with. "There’s not one minute in any day that I don’t think about him," Ed Blecksmith told us about his son J.P.Blecksmith, the brave young platoon leader who was also killed in the battle.
But Vietnam veteran Blecksmith believed his son was doing the right thing, fighting the terrorists, freeing the people of Iraq from tyranny, paving the way for democracy there. "I wish no war would ever happen," injured Marine Klay South’s mother Janet told me, "That’s not how things are. There are evil people out there and evil regimes."
Probably the biggest contrast from battlefield to homefront, though, was when I visited Captain Brian Chontosh, commander of India Company, decorated war hero. Time after time he astounded me in that fight last fall. When most people would turn and run, or at least assume a defensive stance, he would run into the jaws of danger, blasting away insurgent after insurgent, looking out for his men.
But now back at his house in Virginia with wife Joy and little son Colby he had other issues on his mind, like fixing up his garden, ordering a new car, and giving advice on the best take-out food in the area. He seemed genuinely happy to be with his family, content in his new job as trainer of Marines at the nearby Quantico base. But as he juggled his son on his lap, I asked him if he got the call to fight again, would he go? "In a minute," he answered, without missing a beat.
I don’t usually blow our own horn so overtly, but the FOX team has really done a fantastic job with the program running Saturday night. The war in Iraq is something that is consuming our whole nation right now. As I mentioned earlier, no matter where you stand on the politics of the move, it’s important to see what those involved, and the folks WORRIED about those involved, go through.
So take two hours away from your summer pleasures this weekend and watch "Breaking Point: Company of Heroes." I promise you it will be time well spent.
*Watch "Breaking Point: Company of Heroes" on FNC, Sat., August 13, 9pm / Mid ET*
Click over to FOX Fan Central for more.
Greg Palkot currently serves as a London-based senior foreign affairs correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 1998 as a correspondent. Follow him on Twitter@GregPalkot.