Getting Out of Iraq

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Video: Behind the scenes look at Jennifer Griffin's journey in Iraq
Photoessay: Mideast Photos

March 15, 2007

"Excuse me, are you an American?"

That's what Jennifer Griffin said to me, when we first met at a concert on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem in 1999. I was traveling alone in the West Bank, Israel and Egypt, and she wanted to interview me. Little did she know I was her colleague from New York, so I helped her find other people to interview. Little did I know that this would become my job.

Fast forward to this past week.

Jennifer and I are once again together in the Holy Land — only this time, we're stuck at the Jordan/Israeli border crossing. The Israeli police are refusing to let me in, saying I am a security risk, because I woke up that morning in Baghdad, and do not have a visa to work in Israel. Jennifer is pacing, her ear glued to her cell phone. Exhausted, but refusing to leave me there and go home to her children, she is calling all the Israeli government contacts she'd made since taking her job in the Jerusalem bureau nearly eight years ago.

Our day had begun 13 hours before, when our security guards dropped us off at the Baghdad Airport. We had just wrapped up a whirlwind week in Iraq, meeting political leaders and going on military missions in preparation for Jen's new job at the Pentagon.

Giddy to be going home, we had just popped our bags into the airport's X-ray machine when the power went out. Long, fluorescent light bulbs dimmed one by one across the vaulted ceiling. The hum of the "Scanray" suddenly died, holding our bags hostage inside. We begged the security guys to hand-search our luggage so we could make sure to get seats on one of the only flights going to Amman. They refused, so we sat and waited, calling our families and bureaus in Baghdad and Amman, warning them that we might not be able to get out of Baghdad.

Suddenly, the lights came back on, so we scrambled through security only to find out the plane was delayed because of a technical problem. We waited four more hours, sweating as the power — and thus the AC — continued to go on and off. This is how it is in Iraq. It's not over 'til it's over.

Finally, it was boarding time. On our way out to the tarmac, we're ushered into a room marked "Female." Jen whispers to me, "Twelve." She had been keeping count of all the times were frisked on the trip. But that wasn't the last time. We were taken behind pulled curtains once more after our plane touched down in Jordan.

We were out of Baghdad, but not home free — yet. In Jordan, we waited for the driver hired to pick us up. Jennifer and I had decided to drive to Israel, believing it would be faster than flying. But our driver was nearly an hour late. We finally hit the road at 6:45pm, giving us about two hours to get across the country to the border crossing just before it closed.

Nervous he was going to be fired for being late, the driver took the curves too fast on dark, winding roads and zipped through small Jordanian villages. "Quickly, but safely!" Jen kept yelling to him, raising her voice above Celine Dion's on the radio.

We dragged our bags into the border station just in time, and the Israelis quickly made it clear they were not happy to see us.

"There is going to be a problem," a man told Jennifer. "You can come in, but she can't," he said looking down at me, the 5-foot tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed threat.

That's when Jennifer and the rest of the Jerusalem bureau sprung into action, calling the Prime Minister's office, the Interior Ministry, The American Embassy and more. I was ready to give up, but Jennifer persisted. After about an hour, the Israelis gave in.

"We couldn't have done that in New York," I tell Jennifer, as we sink into the backseat of a taxi, letting out loud sighs of relief.

Have a question about this story? Thinking about becoming a field producer? Want to know what it's like to work with on-air personalities?E-mail Kathleen

March 14, 2007

The soldier from San Diego pulled a creature out of the water like nothing I had ever seen before.

It was slimy. It was ugly. It had tentacles waving every which way and what appeared to be stumpy little arms.

He told me it's a chinese cat fish. Saddam had these fish and many others imported for his private hunting and fishing estate, what is now Camp Victory. And this soldier had just caught it, using some leftover breakfast burrito as bait.

"Oh they love them. That and Hooah bars ," he explains.

Goin' fishin'. It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of our troops serving in Iraq. But for some stationed at Camp Victory and Camp Liberty near Baghdad, it's one of the only ways to get a little R & R, without going on leave.

"It takes your mind off of what's going on for 30 minutes to an hour. Then you go back to reality,” he said.

Have a question about this story? Thinking about becoming a field producer? Want to know what it's like to work with on-air personalities?E-mail Kathleen

Kathleen Foster is a general assignment Field Producer based in New York. She started at FOX as an intern in 1996. She has covered the Iraq war, the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, and the fight for Anna Nicole's body.